Ann Nocenti And Trevor McCarthy Stake Out Their Dark Corner Of The DCU In ‘Klarion’ [Interview]
In October, DC launched Klarion, Ann Nocenti and Trevor McCarthy's new series re-imagining Jack Kirby's cult-favorite "witch boy". Klarion, in this incarnation, is a magical being from a parallel earth who lands in New York City and proceeds to act in the manner one might expect from a hyper-powered juvenile with a taste for chaos.
Nocenti and McCarthy have big plans for their strange little boy. With issue #2 on sale this week, ComicsAlliance caught up with Nocenti (Daredevil, Catwoman) and McCarthy (Nightwing, Batwoman) to talk about decoding Kirby, planting secret messages in art, and letting the character lead the weirdness.
ComicsAlliance: There have been a few distinct takes on Klarion in DC comics over the years. There's Jack Kirby's original agent of chaos, there's the more comedic/sympathetic version that Peter David used in his run on Young Justice, and there's the total freakshow version that Grant Morrison created for the Seven Soldiers saga. Where does yours fall on that scale of strangeness?
Trevor McCarthy: Oh, ours is weird in a whole new way. I don't think we've paid to much attention to what's been established before, because Klarion has never been a main attraction, and hasn't really been fleshed out beyond being this evil, precocious, powerful character.
Ann Nocenti: Well… It's Kirby for Christ's sake! It's like, to sound a bit arrogant, I thought, "What was Kirby thinking, how do you channel what he was thinking?" So Trevor and I started talking about it, and Trevor found this old news story of a little kid that Kirby had met, and had based Klarion on. And we got to see this photo of a little kid who had the weird little hair-horns; he had this cowlick kinda thing, and I was thinking, "Did Kirby just meet a bratty kid and decide he'd throw this bratty kid in a comic?" It's clearly just a little toss-off.
So we started from there. And then one of the things I love about Grant Morrison's Klarion is how he drenched the whole world in the perspective of someone who understands the occult, where the whole world is warping around him.
And with our Klarion, we started out having some discussions about, "How evil is he?" And I think he's probably pretty evil, in that his first thought isn't a good thought...
TM: I think everybody's got a little good, a little evil, a little this and a little that, and I think showing all those dimensions is something we're trying to do – we're building a world around Klarion, and seeing how he plays within that.
CA: I think, "What was Kirby thinking?" is actually a fairly common starting point. I certainly have that reaction to much of his work. It's just on another level, and I can't start to imagine where any of it came from.
AN: It's awesome! I mean, it's a privilege and an honor to be able to play with his toys!
CA: And Morrison inspires similar "WTF" reactions with a lot of his work, just all the insane ideas.
AN: And I hope they'll say it about me and Trevor too. "What the hell were they thinking!?" [laughs]
CA: So, Trevor, visually, are you going straight back to Kirby, are you looking toward the more recent incarnations, or are you taking the bits you like and building a whole new Klarion?
TMcC: Well, I wanted to make the character look different than what's been out there before, and overall, I wanted to bring a certain ethereal, magical look to the book. I've been pulling a lot from Gustav Klimt, for example, but not so much the…his figure work is beautiful and amazing and that's often what people gravitate to, but for me, it's more the elements of design he uses to create these planes within his paintings. I wanted to bring in aspects of different art and create a symbology of things to pull from, and have a sandbox that I use within the design of the pages.
AN: I think one of the amazing things is how Trevor's using the panel borders to foreshadow.
TMcC: I used a lot of eye symbology in the book, and we pull from a lot of traditional magical themes – the eye, the pentagram and wiccan star, incorporating all kinds of pagan symbols as well.
AN: So if you look at the comic, you see there are things in the panel borders that don't happen until next issue, some of them don't happen until later. There are a lot of Easter eggs, both for Klarion fans, and also for stories yet to be told. In issue two, there's a rune recipe for a spell that's gonna happen in issue four!
TMcC: I'm trying to push the design of the book, and using the borders and design of the page to help establish and build the world – so that it's not just panels on a page, but the pages actually help to create a framework and flesh out the story. I'm trying to get people more involved in the environment, so for example, I have this layout in issue two that mimics a floor plan – a top-down, architectural floor plan of the museum with doors and staircases…
AN: And there is going to turn out to be something really interesting in that auxiliary storage room – so far, it's only an architect's drawing in issue two, but in issue five, he goes in there and finds something.
