MORNING GLORY DAYS: Killing Yourself To Live

Welcome to another edition of MORNING GLORY DAYS, Comic Book Resources' exclusive column dedicated to all things "Morning Glories," the smash hit Image Comics series written by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Joe Eisma. Following every new issue of the series, CBR News will sit down with Spencer for insight and illumination on some of the most mysterious layers "Morning Glories" has to offer.

Last month's "Morning Glories" #10 offered one of the weirdest issues to date for the hit series. A series of dream sequences gave clues and consternation to readers about how emo poster girl Jade will transform into the confident leader we've glimpsed in the future of the comic. But that's not all that lies ahead.

Below, Spencer gives insight into how wide the timeline for the series stretches, what historical clues readers may not have picked up on in a first go at the issue, why Jade is one of the most rewarding Glories to write and how the new Image rating systems will affect the book. Read on!

CBR News: This month, we've got a particularly trippy issue with Jade. While in over the rest of the arc, we've looked at the other characters through the prism of their past. Jade seems to be the reverse where we're looking forward to her future in the series. Is the past less important for some characters, or is it just being held for later?

Nick Spencer: Jade's past is very important for her as a character, but I think it will have more resonance if people know the things they're learning now first. In that sense, yes tackling her story is a bit different from the rest. You're right in that in a lot of ways I have to flip it and go backwards. That's definitely what sets her apart from the group in this arc and the way their stories are told.

From her very first appearance, we've had some over-the-top, gothy teenage angst and journal writing from Jade, and I always took that as a kind of charming touch. Apparantly...for some of the other readers, not so much. [Spencer Laughs] With such a big, long term plan, how much does the audiences reaction affect your plan? Did audience reaction over Jade make you want to push her future self into the book sooner?

I think the importance of Jade in the story has grown as the story has gone along. While it was a central part of "the master plan" or what have you, it's something that I didn't recognize from day one was going to be as central story as it ended up being. So did the reader reaction to our first encounters with Jade influence the way we're telling the story? I think I would be a pretty shitty writer if I were to put my tail between my legs and run away from a character because somebody didn't like them at first blush. But I think that certainly when it came time to do the Jade issue, I knew there was a certain moment where I felt "I really have to stick the landing on this one because she's the hardest sell of the group" and I was certainly aware of some of the opinions about the character. That's all by design in a sense. She's supposed to be very emo to a hilarious extent and melodramatic and whiney and dependent. Obviously, those are not the kinds of things when people first look at a character, they go, "I love that one!"

I think one of the most rewarding things about this arc has been now seeing the change in the way people look at her as a character. There legitimately seems to be a lot of compassion from people for her and sympathy readers are showing for her. She's a sweet kid. She's just very troubled in a lot of different ways. I think that we've succeeded in capturing that.

So much of this issue is taken up by dream sequences, and there's two ways to go about dreams in a book like this: Working them like anyone's real dreams where it's a hodge-podge of images and subconscious ideas, and then working them as a piece of science fiction where they're supposed to be pregnant with meaning and clues. How much of this was detail like Tony Soprano spitting out teeth that is meant to create some atmosphere, and how much of it has a specific role in the bigger plot?

It's funny that you mention "The Sopranos" because I think that those are probably the best executed dream sequences that I've ever come across. I'm a big fan of dream sequences and dream stories, and I thought that those are just about the best ever at capturing what a dream really feels like - that precarious balance between deeper meaning and subconscious thought and just nonsense and brain static. For me, this was a challenging issue to write because I haven't done many of these, and I've always wanted to. It was a high wire act trying to figure out what felt right and what didn't. I've seen in other dream stories that moment where it goes a little too far and gets absurd or goes too far and gets too on the nose and clear. You're just trying to avoid both those pitfalls. This was really about trying to find that mixture and exactly the right ingredients.

We see our bald friend Megan earlier, and as the series goes on I find myself having to double check what I already knew or didn't know. Here, I was trying to find an issue where she'd been named before, and while I haven't tripped back upon that passage yet, it makes me wonder if she's alone in whatever process has brought her to this state.

Megan was named by Nurse Nine when she was talking to Mrs. Dagny in issue #4. Obviously, the thing for readers to note here - since I'm handing out free stuff - is that Jade was not privy to that conversation. And yet, in this sequence, a person refers to her as Megan. That's a little something. [Laughs]

And the flowers here are ones we've seen around the edges of the series. I'm not botanist, but these are...

