Embodying the same stylish aesthetic as their comic collaborations, the dynamic creative team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie took the stage at Image Expo 2014 to announce their latest project, “The Wicked and the Divine.”
The ongoing series is slated for summer release and tells the story of gods reincarnated every 90 years, roaming the earth as pop stars, artists and creators for two short years while adoring fans follow in their wake. Taking influences from glam rock, modern fashion and avant garde design, “The Wicked and the Divine” is the latest collaborative effort between the “Young Avengers” and “Phonogram” creative team.
CBR News grabbed a snack with Gillen and McKelvie after their announcement to find out more about their take on gods as rock stars, Gillen’s approach to writing flawed — yet effective — superheroes and the price their characters will pay when they want to join the ranks of the creators.
CBR News: Jamie, do you want to start since Kieron’s chewing?
Jamie McKelvie: (To Kieron Gillen) But you’re the one with the spiel! You go first, you say the spiel and we divvy it up from there.
Kieron Gillen: All right. All of 2013, we worked on a book that focused on, ideologically, what was new. So, going back to one of our old projects felt wrong, somehow. We really wanted to do something that broke new ground. Finishing up old business is great in many ways, and we do plan to do it after we finish the first arc, but we just want new. New, new, new. Especially with Image. Just seeing all of our friends put out these incredible books and that sense of the moment of it all. We want that, we want something that reflects the moment of this year rather than 2009. I sat down, and I was thinking about a variety of things last year, and I came up with this.
Every 90 years, gods reincarnate in bodies. They become famous, as some sort of magical artist. They speak in tongues before crowds, everyone is enraptured by them. There are secret rumors that they might be performing miracles and all of this sort of wild stuff around them. They are both loved and hated, and always brilliant, and in two years they’re dead. And the cycle repeats.
We pick up in 2014, and we’re part way into the two years, so the gods are there, they’re kind of stars, and some of the gods have emerged. Then there’s this fan, Laura, who is the sort of fan that sees this and it changes her life. She wants to be part of it. She’s aware of what the cost is and she wants it anyway — sort of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” with a death wish. It basically follows her and how she enters the world of the gods and meets them.
The fundamental relationship is with Lucy, or, Lucifer, who’s our Bowie influenced Satan analog. Lucy has a problem, Laura might be the only person who can help, and they come to some sort of an arrangement. It’s all about wanting to be a creator, what you’re willing to give up to be a creator and what’s it like when you get there anyway. We’ve got these twelve gods, eight of them in play at the start of the story, with the other ones coming in slowly.
You have these iconic pop stars that are imperfect, yet make an impact on people’s lives, while being very temporary. Are they fractured superheroes?
Gillen: It’s really a superhero book leaning on the fancy side, but how else could it be? A lot of people do celebrity and superhero; that’s an old trope. But it’s almost always cynical, the idea that just because they did a bit of coke they aren’t as good as Superman. And it’s like, fuck you! David Bowie saved my life. It’s the idea that these people are all deeply flawed but they make huge, important differences to people and there are all kinds of ways to save someone’s life. It’s kind of the flip of “Phonogram,” sort of the mirror of it, and it’s this large, pulpy quite dark narrative about creativity and death.
My dad died last year and this was one of the ideas I had the week after he was diagnosed as terminal. A lot of stuff I’m thinking about at the moment is about life and death, those big, unavoidable issues. This is me doing that in the McKelvie pop song manner. It doesn’t matter if its two years or seventy years, life is all finite and it’s about how you’re going to spend this brief time we have on our mortal coil.
What could gods possibly want?
Gillen: When we say “gods,” most people in the book don’t believe they’re gods. They aren’t publically performing miracles. When they do the speaking-in-tongues thing, it doesn’t work on everybody. There are some people just aren’t affected and they think they’re fakes. Just because someone says they’re a god, it doesn’t mean anything.
They want what individuals want. We dig into this in the first arc, but they want to do what they want to do. Who they are is to do that rapturous thing, it’s the only thing they want to do. It’s the sex and the drugs and everything else you do to distract yourself, but they aren’t going to take over the world. If all gods were creative people, they wouldn’t necessarily be taking over the world, right? They are deeply irresponsible and they’re bad people in their late teens, early twenties.
You refer to them as being reincarnated — does that mean that they have to claim a body?
Gillen: That’s part of the story — you’ll see. But the book isn’t coming until the middle of summer, so the hows and whos and whats will all be in the telling. It’s not even true that they’ll remember their previous lives. What’s the difference between these people and the people who swear that they’re the reincarnation of Jesus Christ? There’s a very cynical character, Cassandra, who’s one of the people in the extended cast, that’s how she puts it. She’s an absolute cynic to all of this.
It’s a book that interrogates itself in many ways.
It seems like the book is very stylish and hip with similar themes as your previous collaboration, “Phonogram.”
Gillen: There’s a lot of swagger to the project, like me and Jamie dressing in ridiculous costumes and being playful with it. My normal dress code is black, black, blackity black and this [gestures to outfit] isn’t. I do feel that this can be a genuinely fun pop mythology. I want to make something that people will be involved in and try to puzzle out, something they can find themselves getting angry and passionate about. In the same way that “Phonogram” was about pop music, this is both an encouragement and a warning.
Wrapping up, Jamie, what’s the experience been like working on a project with much design freedom?
McKelvie: This is the first time I’ve had to talk about it, so it’s coming out in a rush. I’m having a lot of fun with it. For the last six months or so, we’ve been running a style blog on Tumblr as we find things that relate to what we want to do with the project. A lot of fashion and really out there designs. I loved working on “Young Avengers” and I love designing but there were still limits to what I could do because it was in an existing universe. I really wanted something where I could run riot, so that’s what I’m going to do with it.
“The Wicked and the Divine” releases this summer from Image Comics.