Writer Notes: the Wicked + the Divine

Spoilers, obv.

Well, this was a horrorshow to get done. It took me forever to write the thing, there were all sorts of other problems in production and Stephanie had to work a nightmarish deadline to get it all together. Looking at the pages, I can see the febrile energy that bubbles off the pages, which is probably useful and very much the point.

I hope the next Special is easier. Though wishing for that kind of thing never seems to work out in WicDiv.

But still… I think it’s proved to be worth it. Obviously when asking Stephanie I suspected she would be Queen Gothic Horror, and that’s proved entirely right, and so much rests upon that. But it’s gone down well generally – probably slightly better than I was hoping for, in fact. That it is very much WicDiv 1831 worried me slightly.

But it all turned out okay. Phew.

(Well, except for anyone in the cast, but what else is new?)

Usual caveats apply: it’s a sampling off stuff written in a stream of consciousness style and is a tiny fraction of what’s going on. It’s especially worth noting here as I’m doing this off the top of my head, and won’t be looking up every reference I mention. Luckily, I won’t be mentioning all the references anyway, as where would be the fun in that?

1831 was set up all the way back in WicDIv 2, in the portrait gallery scene. I always wanted to do a story about them – and I always knew it’s be around Villa Diodati on that infamous night. It’s WicDiv, and we play the biggest hits and make them our own. That’s very much the point of the exercise. The core story – the creation of a creature by our Mary Shelley analogue who survives them all – was there. I knew I’d develop more, and wanted the space to explore. That was very much the point.

The research was reading around, reading the original works and some biographies, I came upon an angle I liked, but realised there were certain problems with it, implicit in the text. Did I want to actually, literally make Lord Byron into Lucifer? I would have to bend their life stories to make that work – and when they’re embedded in the period in certain key ways, that struck me as problematic. The night in the real world was 1816. Ours would have to be much later, based on our 90 year schedule. Plus, the characters would almost all be much younger, with a lot of biographic detail crammed in.

But that’s details, and I think I could have found a way around it. The big problem was that by saying they were 1:1 the characters, I would be slandering several figures, not least Claire Clairemont for whom I had a considerable degree of sympathy.

As such, while the characters lives are inspired by the people in question, they’re never given any other name than their god-names. Our Woden is ABOUT Mary Shelley (both person and literary figure) in a similar way to Lucifer is ABOUT Bowie… if a little more so. The Lucifer comparison also unlocks the timeline. Bowie in Thin White Duke mode is much earlier than 2016, so following that gives me my rules from where I’m picking inspirations for the rest of the 19th century pantheon – it’s basically 30 years before and about 20 years afterwards. A lot of wiggle, and normally leaned towards “Is that interesting and fun?” rather than intellectual stringency. WicDiv is a work of fantasy and a work of literature rather than the hard mechanistics of (say) Uber.

As such, we’re trying to do multiple things at once. In the most basic way, this is a gothic horror story. You can read it without knowing anything of any of the literary stuff and it should work. That’s the backbone. The rest is us doing our usual mode of decorating the genre Christmas Tree. Using the pop-song structure and cramming stuff inside it is very much our mode – but here it leans a little more literary.

That said, I kept on typoing “Mary” when I meant “Woden” when writing this, and almost certainly will have missed some in my extremely cursory proof. Man! I suck at this.

Right. Shall we begin?

Jamie’s Cover
We talked over a lot, and my main suggestion was to treat them like pop stars. Don’t do a period cover (we saved that for the icons). Treat them like any of our other characters, with a splash elsewhere. Equally, we reworked the outfits form those as seen in issue 2, for similar reasons.

Stephanie’s Cover
Stephanie live-painted this after completing the issue, which you can watch her. Very sensuous, very romantic, very doomed.

Worth noting we did one thing we’ve never done before on this issue – we put two quotes on the back. The Woden main-image has a Woden quote on the back, and the Inanna cover has an Inanna quote on the back. We felt that leaned into the fundamental duality of the issue. It’s a story about these two women.

IFC
I suggested in the script for 1 that we should only do one set of icons for the gods, across all the time periods. I did this solely to save work for him. Jamie insisted we do them for the 1920 gods… which meant that he has to do them here.

Thankfully, most the gods are dead. Phew.