CA: So you're creating worlds, juggling all these design elements – are these ideas happening as you go along, or have some of them been in your gameplan from the start? How much space is there for improvisation within the structure?
TMcC: Well, we have the destination in mind, but a lot of it is in the moment...
AN: It's very free-form.
TMcC: This isn't a Bat-character, it isn't a Green Lantern character where you have all that to pull from – we're sort of creating this world within the DCU.
AN: I believe in working with your morning brain – you have your coffee and then maybe you'll start thinking about the grand plan and what's going to happen in the next arc, and then you write for a while, and then you get really dreamy, and over the course of the day or in the middle of the night, something comes and you just throw it in! You don't even know why, and sometimes I'll just throw a bunch of stuff in and then I'll just see what Trevor's going to do, and if he's going to pick up on it or not.
So when I say "Moody Museum, morbid anatomy, lots of eyeballs," if he doesn't draw it, so what? But if he draws a ton of eyeballs, then I know, "OK, we're in sync, let's go with the eyeballs."
TMcC: It's like jazz, you're picking up on the vibe and going with it.
AN: One of the interesting things in this, in letting your unconscious come in – the first arc is really about, is technology saving or destroying the world? It's a lot of really personal anxiety that my friends and I have about tech and where it's taking us, especially new tech, ingestible tech, implant tech, and so on. And you know how the internet can feel very much like everybody's looking at you? Suddenly I went, "I love the museum, it's full of eyeballs, and the internet is full of eyeballs," and then… I mean, but by the time you get to issue four, you're in there, where everybody's watching.
CA: And while establishing this whole backstory, and Klarion's whole personal world, are you also laying the groundwork to set up camp in a certain corner of the DCU, or are you filling in around the edges, and just waiting to see where you end up fitting?
AN: Well, in my first plot draft, I put everybody in it. I sent in a plot where Klarion arrives in town, and The Demon looks up, and The Spectre swats at him, and they were all like, "Who is this annoying little evil magical bug?"
And then my editor, Harvey [Richards], said, "No Annie, you can't use every single supernatural character, and actually, Klarion's arrival on earth wouldn't be noticed." So I took everybody out of the plot, and created our own world, and it ended up making sense because… He's going to do something where everyone notices him. But he has to do that thing first. And as soon as he does that thing where all the omnipotent magical characters go, "What the f--- is that little kid doing?", then they're involved in a natural way.
TMcC: The character of Klarion – we've reduced that sort of Mr. Mxyzptlky aspect where he could sort of do anything, which I think is kind of where he used to live. Now, he's a powerful wizard, but he learns along the way. And that event that eventually will occur, that will bring in a lot of other magic users in the DCU, that event will come.
AN: And the omnipotent characters just won't pay attention until they think they have to.
CA: So if the really powerful characters will stay unaware of Klarion until they can't ignore him any more. Will the ordinary people notice first? Are there street-level characters who'll take notice of these small weird things building up?
TMcC: Absolutely! This world we're making…a ll this takes place within New York City, or at least the DC version of New York City.
AN: He stumbles on, or is perhaps lead to this morbid anatomy museum – it's this old guy, Noah Moody, who's been collecting these specimens forever that just happen to have some uses in spell-casting. And there are a couple other kids there that don't really have any powers yet. And the first arc is this tech vs. pagan magic war, and at the same time, the idea is: can a group of really nice people keep a bad seed from turning? All these other characters around Klarion are actually very lovely, kind people. It's whether a community can take Klarion someplace else, a nature/nurture thing, I guess.
CA: And how far in advance do you have this all planned out? You mentioned that point where everyone has to notice Klarion – do you already know what happens next, too?
AN: We have the first six issues, the first arc, and lots of ideas for the second arc… But the weird thing is, you have to let the character talk to you. You don't want to plan so far in advance, because Klarion is starting to talk to us, to tell us what he wants. He's asserting himself, and every time Trevor sends me a page, with his little face – it really does happen, and we want to stay open to that. And we want to see the press reaction and the fan reaction. It's exciting when someone sends you a letter, and they have a specific thing, like some story point that they found fascinating, and then you start feeling where you should go next.
TMcC: With these characters, because Klarion is really the only established character within the series, we're just getting to know these people. Visually, I'm getting to know them as I draw them over and over again. You have ideas of what you want, but those ideas change and evolve once you start seeing the characters move on a page, and start seeing them interact with each other. It's not always exactly what you imagined – but in a good way!