COMMENTARY TRACK: "Morning Glories" #1

The first day of school is never easy. Awkward ice-breaking games, clashing with roommates and struggling with an entirely foreign environment are all part of the sadly familiar routine of breaking into a new and uncomfortable setting. But if you thought your first day of school was hard, you might want to trade notes with Casey Blevins and the other new students at Morning Glory Academy.

Casey, Hunter, Ike, Zoe, Jade and Jun are the six central figures at the heart of "Morning Glories," the critically acclaimed new ongoing Image Comics series from writer Nick Spencer, interior artist Joe Eisma and cover artist Rodin Esquejo. Described as "Lost" meets "Runaways," the first issue of "Morning Glories" follows the arrival of six new students to the mysterious halls of Morning Glory Academy, an education institution where nothing is as it seems - an establishment that apparently has no qualms about murdering the parents of their students, if need be.

With first two issues of "Morning Glories" having already shipped to immediate same-day sellouts, CBR News is turning the page back to where it all started with an exclusive inside look at the creation of "Morning Glories" #1, complete with commentary from Spencer himself.

CBR News: Nick, of all the places you could have started "Morning Glories," why start here?

Nick Spencer: This is the page that whenever we're done, people will look back at this page and they'll be furious with themselves because they'll have been saying for however many years we do this book that we had no idea what we were doing and we were making it up as we went along. This is a page that will completely prove that we knew what we were doing from the get go. It's purely out of spite! [Laughs]

But it's really important to me, because I've paid a lot of attention to ways that things like "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica" ended. I took a lot of notes on what people liked and what they didn't like about those kinds of endings. I take it very seriously, the idea that people are getting into an ongoing here and into a long form mystery, and I want to make sure that they feel confident that there's going to be a payoff that makes it worth it. This page is really about reinforcing that. There are a couple of things in this first issue that we're not going to come back to for a very long time, and they're just here just to show that we weren't lying and we did know where we were going.

This is based on my favorite part of "Star Wars," actually. [Laughs] You know how at the very beginning of "A New Hope," Darth Vader arrives to the diplomatic envoy? I'm a sucker for those initial scenes that introduce you to the threat and not the protagonist. I wanted to do a scene about these kids who are already at the school and attempt an escape. It's just a storytelling trick that I've always wanted to do.

If we're talking about Darth Vader types, we start here with Miss Daramount.

When you're coming up with villains for this, one of the obvious ones is the kind of dominatrix-y, very wicked and very sinister female teacher. Never let it be said that we run away from cliches here! [Laughs] She's fun to write. A lot of this book in general is about taking standard archetypes that you remember either from your own high school experiences or just fictionalized high school experiences that you've enjoyed in movies and television, and turning them on their heads a little bit. As the story progresses, nobody is quite the cliche that they seem to be.

I was trying to come up with some kind of big "how would these kids rig an escape" type of scenario. I had this idea of a chalkboard exploding, and I didn't quite know how to do it, so I literally went on a message board and I asked: "I have this idea. If I wanted to blow up a chalkboard in a high school, how would I do it?" This put me on several FBI lists. [Laughs] But thankfully, somebody who I believe was actually a high school chemistry teacher got back to me and let me know the most likely way that this could happen.

However, I should point out that nitrogen triiodide is extremely unstable and this would probably never work. If you are a young teenager very unhappy in school and you're looking for a way to make an escape, I can tell you that this only works in comic books! [Laughs]

Some of [these mysteries], you're going to be holding on for a while. But that's part of the fun. Part of the fun will be seeing which of these things people get really hung up on, the things that people try to come up with theories on. [This] could be one - not saying it should be!

You started the whole "Runaways" meets "Lost" comparison, so this next comparison is totally your fault, Nick. This guy seems like the introduction of your very own Smoke Monster, for lack of a better word.

You're not going to get a lot of comment out of me on this page!

Maybe you can talk about why you're not going to talk about it. [Laughs]

Well, the thing I'll say on this page is that everybody who's seen it is asking about the character in the background there, and I feel like maybe they're missing a little on this page. Maybe they're not asking the question they should ask right here.

