Magic Mikey: Mike Carey talks "Spellbinders"

Though he's known for his work at DC Comics/Vertigo, Eisner nominated writer Mike Carey has been slowly dipping his toes in the Marvel Comics pool and dives in with a brand new Marvel Next series featuring all-new characters. Carey took some time out of his busy schedule and recently spoke to CBR News about "Spellbinders," the first issue of which hit stores today.

"Well, basically, 'Spellbinders' is a sort of a magical horror fantasy story set in an American high school - or it's a teen high school drama with witches in it, depending on how you want to see it," Carey told CBR News. "It's obviously set in a kind of Buffy mold, although having said that, I think what we're doing with that set-up is very different. Our main character is Kim Vesco, a girl who's coming into this school - and this town, which is Salem, Massachusetts - for the first time. She's finding her feet, feeling her way, and realising that she's walked into a situation and a social dynamic where she's very inexperienced and has to be very much on the defensive.

"In Salem - the Salem of our story - it's pretty much an open secret that certain people can do magic. It runs in families, and nobody sees anything particularly strange about it, but opinions differ as to whether it's cool or annoying, acceptable or vulgar. It becomes one of the factors that determines your social identity - who you hang out with, who you avoid. There are magic-using cliques and non-magic-using cliques, and Kim's problem is that although she has no knowledge of magic and no magical abilities that she knows of, she's assumed to be a witch by a lot of the people she meets. It makes life very difficult for her because it puts her in a sort of no-man's land between these various friendship groups.

"That tribal aspect of high school life is one of the thematic centres of the book, and I think it makes it different from a lot of the things it's going to be compared to.

"There's a very large supporting cast, although that's the wrong way of putting it because the book is kind of an ensemble piece. Apart from Kim herself there are six other lead characters, and they fall into two groups of three - two rival covens of magic-users one of whom wants to claim Kim as a member while the other initially stands aloof from her. One coven consists of cool, high-status kids with their own following - kids at the top of the high school pecking order. That's Renata, Mason and Paul. The other coven is made up of outsiders, marginalised kids who both because of their personalities and the kind of magic they do are sort of out on the edges. That's Foley, Liza Beth and Mink. Each of the six has a particular kind of magic that they're skilled at, because that's how magic works in this community: you inherit an aptitude for one kind of spell, and that's the only kind of magic that comes naturally to you. But if Kim has a magical aptitude, she doesn't have the faintest idea what it is. One of the points of the story is to answer that question."

As a devout fan of the "Buffy" and "Angel" franchises, it'd be easy to peg Carey's inspirations for the series as being the aforementioned Joss Whedon shows, but the scribe reveals that the idea for "Spellbinders" came from an age-old tradition-- brainstorming. "It mainly grew out of a brainstorming process between me and editor Mackenzie Cadenhead. The starting point, bizarrely enough, was a group of old and disused villains from a Marvel universe book, and we initially worked this book up as a villains-as-heroes thing using those characters. But as it came together, it seemed to want to go in its own direction and we realised that the continuity elements were getting in the way of what we most wanted to do. So we took it apart and reassembled it as Spellbinders, with new characters and no obvious Marvel Universe link.

"In terms of other inspirations, I'd just finished reading Garth Nix's "Abhorsen" trilogy, and some of the ideas from that book were still ricocheting around in my head. I love it when a fantasy writer comes up with a new, original rationale for magic - a new way for magic to work. Nix does that in spades, and I was left with a hankering to do the same.

"And then the third strand, as I said, is this more realistic look at how your identity in high school is shaped by factors that often are fairly tangential to who you are. It's a finding-out-who-you-really-are story."

While "Spellbinders" is set to run only six-issues, Carey says that he and series artist Mike Perkins aren't adverse to continuing the adventures of these characters. "Yeah, Mike Perkins and I would definitely be happy to bring Kim and her cronies back for further stories. From the first they've been characters who took root in our minds and developed their own voices and mannerisms. I guess in a sense they're some of the kids we grew up with, and went to school with, and fought and hung out with. And the dynamic between them seems to work really well, too: there are lots of unlikely alliances and enjoyable tensions."

