In 2000, a new comic book company, Crossgen Comics, burst onto the scene. Run by Florida entrepreneur Mark Alessi, Crossgen dedicated itself to publishing genre comics: fantasy, science fiction, mystery — basically everything but standard superhero stories. After an explosive rise Crossgen had an even more explosive bankruptcy and was bought by Disney in 2004. Now Marvel Comics, itself owned by Diseny, is bringing Crossgen back as an imprint, last year announcing the revival of Crossgen’s “Ruse” and “Sigil” as four-issue miniseries. Since that announcement, fans have speculated endlessly about what series Marvel would revitalize next — and today that wait is over.
This morning, Marvel announced the next miniseries in its Crossgen lineup: fantasy-action comic “Mystic.”
The new “Mystic,” written by Vertigo’s “Air” and “Cairo” scribe G. Willow Wilson, features art by David Lopez and promises to be worlds different than the original series. While the first “Mystic,” created by writer Ron Marz and artist Brandon Peterson, centered on shallow socialite Giselle, a party girl who becomes the most powerful mage on her planet when a mystic sigil appears on her hand, the new series completely reimagines the story, pairing Giselle with her sister Genevieve and giving the two a new world, new enemies, and new powers.
With the first issue slated to arrive in August, CBR News spoke with Wilson about her take on the Crossgen characters, what role the Sigil plays in the miniseries, and the task of completely reimagining the world of “Mystic.”
CBR News: Most comics readers know you best for Vertigo’s “Air.” How did you move from “Air” to “Mystic?”
G. Willow Wilson: Gosh, that’s a good question. I first met the editor, Jeanine Schaefer, when working at DC. I liked what she was doing and she liked what I was doing, but we never had a project that was appropriate to work on together. So when she moved over to Marvel and “Mystic” came across her desk, she kindly thought of me and gave me a call and asked if I would be interested working on it. I said absolutely, because it was a really intriguing concept.
“Mystic” sounds very different from your other, more real-world, political comic projects thus far. What about “Mystic” drew you as a writer?
Well, first off we really gave it a very thorough overhaul. People who were fans of the old “Mystic” probably won’t recognize a whole lot from that comic in this new re-launch! The new “Mystic” has elements of political stuff in it, but it is not nearly as hardcore as some of my political writing has been. It’s very character driven; the emphasis is much more on the two main characters, Giselle and Genevieve, and their adventures. So it’s a little more fantasy, and a little more character-driven than some of the stuff I’ve done before.
What is the new “Mystic” about?
The new “Mystic” is about two orphan girls who live in a poor area of this beautiful city, Hyperion, which is run on aether-power technology, which is somewhere between steampunk and high-fantasy. They’ve secretly been teaching themselves the Noble Arts, this kind of magical technology that powers the world, which in theory only the Nobility is allowed to study. In the midst of a revolution, one of them gets plucked out of her world and gets sucked into this palace world where she gets to learn more about aether technology as the Royal Apprentice. I won’t say much more than that because there’s a lot of little twists and things, but that’s the gist. It’s a high-fantasy “Mean Girls” meets “Les Miserable!”
The core premise of the old Crossgen “Mystic” revolved around a Sigil that appears on Giselle’s hand, giving her magic powers. Does the Sigil play any role in this new, re-imagined “Mystic?”
We’re pretty much starting from scratch. There’s certainly a lot of symbolism that goes on, but it’s not tied into the idea of the Sigil that shows up in the old Crossgen stuff. It’s more incidental than that. So it really is a pretty complete revamp; except for a few key fun things it’s all from scratch.
Is part of the appeal for you that these high-fantasy elements allow you to move away from the more real-world writing that is your normal fare?
You know, I’ve been a fantasy geek since I was 12 and I never got an opportunity to let my imagination run wild and really take it to that level in the work that I’ve done in comics since I have done most of my work through Vertigo, which is a little more contemporary and literary and that kind of stuff. Which is a ton of fun, but this is a very different kind of fun! It’s certainly something I’ve been interested in for a long time, and fantasy makes up a lot of my guilty pleasure bed-side reading, so it was great to finally have an opportunity to do that in a comic setting.
With this blend of science fiction and magic, will the tone of “Mystic” be closer in tone to Marvel’s cosmic titles?
Yeah, a little bit in tone. It doesn’t exactly tie into those timelines but it is in that vein. It is a little bit more cosmic, and people who read “Doctor Strange” will be into this kind of thing.
Does “Mystic” take place in the Marvel Universe?
No, it’s an entirely separate universe that we sort of invented and built by ourselves. I don’t know if eventually it’s something they are going to incorporate into the Marvel U or do crossover stuff — who knows. As it stands now it is not connected in any way to the Marvel U.
Did you have knowledge of the Crossgen Universe prior to writing “Mystic?”
I knew of it, and I read some of the stuff. I was getting into Vertigo at the time when the original Crossgen properties were coming out and I kind of liked grittier, more real world-ish stuff. But it was definitely on my radar. I remember people had been really excited about the art and it was going to be this big new thing where it was not quite superhero stuff and not quite indie stuff — it was going to be a new thing in which fantasy and sci-fi and all this cool genre stuff played a role. I was not a huge, directly involved fan, but I remember all the hype. So it was cool to go back to it and have an excuse to read them with more of a writer-ly eye, and have a chance to get my hands grubby, pull it apart and put it back together again!
Being a fantasy fan, was creating an entirely new world from the ground-up a big plus for you?
