Writer Notes: the Wicked + the Divine 455

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Spoilers, obv.

The specials have been
quite the time, having several ways to stress everyone the hell out.
The amount of work that goes into a special is far more than any
single script can justify in cold commercial terms. It’s lucky that
I’m only choosing periods that I’m interested in researching to
death.

I suspect (or at least
hope) that in terms of background reading, 455 is the most. 1831 was
hard, but is a relatively tight period I looked at in depth. 455
basically involved researching the whole of the Western Roman Empire.
This means the work was a much broader sweep. In the same way I
suspected the 1831 story would be about Frankenstein, I knew this
would probably be about what happened at one of the sacks of Rome.
Not definitely – I’ve always got room to change tack if something
more profitable turns up in the research – but likely.

As I started work, I
realised the main advantage of the sack near the end of the Western
Roman Empire is that it means you can do a swan song for the whole
thing. Everything has already happened, so you can use it all. Thus
we’ve got something which feels a little like a Roman Greatest Hits
story.

Simultaneously, there’s
the awareness that while I think a lot of this is relatively well
known, even the most basic facts aren’t. Early readers made me aware
that even basic ideas like Julius Caesar being dead for 500 years by
this period can’t be assumed – a level of historical literacy
equivalent of not blinking if Joan of Arc turned up in a WW2 story.
That’s just audiences, and the vague sense of “Rome stuff” fills
about 1000 years of people’s imagination. As such, that our story is
acounter-history required the introduction of what the real history
actually was.

As I knew this was coming
along way off, the research was a slow boil. I knew Rome, in various
periods, relatively well. From the Punic Wars to Augustus is stuff
I’ve read about many times – Carthage is something I’ve always
wanted to do a story about. What I was looking for is a long sweep
across the whole thing, to live with it a while, and let me think
along the way. The actual device I used was The History Of Rome
podcast by Mike Duncan, which goes from legendary prehistory to about
20 years after 455. It’s about 60 hours of stuff, by my rough match,
which I worked into my listening routine – which is mainly when
working out, running, travelling or doing the dishes. I listen to my
podcasts at 1.5x.

That
was for most of 2016. After that, it was digging down into specific
texts, the majority which happened in December/January. Trying to
play with various theories about the decline of the Roman Empire was
paramount. Everyone has one, and be suspicious of anyone who gives
you one reason. The book which generally was most influential in
terms of how I chose to present Rome was The Fall of the Roman
Empire: A New History by Peter Heather, which
basically forwards the idea that Rome fell due to trade across their
borders creating increased population density of Barbarian tribes
which (as opposed to earlier periods) the Romans were unwilling to
integrate into the fabric of the Empire.

I went with my own
counter-theory, of course, which was that an Old Lady Did It.

(The Old Lady Did It is a
Roman Trope of long standing. I’m a proud owner of a Livia Did It
T-shirt.)

Anyway – too much
research, and I’ll try and drop some things I’d wanted to use but
didn’t as we go through it. Suffice to say, there’s nothing
comforting about reading about Rome in the current political climate.

Anyway – Andre! I’d
first encountered his work in Avengers AI, written by my friend Sam
Humphries. That weird, neon-infused Cyberpunk vibe was a big part of
the book’s appeal for me, so I started following him. I believe we
started talking properly around the time of his own Man Plus, which
was is a Otomo-does-Akira-In-Portugal kick, and was another thing
which made me file Andre in my “Sci-fi artist file.”

However, after we got
talking, he showed me some of his other in-development pitches, which
included historical and fantasy work. Which made me go “Hmm.”
He’s got a mass of gifts, but I had one image that I knew I needed
for 455 – the Roman Triumph, with a God in the chariot. That
demanded a certain sort of artist, namely one who was happy to
actually draw a triumph in all its ludicrous glory. Andre, someone
whose work had more than its fair share of city-scapes and crowds,
seemed like someone who’d nail that – plus the confluence of
European and Manga influences in the work would gel interestingly.
We’d get Rome as a place, and that’s what we needed.

He was working on
Generation Gone with Ales Kot, but they talked, and Andre took as
month off the preparation for that to do the special. Thanks, guys.

Colours are provided by
Matt “Eisner For Matt” Wilson, and seeing how the two of them
worked together was definitely one of the more intriguing parts of
the process.