Here, we're getting to spend some time with Casey's parents. Given where the story goes in this issue, it's clearly pretty important that we get to know these characters now.

Obviously, people who are reading this commentary have hopefully already read the entire first issue. If not, now is a good time to stop.

Parents dying in comic books is by no means anything new. It's been a staple for about as long as they've been making them. What I wanted to do was do that, but in a way that we knew them, because so much of the time, when you talk about Bruce Wayne's parents or Kal-El's parents, everything that we know about them comes from flashbacks and quick scenes that involve that kid. I thought it would pack a lot more punch [if we got to know them now]. We're going to get to know Casey a lot more as the issue goes on, and she very much drives the action through the first issue and, in a lot of ways, the first arc. I thought it would be nice to just show her parents and have us get to know them so that the impact of the last page [of the issue] would be that much stronger.

I have to fight writing static panels a lot - it's one of my favorite tricks and I just love it. If you knew how many of my scripts start where the page is just all wide panels, and then panel descriptions for two, three and four are all "same shot," "same shot," "same shot." A, it's easy. [Laughs] But it's also so great for comedic timing and indicating some big change at the end. That was fun, especially when you have this long dining table scene, it really lends itself to these wide panels. Moving angles around in this scene would not have worked nearly as well.

It's also fun to go from Casey's functional relationship with her parents to this scene with Ike.

The script was written a long time ago, but one of the things that changed is that we were constantly moving around the order of the introduction of the kids to get the best impact, and I felt like Casey to Ike was really a perfect transition. As far as Ike himself, he's a world of fun to write. I think I've got a little bit of a reputation for being willing and able to write some characters who, especially on the surface, seem pretty irredeemable. The inspiration for Ike was, I said to myself, what was Warren Ellis like when he was 16? [Laughs] That's the first thing I built off of. It changed a little, but that was the initial germ of the character.

Somebody at San Diego said that they thought Zoe was the second coming of Cordelia Chase. I really love that! That's awesome. [Laughs] We knew when we dropped that first teaser image, it was going to be perfect. We didn't have to put a lot of thought into who we were introducing first. She's hot! She's a hot girl, and she knows it. She's in the business of working that to her advantage right here. What I love about this scene is she has no more use for these guys. That's how manipulative Zoe is - she's leaving and never seeing these guys again, and all she wants is to make sure that they're miserable that she's gone. She's literally making sure that all of these guys do not recover quickly.

I'm not allowed to have favorites. One of the things about writing an ensemble cast, especially this kind of cast, it's always hard - but Zoe is somebody that I always look forward to writing when I get to pages with her, which is true of all of them, but the reason with her is kind of what we talked about earlier: we're dealing with a lot of archetypes that you recognize, and as time goes on, you'll see that there's more to it than that. But that doesn't necessarily mean that down the road, we're going to show Zoe to really be a sensitive and nice person; it just means that there's more to it than just the surface here.

You worry that when you write these kinds of characters, you're going to make it too masturbatory. But I thought it was important. I thought a lot of people would connect with Hunter, that a lot of people reading this book would see parts of themselves in him. That was one of the fun parts of the teaser, seeing people connect with different characters, and a lot of people were saying "that's my guy right there" about Hunter. I like having that character. The "I snuck you some of my Morrison comics" line, I like that.

I wanted at least one child of divorce in this group, and that's Hunter. That's a big part of his background. I think that like a lot of kids whose parents get divorced, he really loses himself in other things and that's going to be a big part of his background and who he is.

These notebook panels - there's really nothing like sitting there in your late 20's trying to figure out how to channel an emo girl. How am I going to directly get her writing on the page? I want to say thank you to Stephenie Meyer, because it helped. [Laughs] It was fun for me, the juxtaposition between Jade and her dad and brother. I grew up in a rural area, and while I wasn't this kid, I was certainly different from my family and the kids I was growing up with. I really wanted to deal with that a little bit, and that's Jade - she's this girl who grew up just outside of Des Moine in Iowa on a farm, but she's this emo, gothy girl and she's just completely out of place. That just feeds her depression. She's just running towards tragedy at every step. That's what these pages were about. Sometimes, I thought back to when I was a kid and how confused my parents would be at how different I was turning out from everyone else in the family, and that's really what these pages are about: it's about a kid who is in that situation, and how that only makes it worse. And she can't figure out yet whether or not going to Morning Glory Academy is a good thing or a bad thing.

