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Magic Words: Joshua Ortega talks “The Necromancer”

by  in Comic News Comment
Magic Words: Joshua Ortega talks “The Necromancer”

With the success of “Hunter-Killer” and acclaim surrounding Ron Marz’s “Witchblade,” Top Cow Comics has been on a roll and astute readers will add “The Necromancer” to that list. While only the first issue has shipped, this coming of age tale– complete with magic and super villains– has been generating a lot of buzz for the Image Comics series and the second issue looks to up the ante. CBR News caught up with series writer Joshua Ortega (who recently spoke with CBR about “Beowulf”) and the scribe explained the basics of the series.

“‘The Necromancer’ is the story of Abigail van Alstine, her discovery of her true nature and her destiny, and most of all, it’s a story about growing up– even in the face of the unknown, the terrifying, and the inexplicable,” Ortega told CBR News. “It’s also the story of Enlightened Mages, Dark Age demons, Netherealms, Aeons, and Epochs. It’s big, it’s grand, and is essentially an epic graphic novel told in monthly installments. As far as the genesis of the project, after the release of my novel ‘((Frequencies)),’ a number of comic companies expressed an interest in working with me, one of which was Top Cow. I was originally brought on to relaunch ‘Aphrodite IX,’ I came up with a pitch that Marc Silvestri and Co. really enjoyed, but then the property was put on hold at the same time that ‘The Necromancer’ was put on the fast track. Marc liked my writing and wanted to make sure to get me on a Top Cow book, so he offered me ‘Necromancer.’ I was immediately interested, and once I found out that Francis Manapul would be pencilling it, I was ready to sign on the dotted line.

“The main character in ‘Necromancer’ is Abigail van Alstine, a 17-year old high school student who has a natural talent for magic. In the world of ‘Necromancer,’ there are natural magic users and there are those who can only use magic through training– Abby’s a natural, but she’s just becoming aware of her powers as the first issue begins.

“Also introduced in the first issue are Locke, a powerful Enlightened Mage; Mali, a vicious demon from the Dark Ages; and Berzelius, who is essentially the demon of teen suicide. All three characters will play major roles in the series’ first year and beyond.”

Ortega went on to explain the inspiration behind each character in the series. For instance, his goal with Abby was to make her different from any other teen or female character in comics. “From Abby’s looks– short black hair with red highlights– to her personality, I wanted to make sure that Abby was unique, complex, and interesting,” said Ortega. “Locke and Mali are ancient enemies, so there’s a lot of historical inspiration for each character, more of which will be revealed in the next few issues.

“The inspiration for Berzelius came from examining the tragedy of teen suicide, and wanting to create a demonic creature that represented the dark place someone has to go take their own life-especially when they’re so young. Berzelius is that dark place, and it’s a terrifying place to be trapped within.”

The idea of a young girl coming of age, with the assistance of super powers, is one that genre fans have seen used to in popular series such as “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” and a lot of imported series, but Ortega assures fans that that “Necromancer” is something quite different. “The epic scope of the story will be one of the major things that differentiates Abby and ‘The Necromancer’ in the long run. In the short term? Expect tons of new ideas and some unique concepts and characters that you haven’t seen before. There will even be some cool things we do with the medium itself, though I don’t want to say too much about that now…oh yeah, did I mention there will be a lot of surprises, too?”

From Ortega’s perspective, the conspiracy and secret group that play a large role in “Necreomancer,” will similarly break the mold, using what he feels to be a simple mantra. “Simple, really: Don’t use clichés and keep the characters and twists interesting and unique. Secret groups and big conspiracies have been a part of life since the dawn of civilization, so it’s really a basic plot point on the order of falling in love or finding one’s destiny…it’s just something that happens in life, so it will be examined and written about for a long time to come.”

Fans who’ve tuned into issue #1 need not worry that the series isn’t going to kick into high gear any time soon– Ortega has a plan for the series and intends to see it through. “I’d like to do about 40-50 issues on the book…that would be my ideal run on ‘Necromancer.’ And yes, there will be major shifts in tone as the book progresses. Characters will evolve, grow, and some will die along the way, so the tone of the book will reflect that. You may have one arc that’s incredibly action-packed or frightening, while another storyline might be more reflective or inspiring.”

Working as a novelist, Ortega is one of many “out of comics” writers to approach the medium of late and says that his work on novels has helped to prepare him for the monthly grind of comics and the flow of “Necromancer.” “Writing novels has helped me to learn how to really get inside of a character’s head, to make them feel like flesh and blood instead of a 2-D construction. It’s also taught me how to juggle a large cast of characters, interweave multiple storylines, and to write a story with a definite ending in mind. Comics have taught me how to tell stories visually and dynamically, and to use dialogue and exposition more efficiently. Both media are great.”

Joining Ortega on the series is artist Francis Manapul and the penciller’s involvement in the project isn’t as simple as some might suspect, explained Ortega. “Francis actually passed on the concept when Top Cow first brought ‘Necromancer’ to him, but once I was attached to the project and he had a chance to see what I had in mind, he signed on. We immediately hit it off, and I honestly couldn’t imagine a better artist for the series. Francis is a perfect fit for ‘Necromancer’– his visuals are absolutely stunning, and his storytelling skills are awesome. This guy is only about a year or so away from superstardom…and you can quote me on that!”

Fans of Ortega can look forward to a lot of new material from the writer in the next year, as he’ll be tackling some of the biggest characters in comics. “I have a number of comic book/graphic novel projects in the works, and I’ve already done a ‘Spider-Man Unlimited’ story for Marvel (#8, with Ryan Sook on art), a ‘Star Wars Tales’ for Dark Horse (#23, a prequel to the ‘Knights Of The Old Republic’ video games), and a ‘Legends Of The Dark Knight’ story for DC (release date TBA).

“I just finished the script for an incredibly cool Star Wars project and an ‘Escapist’ story for Dark Horse, and both will be released in 2006. I’m also working with an editor at Vertigo on an intriguing pitch that could be very groundbreaking, and I’ll be writing a very trippy, very controversial ‘Beowulf’ arc for Speakeasy that will begin with #7 in December [Editor’s Note: Please see our earlier interview with Ortega regarding ‘Beowulf’]. There are a lot of other things in the works as well.”

With the release of “Necromancer #2” looming, Ortega hopes that fans will give the series a try and promises, “Epic storyline. Great characters. Beautiful art. Unexpected twists and lots of surprises. What more could you really ask for in a comic?”

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