When it came time for illustrator and comic book artist Rebecca Guay (“The Sandman: King Of Dreams,” “Magic: The Gathering”) to figure out what type of project she wanted to work on next, the answer was clear — one with angels.
“I really wanted to do this beautiful book with this whole arc of angel stories: falling in love, falling from grace, what happens when they interact with humans, all of these things,” Guay told CBR News.
The result is “A Flight Of Angels,” an angel-centric graphic novel anthology, on sale now from Vertigo Comics. Speaking with CBR about the book, Guay, who also did all the anthology’s artwork, explained that “Flight” begins with a group of faeries coming upon a fallen angel. The faeries then hold a tribunal, recounting stories about other celestial beings in order to help them decide whether to kill the fallen angel or save it.
Guay originally came up with the idea for the anthology several years ago after completing work on a book with author and “Flight” collaborator Louise Hawes. “At that point there really hadn’t been that many books or novels or graphic novels or anything around fallen angels or these darker angel mythologies — this was prior to the current up tick in that kind of story,” said Guay. “I really wanted to do this imagery, I wanted to very much explore these ideas of dark themes, romantic themes, very sexual and sensual ideas — atypical things, at least up until that time.”
Featuring stories by writers such as “Fables” creator Bill Willingham and “The Spiderwick Chronicles” co-writer Holly Black, the collaborative book was a passion project for Guay.
“There was [comic book writer Mike Carey’s] ‘Lucifer’ and some other projects, but nothing that spoke to me in the way I wanted to be spoken to as a reader and a lover of mythic creatures like angels,” said Guay.
While many books portrayed angels as aloof divine beings, Guay wanted to explore the idea of angels as creatures who were, “fully engaged, wrapped into the lives of humans — they are as flawed and strange as we are in many ways in this book.”
Guay then began to develop the anthology after sharing the idea with friend and young adult fiction author Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple.
“I asked Heidi if she wanted to work with me as editor and she went, ‘You know, you should do this thing. You have great friends and great colleagues who you’ve worked together with, you put it together. You bring in the people you want. You have this fully formed thought, run with it girl!'” recalled Guay. “I was like, OK!”
With some initial help from Stemple, Guay assembled the writers she wanted to work with from her pool of friends and past collaborators such as author Todd Mitchell (“The Traitor King”), Hawes (“Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand”), Alisa Kwitney (“The Sandman: King Of Dreams), and Black, who wrote the faerie-tribunal framing story that holds the anthology together.
“We went and we got coffee and [Black] was like, ‘Do you know based on all these folktales that angels come from faerie?’ I said, ‘Well, there’s the story,'” said Guay. “[Black] wove it into the fall of angels idea from the battle of Heaven and them falling to Earth and becoming faerie, and those who fell farther became demons. It was just a wonderful idea.”
The idea also interested Vertigo, and the DC Comics imprint picked up the project, bringing onboard an unexpected collaborator. “The wonderful Bill Willingham came onboard, whom I just adored!” Guay said. “[Vertigo Editor] Karen Berger brought him in and I was just thrilled.”
After that point Guay said she began to pull the book together, bouncing ideas back and forth with Black and some of the other writers.
“Louise Hawes had a certain way she wanted to do the Adam and Eve story, where the snake would be an angel and we talked back and forth about that and then she came up with this totally new take on Eve and feminism that just blew my mind. So, to a certain degree, there was discussion and a back and forth,” said Guay. While some projects were more collaborative between the artist and her writers, for the most part Guay let her collaborators run with their stories once they understood the initial idea behind the anthology.
“When Bill came in Karen gave him everything we had put together thus far and he came up with something completely of his own that he felt connected to what we were saying,” Guay said. “His story was a complete surprise, but a delightful one, because it rolls in everything in his sort of personal way.”
To tell different types of angel stories Guay employed different art styles, with each individual story inspiring her.
“When Holly gave me the first draft of the frame story and we were reading through it in my studio together, this imagery came to mind: it was so clear it should be an icy, gray story!” Guay said. “That it not be light and fluffy because no part of this book is light and fluffy; there may be winged beings but it’s an intense story with unexpected turns and that’s what the frame story should feel like. It should feel like a cold gray day in winter.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum was Hawes’ Adam and Eve story. “That just felt vivid, that felt it should be a Baz Luhrmann sort of vividness; that was the first imagery I got,” said Guay. “I had control over everything in the book. I could shift according to how that particular story inspired me and what images came to mind. It was a great organic process and one you rarely get a chance to do because there are other factors in other books.”
A long time lover of supernatural stories, Guay said her obsession with angels in particular began when she was twelve. “My earliest fascination with angelic beings was out of Roman mythology and the story of Cupid and Psyche, the mortal girl who becomes the life long love of the god Cupid, who is of course a Roman version of an angel: a winged being, super powerful and gorgeous,” said Guay. “That captured my heart.”
Angels continued to fascinate Guay long after her adolescent years, and the artist told CBR that both the imagery of angels and the place they hold in the human psyche continue to fascinate her.
“I love mythical beings and angels, and not just the idea of believing in real angels but the power those kinds of archetypes have in our psyche as human beings. It seems like it’s pretty prevalent with everyone to some degree,” said Guay.
While there may be “no way to separate ourselves from the concept of religion and angels,” Guay said she did not set out to create a religious anthology, and allowed each writer to determine whether to use religious ideas or symbols in their stories.
“Certainly it wasn’t the intent to be a religious book, but in the way mythology or the Old Testament — which is the Bible — is incredible stories and amazing archetypes,” Guay explained. “This was first and foremost to me amazing stories to read. I think I believe in angels more in terms of what they represent to us and the power of what they represent rather than whether they truly exist, which I think is equally as powerful.”
The artist acknowledged the explosion in supernatural teen literature and noted supernatural romances such as “Twilight” tackle many similar themes, proposing that, like vampires and werewolves, angels could be part of the next big cultural zeitgeist.
“It seems like some of that is already happening,” said Guay. “Maybe in the future or in the next project I’ll explore that deeper.”
Circling back to “Flight,” Guay confessed she could not pick a single story as her favorite, and that she hoped the stories in the anthology would move readers as deeply as they moved her.
“I love the super sensuality of the Adam and Eve story, and I loved the sweet, gentle romanticism of the guardian story, how gentle it is and how heartbreaking,” Guay said of her favorite tales from the anthology. “And then the story within a story of Bill Willingham and this idea of a bureau of angels. It’s so different, I never saw anything like that, not for angels!”
As for Guay’s next project, the artist told CBR News she wanted to do a second angel-oriented graphic novel, though as far as passion projects go, “That’s sort of solidifying right now!” said Guay.
“Most likely angels, romance, or mythology — that would be a pretty good bet!” she added with a laugh.
“Flight Of Angels” is on sale now.