SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers for "Morning Glories" #19 lay ahead.
Image Comics and Shadowline's ongoing series "Morning Glories" by Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma and Rodin Esquejo continues to be one of the most involved, demanding sci-fi comics on the market. And right now, even as the kids of the Morning Glories Academy continue to pull together or be spun apart by the horrors of the school's Woodrun game in the "P.E." arc, the mysteries behind the action grow only deeper.
That's why we're back today with a new installment of MORNING GLORY DAYS -- our ongoing discussion of the ins and outs of "Morning Glories" with Spencer himself. Who's behind it all? What kids can be trusted? What the heck is up with that goat? This is the place to find all those answers and more.
With the "P.E." arc just having wrapped with issue #19 (a collection of it is on sale next week, June 27), we're back with Spencer for some behind-the-scenes secrets involving Zoe and Hunter's late night chase scene, the secret knowledge Hutner's mother may or may not have had before her death and the shocking end that will launch the book into its next major arc. Read on for all that and more!
CBR News: Throughout the entire "P.E." arc, even though there have been story threads that continue issue to issue to create a larger story, more or less each new installment is also a stand-alone comic. Here, what really sets that idea off is that the Zoe and Hunter chase scene is totally silent. What about this sequence and this issue called for that stylistic choice?
Nick Spencer: I feel like sometimes in comics we're afraid to do this stuff mostly because of page counts. With silent sequences, there's always a fear in this age of 20-page comics that if ten of the pages are silent, the readers are going to feel like they read it too quickly and they didn't get the bang for their buck they desired. With "Morning Glories," I'm lucky to be working with Joe who can push the page count a little higher. So we can do silent sequences without the guilt, which is very nice because you're still going to get 20 pages or so of dialogue-heavy scenes.
But beyond just having the freedom to do it, the reason why I think about this more maybe than other writers is that I'm a big believer in the sort of Max Alan Collins school of comics writing. He would never write talking during fight scenes or chase scenes. It has a weird way of, first of all, slowing down the action. But it also takes away some of the impact of the action if people are having conversations - long, wordy conversations - while they're running or fighting. In my head, I can suspend disbelief in terms of the flying, but I can't seem to register that people give soliloquies while beating the shit out of each other.
Or that they can say four sentences while throwing one punch.
Exactly. There's some kind of disconnect with the time. It just becomes a static image on a page rather than something that's moving in your head. And that's fine. It's just a difference of opinion and approach. For some people, they think comics should be a collection of static images and the way to play to the strength of the medium is to indulge that. To them, to go in the opposite direction is to try and make a comic feel like a movie or a television show because you're playing it out cinematically. I don't agree with that because I think it's a writer's choice whether they want their book to be seen as images on a page or something that moves in the reader's imagination. But since I come down on the latter side, more often than not a sequence like this will be wordless.
But the final piece of that puzzle is that in order to pull these sequences off, you need an artist who understands what they are. There are a lot of artists who would draw a silent sequence the same way they would if there were balloons, and that's a huge mistake. Joe, being the very good storyteller that he is, really gets that. When there are no words there, the image has to carry the story twice as much. I think Joe did a fantastic job of communicating what's happening on the page. He creates a sense of tension and dread throughout the images that gets the point across a lot better than a bunch of clumsily written words could.
The way the images roll out are definitely varied as well from shots that focus in on Zoe's bloodshot, crazy eyes or a silhouette of the chase. How many of these beats did you spell out in your script versus just giving Joe a general impression of what you wanted here?
It falls somewhere in between just writing "Two pages of a chase" and directing it down to every last movement. I think that Joe and I have been working together long enough that we've built up enough short hand and are involved enough in telling this story that he doesn't need a ton of direction. So I think what I did early on was trying to convey what we were trying to accomplish over these pages -Â what we wanted the reader to feel. And then as the individual pages broke down, there were very brief descriptions. "I want to go from Hunter to Zoe and then back to Hunter again." There were things about the distances between them and the exhaustion that sets in for Hunter compared to the robotic, dogged, tireless pursuit of Zoe. It's not intentionally choreographed, but by the same token, it wasn't just "Draw ten pages of Zoe chasing Hunter."
