So what do King Arthur and Brexit have in common according to The Wicked + The Divine author Kieron Gillen? Nationalism, in a clever parable of horror based on the politics of the modern era. The Beat spoke to Kieron Gillen about his latest series Once and Future, which hits stores August 28, and a host of other subjects that influenced Gillen’s own spin on this most cherished myth.
Nancy Powell: I wanted to kick off with a quote from Once and Future. “Some fool always wants to take a shot at a prophecy. It’s the “kick me” sign of the occult world.” So with that, why did you want to take on King Arthur?
Kieron Gillen: It just seemed fun. I was really into the idea of how could I make a piece of adventure fiction kind of work now. I was watching one of the old mummy movies, the third one which was based on the Chinese emperors as a mummy. And I was like, oh that’s a bit iffy. You know there’s a lot colonialism built into that. But the adventure fiction genre has so much like really fun stuff so how could you do that? And you know, do that in a way which works now. I’d do it off an Arthurian myth, use the folklore of the country I’m from and do a horror spin on that.
And of course, it’s not a political book as much. I mean all books are political, but obviously Brexit is an influence on that and the concept of what British identity is and the Arthurian myths and how they actually have been twisted and tweaked over the years. The idea of the myth was like 600 A.D. and they could change depending on the time. You know the French had a go at reinventing them. And this is a really useful device to talk about because people get that static idea of what national identity is, and that’s not true. All countries change. They move around and the idea of any golden past just isn’t true.
That’s kind of where it came from. I thought like, oh yeah! Arthurian myth is a good thing to play it. You know there’s a lot of really cool set pieces and a lot of toys, but same time a few interesting questions which are in the subtext.
Powell: So Nationalists play a role?
Powell: And it’s influenced by what’s going on not only England, but here in the United States and elsewhere. That was deliberate, right?
Gillen: Yeah, I mean it’s like I said a minute ago, all books are political. And I’ve had this idea for quite a while, but it became more sharpened with the lunacy of my country at the moment in terms of it tearing itself apart over this.
Don’t start me about Brexit! Brexit is one of these kind of, like the history books are going to laugh at us idiots on multiple levels, like why it’s happened and all that stuff. But same time it’s like I was intrigued. What is the future? Obviously this stuff is still a hundred percent there, at the same time it’s like you wouldn’t sell Indiana Jones by saying it’s an anti-Nazi movie, you know? But at the same time if Indiana Jones came out in 1942 it would be very politically loaded. This kind of is like that; this is really like a high stakes action adventure book, but with an underpinning of let’s talk about identity and how culture is going to work in that kind of a way. So, does that make sense?
Powell: Yes, it makes sense because fantasy is kind of a mirror of what’s happening, anyhow, around the world.
Gillen: No matter what anyone says, fantasy is what a culture produces; it always speaks to the hopes, aspirations and fears of that culture. When people still say they don’t want to go date my book, but whatever you do, you dated it, what’s definitely obsessing you right now. And what comes out in the work will make it all known historically, and it was definitely written in like 2018. A lot of my books, like Die and Wicked, are very interested in history. So if you go back and look at what they thought at the time of the work they were doing, and what we can see so much in terms of the works leading before World War I, what they were doing in the 1920s. All books speak to the time they think and fantasy is more like that because fantasy is just a blip. It’s a bubbling up of the subconscious, and mythology is very close to dream, I think.
Powell: I don’t want to reveal too much about what happens in Once and Future, but you have an ass-kicking grandmother and a kind of damsel-in-distress grandson.
Powell: Are we going to see any reversal in roles?
Gillen: It’s what fun is like! He has a lot of tropes that we often put on female characters like his slightly clumsiness. That’s a classic trope. At the same time he’s also really physically capable; he’s strong and he’s brave. He’s not dumb; he just doesn’t know anything, which is quite a fun thing. He’s nicer. There’s goodness to him, and Bridget has a hardness inside her, and that’s the interesting dichotomy for me. In some ways, you can say Bridget is the brain, and he’s the brawn. It’s just she’s the Borg machine; she will do stuff that he won’t, like the bit where she pulls out the gun in the first issue. She pulls out all the guns and she’s quite blasé, and Duncan wouldn’t do that. So that, to me, that’s the tension between the two in terms like he’s very idealistic and she’s like, she’s done it all before.
The first line I ever wrote for her is in the middle of the issue and it’s when Duncan pulls out the big stake launcher, ‘There, put that down. We don’t need it.’ ‘What’s it for?’ ‘Oh, I used to hunt vampires.’ ‘You used to hunt vampires? What happened?’ ‘I ran out of vampires.’ You know, quite calm and immediately I was like, okay, that’s her! She actually was a monster hunter who basically made herself obsolete. There hasn’t been monsters around for a long time because she was too good at her job. There’s real fun there.
Any relationship has to be fluid and especially across the sexes of the story. They’ve got to find their relationship with each other. Definitely at the start Bridget is the one in power because she knows stuff. There’s a fluidity as he starts to learn more, he’ll like come on in different ways. But they’re still such different people still, obviously. She raised him. There’s a real love underlying it all.
Powell: Will you have music play a role in any way in Once and Future?
Gillen: Less so than normal, actually. You know. I haven’t even did a playlist yet. I should, actually. You remind me, I should do a playlist. I’m trying to see if there are any musical beats in that. Not as of yet, but like you never know with me. I mean, there’s always music. This is pretentious, but there’s always music and comics to me because music is about beat, panels like beats, like a 20-page issue is like a structure, like a sonnet or something. How can you keep them reading, and how many words on a panel? Because if you spread out the words, you can create the sort of pacing of across the page.
There’s always a musicality to writing comics. This is much closer to cinema and Homer. They were kind of the main tropes I was thinking about.
Powell: So if you had to pick one piece of music, one song, what would that be?
Gillen: Wow! Let me think about this. I’ve been listening to Doctor Aphra because of all the books that I’ve done, it’s probably closest to Doctor Aphra in that kind of a mobile archaeologist. Bridget is not of the same mold; she’s very ethical, but she’s going to find a solution. try to find a way out of a problem. And so immediately think of all the stuff on the Aphra soundtrack. Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” is a classic bit of the Aphra soundtrack. I can imagine “Bad Reputation” playing with all the stuff Bridget does. Mail me! I’ll spend the next two days thinking about this question! I’d say “Avalon” by Bryan Ferry. The first time I thought about “Shot By Both Sides” by Magazine. That’s also on the soundtrack which made me realize that. “Shot By Both Sides” is a very real interesting of energy to it and a paranoia and that’s kind of quite good in the book. I’ll think about this some more.
Once and Future debuts August 28 from BOOM! Studios. The series will run for six issues, released monthly.