Andre’s Cover

Done early, before the
script was actually completed, which meant we were more conservative
with the choice. The Laurel reef being lowered by elderly hands, the
arrogance of it. A call back to the head-shots of the first year of
WicDiv too. Also, compare and contrast Matt’s colouring choices here
with his ones in the issue. This is a much more subdued, chalkier
mode. Or that’s wot I think anyway.

Jamie’s Cover|
We were
originally talking about statues of multiple gods, but as the script
was still in process we didn’t want to tie down any of the cast bar
Lucifer. Equally, we leaned symbolic on the cover – the flames of
Rome, the statue, the grafitti’s Chi-Ro in paint (or blood)? Symbolic
is good. We like Symbolic.

The Chi-Ro is an old
Christian symbol. It’s what they say Constantine had his soldiers
paint on his shields to ensure victory. My fave thing of Constantine
from the research was that while he was more responsible than any for
the Christianization of the Empire, he didn’t convert until just
before his death. I enjoy the theory that it’s because the idea that
baptizing may have been a one-time “clear all your sins”
opportunity. The idea of confession and absolution wasn’t around as
much. So if you convert and then commit a mortal sin, you’re off to
hell. But if you commit a mortal sin and then convert, you’re fine.
So Constantine may have just been gaming Christianity to ensure the
best chance of a good afterlife.

IFC

Oh god. Looking at the
last paragraph makes me think this could be eternally long if I just
keep on stopping and telling you fun anecdotes from memory. Also,
factually dubious, as they’re from memory, and my memory cannot be
trusted.

Jamie designed the icons,
and had to work out what vibe to give it. I suspect he was grateful
to me for having most the cast already being dead so saving him work.

The Inverted Chi-Ro isn’t
a real symbol anyone used, but our best way to make a Lucifer. The
biggest historical cheat in the series is using any Lucifer figure
like this in the period – as far as I’m aware, the idea of a
singular satanic adversary in this mode simply wasn’t around. But it
dovetails with our mythology.

I get asked whether any
special will happen earlier in the cycle. The tendency to lean
towards the ends is basically the same urge which pushed towards a
Roman Special at the fall. Ends let you write about the whole thing.
It’s only at the end where you can say with any hope of being correct
what was really happening, and even then it’s only a hope.

But the 1920s special is a
little earlier than the end, if only because we’ve seen the actual
end in issue 1.

(More on the 1920s special
soon – there’s been a few changes in my planning on that.)

The text on the page is
the standard WicDiv one, but the final two lines, briefly explaining
the history of the Vandal sack in 455 were added at lettering to
provide the necessary context to a reader.

Page 1-2

Steady angle shot, three
panels on each page. The issue has been compare to Uber by several
readers, primarily for the volume of the violence and the detail of
the historical focus. It’s also a little like it in its storytelling
like this – this lingering attempt to make a scene very normal. We
don’t see the battle against the Vandals – instead, we observe from
a distance. We try and make it documentary, with us an observer.

The animal being gutted is
a goat.

An example of an earlier tweak, the shepherd’s first
line was “Wh…who in god’s name are you meant to be?” This could
read as that our Lucifer actually is Julius. Changing it to
“Dressed up as?” brings the artifice closer to the surface. While
the nature of lucifer/Julius is explained in a few pages time, it’s
not meant to be a mystery. Creating a false uninteresting question is
just a distraction for the reader.

I kind of laugh at the idea of Lucifer wandering
around near Rome, trying to find an army.

Ave Atque Vale!
Is a quote from Catallus, related
to death
. Originally was Ave in my first draft, which of course
means “Hello!” so makes no sense to say when he’s heading away to
the shepherd. If you were generous, you could say he was greeting the
Vandals.

The first pages which Matt coloured were these, and
when I saw them, I knew it was going to be something special.

Yes, panicked sheep in the
second panel of page 2 is a star.

Page 3-4

WicDiv is about many
things, but “The fucking obvious” certainly rates highly.
Triumphs are one of the big core Roman rituals we think of, when a
general is given a personal parade. They’re rare and hugely
important. The slave whispering “remember you are only a man” to
warn against hubris is the detail which everyone loves. Clearly, in
WicDiv, the resonances are all kinds of fun.

In terms of how comics
panels are not one moment in time, have a nose at the last panel. You
read the line, then the Oh!, and then the response of the slave
seeing something, and then you look at the miracle, the smug, painted
face, of Lucifer, and his Heh.  That’s a little journey.

