The Beat caught up with writer Milligan over email to find out more about the inspirations that informed Out of Body (including the Johari window), to talk about Leonardo da Vinci’s afterlife cartography, and to learn all about his next project with Aftershock, The God of Tremors.
AVERY KAPLAN: What was the genesis of this story?
PETER MILLIGAN: As usual, quite a few thoughts and ideas fed into the creation of OUT OF BODY. When I was younger I experimented with astral projection. I won’t go into all the messy details here but the training process involved ritualistic use of salt and water and some less salubrious substances. I can’t say I ever fully, successfully projected but I felt something and so have enjoyed returning to it in a fictional sense.
The second notion that fed into the story was what most of us have been through at some stage of the pandemic: lockdown. I thought, what more extreme form of lockdown is there than to be locked down in your own body. Thus was born our protagonist, who for reasons he does not at first know, finds himself trapped in a body that’s being kept alive only by life support machines. Also, I’d been reading about the medical use of psychedelics and was fascinated by how such a subjective experience – a “trip” – might be used this way. A kind of scientific mysticism. Out of these elements came a very different kind of murder mystery—one where the victim is doing the investigating—and is not quite dead.
KAPLAN: What goes into presenting a psychedelic experience on the comics page?
MILLIGAN: I think it probably helps to have some personal experience of the thing. In Out of Body, our protagonist’s lover slips him a psychedelic they’ve been using on end of lifers and as well as the weird images – there are plenty of those – I try to indicate the change of consciousness. You also have to know why you’re using a psychedelic scene. What’s it giving you, and why is it useful for your character development or plot. Because this is such a subjective realm you have to be careful it isn’t just an easy route to a kind of cheap epiphany.
KAPLAN: Can you tell us about how you incorporated real-world elements of psychedelic treatments into this story? How important is color for depictions of the experience of hallucinogens?
MILLIGAN: As I outlined above, I tried to indicate the change of consciousness in the protagonist as the drug takes effect. In my experience, this consciousness change was always much more interesting that any visual fireworks—though to DEPICT the experience the color is vital, it should give you a sense of surprise and wonder. Out Of Body artists Inaki Miranda and colorist Eva De La Cruz take us on a wonderful and convincing visual psychedelic journey.
KAPLAN: In Out of Body, several scenes take place within the mind of the protagonist, Dr. Dan Collins. How does scripting these kinds of scenes compare with those that take place in “the real world” (if there is a difference)?
MILLIGAN: One could argue that everything is “inside the mind” of Dan Collins, his own thoughts and the world around him all part of the reality that he sees and processes. Besides some scenes where we leave Dan, which have an objective reality beyond his knowing, we’re with Dan and his Astral and his thoughts as he tries to solve the riddle of who wanted him dead and what people really think of him.
MILLIGAN: Nah, no one particular mystery, just the idea of how they operate, a desire to subvert that a bit. But really one of the main points of Out Of Body is not simply to find the culprit or would-be killer—it’s an examination of a person who is discovering what the people around him REALLY thought of him. Because, we don’t know, do we? Not really. What this or that friend or lover really thinks of us, how we’re seen, liked, loved, loathed, or ignored. In this I was influenced by the psychological or communication model called the Johari Window.
KAPLAN: I especially love the idea that “Leonardo da Vinci is known to have produced detailed geographical maps of the afterlife.” Can you tell us about the inspiration for this detail, and if we can expect to see more of the concept in future issues of Out of Body?
MILLIGAN: I was thinking about this and can’t remember if that Leonardo map of the underworld thing is a historical fact or something I made up myself. It’s certainly the kind of thing the old renaissance genius would get up to.
We see a bit of the afterlife in this story: it is after all about a man who’s dangling in that strange realm between life and death. But we don’t really see much more of the Leonardo concept in this storyline—there was so many other things to explore! Maybe if there’s a second volume or storyline I’ll develop and explore that angle a bit more.
KAPLAN: You also have another book coming out from Aftershock soon: God of Tremors. Can you tell us a little bit about how your personal experiences informed this story?
MILLIGAN: Ah, THE GOD OF TREMORS! It is as you say quite a personal story, though one fed into a gothic, horror meat-grinder and spat out the other end. It involves a young man called Aubrey in Victorian England who develops epilepsy, much to the horror and shame of his high-ranking vicar father. The idea of the god of tremors had been floating around in my head for a while. Last year I had a few quite nasty epileptic seizures – I’m epileptic but seizures are usually pretty well controlled – and during this time the story kind of all came together.
The way epileptics used to be viewed and were treated was brutal and Aubrey is the victim of a lot of this. Then he discovers a pagan effigy deep in the grounds of his father’s estate which slowly, horrifically changes everything.
I see God of Tremors in the tradition of what you might call British Folk Horror, from Mr James, some Hammer movies, The Wicker Man and more.
KAPLAN: In addition to the more grounded elements of God of Tremors, the story also involves a pagan effigy. How do you balance the scientific with the fantastic in this kind of narrative?
MILLIGAN: There’s not an awful lot of science going on in God of Terrors. There’s superstition, repression, horror, and faith—but science struggles to get a look in. In fact, science – or enlightened thought – is for Aubrey’s bullied mother a pretty out-of-reach dream.
KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like me to be sure and include?
MILLIGAN: Out of Body and God of Tremors are my first titles for Aftershock and I have to say it’s a real pleasure working with them.
I’ve been really impressed. In fact we have another story – very different from either Out of Body or God of Tremors – in the early stages of development.
The first two issues of the ongoing Out of Body are currently available at your local comic shop. The God of Tremors one-shot will arrive on August 18th, 2021.