I guess if we're going to do direct "Lost" comparisons, there's a bit of a Locke quality to Jun. Not in terms of personality, but in terms of he seems to know - or at least have a sense of - more than the rest of the kids.

He has a sense of when the rain is going to start pouring, so to speak.

Yeah, exactly. He certainly seems to know more than the rest. He's asking some questions as soon as he gets in.

For the remainder of the issue, much of the story is told through Casey's perspective.

In the first issue and in the first arc, Casey really drives the action, which isn't to say that the others don't get a lot of screen time, but she's the one pushing forward. In the second issue, we'll see that another one of these characters has a big impact as well. I think that the first arc deals a lot with the two of them. When we get into the second arc, though, that's when everyone will get a little bit more time. But again, to go back to another "Lost" comparison, it's a little bit like the first episodes where Jack is really driving a lot of the action. You're still focusing on the other characters, but Casey is the one who brings this group together. She's the one who keeps them knit together, instead of assimilating into the rest of the academy. She's the one who makes them a group and a unit as opposed to six people who spread around.

For a book called "Morning Glories," we don't get to see a lot of the exterior of Morning Glory Academy in the first issue. Was it conscious on your part to hold back from revealing too much of the academy right away?

I think originally, we had it on the very first page, an establishing shot of the school. In revisions, we came back and said that it has a greater impact if we see it for the first time when Casey sees it for the first time.

I will say that I highlighted a limitation of the medium here. These images are supposed to be flashes - they're seeing them very quickly - but obviously with a comic being static images, maybe it doesn't come across quite like it should have. It doesn't change anything, but the idea is that they're seeing these images very quickly before we move onto the next ones. What we did to adjust to it is that Hunter says on the next page, "I think they just flashed an image of a goat getting its throat slit," which gives you the idea that these are being flashed. For all you writers out there, never do something that highlights a limitation of the medium!

People have very different 16's. Depending on your past experiences, you're at different levels of maturity, different levels of experience, different levels in terms of your interactions with other people. That's a big part of the story: no one is the same at 16 years old. Jun is in a place where he's a little bit ahead of a guy like Hunter, and he's been through some things that have forced him to grow up a lot faster. I think you get a little bit of a sense of that on these pages. He can figure out immediately that a guy like Ike is not somebody that he needs in his corner.

I said earlier that I'm not allowed to have favorites, but Pamela here is my favorite. [Laughs] She is by far my favorite, honestly. She's so awesome! Played by a young Amy Poehler, that's how I see her. I love writing these sing-songy nonsensical characters. "Alice in Wonderland" and "Alice Through the Looking Glass" were my favorite books growing up, and they still are. I love nonsense writing. This is very, very basic nonsense writing and it's nothing to really brag about, but it was so much fun to finally get to write it.

There's something to this. Pamela's story is actually one of the ones that came fully-formed. There's a lot to find out there. She's going to very much be a recurring character in this book. If there's a seventh Glory, it's Pamela. She'll be in the book a lot.

So much of this was Joe Eisma, the artist, and Alex Sollazzo, the colorist. I left this page really loose in the script. It's Jade having a phone conversation, and we need each of the dialogue breaks to convey something. Joe came back and said, "What if we just do one shot of her face, but we split it up so that you kind of get different moods from each one?" He did a great job.

Joe took it to the 99 yard line, but Alex really hammered it home. Alex is an amazing colorist, and this is really an example of what good color work can do. You really do see the transition over the course of the [page], and this mirrors throughout the book. The book brightens and then darkens as the situation gets more serious. Alex is just a master of how to use a palette. By the time we get to the end of the issue, it's very dark and scary. He just really understands color from a storytelling perspective, and that's amazingly rare. There are a lot of great colorists, but they're still just coloring an image as opposed to telling the story. The most amazing thing about the creative team on this book is that everybody is a storyteller. It's really an amazing experience.

