By David Dissanayake
There's really not much more that needs to be said. These guys are one of the greatest bands in comics, right up there with Morrison/Quitely/Grant, and Brubaker/Phillips/Breitweiser. Anything they produce is sure to be a hit, and this one is absolutely killer.
I had a nice chat with Kieron about the book (designed by Hannah Donovan and edited by Chrissy Williams, by the by) and it sounds like this really will be the band's best album yet:
DD: So you've talked about wanting to follow Young Avengers with something new as opposed to going back to an older project like Phongram, and I've heard you describe The Wicked + The Divine as "state of the art." Can you talk more about what you mean?
KG: It means I'm awfully egotistical, that's what it means.
I started writing the first Phonogram in 2004. I had the idea a little before. The Immaterial Girl is set in 2009. It was written in 2010-2011. The idea of coming off the back off a book that was so much about the possibilities of the new as Young Avengers and returning to work with that long history just felt like some kind of betrayal. If we're going to follow our own advice, we're going to look at the world where we find ourselves and see what we have to say about the moment, and what comes next. It was the right moment to start something new rather than finish something old. This is us walking like we talk it. This is us starting with a blank sheet, taking everything that we've learned across our time in comics and life, and putting it on the page.
By State of the Art, we really mean we want to be everything that a smart pulp-pop comic can be in 2014. We want to be great. As good as our reviews and response have always been, we want to be better. We want to be your go-to reference point of where we were in 2014. We want to be the book people rip off. That's all. Nothing much.
We'll fail, obv, but we didn't get into this comic book business to be crap.
DD: So you've gone through and researched the different Pantheons of gods for this series. Tell us a little about the research side of the project. Was this something that was anywhere close to as research-intense as Three and Uber?
KG: There's been considerable research, but not in the way of Uber and Three. They are hard historical books. Here, I'm much more interested in cultural history and interpretation. Fundamentally, I'm interested in Ideas. I don't even want to mention which books I'm leaning on at this point, as I want people to enter the world as cleanly as they can – but they'll end up expressly referenced in the story itself, so don't worry.
A lot of it was wanting to mix it up in terms of its sources. I wanted to have some gods with a certain degree of – for want of a better phrase – Star Power, but ideally those which weren't over-exposed elsewhere. I mean, I wasn't going to use LOKI or THOR or something, as that'll inevitably take the gods to be commentary on the Marvel Universe rather than anything in an of itself. I was especially careful with pantheons that are still worshipped in an extensive way today. There were some of my favorites I just wanted to get in too.
I'm also being a little coy about what Gods are in it. The "which god is going to emerge next?" is totally a big part of the book.
The Gods is also only half the question. The other half of the equation is the pop-star archetypes.
DD: What's your approach to balancing the archetypes for the gods with those of pop stars, since it seems like the incarnations in W+D are a blending of both, unless I'm off-base…
KG: Oh no, you're 100% on base. Gods as pop stars and pop stars as gods is 100% what we're doing. This is about these enormous towering cultural figures who inspire the world and change it with their presence. For example, we realize who the 19th century Lucifer was in issue two. This is about a dialogue between the two. I mean, Pop-Stars is even a cheat. What I mean is cultural figures. In times when there were no pop stars, I use riffs on similarly shamanistic or inspiring figures.
The gods don't really perform in a "we are just singing" way. When the gods get in front of a crowd, they basically do a speaking-in-tongues thing, which is about a pure art. This isn't meant to be 1:1 for any particularly art form. It's a meta-art form. It's the art form that all other art forms aspire to.
DD: In another interview you mentioned W+D as an "anti-nostalgic" story. And of course the incarnations in the story aren't exact personifications for specific pop stars, but why choose older people like David Bowie and Prince, as opposed to more modern pop-icons like Kanye West or Lady Gaga?
KG: I'd urge people to ignore my shorthand as – say – "Lucifer as Bowie" to imply that's all there is to them. Most of the Gods are drawing from multiple pop-stars, and I'm drawing lines through time between different artists who've gone to a similar source. I'm thinking of the throughline between Bo Diddley doing "Who Do You Love" and Kanye doing "POWER". There's twelve gods in every generation. There's room for me to hit a lot of things. All the people you mention are certainly people who I'm thinking of in terms of influences of other gods.
I'll have to note that an anti-nostalgic story using historic/nostalgic material is something that I've done before. That's exactly what Phonogram: Rue Britannia is.
Hmm. I can't actually remember me saying WicDiv was anti-nostalgic. I suspect I was talking about in approach to the page. It's not a year-zero style book like Young Avengers. It's a book that's pretty explicitly at home with what's made us at humans.
And then we're going to set fire to it.
DD: Can you tell us a little about your approach to form on this series? I've heard you say that W+D is dissimilar to Young Avengers in the sense that it has more of a measured step? How do you think that conveys itself in both the process and form of the book?
