Exclusive: Gillen & McKelvie Announce New Image Series, ‘The Wicked & The Divine’ [Interview]
Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie have just completed a successful year-long 15-issue run on Young Avengers. The widespread expectation was that their next collaboration would be "The Immaterial Girl," the already announced third volume of their music-is-magic series Phonogram. It turns out they had a surprise up their sleeve.
Live on stage at Image Expo in San Francisco, publisher Eric Stephenson just announced a new ongoing Image series from Gillen and McKelvie titled The Wicked & The Divine. This is a story about gods, teenagers, life, death, and David Bowie. We spoke exclusively to Kieron Gillen to find out more.
ComicsAlliance: Hi Kieron. Congratulations on the new series! What's The Wicked & The Divine about?
Kieron Gillen: Every 90 years or so, twelve gods incarnate in the bodies of the young. They are charismatic and brilliant. They stand before crowds, speak in tongues, and send them into rapture. They're rumoured to perform secretive miracles. They save people's lives, either metaphorically or literally.
They are loved. They are hated. They are brilliant.
Within two years, they're dead.
That's our cast. People with enormous gifts who only get to be on this Earth for a scant few years. The story joins with the majority of the gods returned to Earth – from Baal to Sekhmet, from Minerva to The Morrigan. Our lead, Laura, is a devotee. She loves them. She loves all of them. They make her feel alive like nothing else.
Laura wants more. She's not happy with being a fan. She wants to be one of them, even if it comes with that cost.
And then she meets Lucifer.
Lucifer has a certain problem.
They help each other out.
Basically, it's a superhero comic for anyone who loves Bowie as much as Batman.
CA: Tell me about the mythology. It sounds like you're drawing on a mix of sources, from Christian to Celtic to Egyptian.
KG: That's been a good chunk of work – going through all the mythologies to see who fits the cast. At the same time, I was going through the pop-star archetypes, picking them. Sometimes I got a god I liked and worked out which pop-stars they would be like. Baal would be a good example of that. Sometimes I got a pop-star archetype and worked out what god suited them best. Having a character heavily informed by Prince and those who love Prince would be an example of that, which had me moving through about twelve gods before finally settling on one at once. Sometimes I got them both at once. Lucifer would be a good example of that. She's very much cocaine-abuse megalomaniac '70s Bowie.
When I started pulling together the cast, there was a time when I thought the whole cast would be women. I got to seven characters, and there was a bloke in there. I was thinking perhaps I'd end up doing that... at which point I got one that inspired me. It's a 7/5 split, in terms of gender. In terms of the pantheons, the further I got into my research, I realized I was basically doing a god per pantheon, and should lean into that. In the end, certain areas have more representation – I've treated different periods of Greek religion as different pantheons.
CA: What was the inspiration behind the series?
KG: Hmm. Some of it is from the general flow of ideas and living. When I was dropping the “Teens aren't rated Teen” line, I was starting to put together The Wicked & The Divine.
But the core?
I'm tempted to lie about the real answer, but probably better to say it now. I suspect given the oft autobiographical bent to my work, it would be fairly transparent. The Wicked & The Divine was one of the ideas I had in the days following my Dad being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
It's a pop book, but it's basically about life and death.
CA: It sounds like a very personal book, with Laura presumably the character that best replicates your experiences. In that context, what do the gods represent?
KG: It's the standard writer line, but all the characters are me. It's a book about wanting to be a creator, and being a creator, and everything in between. It's a dialogue between all these experiences, and everything that happened along the way. So, yes, it's autobiographical, but – as all my autobiographical stuff – it's pretty heavily autocritical.
It also involves lots of punching and kiss, I should stress.
CA: The concept evokes old school Vertigo - most obviously Neil Gaiman's Sandman, with its interactions between mythology and the mundane. Is it fair to say you're trying to recapture some of that 90s Vertigo energy?