It was very important that these two come across each other in this issue and it was very important that they meet in this way. Anybody who reads it can sort of see what happens here. Here's the dynamic that's set up early: there are three guys in this group. Jun is very much on his own course, and then there's Ike and Hunter. Casey is going to interact a lot with both of them. It's not so much of a triangle as it is a clusterfuck. [Laughs] What I wanted to do here was take a lot of either memories from authentic high school experiences or fictionalized high school experiences and play with them a little bit. One of the big things girls of these ages struggle with - I shouldn't even say "these ages" and I shouldn't even say "girls" - but the struggle of, do I want the safe and nice person or do I want the edgy and interesting person? You see some seeds of that here, and whether or not that comes to fruition is an entirely different issue. But on the first days, this is exactly what Casey would be dealing with.

Another thing that I hope people got from these pages is that Casey is the girl who grew up too fast in certain ways, but that means different things to different people. She's the kind of girl who's already thinking about where she's going to go to college and what she's going to do when she gets out of college; she has her life mapped. The idea of having any kind of romantic entanglement getting in the way of that right now, she's so obsessed with getting to those points, that she doesn't even want to deal with it right now. She's a mature girl in certain ways, but in other ways, she's not.

This is a very, very important component to the story. It's something to keep an eye on and something that people should pay a lot of attention to.

This is sort of the flip side to that encounter with Hunter in a lot of ways. Casey dealt with Ike a little bit during orientation, and now she's dealing with him a little bit at the vending machines. Neither time does it seem to go very well for either one of them. Dealing with someone like Ike is a new thing for her.

Joe came up with this crazy, demented "down the rabbit hole" kind of way to do this. I had written that they were on stairs and Casey was following Pamela, who seemed to be heading somewhere, but I didn't visualize this. This came from Joe's imagination and it was so perfect. It's a good example of the kinds of things that are lurking back behind the doors at the academy - now you're in this crazy, winding, circular stairwell that doesn't fit in at all in the school environment. Joe and Alex really nailed it and did an amazing job with the page from a storytelling perspective and setting the mood.

In addition to being a nice, shocking moment to end the issue on and show you what kind of situation these kids are in now, it also sets the trajectory of Casey's character for the entire story to come. She's now in a very different place than the other five Glories and how she handles that and what she does because of it, that's all stuff that this first arc really deals with. Casey being such a purpose driven person and being such a goal driven girl, I think a lot of people will be surprised with what she decides to do next.

What's fascinating to me is now these people have done something really and truly horrible - the worst thing that they could possibly do to her, really. At the same time, what do you do when somebody does that to you, but you are clearly powerless to do anything about it? What's Casey going to do? She's trapped here. They have complete control over the situation. That, to me, is a very fascinating dynamic. When she's in a room with any of these people, she wants nothing more than to just jump across a table and kill them, but she can't. So what do you do then? What do you do when you're in that situation? That's a huge part of where Casey is and a huge part of the story going forward. She clearly wants revenge, but it's not as simple as wanting that.

One of the big questions from here is, how does that affect her relationship with the rest of the Glories? Does she not worry about them and just focus on her own goals, or does she worry about them as well? If so, what does that open for her? She's in a bad spot, she's in a very difficult place, and she's not getting out of it anytime soon.

Those are the questions we're going to be looking at going forward. Casey wants revenge; she's angry, she's upset, but the question is, how much time can she give to being angry and upset? She's stuck between a rock and a hard place and she's trying to figure out how to reach her own goals, but that doesn't mean that she can stop worrying about these people around her. As we go on, we'll see that she's not the only one with tough choices here. She's not the only one being put in a difficult spot - but she is the first.

The first two issues of "Morning Glories," written by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Joe Eisma, are currently on sale. The second print of "Morning Glories" #2 arrives on October 13 and "Morning Glories" #3 ships on October 20.

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