Under The Skin Of Geekie Award Nominated Boston Metaphysical Society With Madeline Holly-Rosing

By Michele Brittany, a West Coast Bleeding Cool Correspondent

She encapsulates the concept of a modern day renaissance woman: she has a wide breadth of knowledge and experience, rolled up into a talented and creative person. I'm referring to Madeleine Holly-Rosing who has recently been nominated for a Geekie Awards' in the Best Comic/Graphic Novel category. She is the creator and writer of the comic book series, Boston Metaphysical Society, a six-issue series she describes as a "steampunk X-Files". With a chance conversation and the cast of one vote, the series was born, however the elements of this paranormal story can be found in Holly-Rosing's own fascinating story.

Madeleine Holly Rosing

Holly-Rosing was born and raised in Southern California, moving around a bit due to her father's work within the aerospace industry. When they moved to Palm Springs, she was old enough to help with a family business, a camera shop, and it was an experience that would resurface through her characters, Andrew and Caitlin O'Sullivan.

Storytelling and reading were early pursuits. Holly-Rosing could remember telling stories to her first grade transcriber and making a conscious word choice decision to use "hurt" rather than "kill." Her older brother influenced Holly-Rosing's interest in science fiction because she read all of his books. He was always into comics, having a huge graded collection of Daredevil. However, his interest in superheroes did not rub off onto her and she said she thought that all comics were stories of superheroes. She also enjoyed reading fantasy and history, which would also influence Holly-Rosing's writing in years to come.

Holly-Rosing was also into sports. She said, "my parents were not too happy when I wanted to participate in sports," because they believed in traditional gender roles for their daughter. It was a role she would challenge over the years.

She went off to University of California, Santa Cruz then on to Columbia University in New York to study Politics and Arabic Studies to prepare for a career in foreign services. She tried fencing and sports became her focus. She finished her degree but she had found her passion and became part of the National Women Épée Team.

Holly-Rosing worked as a paralegal in New York, which supported her fencing career. The work was flexible so she could attend competitions. She became a national champion. In the mid 1990s, she returned to Southern California and she retired from fencing. She returned to academia, this time to study screenwriting at the University of California, Los Angeles.

It was in her third year in the Television Studies track that Holly-Rosing had an assignment to come up with three television ideas that the class would vote the best one for further development. She liked the ghost story genre, so one idea was a late 1800s paranormal detective agency, another about a female superhero, and one other story. Her paranormal idea won by one vote: the seed of Boston Metaphysical Society (BMS) was born.

BMS Covers

Boston Metaphysical Society Comic Book

She completed her assignment, but it was just the beginning of Holly-Rosing's journey into comic books. It wasn't a surprise to Holly-Rosing who stated that, "screenwriters make good comic book writers because we already think visually." And, although the structure of tv pilots and comics are different, they have the same information, just presented differently. The series provided her the opportunity to blend fiction, history and a bit of steampunk, sprinkled with social commentary, via the setting and the characters Holly-Rosing developed. As a result, Boston Metaphysical Society is an engaging and fascinating tale that culminates her historical knowledge, past experiences and research, such as working in a camera shop and working on her Sloan Fellowship.

From the first issue released in 2012 to issue four released earlier this year, Holly-Rosing has pretty much kept her creative team line the same from issue to issue: artist Emily Hu, colorists Gloria Caeli and Fahriza Kamaputra and letterer Troy Peteri. "I want to keep the comic as consistent as possible," she said when I asked her if it was challenging to keep the same creative team over multiple years. While there have been a couple of changes, such as Shawn Aldritch rather than Tony Peteri on lettering in issue four for example, the change in creative line up hasn't detracted from the story experience.

I asked Holly-Rosing why she chose Boston since steampunk is usually set in Victorian England. She said that Boston represented the American experience. The city offered much: it was part of the American Revolution and it afforded her the chance to weave a tapestry of class, racial, and gender struggles. It was an important ideology, which emerged from the setting, but "without beating people over the head" with her values and judgments. Finding ideological balance set the tone but she also needed to find equilibrium between story flow and technology. Science and fantasy was Holly-Rosing's background, so she had a little bit of a learning curve with steampunk. She approached it from the stance that elements of steampunk needed to arise as a result of the characters and the story. In fact, readers are given a behind-the-scenes look at Holly-Rosing's artistic direction to artist Emily Hu, in the extras of issue one, where she asks Hu for steampunk accents be added according to the character's background and means.