The red face paint is
ceremonial, to be akin to Jupiter. Bear that in mind for later, obv.

The big triumph is the
first issue money shot – after 3 pages of very low atmosphere, we
have the sprawl of Rome. Choosing the direction of the march was key
– I gave Andre the best guess route of the triumph, and he chose
his angle. By luck, he would enter via the gate here Lucifer is
dragged out at the end of the issue. The triumph also ends at the
temple of Jupiter, which is yet more fun subtext for those who really
like digging into it.

We tweaked the colouring
on the crowds, to try and get more of the cosmopolitan nature of
Rome. The majority of legionnaires are white, but that’s because most
were Germanic in this period.

The triumph was originally
planned for a spread, but I decided I needed another page later in
the comic.

Page 5

Title drop, and a bleak
laugh. The idea of calling a story IMPERIAL PHASE which isn’t in the
actual Imperial Phase trade came from thinking of Julian Cope having
his single World Shut Your Mouth not on the album World Shut Your
Mouth, an idea he in turn got from some sixties band I haven’t time
to look up.

The date was tricky to
decide exactly, due to the timeline of real world events I wanted to
get in. Clearly, for full trash-Roman pulp, I’d have pushed this
story March, so I could Ides of March it, but alas, no dice.

Page 6

Nice atmosphere in the
first panel, in terms of going from the chaos of the Triumph to
something a little more contemplative.

Enter Dionysus/Bacchus.
Flashback colours and… one of the thoughts of Matt was that the SFX
budget for God Stuff would be lower back here. So the god powers
aren’t quite as SFX-y as they are in the present day. Not that
there’s much here, but I’m reminded by how low-key this is. The
intent here is that he’s done his god thing on stage and come off…
but he could just be an actor, which is about as close as WicDiv gets
to a 1:1 thing.

The nature of art in Rome
(or “Rome”) is key here, and talked throughout. Actors were the
underclass. To act was to be disreputable. The “actress as
sexworker” trope arrives in Rome, I believe. I reference Lou Reed
in the panel descriptions, in terms of these being a Walk On The Wild
Side Romans.

Falerian is a type of fine
wine. Mithras is presumably one of the other gods – Scythia being a
place.

The nature of Imperial
Phase has been about women involved with women, which has nagged.
Having the humanising part of the story be a love story between men
felt timely. It was a place we could do it, so we should. Though more
on that later, in terms of the specifics.

There was the obvious
worry of doing it, of course – where Lucifer ends up. Lucifer is
not good representation. I haven’t seen anyone pick up on that angle.
We spend a lot of time worrying about stuff no-one picks up on, which
is why we spend all that time worrying about it.

The word “play” is, of
course, loaded, as are the name changes. Story about identity, we are
in it.

Page 7

The best thing about the
specials is definitely getting a chance to write Ananke again. She is
a fun time.

If I had more space, I’d
have almost certainly done more with Lucifer’s adventures during the
day. It’s worth stressing that by this point, I believe Gladiatorial
fights were no longer actually happening in Rome, due to
Christianisation. My research has went straight on from Western Rome
and barged into Byzantine Rome, and the story of the chariot races
there is a delight.

Page 7-8

These scenes are very much
me getting my I, Claudius on. Very limited set, two actors going off
at one another. Of course, all of this will resonate with anyone
who’s been following the main series.

Panels 3 and 4 on page 7
are the bit of tight acting I like most from Andre here – it’s all
about the actions, and the space, with us positioned a little back
from it.

I smile at Lucifer
referencing something that was said of 2014-Lucifer in the first arc.
Ananke has been doing this for a very long time.

A quick buzz through
various other gods’ fates in the first panel on page 8. There’s a lot
of historical reference packed in there to unpack for those who wish.

The Inanna/Attila The Hun
panel is, I think, the largest panel description in the issue.
Well… not true. The Rome Triumph one is much longer, but that’s a
splash. This one included a potted history of a bunch of Hun-related
information for Andre to play with, in terms of deciding the looks,
etc.

It was also the most
discussed panel at the stage of pencils – avoiding objectifying
Inanna here was key.

Attila The Hun died on
(one of his) wedding night in the real life.

The “As I understand”
is pretty key in the captions, as is other distancing effects.
Lucifer would not have been a god when Inanna did this. It is very
early in this pantheon’s time.

