Welcome to another edition of MORNING GLORY DAYS, Comic Book Resources’ exclusive column dedicated to all things “Morning Glories,” the smash hit Image Comics series written by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Joe Eisma. Following every new issue of the series, CBR News will sit down with Spencer for insight and illumination on some of the most mysterious layers “Morning Glories” has to offer.
Last month’s “Morning Glories” #8 proved one thing to be true about the kids at Morning Glory Academy — even nice guys have their secrets. The second issue of the book’s “get to know a cast member” arc focuses in on the Glories resident solid dude Hunter, revealing some twisted secrets about his biology, his seeming inability to make appointments on time and his frosty relationship with his father. Of course, this being “Morning Glories” — even the most average teenage occurrences are proving to be more than they seem at face value.
Below, Spencer delves into what Hunter’s past means for his present and how the rough and tough students of the Academy are forming up into something more than steering committees and club sports. Read on for an inside look into the creation of the issue as well as some clues to the identity of the killer stalking the campus!
CBR News: All right! Issue #8! You said last time you expected this issue to be a bit more of a crowd pleaser, and I was struck by how much you’re trying to balance the big, weird mystery stuff with the high school action. Is this issue pretty indicative of how you’d like the book to come across on the whole?
Nick Spencer: Yeah, I think some issues lend themselves to that better than others. #7 and 8 have each been pretty easy to make that work and get it all in one issue where you’re bouncing between the present day high school stuff, the stuff that happened when they were younger and the broader mysteries that we’re seeding throughout the book. It was nice in this issue because it felt like we really hit the mold. It’s good when all those things hold hands.
We open up with Hunter being given a watch from this stranger, and in a good story, we should assume that everything happening is happening for a reason. Still, as I read this book I can’t help but find myself asking, “Is this scene pregnant with meaning?” [Spencer Laughs] The idea that seems to be developing here is that whoever is running the Academy has been watching these kids a long time, and in this scene specifically we get a hint that maybe those forces are more benevolent than we expected. Can we assume that some involved in all this have these kids best interests in mind?
That’s a tricky question! It’s clear someone has been keeping their eye on these kids. Whether or not that someone is a part of the Academy or in opposition to the Academy or is something entirely different is a question we’ll be answering down the road. But what you are beginning to see is that the strangeness in these kids lives did not begin with their enrollment at the Academy.
It’s kind of funny. I remember back during the first arc, one of the things I heard a lot of readers say, “I just can’t believe that these kids are rolling with this the way they are. The average teenager put in this situation would be screaming and crying and hiding in a corner.” And to some extent, that’s what a couple of the kids did — in particular, Jade. But now we’re seeing the beginnings of why their entrance to this school is maybe just the latest strange things to happen to at least some of these kids.
The other main thread of this issue, outside of Hunter’s time-reading troubled past, is his developing “Moonlighting”-style relationship with Casey. That was an idea you really got out in front of in the first arc so much as to say, “We’ve got our two most well-adjusted characters, and we know everyone expects them to get together.” Do you want to fight against that impulse, or do you want to explore that trope in that these are archetypes?
A little bit of column A, little bit of column B. I think there’s a definite kind of John Hughesian element to Casey and Hunter’s relationship. That’s not to say that will always be the case. It’s not to say we won’t throw some curve balls down the road. But for now, I think these are two characters that would connect at this point in their lives for a variety of reasons. I think that they are two characters that would naturally stick with each other to some extent. When you look at some of the dynamics we’ve set up so far, you see like you would with any real group of kids that people like Ike and Zoe are going to have an uncomfortable relationship with people like Hunter and Casey. Then you’ve got people like Jade, who someone like Casey would immediately feel very protective of, or someone like Jun, who Hunter would naturally want to bring into the fold more. These are all natural relationship patterns that would be drawn out of these characters…in the beginning. We’re still very early in this story. So, like in any real relationship, things will change, and the way characters view each other will be altered.
But for now, this is a nice, sweet story. I like Hunter and Casey. They make sense to me, and it makes sense to me that they would feel this connection. Now, whether or not it’s a romantic connection remains to be seen, but for now, Casey needs somebody more than she realizes. She’s going through a lot, and she’s internalizing a great deal of it. So the door’s a little more open to a guy like Hunter now than it would be at some other point in her life.
I may be outing myself as being behind with the kids and their crazy Rock N Roll music, but what is this song that Hunter is singing after he’s successfully asked Casey out?