On the other side of the issue, it's great to see that Hunter has been bumping into girls without looking for quite some time. [Spencer Laughs] But I've got to say that this book has trained me to take nothing at face value, so when I came into this story, my initial thought was "These kids we meet at Hunter's high school will show up again." Am I way off in jumping to that conclusion?
That's a definite possibility because obviously there's still a lot to look at in Hunter's back story. So you might see them again. But there's nothing specific we're planting there. I think we just wanted to get across the idea that things have not been going well for Hunter in social situations long before he got to the Academy. He's had a bit of a rough time of it. And one of the fun things about Hunter is that the same mistakes get made over and over again. He's in this constant loop of not looking where he's going when something's right behind him. That's a feeling a lot of us have in our lives, and it's what makes him a relatable character. So this was a fun page to remind us that these things have been happening to him for a very long time.
We get deep into Hunter's relationship to his mother, and while we don't get everything about their social situation spelled out for us, I get the feeling that they've spent a lot of time just the two of them on their own. What drew you to that kind of relationship considering all the other parental relationships - good and bad - we've seen in this series?
We've been setting this up for a while in terms of Hunter's story. Mostly we've seen him with his father, and there's a lot more to come in terms of his exact family background and things we've haven't seen between his mother and father. A lot of that has been left purposefully vague. I wanted the relationship between Hunter and his mom to be one of the healthier ones in the book. We have had a lot of very dysfunctional families in the book and a lot of conflict between the kids and their parents. I felt like this was one example of a good parent-child relationship, and it makes sense for this part of Hunter's characters. You look at Hunter and his dad - the times we've seen them -Â and there's been some discomfort there and some distance there. That's something we'll explore down the road, but I felt like the real counterpoint to that had to be this loving, close relationship.
Again, I think you've trained readers to look for things where they might not be. Here, we see his mother being very adamant that Hunter is meant for great things. It seemed to take on a stronger form than a parent's general belief in their child. What can you say about the possibility that Hunter's mom is connected to the larger story we're seeing here about who these kids are and why they've been tapped to go to the school?
For me, that was part of the fun of the scene. How much of what she says here is really just that devoted faith in their child that a lot of mothers have? How much of it is possibly based in her knowing something he doesn't? We tried to walk that line. And I think it can be very hard because there are a lot of parents out there who are irrationally exuberant about their kids' potential. So it could just be that, but obviously with this being the book that it is and set in this world, there could be some very distinct and specific reasons why she believes that her son is meant for great things.
An important thing to note is that Hunter is not the first character to be told this by a parent or someone close to them. This is a recurring theme in the book. Some of that comes from the fact that we're taking those rights of passage and familiar tropes of youth and putting a different spin on them. One of the things that's very common when we're young is the people around us telling us about the potential we have and trying to explain to us the possibilities that are out thereÂ -Â the firm voice of somebody who's spent more years than you know how much is in front of you. This is something we'll be coming back to.
On the flipside of that discussion, we have Zoe talking to Hunter, and we've talked before about how Zoe seems to know more than most of the kids about what's really going on. Here, her take on Hunter being in shock seems on point, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to believe her "I will kill you, and you will see your mother again" is as correct. What's her confidence level in her actions, and might she be a little overconfident?
Yeah. One of the important things here is that with Zoe's murderous ways, each time she's killed she seems to express some small level of regret that it's happened but with a real conviction that it's necessary. Obviously, she believes this because of things we haven't covered in the book yet, but it's a good example of the insider knowledge she may or may not have. As far as whether or not she's right, we'll cover that a bit in the beginning of the fourth arc that's coming right after this. What we'll start to see is a peak behind the curtain at the various sides or factions in this conflict or contest - however it will be defined. What we're seeing is that we may be looking at issues of approach rather than intent. Zoe seems to have an approach that says "If you die, something better will happen." Whether or not she's right in that belief remains to be seen.
