Writer Notes: The Wicked + the Divine 26

Spoilers,
obv.

This felt like a big issue to us. I mean, in a literal sense it was a big
issue. We normally are 20 pages of art (plus cheats). This is 23
pages of art, due to me completely fucking up and writing a 22 page
script extremely early, thinking I’d go back to it and work out a way
to compress it to 20. Except I forgot I had extra work to do on the
script, so didn’t leave enough time to rework it before Jamie had to
get it. And then Jamie insisted on expanding a sequence by a page,
because he loves you guys, or at least loves the comic.

I
don’t really think I could have compressed it without hurting the
comic either. I compress the action at the start, and it leaves a
reader cheated. I talked about false drama of cliffhangers last time,
and if you don’t have at least some manner of satisfying that
promise, it’s a cheat, and not in an interesting way people would
thank us for. However, at the same time, that’s not what we’re really
doing here. Equally, losing stuff from the back of the issue would
move it into the next issue… and that is also sub-optimum,
for reasons you’ll see next time.

Put
it like this: Jamie joked “can we split this issue in two?” and I
took it entirely seriously, and started doing the math on making this
a seven issue arc.

But
no.

There’s
also one change which should be mentioned – we’ve gone up to $3.99
from $3.50. Why? Image suggested we should. There are very few Image
books that are $3.50 now. The vast majority are $3.99. We’ve had our
price set at $3.50 ever since 2006, with the exception of Immaterial
Girl. We figured we should listen to our publisher. 50 cents across a
decade seems reasonable, especially in an industry where $3.99 seems
standard.

Anyway,
let’s do this thing…

Jamie/Matt’s
Cover
The Norns, and they are kind of core to this issue, so more
of a connection between cover and contents than for most of the
issue. For reasons that become clear this issue, The Norns and Baal
step forward as alternative protagonists for the story structure.
They are key.

There
was considerable EEEK! Over the wearing of masks.

Nicola
Scott’s Cover

Nicola’s
wonderful. I’ve wanted a candid photo cover for most of WicDiv, and
I’m surprised it’s only turned up now. It’s also delineating Sakhmet
and Persephone, which is a key note towards the end of the issue.

The
Image 25th Anniversary Cover

It
should be stressed, this was Eric Stephenson’s idea.

You
may wonder how we did it.

This
is how we did it.

image
image
image
image

In
short: we did it like an episode of Playschool. The lighting being a
lamp, gaffataped to a wall is a particular highpoint.

And
then Katie-west worked her magic.

All
the good jokes on the covers are Jamie’s, which is very annoying, but
makes me feel better when I laugh at it, as at least I’m not laughing at my own crap.

Page
1

I
love the first panel. I almost put it in the newsletter, but decided
we should save that thrill for context. It’s very much in the
establishing shot mode, and a promise. Jamie and Matt executing
things like Minervas concussive wind blasts out of the swirling body
is lovely detail too.

I
did have something akin to a NOT AGAIN! As a line of dialogue from
Minerva here, but was obviously killed for breaking tone. See later
in the notes for other thoughts on that whole sequence.

And
by the end of the page, we’ve changed direction entirely. No, this
isn’t going to be a straight fight. We have other narrative fish to
fry.

Page
2-3

RISING
ACTION was basically four issues of straight punchy, with a middle
act of woe. We’re not the sort to do that again, and immediately try
and make this feel different. That first panel where we get a very
human observation of a superhero event. A glance out the window, and
shit is going down out there. There is a lot to try and ground this
as we go on, even as it escalates…

I
suspect Amaterasu’s realisation is one of the cruellest lines I’ve
written for her.

Heh.
Okay – want to hear another example of me messing up? I knew I
needed Amaterasu here, ASAP. But I had also set the scene at night,
so her long-range-teleportation doesn’t work. This led to a rewrite
to bring in the Woden-designed-arm-piece from Rising Action. And it
helps in other ways – we get the interaction with her mum, which
says a lot about Amaterasu. I do like the idea of Amaterasu having
left this piece of fancy armour lying around on her bedroom floor and
her mum tidied it up.

Jamie
pushed a panel from page 3 onto page 2, which is obviously a smarter
call, letting him keep a steady angle on the three teleportation
panels, which nails the effect. The breaking up dialogue to show that
things are instantaneous is obviously one of our tropes.