Our favourite realisation was that Hades’ symbol was a Bident. We hadn’t heard of the word “Bident.” This amused us, and allowed us to make Bident visibility jokes.

Page 1

And here’s Hades!

As I said, I spent considerable amount of time trying to find an angle on the myth to make our own. The main biography I leaned upon was YOUNG ROMANTICS by Daisy Hay, because it was interested in seeing how the group of Romantics interacted with one another. Instead of having a single focus, as did most, it took a look more of the social model (which has obvious relevance to WicDiv – a book that isn’t driven by solitary geniuses, but how creative people interact with one another).

I played with using Leigh Hunt as the device to hold the group around, as he was central to all of this – I played with Ananke visiting him when in prison for a while. It didn’t seem quite right – Hunt was an important figure, but didn’t feel right to use as inspiration for a god.

I was talking over this with Chrissy when we were in Mexico, staying on a beach for a few days after a con. Having breakfast, in the brilliant sunshine, conversation turned to Keats, one of the figures I knew least well.

She drags out the following poem, which she feels is almost modernist…

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d–see here it is–
I hold it towards you.

…noting the image of a character, reaching out aggressively towards the reader. That brought to mind the famous FLASH covers (Buy this comic or else I die) and the Morrisonian-fourth-wall breaking.

It’s an immediately striking, desperate poem, and that hand seemed incredibly powerful.

Of course, this gave me the way to make my version of the story our own. Keats was in the extended social group (though he hated them, from what I understand) – if we’re going to raise the dead on the mountain, we would raise Keats.

The road was set to our core new idea: Zombie Keats.

ZOMBIE KEATS!!!!!

(It’s not Zombie Keats, but it’s my favourite way to describe the book)

Anyway, we give this to Stephanie, who goes to town. It has to be a full image to push the level of confrontation and intrusion. Rather than an aggressive gesture, this is weak, humane even. As the issue was longer than normal (26 pages instead of our usual 26) we get to play with space a little here.

Plus: look at the light here – there’s so much that Stephanie does with mood in this issue. Watching how it builds and ebbs is key.

Keats died in Rome, so our Hades does too.

Page 2
Oh, hello, Ananke. Long time no see.

The specials are designed to work by themselves… but also to not spoil the trade before them. As such, Ananke asking in a sinister fashion here isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s read as far as issue 11.

Stephanie does a wonderful Ananke. There’s a practicality of her here which I adore.

Clayton also had a work-out this issue. We tried a bunch of styles, some of which we’re going to probably come back to for the 1920s special whenever we get to it. This is the Norns’ lettering style, if you’re wondering where you recognised it.

Page 3
Bowie reference, obv.

The date is the same as the night where the real events of the Villa happened… and the year is 1831, chosen because that’s the year when the edition of Frankenstein where Mary actually told the story of that night in the introduction was published. So 1831 is justified as it’s where Mary tells her version of its creation myth. It’s where the night most famously becomes fiction.

In this version, it’s Claire trying to mythologise it. In real life, despite always claiming to want write her memoirs, she never did. Some letters have been uncovered from towards the end of her life, and they are seethingly angry. I don’t really blame her. More on Claire anon, obv.

One minor thing which I picked up from carrying on reading after the issue had got to press – Claire Claremont did write a short story and showed it to Byron, who quite liked it. Well, Byron said he liked it, and it’s always tricky to unpack what he means by anything. It was called THE IDIOT. It was lost to history. We’ll never know what it was like. I suspect in an alternative dimension, it’d have made a good alternate interstitial title here. Or THE IDIOTS.

Page 4
Another splash, the last in the issue. When all the supernatural stuff is so BIG, you’d think we’d spend it there. In this case, what seemed most important was the mood. Page 1 gets one part of the mood. This is the second half. Here is our location, and I wanted Stephanie to have space to conjure up this place.

It’s important for practical things later too – the movement at the end down to the Lake – but it’s key.

There was originally a LOT more dialogue on the page, but I cut it to the core. I didn’t want any captions getting in the way of what Stephanie was doing with the page. I’ve said this issue felt most Sandman when writing – fairly obviously, as it’s a comic that is playing a lot of literary games. It felt even more Sandman when it had all the captions the original draft had, which I strimmed. Editing is next to godliness, and I’m always trying to lean more on the artist whenever I can.

