Strike A Pose: Kieron Gillen On Creating ‘The Wicked & The Divine’ Fashion Magazine [Interview]
Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles' The Wicked + The Divine is known for going bigger, better, and bolder as the series continues, but the next issue of the gods-as-popstars mega-hit may just be the creative team's boldest idea yet. Instead of telling a traditional comic story with sequential art, The Wicked + The Divine #23 is presented as an in-universe glossy fashion magazine about the lives of The Pantheon.
With interviews by some of the most notable critics and journalists, and Kevin Wada making his interior comics debut with gorgeous illustrations that serve as the magazine's photoshoots, The Wicked + The Divine #23 is unlike any comic this year.
ComicsAlliance chatted to Kieron Gillen about the process of creating a fictional magazine and how the WicDiv team are going to top it next.
CA: When did you come up with the idea for a magazine edition of WicDiv, and what was the reaction from your collaborators and the magazine's contributors?
Kieron Gillen: Basically, Kevin and us have a sort of mutual love affair and we wanted to do an issue. Kevin just doesn't do sequentials, so it couldn't be traditional. I had a think, and realized that a magazine format full of Kevin being the in-world fashion photographer and us mimicking a magazine structure would work. From that, it cascaded quickly --- we knew we'd want Jamie and Matt to contribute, in which case they could do all adverts, and so on.
I had the idea at Emerald City, and basically ran over [to Kevin] and asked if he'd be up for it, and he said yes. So phew.
Having the articles be also the work of real world journalists and critics came afterwards, in one of those random fancies which seems interesting. Like most of the really experimental stuff we do, there was always an eject button I could have pressed. I had no idea if the "role-play in chat as the gods, and then have the writers write up" would work. We tried Leigh [Alexander]'s first, as she's a good friend, as a test run... and thankfully it did.
In terms of the writers' responses, it was generally amused at the concept and instantly enthusiastic. It's been a lot of work to do, but it's also been a giggle. The transcripts of the interviews have so much material in that aren't even in the interviews. We could have sat and done in-character adventures all day.
CA: What was the collaboration process like, working with Kevin Wada, and what made him the right artist for the job?
KG: He's the right artist for the job because it was a job that was literally conceived with Kevin in mind. He's inspirational, and a true original. There's so much WicDiv does which is about the sensuality, style and glamour, and that's exactly what Kevin brings to the page --- plus a playfulness, and intelligence.
The collaboration was pretty basic --- we wanted to create space for Kevin to go wild. The main thing which came from the collaboration was Kevin had a desperate desire to draw Lucifer, so I realized I could do a retro interview from before she died for various plot based reasons. It was a little similar with the other writers --- I started by asking who they'd be interested in talking to.
CA: Do you have any favorite pieces? Anything that took you by surprise?
KG: The shocking thing is how well it works as a magazine. Everyone on the team has ones they love. I think my personal favorite image is actually of Woden, reclining in a hot pink suit and looking sexy for perhaps the first time in the whole history of the book.
In terms of the articles, I really couldn't pick. Each of them brings their own voice to the material, which is exactly what we wanted. You get to compare and contrast Leigh's capital-R romantic fascination with Morrigan, to Dorian [Lynskey]'s clean edged hyper-realistic mode interview with Baal, to Laurie [Penny]'s confrontational gonzo face-off with Woden, to Mary [H.K. Choi]'s drinks on the town with a particularly flirty Lucifer, and Ezekiel [Kweku]'s sensitive unpicking of Amaterasu. They're all unique prisms of looking at the WicDiv universe.
CA: WicDiv is a comic where we know exactly when everything happens. Where does Pantheon Magazine fit in to the series and the story?
KG: It fits at the start of the "Imperial Phase (Part 1)" arc, obv.
The magazine is a couple of months after the conclusion of "Rising Action," so it's really our introduction to the new Status Quo --- plus a chance to do some extra character background work on certain characters. It also pushes the story on in all the ways you'd expect from an issue of WicDiv.
That's the thing with WicDiv --- as you say, it's a very ornate, planned comic... but it's got a structure that allows us to play and experiment. It's a case that we have all this material and plans, and work out exactly how we're going to bring that all to the page. In the case of the magazine issue, it's a very thematically appropriate opening to the decadence and excess of "Imperial Phase." This is a very showy and expensive to produce endeavor, so sets the tone for the Hollywood Babylon period of the book.
CA: The presentation reminds me of the "grimoire" issue of Phonogram: The Singles Club. Was that a jumping off point for going bigger and bolder in this issue?
KG: That did occur to me as well, but no, it's not a conscious thing. It's more that both issues grew from the same place --- namely, our love of text and image, and non-traditional ways of using that in comics. I've said that WicDiv is a love song to everything we've ever loved, and that certainly includes magazines (my teenage obsession over the form led to my 20s living in that world) and in-world material (Watchmen is an influence. I may have said that before).
It's also fun to compare the two issues, and how they appear in the books. The Logos issue of Phonogram is all photocopied mess, which had Jamie and I attacking paper with scissors and glue. This is an opulent style mag produced in a full professional style, with some of our favorite writers in the world. That seems emblematic of the difference between the two books.
CA: Is it a different experience getting in the characters’ heads to write them in a comic and getting in their heads to speak as them in an interview?
KG: I was worried about it for every single one, and the first ten minutes of typing was always nervous... but it ended up being worryingly natural, even for voices as hyper-stylized as Morrigan. There was surprisingly little massaging of quotes afterwards, for example. Changes were primarily for world-building details and clarity rather than style. Lucifer was a special joy. All the bon mots and dry one-liners just were improvised in the moment. It does speak to how much these characters have taken over my mind.
CA: Lastly, how do you plan to top this? Is there a WicDiv roleplaying game in the works?
KG: I like to think our ultimate aim is to make reality into a 24-7 WicDiv LARP.
The element of surprise and glee is absolutely part of WicDiv. When Jamie and I were doing Young Avengers, we wanted there to be at least one thing every issue where people just blink at what we've tried to pull off. So things like the magazine issue is certainly feeding into that tradition. We're a book that wants to delight you, to leave you not entirely sure whatever is going to be inside the covers every issue.
So... yeah, there's a few more issues in the spirit of this down the line. ... Nothing quite this expensive, I think, but pushing it hard in different ways. Some have been planned all along --- there's a particular fight issue which I've been playing in my head since I conceived of the book. Others are still hard: I had the idea for an issue in the final year of the book that arrived when I did the math on something, and realized that we have to 100% try it. It is going to be brutally, punishingly hard for Jamie.
Funny you mention RPGs and comics, actually. I have had some thoughts about that.
I am a total tease.
The Wicked +The Divine #23 is out in comic stores and digitally on November 2nd.