Holly-Rosing's series gathers together an ensemble cast of characters, some real and fictional, representing all classes, race and gender. Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Harry Houdini make up an intellectual scientific group called B.E.T.H. Although Houdini is outside of their time period, according to Holly-Rosing, he brings a human aspect to the story and attempts to bridge a social inequality that exists between the characters. Another exists between paranormal detective Samuel Hunter and his young Irish assistant, spiritual medium and photographer, Caitlin O'Sullivan. And a third, Granville Woods, a talented scientist is African American and must deal with racism. While the overarching story follows the group's efforts to find an evil entity known as The Shifter, the story is really about the relationships between the characters. Unfortunately, due to the constricting space of the comic book medium, some supporting characters are hinted at or have limited appearance.

BMS Interior 1

Expanding the BMS Universe

Holly-Rosing has expanded the Boston Metaphysical Society universe with several novellas and short stories, where she and readers learn more about the characters they met in the comic book series. For instance, in the opening pages of issue one, readers meet Andrew O'Sullivan, who like his daughter Caitlin, shares the ability to channel spirits. However, the elder O'Sullivan meets his demise. In The Devil Within, the audience learns more about the father's hope and concern that his daughter does not share his gift. In The Secret, Holly-Rosing's uses Elizabeth (Weldsmore) Hunter's voice to describe when she and Samuel Hunter met, while he was still a Pinkerton detective. And The Demons of Liberty Row is Woods' story.

Beyond the comic book and the short stories, what's in store for Samuel, Caitlin, Granville and the others? Is there an RPG in their collective futures? Will their story move outside of Boston? Holly-Rosing is definitely interested, but she needs to find more time since she is wears all the hats of her business. Her husband, who works full-time, helps where he can. "What I'd like to do is start working with the right partner to develop BMS into other platforms." And while the comic will stay rooted in Boston, new characters and locations will be introduced through her novellas and short stories in the future.

BMS Interior 2

Reception For BMS

"I want them to be entertained and to think about the issue of class in our society and how it affects us," Holly-Rosing responded when I asked what she wanted readers to take away from reading Boston Metaphysical Society. The story shows how the gradations of class are subtle, but still there. She believes that in addition to class and sexism, racism is addressed, especially in the relationship between Caitlin and Granville. Each have been shunned by society and because of it, they find a respect for each other that the other characters struggle to bridge, most pointedly in the first four issues of the comic series.

And what has been Holly-Rosing's biggest surprise? "Getting fans!" She explained that screenwriters don't usually get recognition beyond the industry, so when she is at the various cons and events, she said taking pictures and giving autographs is an amazing experience. She has found the comic book and steampunk communities to be extremely supportive. Last year, she received an Honorable Mention at the Geekie Awards, but this year, she has been nominated for Best Comic/Graphic Novel, alongside her friend and colleague, George Wassel who is the writer/creator of the comic book series Oh Hell! They have often traveled to the cons over the past couple of years. "I was stunned to hear about it [the list of nominations] and thrilled for George. We developed both of our comics in the same class," she said and added, "I'm very excited for both of us!"

On the heels of the Geekie Award news, Holly-Rosing just started a Kickstarter to cover the production and printing costs associated with issue five, which she plans to release in January 2015. She experienced both success and failure with her crowd funding campaigns in the past, but she remains optimistic. "It takes a lot of time and preparation, nor is it for the faint of heart. The first Kickstarter I ran was excruciating, but I learned so much from it that when I look back I think it was almost worth not meeting our goal…though obviously it would have nice if we had."

BMS Interior 3

You can check out Holly-Rosing's Kickstarter campaign for issue five of Boston Metaphysical Society going on now through September 12. If you are interested in reading her short stories and novellas, they are available at her website as well as the Amazon, Nook, Smashwords and DriveThruFiction. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ or meet her in person at Rose City Comic Con, Long Beach Comic Con and Horror Show, and the Alternative Press Expo.


Photograph cover of The Demons of Liberty Row courtesy of Madeleine Holly-Rosing. All other photography by Michele Brittany.

Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer and editor of the forthcoming title James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (McFarland & Company). She regularly posts reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage genre on her blog, Spyfi & Superspies and can be followed at Twitter @mcbrittany2014.

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Hannah Means ShannonAbout Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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