The
lettering on this sequence involved some messing around with layers
to get work, and to make the fade in operate. Nice work, Clayton.
This is also an area where my suspicion of sound-effects was entirely
over-ruled.

Page
4

And
hulllllo Baal’s family.

This
strikes me as a very WicDiv take on a reveal. It could have worked
with just a reveal of his family – we’d want to see that. But to
reveal that, and juxtapose it to the creeping monsters, so mixing the
excitement of meeting new people with the fear of losing them? That’s
WicDiv, innit? Sigh.

This
was also the page which went through the most colouring notes.
Getting the exact level of reveal on the Great Darkness creatures, of
how much they’re in the light or not took quite a few takes. We’re
very happy.

Page
5

We
are totally not rated PG.

Page
6-7

If
you follow me on twitter, you’d see me doing a crowdsurfed suggestion
for a line of dialogue for someone to say when they’re pulling
someone out of the way. That was this page, and Persephone pulling
the tentacles. I decided that any dialogue was too much. It even
makes it jokey (clearly not the intent) or slows down the action.
Even a “NO!” felt too much for me.

We’re
heading more towards action here, and doing a beautifully rendered
fight-scene in someone’s garden. This feels a very us thing to do.

I
believe I described the Amaterasu laser beam shot in the mode of a
Quietly moment, that sense of a still moment in time. Jamie and
Quitely don’t have a huge amount of overlap as artists for me –
Quitely is all about the 3D space of a shot, which Jamie simply isn’t
– but this captures something really furious. The colouring from
Matt on the heat vision is particularly A+.

The
push and pull of Amaterasu is very much her thing. Her bravery is an
open question, as is her capacity for anger and violence. From
Persey-Poo to incinerating her foes in a couple of pages doesn’t
exactly make me feel comfortable about her. So nice work, J ane M.

Also
Good Job Baal’s Brother on spotting the baddies.

Page
8

Jamie
and my debate on exactly how to (er) Biggify the Darkness creature
was quite a thing. Of course, the creatures are granular. We can’t
just make the grains bigger.

We
were a little worried that Persephone firing red thorns being a
little confusing, when red is Amaterasu’s signature. We may end up
tweaking them green in the trade. Not that we’ve seen anyone complain
about it.

I
think Amaterasu’s living-Darkseid-stary-beam is my favourite regular
power signature in this book.

Lots
of careful unpacking on what is said on the phone, to ensure clear
storytelling. That we never actually show the Great Darkness Creature
back at the shard defeated is an unsusual choice… but we need to
make sure that people know it HAS been defeated and Minerva rescued.
Equally, we come back to the nature of cliffhangers we mentioned
earlier. We’ve promised a fight against the Great Darkness, but are
much more interested in introducing Baal’s family, showing
Amaterasu’s complicity in this, Persephone’s powers, etc. So you DO
get a great darkness fight, just not the one you were expecting,
which is hopefully okay as the one you were expecting is a lot less
interesting than this. Hopefully.

The
Phone is a Woden design, as referenced later in the issue. Baal can’t
just go down any phone. You’ll see one on his living room table in
last issue.

Page
9

This
is the sort of page I’d have ended up cutting if I tried to reduce
the issue… and why would I want to do a thing like this?

There
was a discussion of whether ALL I DO IS WIN was too much. It
eventually worked around to obviously it’s too much, but WicDiv is
too much, so that’s all fine.

This
is a lovely set of colouring from Matt here. The white and purple is
just a delight.

Notice
tiny Scarab-esque thing shooting off in the top right panel. In a
moving medium the Great Darkness’ nature would be a lot cleaner, but
we do stuff like this.

Page
10

And
we’re back to grounded colours. Just turn this page and see how
things change. Isn’t that a delight? Matt Wilson For Eisner, etc.

Yes,
Baal’s name is Valentine Campbell. Obviously we chewed it over a
bunch. Valentine has so many connotations seemed to be useful.

I
find myself thinking that in the first half of the issue Persephone
is almost back to volume 2 Laura. She’s primarily an observer, one
who is taken places and sees thing. That does tend to make
Amaterasu’s final line particularly pointed.