These are Morning Glories!

Oh DUH, Kiel!

[Laughs] Well, it's a little hard because for an artist to determine what a flower is on the page is a fairly complicated process. But they're Morning Glories, and we'll get to what they mean in the future. We've seen them a few times, most prominently in issue #8 in the Green House where Hunter was tied up.

We also get introduced to the phrase "So we decided to create our own gods" which joined in a nice tradition of creepy slogans attached to the school. Is it safe to assume that things like this and "For A Better Future" are different pieces of on unified philosophy?

That is a really astute question that I can't answer! [Laughter] Obviously this book is peppered with these very bold statements like "For A Better Future," "All Will Be Free," "The Hour Of Our Release Draws Near," "So We Created Our Own Gods" etc etc. One of the things I think is part of the mystery is whether these statements are connected or in opposition to one another. Are they disparate or divergent? These are good things to be wondering.

We see Jade's mother in the dream who we were not introduced to at first as we only saw her father and brother. Is her mother still alive?

That isn't a question that we're ready to answer. But I will say that the story of Jade and her mother and their relationship is a very important part of her backstory and a very big part of who she is today. It's certainly something we'll see a lot more of moving forward.

The last part of the dream that stands out is the phrase "Make sure to tell Oliver Simon he was right," and just to be safe, I Googled "Oliver Simon" and while I didn't find any significant names from the real world you might be referencing here, there are some weird image results for the Oliver Simons of the world.

[Laughs] This teaches me that I should Google some of these things before I write them. It's obviously a hint of things to come. I did find out at one point that Oliver Simon is apparently a character on "Buffy," though I can't place which one. It's not purposeful on that front. It's just a name I drew out of the ether. But it certainly has an importance in the story going forward. It's something to keep an eye out for in the third arc.

In the second dream sequence, we move back into the same territory we saw in issue #3?

Oh, but did we, Kiel? [Laughs]

Maybe we didn't! Maybe I should spend more time in the column making blind assumptions to get you to give up info. But when we first got the concept of the dungeons in the past, we were given the 1490s as a time period. Now that we've landed with this mystery man Jade speaks to, I can't quite tell but I don't think this is 1490s costuming....

No, it is not. That's all I'll say about it. It's a good observation, though. The dress does not match the period of the cell.

Well, let me ask this then: Who is he summoning with that bell?

Well, there are two bells going off in two panels consecutively.

And some more of our double vision in the present. Speaking of which, in the hear and now, Ike is still on the outs with the crew as he's seen as a snitch. Is Ike full of himself enough that he can get lulled into a false sense of security, or is he as skeptical as the others continue to be about what's going on?

I think that Ike is a crafty enough guy that his newfound success at the Academy could be very fleeting. There's really nothing beyond their word that their end of the agreement will be upheld. That's certainly a big part of our next issue, and I would say that at the same time, Ike is more than willing to cut yet another deal and find another way to satisfy his new superiors. Ike has - you could argue very wisely - conceded that this is not a fight that can be won. He's decided that integration is key and that if you can't beat them, join them. That's the train of thought he's subscribing to, and it'll be put to the test next issue.

In the hanging scene, we get another reference to a time period in the Victorian era. I'm not sure if this holds significance to the larger plot like references to the 1490s can, but it brings up an interesting idea: how far do the relevant plot points stretch in history for the book? Is is possible one issue will open in the time of the dinosaurs?

Anything's possible in that regard. Yes.

Writing a scene about teenage suicide - even in a series as wild and weird as this - is a very hard thing to pull off. Did you feel you had to approach it with a bit more delicate touch even though your audience is probably anticipating that this is more a thematic nod than a literal attempt on Jade's part?

That's a good question. There have been points in this arc where I knew that we were touching things that could be considered third rails and where we'd be diving into some subject matter and adult situations that could ruffle feathers. I try to approach the scenes as sincerely as I can. A scene like this isn't being done for shock value. It's being done to service the larger story, and I think that as long as you're approaching from that angel and not as a cheap thrill - though this book isn't immune to cheap thrills - but in a sincere and honest fashion, I think people will allow it.

I will say that I think the beauty of working in comics is that I wonder if you saw this in another medium...would there be more of an uproar? I think that this is us playing to the strengths of the medium, which the book tries to take full advantage of. Comics audiences tend to be much more sophisticated about this stuff and are willing to cut you more slack in order to tell your story. They're a very tolerant bunch.