It was, but it was also kind of scary. With any kind of genre fiction, but especially with fantasy and science fiction, if you don’t do your job exactly right it’s unbelievable; the reader doesn’t buy into it, the reader doesn’t click. So you have to do a very thorough job of making the world make sense, making it coherent and complete. That in itself was a little daunting because the kind of fantasy-ish stuff I had done at Vertigo with “Air” was very tied into the real world. So I didn’t have to do nearly as much work as I did with “Mystic,” in which we had to go to the drawing board in the most literal sense.
I can’t take all the credit because David Lopez, the artist, did an amazing job getting up to his elbows in creating this world and creating a look and a feel and the technology and the architecture of this city. A lot of credit is due to him for making it all hang together.
How was it building a world with David? Did you have a lot of meetings to hash out creating a new world for “Mystic?”
If we didn’t live on opposite sides of the planet, I’m sure we would have because he’s an awesome guy and I hope I do get to meet him in person one day soon. But unfortunately he’s off in Spain and I’m in Seattle, so we communicated by email. Really, all I did is write several pages of background on the world and what it looked like and the technology. David took that and went absolutely crazy with it. He did way, way more character sketches and background sketches and background work before we started working on the series than I’ve ever seen an artist do before. So before I even sat down to write the thing I had a map of the city he had done and different looks for different classes of people within the city. It was really astonishing for me as a writer to have half the work done for me! [Laughs] I didn’t have to sit there and describe in painstaking detail every single panel and say, “On this side of the city there is this,” because it was already all there. I could say, “In the palace” and he would know exactly what he had to draw because he had done so much work already. I am kind of amazed we were able to cram as much into four issues as we have. It’s really a visual feast. I have no ego about this, I know there are a lot of people who pick up comics just for the art. So for the people who are in that category, they are going to love this because it’s a visual treat. Though I think the story is pretty good too! [Laughs]
Identity is a big theme you explore in “Air” and some of your older essay and non-comics work. As “Mystic” revolves around two close sisters being placed in new worlds and possibly having to fight each other, is identity a theme you also play with here?
You know, it is, but it almost came back unconsciously, just because it lends itself so well to the story. The two heroines, Giselle and Genevieve, are very different and they get sucked into destinies and paths that they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves, and did not expect. And that calls into question what they believe about themselves and what they know about themselves and really tests the friendship as a result. So that emotional layer is definitely there. It was very much in keeping with a lot of the stuff that I’ve written in that I’m kind of obsessed with when it comes to how we see ourselves within the society which we live, but in a much lighter, more fun, much less ponderous way! I think my tendency as a writer is to take things quite seriously and “Mystic” was a great opportunity to get a little bit lighter with it. I actually discovered that sometimes that light touch, focusing on story and dialogue actually brings out those ideas in a much clearer way.
Because you are basically starting from scratch, what parts of the old Genevieve and Giselle did you hold onto for the miniseries?
There are character elements and, in a very generic way, the look of both characters — in terms of, say, hair color! [Laughs] There is some bare bones stuff that is staying in it. With the relationship between them there are some elements that are similar, there’s some personality elements that carry over, and then of course the whole magical element carries over, though in a different way. There are hat tips to the original series at various points in various ways. People who read and liked the original series will look at this and go, “Oh, that’s funny!” But that’s as far as it will go in terms of overlap.
Is a big goal for this miniseries to reinvent the universe and draw in new readers?
Yeah, that was a big part of it. We wanted to make the series accessible to people who are not really into boobs and swords high-fantasy stuff that is explicitly or implicitly aimed at a male audience. I think this is a lot more girl-friendly; I think it can be appreciated by a wider age range. So yeah, definitely one of the goals is to make it accessible to a broader range of readers, and maybe even people who normally don’t read comics, people who read fantasy novels and are into the prose aspect but don’t normally pick up comics. This is a good entry point for them.
What do you want readers, new and old, to take away from your four issues?
I’d like them to take away a fun take on a little property [that] is getting a fresh coat of paint and a new story. And I’d like them to change their minds about how much fun comics starring girls can be, that its more than just big breasts and swords and running around in scanty clothes. You can have a fun, action-filled, fast-paced book that has female heroes in it and we don’t have to fall back on the old standards of cleavage! [Laughs] As a woman and a writer I want to pick up a book and relate to it. I’m sure there are women who are heavily muscled and have size 46 double-D boobs, but there aren’t many and I’m not one of them! When you find a character you can relate to who reflects your experience, I think it becomes that much more fun to read.
Is that something you really want to push in your comics — female-centric stories and protagonists?
I think it would be very easy to ghettoize female creators and female characters and say, “Well, you know, there are comics for girls and comics for guys!” I think that’s a mistake. What I’d really like to do is make stories about women more universal. If I can get readers excited about that, I’ll feel I’ve done something good. But I’m not out there to push an agenda. It’s just about telling great stories and broadening the appeal of those stories to people who may not have found their niche in comics before.
If the miniseries did become an ongoing series, would you want to come back to it as the full-time writer?
Absolutely! It’s been a lot of fun and there’s some great concepts with some great room for expansion. We pack it full of all kinds of visually and thematically fun stuff, so there’s certainly room there for an ongoing.
Finally, since you’ve been working on this expansive world with David for a while, is there any particular part of the new “Mystic” world you really love and would like to share with us?
When David sent back the art for the second issue he said, “Oh, I’m putting aether-powered hammerhead sharks in the background.” And I said, “Aether-powered hammer-head sharks? That is awesome!” [Laughs] It wasn’t in the script, I can’t take any credit for it, but that was the coolest thing I ever heard. I want one! And there’s a lot more stuff like that, so if you like fantasy steampunk robots, this is your bag! Never in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned such a thing, but when I saw it I thought, this is the best thing ever.