Oh – I guess it’s probably worth a few words on the event in general, as we’re riffing on it, for those who just don’t know it at all. Shortly: it was a very crappy day in a very crappy summer, and Lord Byron suggested everyone make up a horror story. Everyone has a crack, and two finished stories are notable. One by Byron’s physician Polidori eventually became The Vampyre, the first published Vampire story. The other, Frankenstein, is the mother of all modern Science Fiction.

(There’s a lot more here, but I don’t want to distract you.)

Polidori isn’t in this story, as narratively speaking he doesn’t really add a huge amount, especially in our characters compressing so much history into two years. He was smitten over Mary for all the period, and generally acted an idiot around her (There was one anecdote where encouraged by Byron, he leaps out of a first floor window to impress them and fucks himself up.) Basically he doubles-Shelley/Morrigan here. And he was also an ambitious wannabe, who wanted to climb higher… and Claire is a far more driven and interesting wannabe than him. Between Morrigan and Inanna, he’s extraneous.

There’s a suitable literary reason to lose Polidori: originally the Vampyre was believed to be Byron’s work. Our Vampyre comes from him. Myth not fact.

Perhaps best to say a little about Claire here. She was Mary’s step-sister, and there was an intense rivalry between the two, on every level, and it rarely went well for Claire. Claire had gifts (her singing was apparently excellent) but she was surrounded by some of the most important creative figures of her day… but wasn’t one of them.

The core of the story was basic: Imagine a universe where Claire Clairemont finds a way to get her wish.

The other aspect I’ll front load here is while this is one of the most famously re-told evenings in literary history (it’s almost JFK-assassination level in terms of over-done-ness) that the stories always seem to lean on Byron and Percy Shelley. That seems fucking bizarre. It’s literally Mary Shelley’s story. Only one person made herself immortal that night, and did so in a way which seems more and more important as time goes by.

The more research I did, the less interested I was in with Byron and Percy and the more I was with Mary and Claire. As far as I was concerned, everyone else is a bit player.

Oh – the epistolary structure primarily is meant to evoke the gothic mood and the literal telling of stories. We do a story-in-story structure, which tries to evoke Frankenstein.

Anyway – a lot less from now, I suspect.

Page 5
Oh man. Look at the dappling there. I want to ramble about Titian here. Generally speaking – and not to take away from her actual drawing – what I love in Stephanie’s work is how she draws emotion. It’s not like Jamie, where his acting is absolutely the core of what he does. I’d ask Jamie to draw someone having an emotion. With Stephanie, I’m looking for her to draw emotion.

Hey, nudity! There’s obviously a low level element of decadence here in the last few weeks of their cycle, but I’m surprised I’ve leaned into it so little. There’s so many rumours (and strong rumours, and some facts) about these four, I could have written half of them in and still appeared to be outrageous. Hell, I didn’t even touch on the bisexuality. Or Byron’s Bear. That I resisted the urge to have a Bear in it surprises me. I am very pro bear in all things.

Partially it’s just basic practicality – what is this story about? This is about family, death and immortality, and we’ve got 25 pages to hit that hard. Secondly is… that I have been inspired closely by these people, I felt voyeuristic by making these bits play out. Fiction? Sure. But stuff like – say – that it seems fairly likely Claire had a child with Percy and lost it seemed to intrusive. I reference a lot of this stuff softly, but not to make it text.

That said, we do give Lucifer a cloven hoof to turn Byron’s club-foot into something suitably WicDivian, so we’re not exactly beyond playing with the myth.

Page 6
First three panels are some of my favourite in the whole issue. I think Stephanie said as much on instagram as well. That angle on the window on the first panel is just unsettling… and then the close up on Ananke, and the reverse. I mean, Ananke’s expression? From that, all I get is “She knows.”

Colour watch – the blues and whites outside, the sickly yellows inside.

I believe this was a lot busier in captions, and I stripped it.

Page 7
Probably the page I’m least happy with in the issue in terms of my craft, and the integration of word and image. Not on Clayton, but me. A lot to do in this page.

Ugh. “A helping hand.” Byron, you are bad.