This is Yeasayer’s “Ambling Alp.” Yeasayer is one of my favorite bands, and it was just a fun song to put in. I thought it was very apropos for a variety of reasons. It seemed like the kind of song Hunter would like and certainly the kind of song that you would blast on your iPod after something good happened. So just a fun little pop culture reference. I think Hunter would have pretty good taste in music. It was fun to get to do this issue. I’d said it was a crowd pleaser, and we got to do some fun high school young love moments here in a book that’s been about a lot of big mysteries and scary moments and people getting disemboweled or having their brains exploded. It’s nice once in a while to write a very sweet scene of two teenagers awkwardly agreeing to give it a go. I think that’s a good thing to do.
Let’s talk about the flashback and the Hurley experience here. I think it’s great that you’re willing to wear your influences on your sleeve. Some people would constantly be trying to lean back off things like “LOST” as influences, but do you feel pretty confident that you can describe how different this series will be from the things that influenced it without having to deny those influences?
I think anybody that reads this book can see how we walk that line between being influenced and ripping something off. We walk it very well here. It’s one of the things I’m proud of here. The book is very much about wearing its influences on its sleeve. That’s a big part of the storytelling method. It’s got a wide variety of influences. We talk a lot about the “LOST” connection, and that certainly is a big one, but there’s also a lot of “The Prisoner” here. There’s a lot of “Runaways” and John Hughes movies of the ’80s, and there’s a lot of the ’90s teen slasher movies — “Scream” and “The Faculty” and “Disturbing Behavior.” All of that stuff is in the mix here.
We’re very open about that, and to me one o the best comparisons is Kevin Williamson’s first “Scream,” in the way the characters were very much aware that they were part of a story and that they were playing by the rules of a story. That’s always really connected with me because I feel like if these kinds of things were happening to you suddenly, you would draw on your pop culture experience more than you think. You would use that knowledge as personal experience in informing how you’d respond and react. Sometimes they do it in a tongue-in-cheek way, and sometimes they do it in a serious way. But I like the self awareness. I like giving the readers a wink and a nod when I can. This reference is a bit on the nose, and I don’t think for legal reasons I’m allowed to say exactly who that is. [Laughter] But if it were, that’d be fun. Hopefully that’s a sign that we’re not taking ourselves too seriously and we’re just having a good time with it.
What’s interesting is, “LOST” itself would do this all the time. Damon Lindelof would always have somebody reading a book or referencing something that had inspired “LOST.” He and Carlton Cuse were big fans of doing that themselves.
In more important matters unpacked in the flashback, we’re getting some real exploration of Hunter and his dad’s relationship. When we first met Hunter, he seemed like a really nice, well-adjusted kid whose dad was a huge jerk. Can we assume that the revelations of this issue — that his dad harbors ill will for Hunter missing out on so much of his mother’s death — is a pretty face value reason for that relationship deteriorating?
There’s a lot about the relationship between Hunter and his dad that we’re going to explore over time. When I was dreaming up the backgrounds for these kids, it’s one of the elements that came right to me and was immediately of interest to me. So we’ll keep coming back to that, and I think it’ll be an interesting relationship to explore because I think what people are starting to see is that it’s not a sensational story. Hunter’s dad is not beating him, and he’s not a villain per se, but we can tell that there’s a little less than healthy dynamic between the two of them. It’s clearly a big part of Hunter’s life, and he talked a little bit about it with Casey in #4. It’s something that’s a key part of who he is, and it’s one story that’s really interesting to me personally. There aren’t a lot of stories about those strained relationships between parents and children that aren’t driven by a huge event or something physical that you can easily put your finger on but are instead made up of a lot of small problems. I think that this moment — which we’ll certainly find out a lot more about as we go on — of Hunter missing his mother’s funeral is a pivotal thing for the character. We’ll find out why later.
The other thing that I can’t imagine has a concrete answer right now but I can’t help but ask is: what’s up with 8:13? What can we do with this number at this point aside from roll with it?
It’s a “roll with it” moment. It’s the seed for a long term thing. What I will say is that it’s not a random number. The number in question has significance. The time in question is going to have great significance for Hunter down the road.
We’ve got another thread in this issue of Hunter dealing with some bullies, led by someone we learn is Jun’s twin brother. There’s a few different ways we can look at all this stuff, but the phrase that stands out to me strongest is, “You’re the captain, after all,” which makes it seem like there’s some greater organization behind the other boys at the Academy. In what way does this idea play into the school hierarchy we saw in play last month with the cheerleading squad, and what can we infer about how the Glories will work their way into that hierarchy?