Lovely
pair of expressions in that final panel.

Page
11

The
title for this was originally ONCE MORE, leading directly into Baal’s
first line, and hitting the beat again. That changed when I realised
I wanted to do the whole sequence as a nine panel grid.

This
is the first time all the surviving gods have been in a scene
together, and it’s a circular table. Luckily, when I mapped the gods
to the seats, the ones who are most important to interact are
actually sitting beside each other – imagine how difficult it would
have been if Baal and the Norns weren’t seated by each other.

(We’d
have done something else, clearly, and had the Norns standing like
Persephone is.)

So
I was trying to work out how to panel all this political-meeting
style chat, and hit the bit where the gods vote. And I realised that
as there were nine gods voting, it’d work really well as a nine-panel
grid. That rapidly expanded to… wait, especially with Baal/Norns
sitting by each other (so minimising the need for wide shots) I could
do the whole thing in a nine panel grid. That allows you to cut
between individual characters speaking, and not have to worry about
the interactions for most of it.

That
unlocked the way to best dramatically sell the Persepone’s final
line. If we build a structure, we can get an aesthetic effect by
demolishing it.

It’s
not the first time we’ve done a Nine Panel Grid in our work, but its’
certainly the longest. And if we’re doing Nine Panel, it brings it
back to Watchmen, which means that we should highlight that. Hence,
the title altering to THE WATCH, which obviously has all kinds of
connotations.

I
go through this to primarily show how much fun this job can be. Stuff
builds on top of other stuff, and you eventually end up with
something much more full than the original idea. For me, pretty much
nothing is as good as writing is when it’s going right.

Which
is the sort of thing I’ll get depressed about if I think too much
about it, so let’s not for now, eh?

Page
12

If
we’re going to do the nine panel thing, we need to establish the
scene properly. Two panels, built on a nine-panel grid
superstructure.

Obviously
this was a heavy described panel, as we had to cram in all the
character beats for all the people. Baph’s slouch is particularly on
point. The coffee that Dio is hanging onto for dear life another. The
Norns not getting a seat.

One
thing I particularly like about this page? It forefronts the visual
element of the table with twelve gods around which people may not
have noted. This, on a page after a big title saying THE WATCH is
more obviously a clock face.

Yes,
Watchmen was a big influence on me as a writer. Did I mention it? I
may have mentioned it.

Page
13

Oh
man – look at Matt’s use of shadow here. Baal in the darkness on
last page was great, but passing from the shadow to light in the
first panel.

When
I first saw Jamie had put Minerva in plaid I worried for him. “Er…
Jamie. Drawing Plaid is a lot of work.” He noted that as there was
only a few panels with her in, it’ll be fine. Jamie is not entirely
foolish.

The
page does show one of the things about the nine panel – as in, you
get more beats… but you have to be pretty particular to choose
those beats. 9 panel is good for a writer, for certain things (most
important: timing), but you can do less with any one panel. On the
plus side your beats are more deliberate, more delineated.

In
this case, showing Persephone’s is relatively “expensive” in page
space, but clearly necessary – Baal is saying the stuff he’s never
said before. We need to see her response.

And
yeah… Baal finally lays out his main motivation. I suspect for
close readers or re-readers, things make a lot more sense.

The
seventh panel is one of four two shots I can see in this whole
sequence, to get an idea of how sparsely we tried to use them. Maybe
5 if you include the one with Woden asking “Does she get a vote.”
Though I say this having only skimmed quickly, and am sure I must
have missed one..

The
non sequitur panel of the 8th is one of my fave things you
can do with a rigid panel like this. Drop a silent panel and break it
up.

Page
14-15-16

Honestly,
this kind of shit is stuff I love. Just lock characters in a room and
let them argue. Political dramas. Legal dramas. It’s just a
fascinating writing challenge – who speaks next and why. How to
delineate the information, how to lampshade information is
questionable, etc, etc.

I
mean, in some ways this sort of debate is pure exposition – here
are some statements –
but the fact that each is immediately
interrogated turns it into something else.

Basically,
if left to my own devices, I’d have just done a 40 issue series in
the style of 12 ANGRY MEN called 12 ANGRY GODS.