In terms of big poetry references, She Who Walks Without Beauty is the first one that really winks at the camera. For all the horror, there’s obviously an arch element to the issue.

“The Angel Of Soho” is the first of the dead gods to be referenced. It’s our William Blake analogue. You may note that we don’t actually say what god he is. The Poet/Engraver’s major project was constructing his own mythology, so while I didn’t want to let him have one of his own gods as his known god (as while I suspect some people would read him akin to Baphomet, I know not all will) I also wanted to leave the question mark. Blake saw angels, of course. I played with doing a lot more with that when considering 1831 at one point.

I digress.

Depressing sex scene at the bottom, which seems to be a very us thing to do. Originally much heavier captions, but it broke the rhythm. The image and the captions, here, are balanced. That creates a reading pattern, and a visual symmetry and is just more aesthetically pleasing.

Page 8-9
This page featured my favourite lettering note from Chrissy, as Clayton had put the tail of the INANNA! Balloon a little higher, and it made it appear that Inanna had a talking vagina.

And here’s Woden and Morrigan. Say hello, Woden and Morrigan.

Jamie did some simple character sketches for the core cast (who weren’t on his core), which Stephanie elaborated on. I love what she’s doing with Morrigan’s eyes throughout this. I know it’s Coleridge, but I find myself thinking of the end of Kubla Khan with his gaze. He sure has drunk some honey milk of paradise, man.

There’s part of the fun in these specials which is just seeing the different takes on the gods through the years. Seeing the Morrigan’s crows work in a different sort of gothic is fun. It’s fun for us. I believe it’s fun for you guys. Oh, what a time we have, etc.

One of the main things I took from my research was Percy Shelley was a fucking idiot who didn’t seem to quite understand why his wife may be a bit down after losing three kids. Er… it’s a bit more than that (and some of it is even worse) but Morrigan Just Not Getting It is something I wanted to maintain.

Page 10-11
First time I believe you can see Byron’s famous skull-goblet. None more goth,
etc.

The main structural problem here for Stephanie is making sure the two time periods are delineated. Part of how she does it is obvious – I love the change of rendering style for the flashbacks. There’s still something wonderfully austere about Woden here, and how Morrigan’s collars are flapping like wings. The other half is connecting those three flashbacks into a subunit.

This is all inspired by the real biographical details. When the Shelley’s eloped, Claire tagged along. I smile at this, and am aware that I could have done it another way if I was leaning into that part of their mythos. I mean, the Shelleys are someone you could make a reasonable argument they consummated their relationship on top of Mary’s mother’s grave.

(I mean, they probably didn’t. It was probably just their first kiss. But still…)

(The mother was feminist pioneer Mary Woolstonecraft who has already had a minor connection to WicDiv. I’ll give a special WicDiv thumbs up to anyone who knows it.)

(Oh yeah: Re: graveyard funtimes. none more goth, etc)

Odd lettering change: I didn’t have “witch” in the first draft of this for Ananke. Which is strange, as I’m clearly doing a fairy tale riff.

Page 12-13
I’m surprised the first panel actually holds together… but the wonderful thing is the most important expression is Woden’s. The flirty dialogue at the top means that you don’t reach Woden’s anger until time has passed – this is very much comic magic.

Key line here “Write, live, love.” Woden had ambitions other than this shit.

Mary lost three children, in various tragic settings. Her mother died in childbirth with her. That her experience of death and creation were core to Mary, and are certainly there in Frankenstein is stating the obvious. When doing the research, Mary was the person I kept on picking away at, thinking about how this stuff touches you. The deaths are compressed in timeline (but not by as much as you’d think). When extrapolating into Woden, it changes things: she’s a god. She is also walking dead.

Woden’s rant on page 13 is probably my favourite thing of mine in the issue. Not that prose out of context matters a jot. Comics! This is comics!

Page 14-15
And Lucifer takes total fuckwit of the month prize.

Woden using her powers in the third panel of page 14 to freeze the wine, is one of the many low level beats in the issue. As I’m skimming doing this, I suspect I’m missing a few.