This is interesting. As it's my first interview, I'm feeling out exactly how to explain the book. There's certainly 90s Vertigo in the mix. The Wicked & The Divine extends from a lot of my thoughts over in Journey Into Mystery, and the Vertigo influence was never particularly hard to spot in that one. I'll admit, I do have a sympathy for smart pop comic books, and Vertigo in the 90s were amazing at that, but this is pretty expressly an anti-nostalgia book.
We're just trying to create our own mythology, a big pop universe to play with. I've been explicit with the gods above, but we're playing with pop star archetypes as much as the god mythology. The question of whether the cast are actually gods or not is entirely open at the start of the book. Most people believe it's just a hoax. Laura is a believer, but most people aren't.
CA: Where does this series fit in to the ongoing evolution of the Gillen/McKelvie collaboration?
KG: We still haven't found a way to escape each other, basically.
Onwards, really. We just want to do better and better work, and after Young Avengers, we've got a whole new bunch of things we want to try out. Building something from the ground up to show where our heads are in 2014 is part of it.
In some ways it's Phonogram's sister book. Not a complete equal and opposite, as they're stylistically miles apart, but Phonogram was a book about the consumption of art and culture while The Wicked & The Divine is a book that's about the creation of art and culture.
CA: You quoted your Young Avengers line, "teens are not rated teen", but there are limits to what one can do in a Marvel title. Do you plan to push things a little farther in this series?
KG: We plan to push things as far as is required. There's no limits except those we choose to impose. Basically, it's a state of the art modern fantasy universe, created in a bespoke fashion from its smallest parts for 2014. I mailed the first script to Jamie a few seconds after midnight. Jamie started work on January 1st. New, new, new.
It's also a confident book. YA was a twitchy, neurotic, energetic little puppy. We've got a more measured step with this one. While I think anyone who's ever liked what we've done is going to like it, it feels bigger than that. People refer to Jamie and me as lots of things. You know – Jamie “Young Avengers” McKelvie or Jamie “Phonogram” McKelvie and so on. By the end of the year, it'll be Jamie “The Wicked & The Divine” McKelvie. I think it's that kind of book. There is a degree of swagger to this enterprise. I really don't know about the audience – except it feels the most pop thing I've ever put out there -- but we're expecting strong reactions.
CA: I feel obliged to ask; what does this new series mean for the third volume of Phonogram, which was expected to come out in late 2014?
KG: Still happening. Basically, after doing a book trying to encourage the new in Young Avengers, it felt off to go back to an idea that dates to 2002-2003, in a story set in 2009, with scripts primarily written in 2011-2012. Generally speaking, I feel frustrated with the culture lag on all my work. EvenThree, the most recent idea that's currently coming out, dates from 2010 or so in terms of when I conceived it.
We wanted to do something new.
In terms of pure practicality, Jamie is doing the first The Wicked & The Divine arc, then moves right onto Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl. The second arc of The Wicked & The Divine will be done by some of our awesome comic friends, as it suits its structure and it's the sort of formalist medium-loving thing we like to do. I can't name names, not least as we haven't nailed it down 100%.
When Phonogram is done, Jamie comes back for the third arc. The fourth arc? Something akin to the second arc, though possibly with a singular artist. Jamie back for the fifth arc, something different for the sixth and so on until we run out of story.
As well as allowing us to do Phonogram, it also gives Jamie a lot of leeway. We both wanted to do an ongoing, but we were both aware that meant Jamie basically being tied to my waist in perpetuity. He's got other projects he wants to explore, and this sort of Jamie's-a-creator-but-not-drawing-every-arc thing let's him do that. We were thinking about what Jock did on The Losers, in terms of how it works.
Man! This got very technical and detail orientated. Yes, you can tell this is just as overthought out and conceptually conceived as everything else we do.
Takeaway message: No change on Phonogram 3 from our last statements. We said it'll be coming out the back end of 2014, and that remains true.
The Wicked & The Divine launches summer 2014 from Image.