KG: WicDiv is less frenzied. Young Avengers' falling over itself energy came from a lot of places, not least my own frustration. That was both a strength and a weakness, but also unavoidable. That's where I was then, and that's what I had to do. Jamie, of course, is my enabler.
The maturity is the thing I'd stress, at least in the first issue. Jamie and I have done a lot of work. Young Avengers explicitly pushed things formally hard. To be frank, we'll be pushing things formally far harder than YA ever did at certain points down the line, but we didn't feel the need to do it at the start. We knew what the first issue had to do. We talked about it. We worked out the best way to do it. We did it.
Control matters intensely. We have learned a lot over the years, and – especially in the first issue – this is incredibly precise. It's meant to be questioned and considered, it's meant to have essays written about, but I think you can read it as a pop thrill in a way which you couldn't for much of what we do. Ideally, I want to marry the best of all our previous work in The Wicked + the Divine. We could never have done this ten years ago. If we could, the last ten years would have been a waste.
DD: So with that all that said, how would you say your working style and approach to story has changed? How do you think what you've learned as a writer enables you to do something as ambitious as W+D sounds like it's going to be?
KG: As I said, I just know a lot more now. If I didn't, that would be worrying. I'm as frenzied about this work as I ever was when writing Rue Britannia. I haven't felt this disturbed and uneasy in my own skin since those days. But I'm a different man, and with everything that's happened, I can craft that and turn it into something where the thing that's powering it doesn't destroy it. Knowing how to move between the confessional mode to the pulp mode and back again? I can do that now. I can do so much now I could never do then.
In a real way, if I could sum up everything I've learned into a short, sharp answer, it wouldn't say much for this book. This is a summation of 38 years of loving pop culture, of loving pop, of loving story, of loving people. This is everything I've ever learned, turned into a single world trying to express those fundamental truths.
And that's the odd thing? Ambition doesn't even really come into it. I'm more at home in my skin to worry about ambitious. The stuff I do ends up ambitious without even trying just because of my general nature. I'm never going to do a cut to the bone thing. But this isn't like The Singles Club, where I was expressly trying to show exactly what I could do with time, space and comics. The only aim in this one is excellence.
DD: Has the way you working relationship with Jamie changed? Do you write for him differently than you do, say, Canaan or Ryan Kelley? What was it about this story that made you want to do it with Jamie?
KG: We're just more at home with each other than ever. I mean, you've seen us on twitter? The old married couple happily snarking away and falling into roles, setting up each other's jokes and taking turns of being the butt of them. There's a sense of generosity and performance, a lack of ego in the work. That stuff only comes from working together for as long as we have. Working with Caanan and Ryan is wonderful, but the longer you dance with an artist, the more you get, and the sort of deep integration you get after over a decade is something else.
There was a conversation that popped up a few times at the Image Expo, when The Wicked + the Divine was announced. Basically, it was the nature of the Industry to take people who arrived on the scene together, and separate them. There's so many creators who arrived in a writer/artist team and then time and work made them drift apart. That didn't happen with Jamie and me, and despite basically working in the demi-mainstream for most of this, and not only with each other, we've managed to basically keep a fundamental GillenMcKelvie thing going. Not constantly, but now and then we do something, and it's almost always among the best things I've ever done.
I mean… the Expo? Every other creator there came on with a projector slide which said their name. You know – MATT FRACTION. CHRIS BURNHAM. KELLY-SUE DECONNICK. SCOTT SYNDER. Every single one of them, this enormous name. And then there's us, coming on to KIERON GILLEN JAMIE MCKELVIE. We have our own careers, but there's a hybrid entity there. That is just a different thing.
Why Jamie for this? It had to be Jamie. I think anyone who reads it and knows our work knows that this comes from that very specific place where our aesthetics join.
DD: Finally, what comics are exciting you these days? Are there new series that you're interested in or any old hidden gems that have really spoken to you recently?
KG: Too many. Really, too many. It's an incredible time for comics. I watched the last year in a completely envious fashion and watch so many friends and peer drop project after project, and aware I wasn't having something as incandescently pure and now out there. All the big Image hits? They're all hits for a reason. We live in a time where Sex Criminals can be enormous. SEX CRIMINALS! This is a joyous, wondrous time. Every time refresh my twitter stream it seems that something febrile is being released, twitching, brutal, beautiful and compelling. I almost don't want to name anything just because there's so much I'm missing out. We're in a time where Lumberjanes and Southern Bastards and The Auteur are all being compelling and excellent in entirely separate ways. How can anyone resist this? I'm just glad that I'm getting to be a part of it.
Old stuff? Been thinking about Nextwave, Scott Pilgrim and I Kill Giants a lot recently. Sort of a mid-00s kick, in terms of picking them apart and thinking what they said about the time they appeared. But to quote Calvin, There's Treasure Everywhere.
The Wicked + The Divine #1 is released June 18th, 2014. Ask your local retailer to order you a copy using Diamond ID: APR140486. It's going to be a hell of a ride.