In
terms of my outline, I knew that the pantheon would have a schism at
this point. Until Brexit happened, I didn’t realise that it would be
by something as clear and true as a simple democratic vote.

The
hand on Cass’ shoulders is the sort of thing I’d have only done in a
nine panel grid.

Yes,
Baphomet, there was a time for jokes, and it was in the first arc.

PAGE
17

This
issue, for reasons which we’ll get to shortly, had some consultants’
eyes on. That bit was fine. The thing which was tweaked then, and
tweaked time and time over is trying to delineate the sides. The
first draft simply hadn’t sufficiently. Hell, the second or third
lettering tweaks didn’t do the trick completely. At least from the
comments we’ve seen, no-one seems lost, so the effort seems worth it.

The
problem is that each member of the debate wants to phrase their
position in the best way possible and their enemies in the worst way,
which actually leaves it hard to say what’s actually go on. This led
to Baal in the final panel actually bringing it together – the
PRIORTISE THE GREAT DARKNESS vs STUDY is the key thing. ANARCHY had
to be introduced explicitly by cass to describe someone else’s
position as a label before it could be used here too.

In
terms of minor fact drops? One of the things people always ask is
what’s going on with the skulls. Here we just let people know they’re
ornaments.

In
terms of the nine panel grid, I think the single hardest decision was
letting go of showing the Norn’s response to Sakhmet’s threat. Alas,
everything else is more important.

The
second one would be Baal doing something like counting people around
the room, to ensure that the reader knows that Baal thinks he’s won.
In the end, we highlight that later, and with the ellipsis  in the
eighth panel. And, of course, as always a Jamie McKelvie expression
goes a long way.

Er…
I’m writing too much about this stuff, but I hope it’s useful for
people who think about comic craft. And to double-triple stress, as
always in these notes, I really am just telling the surface level
storytelling basics.

Page
18

And
the vote page. As said earlier, was where the 9 panel grid came as
possible.

These
lines were especially tweaked to sell the positions and why.

And
Dionysus, for the first time in the scene, speaks. Obviously a key
issue for Dio, where we move him into an explicit new position in the
plot.

Page
19

Man,
I don’t even want to unpack this page.

But
I can easily imagine how both Baal and Cass are feeling in the last
panel. Uh… wait…

Page
20

Formalism
doing its formalism thing.

This
was written in a nine panel grid, but with descriptions of which
panels are covered by Persephone’s hair.

Page
21

And
then we go into our quick cuts to move to the new status quo, the
nine panel.

It’s
very much our aesthetic that we show the break-up but don’t show the
getting-together.

I
suspect it’s the sort of scene I’d like to talk about further down
the line, but not now.

The
gold prize for Jamie here are panels 3 and 4. For me, that’s comic,
and that’s why I love comics.

Well,
one of the reasons, anyway.

Page
22-23

Cass
continues to be a gift for those who like reaction images.

The
strangest rewrite of the issue for me was the “What’s the saying
about stopped clocks?” line, which was originally a lot more
suggestive and less explicit. But 2 of the first 4 people to read it
didn’t get it in its more suggestive form, which meant that I was
always going to dial back for clarity’s sake.

So,
yes, this is a Cass/Dio/Woden team-up for the Study side. Splitting
your cast into smaller narrative units is a good tactic in a team
book (I sort of learned it properly when I was writing my
9-core-person Uncanny X-men team). You also see it all over the place
– if you listen to Community notes, you’ll see how they split their
cast into different arrangements and see how the characters interact.
Having three characters who, on the surface, appear to have very
different priorties come together under a larger banner is an
interesting one.

In
terms of the explicitly delineating at least part of the sexualities,
this has been considered for a while. Let’s start with Cassandra.

Early
on in WicDiv, I saw a random comment of someone annoyed with
something I’d said. Specifically me saying something akin to “I
sometimes need room to discover a character’s sexuality.” Her
response – and one I completely get – was annoyance with
suggesting people don’t know their own sexualities. The “No, I know
I’m Bi – don’t say it’s a phase. Don’t say it’s something I’m
discovering.”