And here we bring up the rest of the gods, and have a brief hello. It’s… shall we say, somewhat dense with allusions.  The Lonely Sisters are the Bronte Sisters analogues, and their scene a Wuthering Heights riff. Morpheus is inspired by Coleridge, and this story a riff on the famous caller from Porlock making him forget the end of Kubla Khan. This is arguably the most famous literary example of “My Dog Ate My Homework.” Thoth is inspired by Poe, and is probably the most jokey of them all, though Stephanie certainly keeps it sinister (It’s a mash up of The Raven, The Telltale Heart and The Murder on the rue morgue – spoilers for 170+ year old stories, but an orang-utan did it.) Hestia and Perun are the most poetic of the two allusions and the most hyper-compressed. Hestia takes from Austen. I originally worked in Prejudice as well as Pride into the suitors, but thought it a little too much. Perun comes from Pushkin. Here’s an excellent close reading of the sentence which picks up a bunch of stuff. The contextualisation of Pushkin as the father of Russian literature is, if you have to pick, the key thing.

Page 16-17
Lucifer is increasingly rocking the devil mood here. I say the story is about the two sisters, but Lucifer is the antagonist. He’s embodying Woden’s antithesis.

Main thing to watch for Stephanie here is the change from the inside warm top the unnatural electric blues.

Page 18
Chrissy says of Stephanie’s art is that she wants to be there. I suspect that’s not true on this page. This bodes ill.

I think these are her best expressions in the issue. The glee of Morrigan, Woden’s “Oh, FFS” and the mixture of arrogance and joy of Lucifer. Inanna, tellingly, not looking.

“Lucifer Victorious” is obviously ungrammatical, but pleases me as a flourish. The first time I ever worked as a professional writer, way back in 1995 for Amiga Power, I handed in the piece and it had my somewhat (er) idiosyncratic grammar. He asked why there seemed to be random capital letters throughout the piece: “Who do you think you are? Lord Byron?”

So Lucifer Victorious is for Steve, I guess.

Also… naked zombie keats! Not keats, Hades. Hell, maybe not Hades at all, etc.

Yeah, every big structuralist comic has to have a naked blue due. Those are the rules.

Page 19
A distant shot to show we’ve fucked up the house. There’s no way they’re getting their deposit back.

“I will be lucifer, or nothing at all” is part of my core understanding of Byron. Or at least, the part I’m interested in. Here’s a fragment of his I think of often…

When, to their airy hall, my father’s voice
Shall call my spirit, joyful in their choice;
When, poised upon the gale, my form shall ride,
Or, dark in mist, descend the mountains side;
Oh! may my shade behold no sculptured urns,
To mark the spot where earth to earth returns!
No lengthen’d scroll, no praise-encumber’d stone;
My epitaph shall be my name alone:
If that with honour fail to crown my clay,
Oh! may no other fame my deeds repay!
That, only that, shall single out the spot;
By that remember’d, or with that forgot.