I think this may be a
place to have a word about Pantheon times through history. 455
doesn’t seem to fit in one of these 90 years, if you follow that
strictly.

The short version is, as
seen in the first scene of WicDiv which ends the 1920s pantheon at
Dec 31st 2013 and we start our story about 6 months into
the new Pantheon on January 1st 2014, the question of
where the 90 years is measured for has to be (to some degree)
flexible. Gods appear over a period of a year or so in our 2014, and
die at their own rates. You can assume that the “true” length of
a pantheon can wiggle a little – some would be less than a year,
some could theoretically stretch across 4 calendar years. As such,
it’s hard to predict exactly on which year any given recurrence could
occur – even from the data we have from 1831, 1923 and 2014, we
know that.

I suspect before the end I
may give hard dates for every Pantheon. I suspect, anyway. I know
where it would appear.

Page 9-11

You know, I suspect Page 9
– for an action scene – is one of the most story-beat laden of
the issue, in terms. Lots of great Andre stuff here – the
casual-ness of both the burning and the brutal-ness of the kick. Matt
goes to town on the colours too, the reds taking over. Obviously the
fire is a key thing with Lucifer, and his flame grows and ebbs as we
progress.

There’s some difficult
hard cuts here – page 10 to 11, for example. We just have the
“Ananke leaving” beat there, then moving to Dio and Lucifer in
bed.

There is a tendency when
discussing the ancients to be a bit blasé in terms of writing about
their sexual habits. This normally is based around us mapping our
readings of sexuality onto the past, while erasing their own social
mores. I’ve ran with some of the information on page 11 before, when
doing THREE, specifically the politics of different sexual roles.
Relevantly, the status elements Lucifer alludes to here – in terms
of being a bottom is always dishonourable. I could ramble at this at
length, but I’ll spare you.

Lots and lots of stuff
here, in terms of trying to set up thematic elements here, but let’s
just say none of it would matter at all if Matt and Andre hadn’t
nailed the last panel.

Page 12-13

Lots of historical bits
and bobs here. Perhaps the implicit question we don’t answer is “what
happened to the last Emperor?” He was cut to pieces a few days
before this and thrown in the river, because he’d pissed off the
Vandals enough to have them invade.

You may notice how thin
the senate is populated. That’s because the majority of the
population of Rome have fucked off to hide. Rome’s population is
artificially lower during this point in history, which is a thing
which tries to lend a little credulity to the Ananke/Geiseric
cover-up.

The main tweaks here was
making sure the exact nature of Lucifer’s slip was tricky. Someone
getting mixed up in the time-line requires making sure the reader
understands the timeline. I half wonder why I went with Crassus
rather than Pompey.

Anyway, let’s hope that
Lucifer manages to keep on the straight and narrow.

Page 13-14

Well, that escalated
quickly.

When planning the issue,
you start doing maps of time and space, and I rapidly realised with
25 pages, and so many other essential scenes, there was no possible
way to show a slow descent.

The story’s structure
immediately suggested itself.

While the Triumph was the
image we needed to enter the world, this is the one that will be
remembered. People reference my Crossed work here – which is true,
to some degree, in that it was also about turning flesh into art. I
suspect I was more thinking of Banks, and a certain beat involving a
certain object of furniture. I say, dancing around spoilers.

The influence here which
gets kind of buried is Domitian, who threw the most goth parties of
all time. Have a
nose at this here, in terms of Things Emperors Got Up To.

Page 15-16

We’ve already namechecked
Caligula and here comes Nero, the other of the most famous Roman Bad
Emperors. The elements about Nero here were the closest thing the
research unveiled which made me want to reposition the story to a
different period – Nero interacting with the gods would have been
fascinating, for all the reasons described here.

We had a reader question
the direction of Imperial Phase, in that the
insanity-leading-to-murder trope that appeared to be coming and the
inherent ableism in that. It was a usefully timed question, as it
made me dig more sharply into the exact choices we were making in
explaining the idea. This isn’t about going mad. This is – as
Dionysus puts it – about excess. I’m thinking of Bowie living off
cocaine and peppers. We lean into it pretty heavily in this issue,
and hopefully it delineates the aim.

Just looking at my script,
and found the anecdote about the time I threw up a handful of blood
slipped in there. I’d forgotten that this page was autobiographical.
Comics, eh?