As
I said, I get it, but that’s not what I meant. I meant characters.
Writing often feels like excavation. Not always, but sometimes, and
especially in a book like WicDiv. You get to know them by writing
them, sometimes in actually fundamental ways, ways which were always
there but now come to the surface. For all my planning in WicDiv,
it’s also a living creature.

So
when starting off, I always had a few feelings about Cassandra. There
was the possibility that she was actually asexual. It would fit with
her for a few ways, and the evidence for a reading of that was
certainly there. However, I rapidly realised it caused huge problems
inside the narrative in terms of what it was saying about asexuality.
One of Cassandra’s primary traits is that she doesn’t experience the
performances. If she’s asexual, that implies that it’s linked to that
– especially when the performances have been linked so strongly to
sex at various places in the narrative. I thought that’d be true even
if we had another asexual character in the primary cast to show the
contrary. I continued writing her and thinking, and having an
awareness of the various potentials I saw in her. I didn’t have to
make a choice yet.

The
flashpoint was issue 20, where I realised that it just was untenable
for her to be asexual. Because if performances are linked in the
readers’ mind to sex, that eventually Cassandra does response
to a performance is a sign that asexuals just haven’t met the right
person yet.

No.
I’m not writing a book that suggests that.

There
is also the real world thing that trans women are viewed through a
hypersexual lens or an asexual one, which is certainly one feeds into
the final dialogue on the page.

So
everything re-arranged and solidified in the other way I saw them –
a stable lesbian polyamarous triad. I saw with Imperial Phase ahead,
that felt more and more necessary. WicDiv is… not a book where
relationships are healthy. Every single romantic relationship in the
book is openly dysfunctional. Relevantly, there is a lot of people
doing polyamory very badly. It comes to a point where it looks like
the book saying this behaviour is bad rather than this specific
practise is bad. The Norns would be the counter-argument. In this
issue, we show them in an private, loving supportive relationship
that’s arguably more unconventional than any other in the book.

We
don’t get to see any of the sex, of course, as it’s none of our
business and they’re not there for the readers’ pleasure. But with
them in our story, it shows there’s nothing implicitly wrong with
kink, or polyamory or anything else… as long as you don’t act like
sentient burning trashcans.

That
was the thinking. Some of it, anyway.

Oh
– on the note of discovery, I only realised that she’d lean
submissive as I wrote the page. It was a surprise to me as well, but
seemed to align with everything else and make a lot of things make
more sense.

In
Dio’s case, it was there as a possibility even as I first wrote him
into the bible. I see myself writing around it in my notes, saying
that I just didn’t feel like sex was a big drive for him in the way
it was for so much of the cast. The problem eventually came for the
place to introduce it, and how, and in the same action where we move
Dio towards the centre stage (or at least primary supporting
characters) seemed to be it.

We’ve
had a lot of supportive messages about both of these, so thank you.
And thanks again to our consultants, who we will continue to high
five at the slightest encouragement.

Page
24-25

This
was originally written as a page, but Jamie insisted on MOTORBIKE
DRAMA!

And
how could we resist that?

I
actually wrote a first draft of this, and wondered if it was too
much, and then did a completely different end scene based on
Persephone leaving the Shard. Arguing it over with Chrissy, we came
down strongly on this. It’s WicDiv. We crash motorbikes into walls
for the sake of it.

Worth
noting: this is a return to a non-cliffhanger ending structure. The
“read the next issue” comes from the whole of the issue rather
than a specific beat. This is about leaving it with a mood.

Favourite
thing in colour – the circle of light on the wall, a half second
before impact.

I’ll
give you one for free: Persephone is on the phone to one of her
people, probably an agent. I could have put an explicit call in that
to the dialogue, but it was too crass and fake, and the specific
identity doesn’t really matter that much. It’s just someone who’s
clearly going to get her a new bike.

Also:
the main reason why I wondered whether this scene wasn’t too much, is
because it is literally the lyrics to Icona Pop’s I LOVE IT.

Page
26

“Hey,
C, is referencing Kesha too much on the interstitial? It sort of is a
trashy pop take on Watchmen’s encroaching apocalypse feel.”

“No,
that sounds like exactly the sort of thing you do.”

“Cool.”

See
you next month, where we reach the penultimate part of IMPERIAL PHASE
(I). It’s just being put to bed, and we like it a lot.

Thanks
for reading.