…which for those who can’t be bothered to read poetry, basically says “Hey – when I’m dead, don’t make a fancy grave with statues and all that crap. Just a headstone with my name written on it – and if that’s not enough to make people know EXACTLY who I am, then it doesn’t matter: my life has been a failure, so you may as well forget me.”
I like to think of Byron, standing outside one of the Byron chain of burger restaurants in London and going “YOU FUCKS.”
Morrigan’s expression in panel 2 is just astounding. Those eyes!
Deciding how much of Claire was needed at each part of the story is key – she’s the observer, but she needs slithers of responses in here to guide us to remind us of their existence.
The grasping the mouth at the end of the page is an unusual beat for me. I think it speaks to the mode of comics we’re in. An action comic, you’d have the action after the page turn. Here, we’re about the dread of whatever is going to happen. We see Lucifer’s eyes. We know it’s going to be bad. How bad?
Page 20-21
Oh, that bad.
Note the colour change – electric blues immediately cut through with murderous, surrealistic reds. Go Stephanie! Work that palette.
Byron died of a fever. Percy Shelley died of drowning. Morrigan floating in the background of page 21 is one of the creepiest little things in the book.
A reader tweeted me saying they’d like to see me do a horror book. This does make me want to do a horror book with Stephanie. You never know.
Page 22
I don’t think I should say much about this page, as it just comes to saying what the issue is about. But yeah, go Woden, nice work.
It’s the sort of visual sequence that I’d have loved to have given masses of space to – the fragmenting of Woden, the changing of the Creature, etc. But when Stephanie does so much with three panels…
(The fury and tranquillity is the thing. The expression with the bright yellows beneath her as she flakes away…)
Page 23
And then this. Dreamy. Pretty even, as fragments of woden hang in the air. But “fragments of woden?”
I am still not used to writing “Woden” without thinking “Utter prick.”
Mood change is worth noting here. We go a crisp and cold. These are all Woden’s aesthetic.
This is the one page where I actually wrote more at lettering. Originally I don’t think I had any captions here, but I decided that as the core of the book meant that it wasn’t worth risking any confusion. Woden is gone. The creature looks like her. And now his heading off… oh? And if you’re not looking at the pictures properly, the lake is totally frozen.
Page 24-25
I did cut a little dialogue here though. The question is where you want to be enigmatic and why, y’know?
And the awful little gothic secret in the heart of the book. That tall second panel on page 25 is just delightful. It was one of the places I had dialogue which I lost, as the single image is much more (no pun intended, really) pregnant with possibility.
To state the obvious, Frankenstein ends like this. The recent Chip Zdarsky discovery is obviously also V important.
Captions click back in to give sense of closure and to ease to next scene…
Page 26
Where everything is verdant again. Colour, we are seeing it.
I stripped back a bunch here caption wise. What is core, and what is just showing my research notes? There’s a parlour game aspect to this story, at least on one level, but you have to balance it. Choose poetic examples rather than just turning it into a lit-fic kid’s version of Where’s Wally (or Waldo, if you’re in the US). Your mileage may vary.
After Byron died, his body was paraded around Britain and generally got huge crowds. Thinking of Byron as an actual real celebrity was one of the many big initial influences of WicDiv. Byron was a pop star in any ways that counts. Percy was burned, and there’s all sorts of stuff about his heart you can look up. Mary Shelley’s Great Work is out there, somewhere, and you should read it.
Claire did have Byron’s child. Allegra Byron was eventually taken into his possession, left at a convent for education, Byron refuses Claire was refused any form any access. Byron himself barely visited her. She died at 5. Byron seemed very upset in a poem. Shame he couldn’t give more of a fuck when she was alive.
Page 27
It’s odd. As I’m writing these I’m drifting away from the text story, to the metatext (and there’s at least two main metatexts in the book). That’s writers being writers, and what the story is about is complicated. I haven’t even said the obvious “Compare and contrast 1831 Inanna to 2014 Persephone.” The problem with being someone who likes doing these notes is that it risks at encouraging thinking there’s a solution to the work. Art doesn’t work like that. That said… yeah,  I don’t think Claire ever escaped her time in that group, in any meaningful way. In those final letters, you can still see the rage, and it’s rage I have nothing but sympathy for.
I was about to go into a ramble playing with the idea of Percey Shelley as a brocialist-esque figure, but that’s probably an essay in and itself. I’ll be quiet.
Oh – Stephanie! I love how Stephanie formalised the final click, in terms of making it feel like a work of art. It’s a book that interrogates a lot of this stuff, so it’s a wonderful. Then there’s some more expressions – the last two of inanna are really very touching.

Page 28
A nod towards Blake on Milton: ‘The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it’.
Oh – if you want to read a little more about the inspirations for this, while YOUNG ROMANTICS is good, I’d recommend you start with ROMANTIC OUTLAWS, which is a dual biography of Mary Shelley and Mary Woolstonecraft and incredibly good. The dual structure is interesting and powerful in lots of ways, not least in making you aware of the structures they both operated in. When you read a biography, you follow the lead, and tend to see all things bent around them. Woolstonecraft is seen via the prism of being Mary’s mother. Here, you see both at once, and can’t “just” think of someone in how they’re defined by their relationship matrix. It’s a fascinating way around some of our cognitive traps.
(It’s also got some sad elements where people who are already dead in Mary Shelley’s time are being born in Mary Woolsteoncraft’s. You know where they end up. That’s… hard.)
And that’s the first special. Next one after IMPERIAL PHASE (I). Hopefully we can make it measure up to this one, and I’m already at work on it. We’re busy putting the first issue to bed right now, and it’s going stunningly well. The fourth trade is out in the first week of October.
Thanks for reading.