Classic “Daredevil” writer and recently-anointed “Green Arrow” scribe Ann Nocenti continues her bold return to comics this May, teaming with co-writer Michael McMillian to launch the first ongoing “True Blood” series at IDW Publishing. McMillian, who plays anti-vampire evangelist Steve Newlin on the HBO series, previously co-wrote the miniseries “True Blood: Tainted Love” with Marc Andreyko. “Alias” and “Manhunter” illustrator Michael Gaydos will handle the art chores for the series.
“True Blood,” an HBO series based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series of novels, takes place in a world in which vampires have recently revealed themselves to the human population. In an effort to integrate themselves into society, they drink an artificial, mass produced blood drink — branded Tru Blood — rather than sucking the life out of human victims straight from the vein. There remain, of course, vamps unwilling to play by the rules, and recent seasons have unveiled other, sometimes darker supernatural beings. Sookie, the central character, is human (more or less) but telepathic; she finds comfort in the vampire community because she cannot hear what they’re thinking, which comes as a relief to her overwhelmed senses.
CBR News caught up with Nocenti and McMillian for their thoughts on the “True Blood” ongoing, its place within the show’s mythology, and what they have planned for the first arc and beyond.
The second “True Blood” miniseries, “Tainted Love,” also represented McMillian’s second foray into comics following “Lucid” at Archaia. (The first and third “True Blood” miniseries were both co-written by David Tischman and Mariah Huehner.) “That was a great opportunity to write the ‘True Blood’ characters I love, work with a comics pro like [co-writer] Marc Andreyko and venture further into writing for comics,” McMillian said of “Tainted Love.” “I’m very grateful for the experience and doubly so to be back for ongoing.”
McMillian said his acting role as Steve Newlin on “True Blood” does help in writing scenes and dialogue for the characters. “My biggest goal with the ongoing comic is to make it feel like the show in tone and character. I thought Marc and I did a pretty good job of it in ‘Tainted Love,’ but I want to take it even further with the ongoing,” McMillian said. “We’ll actually be stepping back from the larger ensemble a bit and focusing on fewer characters at a time within each story arc, which I think will really help spotlight each member of the cast. The comic really is an extension of the world Alan Ball and the writers and actors have created on the show, so imagining my co-stars speaking individual lines of dialogue Ann Nocenti and I write is essential to the process. If I can’t ‘hear’ Alex Skarsgard delivering one of Eric’s quips that we come up with, then it doesn’t pass the test. In all honesty, I’m trying to write towards Alan’s sensibilities at the end of the day. If he’s happy with the script, then I’m happy. It’s his world and his voice.”
Co-writing the “True Blood” ongoing series with Nocenti offers a different dynamic from the previous mini, and McMillian said that so far it’s working nicely. “Ann is this total pro and comics vet. I read her run on ‘Daredevil’ back in the ’80s and loved it so it’s a little embarrassing for me to come in as this actor and start elaborating on what I think we should do,” McMillian said. “The truth is I’m just really passionate about ‘True Blood.’ I love working on the show, I love playing Steve Newlin, and I think that outlook could be overbearing for a new writer coming aboard. But she’s been really cool with me taking the reins on the first arc and trying to establish that tone I was talking about. We’ve got our first year’s worth of story-arcs planned out and she’ll be helming our next major plot, so I think we’ll passing the baton back and forth as we go.”
“So far Michael is the quarterback. He came up with the clever and seminal first trilogy, and wrote the first plot drafts. Then we bounce things back and forth, with me acting more as a scene-shaper and detail girl,” Nocenti said of their process. “Michael is a natural storyteller, and a dream to work with. We seem to have developed a sense of trust so that we throw out tons of ideas, no matter how stupid, and know the other guy will cherry-pick just the good stuff.”
While Nocenti has said she was unfamiliar with “Green Arrow” before accepting the assignment — nor, for that matter, did she have encyclopedic knowledge of Matt Murdock prior to her landmark “Daredevil” run — this was not the case with “True Blood. “Oh, yes. I was a fan. The show is terrifically addicting,” Nocenti said. “Funny, smart writing, just the right balance of soap opera and gore. I grew up fascinated by the nether realms of mythology and their metaphoric possibilities. The social satirical touches in the series are sharp without being too heavy. And the opening credits make me swoon. Fantastic.”
Nocenti said she sees the comic as augmenting the television series by expanding what’s possible in the “True Blood” universe. “I think the comic series can offer a wildness that you can’t see on the TV show due to budget constraints. Michael just came up with an aerial vampire battle that would have added a small fortune to the budget. The great thing about comics is that anything can be drawn,” she said. “If you want someone’s head to explode, roll, pause to talk, no problem. And the skill of the content of the series will be to tell great tales, but also find moments that ‘wow’ fans, give them juicy tidbits between characters without giving away anything upcoming in the series. This will be more Michael’s domain, as he is far more versed in the series than I am. I’d like to have our stories be provocative and clear enough so that new readers aren’t lost. I would love to attract new readers from the comics world that have never even seen the show, who then go on to watch the show.”
McMillian, too, sees great possibilities for the comic series, and said the ongoing format allows for “bigger canvas, shorter story arcs, fewer characters at a time.” “Instead of telling six-issue arcs that focus on the very large ensemble of ‘True Blood’ characters, we’ll be telling 3-4 issue arcs that focus on a handful of characters,” he told CBR News. “Sookie will always be the center of our universe, but we may even stray from the the main cast at certain points for single issue stories that focus on supporting characters we’d love to see more of in the show. This actually helps us keep it a little loose and stay true to the show’s continuity without being beholden to what’s happening next Sunday night. Once in a while we’ll do a big arc with the entire ensemble, but those stories should feel special. If the TV series is the main attraction, then the comic is the sideshow. It’s going to be really fun, weird and hopefully shed light on certain corners of the ‘True Blood’ universe you won’t see anywhere else. With an ongoing, we also have the opportunity to play a long game. Elements of a story from the first arc may resonate later in the series. Over the long run the comic will have established a solid continuity. I’m really excited with where this can go.”
Joining McMillian and Nocenti on the series is artist Michael Gaydos, and McMillian said he “can’t wait to find out” how the artist brings “True Blood” to life. “I’m a big fan of his from ‘Alias.’ He has a cinematic style that will really work for ‘True Blood,'” McMillian said. “He’s also really great with conveying action and emotion with fantastical characters while keeping things grounded in the real world, which is what we need.”
The first arc of the series, McMillian revealed, focuses on a major event from before the HBO series’ pilot episode. “The first arc is titled ‘Where Were You?’ We’ll flashback to see what Sookie, Eric and Bill were up to on the day of the Great Revelation, the day vampires came out of the coffin,” McMillian said. “To me, that day would be like the Kennedy Assassination or 9/11. That’s an event you would never forget if you lived in this world. Like ‘Tainted Love,’ it’s part prequel and part present day, the later half involving a new threat that frames the flashback sequences. We have a new villain I’m really excited to get into and that’s all I’ll say about that. But if you want a spoiler I’ll tell you this: not all of the characters from the TV show make it out alive!”
IDW’s “True Blood” ongoing strikes first blood in May.