That’s a big part of the next couple of arcs to come. It really starts here. In addition to learning about the Glories’ past, one of my first goals of this arc was to deal with their initial interactions with other students. In the first arc, the other classmates were in the background, and it was all about these six kids versus the faculty — and only a couple of members of the faculty at that. As we go on, this is a very big school, and there’s a lot of people to deal with. Anyone who went to high school remembers that who you deal with is a big part of the experience. We’re going to pull that camera back a bit and deal with their interactions a bit and how they fit in to the social hierarchy of the school. The school has certain things that are very defined in that sense, and the captain line is the first hint of that. But there will be a lot more of that to come. As we do, we’ll see that some of our kids are going to adjust, adapt and integrate into the school much more successfully than others. For some of these kids, they’re going to be a fish in water. For some of them, it’s going to be difficult. And neither side may hold the kids you expect. This is the beginning of something you’ll see through all of the first season — their relationship with the faculty and the other students. We’ll see more of both over this arc.
I feel like I should be keeping a running tally of “This is a fact that we can hold on to.” [Laughter] And for this month, the fact that we can grasp on to is that Hunter, at the very least, is biologically different from other people — if not all the kids. One question I’d been asking myself with the cone and the prisoner is whether the sci-fi elements here would be physics based or theoretical science. This is a cross-genre story, for sure, but do you have any specific sci-fi ideas that inform how this all fits together?
I know what it is, but one of the things that I really like about this story is that I think it’s good for the people reading to not know. That does heighten some of the mystery and suspense in that they can’t tell which direction of science fiction or fantasy we’re going in, and it makes it that much harder to get a handle on it. It makes it more dizzying. I like the fact that people pick this thing up every month, and they’re not sure if on the last page one of these kids is going to be flying or if it’s a time travel story or if it’s a multi-dimentional story. Is it a Philip K. Dick story or a Ray Bradbury or a Robert Anton Wilson? What kind of science fiction is this? For me, that’s part of the fun. When you go into something like “Existence 2.0” or “The Infinite Vacation” we make it clear what kind of genre you’re getting into. One of the things I like about “Morning Glories” is that because we don’t give you that option, it really feels like anything can happen. It’s good to see people wondering.
And yeah, this is a hint of something. It certainly opens up some new possibilities. Is it a genetic thing? Is it a brainwave thing? What she’s seeing here is something that we’re not making clear yet, but there’s something there certainly.
You pull in two pages of pure darkness punctuated by dialogue balloons only, which I enjoy because it’s the kind of scene that is pure comics and can’t be done in any other medium. How did you go about laying out this dialogue to make it work on the page?
It was a little tricky! I remember putting that hood over Hunter’s head so he couldn’t see where he was going, and I thought, in terms of building the suspense and keeping the confusion going, it might be fun to literally put the readers in the dark with Hunter. So I just plotted it out as normal, but with no panel descriptions, and Johnny [Lowe] did a nice job in terms of his lettering spacing and making it look right on the page. I really liked the effect. It was a fun thing to try, and I don’t think we were the first people to do it, but I like going outside the box a bit.
So, the last page — should we just assume that someone’s going to get cut up in every issue of this arc?
[Laughs] I thought you might ask me something like that. I think part of the fun now is, maybe you’re expecting that. This is the second time in as many issues we’ve seen somebody get violently killed with these words appearing next to them. It seems like something’s going on. Kids are dropping like flies, now, and it may not have anything to do with the faculty, which is something we haven’t seen before these issues. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Something’s going on for sure, and I will say that by the end of this arc, you’re going to see the reaction to this. This is all happening very quickly, and what the response is is a big part of what’s coming.
Here’s my best shot at a question that can get a definite answer: is the killer somebody we’ve seen on panel before?
There’s a definite note to go out on. Well, except to say that next time out, we get Jun’s story, and it appears that we’ll be unpacking the revelations from this month.
I recognize that we’re telling a long-form story, and the trick to doing a long-form mystery is answering questions as you go along while asking new questions at the same time. Next issue does that. You’ll get some definitive answers. This is one time where you’ll get an answer that you don’t have to wait three months to understand. You’ll get what’s hopefully a very satisfying conclusion to one of the mysteries, but some new things are going to pop up too. It’s a fun one. I think people will be happy with getting something concrete at this point. I understand the nerves of a lot of readers thinking, “Is this going to be a big let down? Is he just throwing things out randomly?” At least next week, you’ll be able to say that from one of those early cliffhangers, we’ll get a clear answer.
Check out “Morning Glories” #9 in stores next week, and stay tuned to CBR in the days ahead for another installment of MORNING GLORY DAYS.