Blam! Each time we get a gory moment, Joe seems to find a new way to shock with that act. Seeing this page, I feel like...I'm not sure if time is time or if reality is reality or if goats are goats. So my question is: Is dead dead? Will we be seeing Zoe again in modern times or only in flashbacks?
Dead is dead. We want to stick to that. That's not to say you may never see the character again. As soon as this happened, a lot of people reasoned that because of the time travel elements of the book and the flashback structure, Zoe may in fact pop up again. I would never close the door on that completely, but there are no firm plans or even intention to see her again. We'll certainly follow up on her story in the sense that we'll eventually have a greater understanding of why she did what she did. But to explain that, we won't really need Zoe herself to be present.
It's very much my intention for dead to stay dead in this book. I think one of the things we've always talked about in terms of the big influences of this book are a lot of teen slasher/horror movies - especially the '90s revival of that stuff. Those movies like "The Faculty" and "Scream" and "Disturbing Behavior" all had a big influence on what the book became, and as a result, you should never assume that any of these kids are safe. There's a strong possibility that only one of them will be left standing at the end. It was important for us to not kill someone too soon, because that wouldn't have had any impact. But by the same token, we didn't want to wait too long and give a false sense of complacency.
Well, when one door closes, another opens. And the woman with the black hair who shoots Zoe showed up in a moment for Hunter that was very surreal. When Lara was introduced, you said there were a lot of important characters yet to be met. Are these three amongst that number?
Yeah. One of the fun things always about the last pages of an arc - especially as an big as this which was seven oversized issues - is that it's really fun to get that peek into the next story. These characters that you see on this page are key parts of the fourth arc. We're a long way from having seen all of the cast of the book, but these are some big, important additions. Beyond that, it's exciting because some of these are characters I've had in mind since the series started. So to get to finally bring them into the open is a big deal for me. We've laid some groundwork for them in past issues that I think will make it even more exciting.
But the biggest things about the fourth arc are that a lot of the questions raised over the course of the "P.E." arc we're going to answer fairly quickly. Between #20 and 22, a lot of the very bewildering big moments of this arc are going to get some fairly fast resolution - at least in terms of getting a broad idea of what's happening and why. By the end of this arc, you'll have a much firmer idea of what the sides of the conflict look like. The lines will be drawn more clearly than they have been throughout the book so far.
We get the scene of this woman talking to Hunter through the TV only pages before meeting her here, so we immediately make the connection. But for Hunter, it's been a much longer time, and he was kind of out of it when she "reached out" to begin with. Will he immediately make the connection with her?
We're going to deal with that beginning in #21. But what I would say to that is while the conversation he sees on the television is certainly a moment for him, it comes seconds before the death of his mother. So I think the way human memory typically works - particularly given that he was dozing off and barely paying attention - means that's not going to be something in the forefront of his mind when he sees her. But that's definitely something we'll deal with.
#20 starts the next arc, and it seems like Georgina and Lara will take center stage. How does their story set the stage for the next arc?
#20 is a lot like #18 was. And in the original sequencing, they were going to fall back-to-back, but I eventually decided that Jun and Guillaume's story fit better before this Hunter and Zoe story. But #20 is a lot more like #18 in the sense that it gives us one of our first glimpses of this world before our kids came into it. It gives us some important background on what the Academy was like at some point in the past. I think people will like it for that. Just like we saw Abraham's camp and got the impression from that that this is something that's been going on for much longer than we initially realized, #20 will get at that idea from a different viewpoint. It's a fun issue to get to spend some time with Lara and Georgina in a setting that's nothing near what we've seen so far. I think people will really enjoy what they get because it's not what you'll expect.
"Morning Glories Volume 3: P.E." ships to comic shops next week on June 27.