Kittredge Casts A Spell From "Coffin Hill"

When DC Comics' Vertigo imprint announced its new line of titles in July, among the names of familiar Vertigo talent was a brand new face -- Young Adult and fantasy author Caitlin Kittredge.

A novelist known for of her "Nocturne City" and "Black London" urban fantasy series, Kittredge made her debut in the YA fiction world in 2011 with the steampunk and Lovecraft-inspired "Iron Codex" series, set in alternate history 1950s New England. With "Coffin Hill," Kittredge returns to the spooky environs of the Northeast, joined by "Fairest" artist Inaki Miranda to tell the tale of Eve, a young girl who was sucked into a world of black magic and witchcraft as a teenager and ended up losing those closest to her. Now an ex-cop returning to her childhood home, Eve has to deal with an evil force she may have well have unleashed in her younger days, one bent on murder, mayhem and taking over her town.

Just a month before her comic debut lands in the hands of readers, Kittredge joined CBR for a discussion about the upcoming series, Lovecraft and the overwhelming creepiness of New England!

CBR News: As someone who has read your Lovecraft-inspired YA books and dark urban fantasy series, the news that you were writing a series for Vertigo felt like it perfectly with the dark fantasy tone you've established in your work. Were you a Vertigo reader as a teenager, and how long have you wanted to write comics?

Caitlin Kittredge: The answer to how long I wanted to write comics is forever; I first started reading them when I was fourteen, so that's practically forever! I was absolutely a Vertigo reader -- it started off with superhero comics, which I still one hundred percent love to read, but the first one that really grabbed me and wouldn't let me go was Neil Gaiman's original "Sandman" comic. I just went crazy for them when I was seventeen, eighteen, when I was a freshman in college. A friend gave them to me and said, "I think you might like this." It's a completely typical, "How'd you get sucked into comics?" story. [Laughs]

The first one I read was "Preludes And Nocturnes" and after that I was like, "Do you have his other ones? You have to give them all to me, I want to read them right now!" I started reading "Hellblazer" and all those great ones from the earlier days of Vertigo and I have never looked back, so to work with them now is surreal and awesome. I can't believe it's happening, still, even though I've been working with [executive editor] Shelly [Bond] since the beginning of the year.

Most of your prose series have similar themes with what we know about "Coffin Hill," like the feisty heroine at the center, and the detective, mystery threads. Is "Coffin Hill" similar in tone to your YA and fantasy books?

I would say actually it's probably the least similar to my other stuff that I've ever done. I was given this opportunity to break into this new medium, and "Coffin Hill" was basically the story I've wanted to write forever, but I could never get it to work as a book. Now that it's a comic, everything kind of came together. I had great settings and this, like you said, feisty protagonist in Eve Coffin, the heroine. In the first issue, when I was writing it, I kept thinking, "Oh, I should include this great thing I've kept in the back of my mind forever." I very rarely have moments like that when I'm writing, so it was just incredible for me.

For the story itself, I was able to go so dark and include all these great themes with witchcraft and all this stuff with Eve's own past and all these bad decisions she made when she was a teenager and heavily involved with black magic, now coming back to haunt her now as an adult as she returns to her hometown and tries to solve this missing persons case. She's just this great damaged character, the kind I like to write the most, and I don't think anywhere except Vertigo would have taken her as she is because is pretty dark! [Laughs] She goes to some dark places, and it just keeps getting darker from there!

The comic is set in New England, where you have the real-world Witch Trials to draw on -- while writing "Coffin Hill," were you doing a lot of historical research into the area and the supernatural stories, or was it mainly fueled by your imagination?

I would say its seventy/thirty. Seventy was just stuff I thought up that fit in with the story I was trying to tell about Eve, because the story, in the first issue especially, is very labyrinthine. It rolls back on itself and goes back to what Eve did when she was a kid, [when she] got mixed up in this black magic ritual that was just way above her pay grade. It caused very bad things to happen that changed her life and the lives of all three of her best friends in a very bad way. There's also a more present day mystery going on where Eve was a member of the Boston Police Department, but she was very badly injured on the job. Now, she just got out of the hospital and is kind of at loose ends, so she's gong back to her home and getting embroiled in this new case that definitely ties back to the night with her and her friends that went really wrong. I was really excited to be able to write a story that just keeps twisting back on itself, kind of like the snake swallowing its own tail.

But for background and for context, I did brush up on my historical research -- although I am from Massachusetts, about forty-five minutes from Salem, and went on many a school field trip to Old Salem! [Laughs] There's so much, if you look up New England history and folklore, that you can draw on for horror stories. There are some really great real-life events and also some great folk tales, so I did draw on that quite a bit for the super creepy atmospheric setting.

I was about to say, besides "Coffin Hill," in your "Iron Codex" series, you incorporate the Lovecraft mythos, which is also set in the Northeast. What do you think it is about New England that's been such a wonderful generator for American horror?

I think it's because it's got this unique spookiness to it. I may be biased because I'm from here, and I think it's an awesome place to live, but I've lived all over the United States and I've never really found another place that has had this inherent, ancient, spooky feel to it. I describe it in the first issue of "Coffin Hill" in one line, Eve says, "It's the oldest part of the New World," and it definitely has that primeval feeling. If you go to Medieval sites in Europe or primeval forests, they have the same kind of silent feeling, almost like something has been there much, much longer than you could ever imagine, and is waiting, looking at us. I get that feeling in certain parts of New England in the old buildings, the cemeteries, there.

We had a stretch of woods behind my house growing up that I would refuse to walk into because there was this dead tree right smack in the middle of the path, and it was so horrible! There was something so frightening about it that I refused to go back there for years; my mom would tell me to go out and walk the dogs, and I would just walk them in a circle! [Laughs] I got a little older and got over it, but I never really forgot that feeling of there being some kind of other presence, in the soil, in the buildings, just part of the landscape. I think other people see the same, and it's the universal generator for why there's so many stories set in New England, because compared to the rest of the states it is old, it does have a lot of superstitions with it, and there were things here that were just creepy, like the witch trials, Native American legends -- all this crazy stuff.

You're working with artist Inaki Miranda on the series. What has it been like working with an artist for the first time, and as he is not from America, how do you convey to him that very specific New England horror sense you described in Eve's story?

He's been amazing, I just get super fangirly where he's concerned, because I think his art clicks so well with the stuff that I'm scripting. He really nails it on those themes, the spooky imagery. He's got a very dreamy, surreal quality to his art that fits really well with the kind of story I'm scripting. I think it was one of those matches that just works out better than you could have possibly hoped because Shelly kind of threw us together and said, "Hey, I think you guys might get along." I can't wait for people to see it. I've been able to see preview art through issue #3, and I feel so smug that I get to see it before anyone else! [Laughs] I can't wait to show it off!

But he's just the best. He's in Spain, so I just sent him a bunch of websites and photos and said, "Here's some stuff you should look into." Especially as there are a lot of scenes in these spooky woods that exist at Eve Coffin's house, drawing on that experience I told you about. There's definitely a lot of spooky stuff in the forest, so that was definitely the childhood trauma I was working out in my writing! [Laughs] Those are some of my favorites, they are so beautiful; I will just brag about him for days if you let me, but he's great, he's the best!

"Coffin Hill" #1 will haunt stores October 9.

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