There've been some early comparisons of "Spellbinders" to Disney's hot "W.I.T.C.H" animated series and Wildstorm's "The Intimates" comic book and while Carey understands the perception of similarities, he says there's no intent to "lift" from other creative sources. "I haven't seen 'W.I.T.C.H.' The comparison with 'The Intimates' is an interesting one. Obviously they're both teen ensemble books, with a fair number of volatile and unstable personalities thrown together in a school (or school-like) setting. The tone of 'Spellbinders' is very different from 'The Intimates,' though: where 'The Intimates' has a fair amount of social satire - sharp and sometimes quite harsh - thrown into the mix, 'Spellbinders' observes teen interactions in a less ironic, less distanced way. It's horses for courses: Casey, Lee and Camuncoli are aiming at an older audience and they're setting out to create a different kind of social dynamic. I love 'The Intimates,' but I don't think I've been influenced by it."

For those familiar with Carey's work, it won't come as a surprise to see him tackling another comic book series with supernatural themes in the forefront, but the writer says he isn't worried anymore about perceived stereotyping as "that" kind of writer. "There was a time when it worried me to think that I might become typecast as a horror/fantasy writer in a very specific mold, and that I'd find it hard to break away from that image and do other kinds of project," admitted Carey. "But in the past year I've done 'My Faith in Frankie,' 'Ultimate Elektra,' 'The Barker': I've got a guest shot on 'Ultimate Fantastic Four' in the works, and another Vertigo book that will be a mixture of martial arts and rom com. I'm pitching a thriller series at DC, a superhero book at Marvel. I'm not so neurotically concerned about it any more: I think - I hope - I've proved that I can handle other kinds of material, and other kinds of project are coming my way.

"But I do like writing books with magic in them: horror fantasy is one of the genres that I think I'll always come back to. I just want to be free to wander around and try out other kinds of narrative."

As mentioned earlier, Mike Perkins is onboard as the series artist and Carey says that Perkins was the only choice for the book. "Mike was the first artist who came to mind, both for Mackenzie and for me. I'd been itching to work with him again ever since Carver Hale, but of course there was the small problem that we were on exclusive deals for different publishers. As soon as we were free to talk to each other, we started talking.

"Mike's most obvious contribution to the book is the brilliant character designs: he took my brief thumbnails and turned them into three-dimensional, believable, breathing people. As soon as I saw his initial sketches, my conceptions of how the characters would act and talk to each other firmed up. He created the cast, in a very real sense.

"Plus - and it's a big plus - Mike isn't just a great artist, he's a great visual storyteller. He's all about finding the natural beats in the story and working from them, embedding them in the art. Every time he finishes a page of 'Spellbinders' and I get to see it, I'm kicking my heels in the air and doing war whoops. He just gets everything right."

While it was just announced that Carey will be leaving DC/Vertigo's "Hellblazer," don't cry for him- he's got his hands full. "Well, 'Lucifer' is entering what you might call its last days now: we'll be winding up with #75, which is only about a year away. I've got that last year planned out in a lot of detail, and I'm just finalizing some of those details with editor Mariah Huehner. On 'Hellblazer,' similarly, I'm working on my last big arc. I've got a two-issue stint on 'Ultimate FF' coming up, and I've also written the comics adaptation of the Fantastic Four movie. 'Red Sonja' #0, which I co-wrote with Michael Oeming for Dynamite, is making some waves - initial orders of 200,000 plus! - and I'm probably going to be doing some more Sonja-related work in the near future. I'm also going to be writing a Vampirella story, retelling her origin with some new information, which I'm looking forward to a hell of a lot. I've got 'Regifters' coming out from Vertigo early next year, and again that's something I'm really looking forward to.

"I'm also writing a second screenplay for Hadaly Pictures, provisionally called 'Red King Dreams,' and a series of novels for Orbit about a down-at-heel exorcist grubbing for work in a London where the dead have risen in a variety of anti-social forms.

"It's funny. I was scared I might be sort of at a loose end after Lucifer wound up..."

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