Something Wicked (+ Divine) This Way Comes: An Interview with Kieron Gillen
Jun 15, 2014
New this week is Image Comics' The Wicked + The Divine (APR140486), the latest collaboration between writer Kieron Gillen & artist Jamie McKelvie.
Gillen spoke with PREVIEWSworld about what readers can expect from the new title that offers capricious gods, awestruck mortals, and a first issue that's offered with three covers!
PREVIEWSworld: What is The Wicked + The Divine about?
Kieron Gillen: The core concept of the book is that every ninety years or so twelve gods reincarnate as young people. They're brilliant, loved, hated, draw crowds of people who go into rapture when they speak. There's even rumours of them performing secretive miracles.
Within two years, they're dead.
The story starts with nine of the twelve gods recinarnated and the world dealing with these stars in their midst. Our lead is Laura, who's a south London girl and a completely devoted fan of all the gods (well – most of them.) She doesn't just love them. She wants to be them. Her fondest desire is to have everything they have.
She meets Lucifer – or Luci, as she prefers to know. Luci has a problem that Laura can help her with. They make a deal.
PREVIEWSworld: Does David Bowie actually make an appearance? Or is it a “David Bowie”-like character?
Kieron Gillen: Oh, no. Our characters are inspired by both pop stars and gods. The Gods are also only half the question. The other half of the equation is the pop-star archetypes. In a real way, some of the gods came first and with some the pop star came first. We had a list with two columns, and eventually [it] matches up the right God to the right Pop-Star Archetype. It was like a dating game.
Sometimes they came at the same time. Lucifer would be the best example of that – who's the Bowie/Lucifer collision. Someone with like Amaterasu, the pop star came first. Someone like Baal, the god.
PREVIEWSworld: You’ve mentioned that you wanted your next project be “new." Do you think there are aspects of this book that are completely unique to the comic book industry?
Kieron Gillen: Am I egotistical enough to say that? Probably, but you'd have to catch me a little later in the day with a few more drinks in me.
We mainly mean NEW in a “this is a new thing." We were planning to do Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl after Young Avengers, basically. One night, I realised it wasn't what we should do.
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 of 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. Let's make a new comic for 2014. Let's do it.
So it's that kind of New. We want to make a fantasy world for people to fall in love with, from scratch, to be about the world as we find it in. I mean – remember how amazing Buffy or the Matrix were in the 90s? They had obvious huge sweeping influences (Buffy being Whedon processing his love of '80s Claremont, The Matrix being streamlined '90s Vertigo – and both being superhero universes stripped of almost all the pure-genre tropes purged) but they had that authorial firmness of a place you could lose yourself in.
Basically, we want to do something like that.
That kind of New.
But, yeah, with a reputation for pushing the formalist boundaries, they'll certainly be some fun experimental stuff in there.
PREVIEWSworld: There are so many mythological and supernatural characters and elements in this book. Why did you decide to set this book in 2014?
Kieron Gillen: Well, it's not just set in 2014. It happens every 90 years or so, so there's room for doing stories in previous appearances of the gods.
But in short? If you want to make a story about the NOW, you set it in the NOW.
PREVIEWSworld: Do you incorporate any modern aspects of 2014 into the mythological themes of this book?
Kieron Gillen: The gods are humans before they become the Gods. As such, all of them are entirely embedded in our culture, in different places. As such, there's as many modern elements as any living human. They're gods in many, scary ways, but the humanity is front and central.
Just because you're immortal, doesn't mean you're going to live forever.
PREVIEWSworld: How do the “gods” in this book compare to gods like Zeus, etc.? Do they have the same mythological “powers” or are they something else entirely?
Kieron Gillen: Well, they could be Zeus. I've got gods with as familiar a name to you as “Zeus.” I did want 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 and of itself. I was especially careful with pantheons that are still worshipped in an extensive way today. There were some of my favourites I just wanted to get in too.
This has been happening 90 years, forever. However, the “miracles” have always been secretive. Their real power that people see is the ability to inspire people into rapture – or, at least, most people. The miracles, if they really happen, are very much behind the scenes.
Yes, you may imagine this may change pretty quickly in our story.
Which Gods are we using? I'm 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 story. We like people speculating.
PREVIEWSworld: Where did you find the inspiration for this book? Did you do any research on mythology or did you create this book strictly using your imagination?
Kieron Gillen: The core concept of the story came to me in the depressing week after I was told my Dad's cancer was terminal. Death sits at the heart of the book. It's a pop song of a book, but it's got that dark heart to it.
There's been considerable research, but not in the way of Über and Three. They are hard historical texts. 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 you'll pick 'em up.
But at the least there was a lot of wandering through pantheons and deciding who would be fun to play with. I love mythology. A lot of my books have played with mythological patchworks. This is a logical extension of that.
PREVIEWSworld: The lead, Laura, is she a human? Do you relate to her in any way?
Kieron Gillen: She's a normal south London girl who desperately wants to be a god. She's very much tapping into myself at the age. Everything I write is autobiographical, in some way or another. If I can't tap my own emotions, it's just dead on the page. I'm that kind of writer.
Laura is 17 year old me, trying to work out how to write. Laura is 25 year old me, trying to work out why she's writing anyway. Laura is 38 year old me, writing this with a cup of tea. They're all me. They're all who I wanted to be, and never stopped wanting to be, even when I was. The Wicked + The Divine is me creating a cast of people I'd have killed to be, and then throwing them onto the fire. It's me saying goodbye to all those me-s.
PREVIEWSworld: This is your third book with Jamie McKelvie; what is your favorite part about collaborative books and working on that team?
Kieron Gillen: We get to mock each other 24-7 on Twitter. It's like performance art.
Joking aside, he's the best thing that's ever happened to me as a creator. We've worked together so much now that we basically know each other to a scary degree. The Wicked + The Divine is basically what happens when you work with someone for over a decade. It's almost telepathic. We save each others' asses on a daily basis.