Look at what Matt’s doing
with the colours here – the whole panel is bloodshot as we
progress.

Page 17-20

In terms of buried
research in the comic, that a hole was knocked in the roof of the
Temple of Jupiter during this sack of Rome is the one which makes me
laugh. Behold! Let team WicDiv present the true story of how the
temple of Jupiter got a dirty great hole in it.

(I also like that this
makes the sack of Rome much more efficient for the Vandals.)

This is an actor making a
soliloquy scene, perhaps obviously, recalling both the stage and the
Passion. While this issue is heavily in the research, it’s also doing
ahistorical work. Shakespeare’s fingerprints is all over this, to
state another obvious thing.

The “Emerge like an
Eagle” thing is very much Roman Pagan belief.

I mentioned Nero,
Caligulia and Julius. The other Roman Emperor who is in the mix with
Lucifer was Julian
the Apostate
who was the last Pagan Roman emperor, and tried to
revive Pagan Rome before dying early. A “What if Julian had lived?”
is a counter-factual history which is always a fun one to swill
around your mouth. He’s the one we don’t reference, but much of
Lucifer’s thought comes from mashing Julian with someone of lower
birth and more melodramatic tendencies.

This is the sequence which
I cut the page from the Triumph earlier to expand. Clearly this could
happen quicker, but we need to let the death sequence come out, in
all its horror. Also, the collapse on the page turn seems essential.

I’m almost surprise Et Tu
Jupiter reached the final page. We were always wondering whether it
was too funny. In the end, it was decided it was, but in
juxtaposition with the art, sufficiently bleakly to not break the
mood. Especially before the collapse on the next page, which is very
much human stripped by the divine.

Clearly this plot beat, is
the biggest one for close followers of the book. I suspect at this
point of the story, there would be strong suspicions that the “you
die in two years” isn’t true. Unless this sequence is deeply
deceptive, it is true. You die in two years, by yourself. We place
the specials pretty carefully, in terms of what they reveal, so this
being half way through Imperial Phase underlines what could await our
cast.

In terms of craft, going
silent for a page after the monologuing seemed key. I mean, Ananke’s
fundamental disrespect in terms of how she’s carrying Lucifer says
everything.

Page 21-25

Out the gate towards the
Tiber. The names listed are famous Romans whose bodies were thrown in
the Tiber so that they could have no honourable end – and in the
case of Marius, that there was no place for his followers to gather.
The man who did that was Sulla, btw. Marius was dead, he dug them up.

The “Pagan burial, but a
shit one” is very much Ananke at peak “I will tell you the truth,
but you really have to pay attention to the details” mode.

And here’s Geiseric!
Looking good. The Vandals have been in Carthage for 20 years, but we
decided to have him be kind of pallid so as not to confuse people.
Stories like THREE were all about the pure-historical aspect and
risked (and often did) lose people by doing things in line with the
best research rather than common belief. WicDiv has a slightly
different set of priorities, especially on secondary aspects like
tanned Vandals.

Heh. Story starts with
butchery of a goat, and ends with butchery of Lucifer. WicDiv is a
very subtle comic.

Sulla’s an interesting
dude, and I think the use by Ananke here seems pretty fair. The
future she’s pointing towards never happens – the marriage is
there. Germanic hands ended up ruling what came after the Empire, but
that’s not really what is going. Of course, Geiseric is also entirely
right in recognising he’s being manipulated.

They’re a fun pair,
actually, in terms of the fencing. I kind of realise this is the sort
of conversation which is going to be key in Spangly New Thing, which
makes me excited about writing it again.

I smile at the Vandal
line. People have wondered why I didn’t do the earlier sack, so I
could have had the goths. Well, it didn’t really work for the story,
which is about the end of an era. But also it would have been perhaps
too much. I did have a joke take, where Ananke is debating which
Germanic tribe to manipulate into invading Rome. “The Goths again?
No. No More Goths.”

But 455 isn’t that kind of
book.

The final image! Lovely,
in its bleak and awful way.

Page 26

City of God being
Augustine’s book, written primarily in response to the crisis of
faith in the Empire over the 410 sack of Rome by the aforementioned
Goths.

Anyway – thanks for
reading, and thanks for Andre for joining us on this beast. We’re
back (eek) tomorrow, with Imperial Phase II. Onwards, etc.