Image just did its new content rating system, and "Morning Glories" is considered T+, which is 16 and up. I'm fairly happy with that. There's a possibility that it could jump to mature at some point. We've been very cognizant of the fact that because the kids are teenagers and because of the covers, some parents might get the idea that this is a kids book or a YA book. I've always viewed it as if it was an R-rated movie that you can't get into until you're 16 and 17, and I'm happy about the ratings because I think it can help alleviate any confusion for parents out there who are wondering if this is something for their kids.

We wrap in a sequence where we get to see young Jade and adult Jade interact. It's clear that the young Jade knows a bit about what's going on and is trying to learn here, but it doesn't seem as easy as "young Jade will become old Jade...point A to B." What in this whole idea can give readers purchase to ground themselves?

It's very hard for me to answer on things about who these two are to each other, but I will say that I thought this was maybe the most rewarding scene in the book so far to write. It felt like we were touching things we've been working towards - like we were reaching out into our own future to some extent. That was nice. We were going for "Gilmore Girls" meets "Mulholland Drive." [Laughs] So I liked the interplay between the two of them, and they had a nice chemistry from panel one. It was a sweet scene where we got to see "our Jade" as in the student Jade with a few of her defenses down and a bit of her show over.

The assumption we can make about this is that we will be seeing these two on the page again at some point.

Eh....no comment.

We've seen the very end of this issue before, right down to the last panel which is photostatted in. Are we seeing a specific moment that's repeated in Jade's time at the Academy, or does she wake up from the hanging in the past or what?

Obviously, my hands are a bit tied, but what I can say is that we have seen this exact scene before in issue #4, and in that scene, Jade gave Nurse Nine the answer to what she saw when her eyes were opened. That answer is directly informed by the conversation that you see here in issue #10. So clearly, there is a connective tissue there. There's some sort of link in that the answer you learned there informs the conversation, and the conversation informs the answer. It's meant to be a big question mark moment. It's fun. I haven't seen anybody read it correctly. [Laughs] But I don't think you should be able to read it correctly at this point.

But the nice thing about this issue and this whole arc - because of the last issue reveal of Jun's brother and now with this connection to #4 - is that it's been a while since we threw them a big curveball in issue #6. We talked about how I stepped back then and was maybe a little rattled at the response to that issue and how people did not enjoy being taken around the back for a second. What's been really rewarding here is that this issue is similar, but people really seemed to enjoy it. I think that's a testament to the second arc and the decision to go back and focus on the kids individually. People are beginning to see how long a story this is and the nature of the reveals and the answers. They have more confidence that there are in fact answers to their questions - which I know is always a big concern in a story like this. I think we've satisfied a lot of people's concerns over the last few issues. I think I told you the last time we talked that I thought people would hate this one and be put off by it, but they really seemed to dig it. I think that's the work of the last few issues paying off.

To wrap then, as you've looked at each issue in this arc as a stand alone piece of the puzzle, how have you viewed it as a whole? Will Ike's story next month complete a shape to all these issues, or will it kind of launch more things forward?

It's certainly a launching point for the future, and issue #12 is also part of our second arc that does something differently than the rest. It's really fun because I've noticed over the last few issues that during the first arc, a lot of people were saying, "I haven't really gotten to know these kids. Why should I care about them?" Now that's really no longer an issue. People are saying, "I really connect to these characters, but is the story going to move forward soon?" That's what the third arc is. Now that we've gotten to know these characters better and can handle who they are, the fun is in putting them back together and mixing it up.

As far as Ike's issue, there's a big question that people have been asking through this second arc that you'll be given at least part of the answer to, and it'll set some things up not just for the third arc but for the entirity of the first season. And #12 is going to shed some light on things we've seen in the first half of the second arcs. It all builds to what happens in the fourth, fifth and sixth arcs, but before that the third arc is a different kind of mystery and a different kind of story. We're still very early. We're in a more questions than answers phase, and people can see that we're going to be answering some questions as we ask new ones.

And finally, I hear you've been getting some love from Damon Lindelof on Twitter?

Yes! He sent out a very kind Tweet about "Nick Spencer's Morning Glories is blowing my mind and is at the top of my pull list...and no ladies, that's not as gross as it sounds." [Laughter] So that was a big week for us. It's like we got the approval from God Himself! I'm sure you'll see that get some pull quote time in the future.

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