William Christensen is the publisher of Avatar Press and Bleeding Cool. He doesn't write for Bleeding Cool, believe me, I've tried – until now. When we managed to persuade him that with a Netflix show Warrior Nun airing based on an Avatar Press comic book, and a collection of Warrior Nun: Dora being Kickstartered, that maybe, just maybe, he might want to say something, well, that seemed to do the trick. He took the opportunity to talk with Warrior Nun: Dora's writer Pat Shand.
William Christensen: Hello, I'm William Christensen, the Editor-in-Chief of Avatar Press. With all the excitement about the Netflix WARRIOR NUN show, it seemed like a great time to talk more about the new WARRIOR NUN: DORA comic. Lest everyone forget, comics came first! It was my pleasure to hand-pick a creative team for the exciting new vision of WARRIOR NUN, with more modern sensibilities, when developing DORA. The writer is Pat Shand, an incredibly versatile wordsmith who has worked in every single genre. His first Avatar project was CROSSED +100: MIMIC, and now WARRIOR NUN: DORA. Thanks for taking the time for us to chat about our recent release WARRIOR NUN: DORA. We've done several books together at this point, what makes DORA really stand out in your mind?
Pat Shand: DORA is a brand new start for WARRIOR NUN, which gave us a lot of freedom to do whatever we wanted to do. A lot of my freelance work has been for characters in interconnected universes, which has its plus sides, but also comes with established mythology. DORA was my chance to create a book with its own rules, its own vibe, and its own voice. I've had most of my success as an indie creator, and I've been focusing a lot on creator-owned books. So I wanted to bring that indie energy to DORA while also making it something that anyone – young adults, superhero fans, horror fans, anyone – could love.
WC: It is always a challenge to re-introduce a series a few decades later. How do you think DORA differs from the original series?
PS: The goal is always to give respect, pay homage to the original while doing something that feels fresh. For DORA, it was all about the character to me. The basics of the mythology being tied to Christianity's angels, demons, and artifacts. That created a backdrop that was very easy to understand and build from, so we could focus everything on making Dora into someone that people can understand, empathize with, be disappointed in, believe in, watch grow, watch fail.
WC: I thought the 1990's setting is a cool retro-twist to what folks might expect, why set the story then?
PS: A few reasons, but the 1990s was a very DIY era – one that leans hard into the indie feel. Also, the 1990s was my era. I grew up as a 90s/2000s kid, so I don't have the nostalgia for the 80s content that's getting a big boost in pop culture now. I can watch "Stranger Things" and just enjoy it as a TV show, but it doesn't make me feel that yearning for the 80s. I wanted to give comics readers something that feels like that, though, a comic written in the modern style that lives in the 90s. Dora's style, her energy, all of it – the 90s was a time where it was cool to rebel against everything, and she's got some of that going on.
WC: With a title like Warrior Nun, obviously religion hangs heavy over the premise, but you deftly handled it in a way that neither invalided those beliefs nor forced Dora to convert. What a fine line to ride!
PS: Yeah, that was important to me. People go into a title like "Warrior Nun" and expect… you know, blasphemy. I wanted to subvert that because I think faith in something more can be a beautiful thing to have. People get touchy when you write about shit like that, religion, and even politics, but the truth is that these are part of our lives. I wanted to approach the ideas of rebellion and religion in a very human way – not preaching, not condemning, just allowing characters to exist, and have differences without taking a narrative stance myself.
WC: Certainly, a personal question, but any of your life experiences with religion influence your choices with this series?
PS: A Catholic priest told me I was about to make a choice that would send me to hell.
I've written about that before and told the story, but it stands out as something formative for me. I was raised Catholic, but I ended up growing away from the church in my teens. I wanted to switch to a church that was more welcoming, that didn't do sermons condemning gay people for just living their lives. Before I left the church, my mom wanted me to meet with the pastor to essentially hear his pitch. The "This is why you should stay Catholic." Instead of trying to sell me on the beauty and grace of the religion, Father Rick told me, "The Presbyterian church you're talking about doesn't believe that the Eucharist is the literal body of Christ… and you need to consume the body of Christ to get into heaven."
So this dude, this spindly guy who looked like Walter White if he never broke bad, right, tells me I'm going to hell because of bread.
I left the Catholic church then, and it's been a path of discovery ever since. I went to the Presbyterian church for a while, and I love the people there. I stopped going after some time and stopped praying, but about a year ago, I was driving through bad conditions on the way to a convention, and I prayed in the car. I realized, then, that at every scary point in my life, I do that… so ever since that realization, I've been praying every night. I spent a long time trying to intellectualize life and death and existence, but the truth is that when I feel most alone, I find that I believe in something greater. I figured it would be more honest to embrace that.
WC: Loads of people are discovering Warrior Nun for the first time from the new Netflix series now on the air, how does the comic compare in tone?
PS: I was thrilled watching the trailer because it's actually WAY closer in tone than I expected. It feels a lot like our series, with our balance of humor and drama, with our focus on characters – but just with a very 2020 feel. I couldn't have been happier when I saw the trailer. There are so many ways you can do a book like this – you can go dark and gothic, and that's what I expected. This, though, it feels like the comic and the show are cut from the same cloth.
WC: Finally, always a favorite question from people trying to get into writing, but anything special about your writing process?
PS: Each project is different – I try to tweak what I'm doing based on the energy of the story. With Warrior Nun, I had a rough idea of what I had to do in each issue. Still, instead of writing out a super detailed outline that I'd then break down into pages, I wrote the book page by complete page, because I wanted to allow myself to be surprised by what Dora did at every turn. A few times, I'd have her make a choice halfway through the issue that meant I'd have to go back and re-write or re-dialogue the entire first half. That's not how I always do it by any means, but I wanted that "anything could happen" energy.