MORNING GLORY DAYS: Tricks of the Trade

Warning: Major spoilers for "Morning Glories" #6 lurk ahead.

Welcome to another edition of MORNING GLORY DAYS, our 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 that "Morning Glories" has to offer. Best of all, readers are invited to write in to see their very own questions answered by Spencer!

"Morning Glories" #6 served as an epilogue of sorts to the recently concluded first arc. In this latest issue, readers were led away from the core cast of characters and instead met Julie, a troubled young woman on the run for her role in a grisly accident involving that dastardly cylinder. Julie quickly learns that there are many different forces interested in finding her, including a certain redheaded woman who promises that their work is all going towards "a better future." Although she's a stranger to Julie, this mysterious, powerful and self-confident redhead is already known to readers as Jade, the frequently depressed and recently rescued member of the Glories.

We spoke with Spencer and artist Joe Eisma about the storytelling and artistic challenges of "Morning Glories" #6, touching on the most provocative plot revelations as well as looking ahead at the next arc of the series.

CBR News: Nick, I know that this is an issue you're a little bit nervous about. Why?

Nick Spencer: I've known for as long as I've had the first arc plotted that this was the end-point of it. I knew we were taking a few chances, obviously the biggest one being the lack of the main cast appearing in the issue. I think for the longest time, I knew who Julie was but I didn't know what her story was. That was always hovering in the background.

You know, it shoots off wildly from the primary story, and any time you do that in monthly storytelling, it's always a little scary. If you know your book is primarily trade and collection driven, this isn't that scary. I think there's actually a tradition of Vertigo books doing this, but that's because everyone writing a Vertigo book knows people are going to read it in trade. When you read the Rudyard Kipling issue of "The Unwritten," you don't really mind that the main cast aren't in it, because the odds are pretty overwhelming that you read it at the end of a five-issue arc starring the main cast. With "Morning Glories," I know that we have a pretty sizable and dedicated monthly readership, but we don't have the trade out yet. I know for a fact that a lot of people will look at this issue and say, "This isn't what I paid for," but it is. This is a huge party of the story. It's very important to know what's happening here, so I was both nervous about it and excited about it.

Not to harp on the "Lost" metaphors all of the time, but the sixth season suffered some backlash for the "Across the Sea" episode in terms of where it was positioned, the lack of the core cast, and a lot of the other concerns you seem to be expressing here...

And it's in my top five favorite episodes. I think there will be more stories to come that in some ways will be even more reminiscent of that. But I as a viewer and a reader have always enjoyed storytelling like this. I think it's something that you as an individual either love or hate, and I think it's a pretty good comparison in some ways.

I bring it up because, well, I can't ask you why this issue is important or what's going on in these pages and actually expect an answer. [Laughter] But I can ask you, why does this issue need to exist now? Why did you have to tell this story in issue #6?

That's a tricky one. [Long pause] I think what the first arc has been about is setting the foundation for everything that happens after it in terms of the big, long-form mystery. I think this is certainly a big part of laying the groundwork for where we end up. I wanted to feel at the end of these first six issues like I put together the basic building blocks where everything from here is going to grow from. In order to do that, we had to tell this story. If we wanted to be able to say that about the first six issues, then this had to be a part of it. If we hadn't had that goal, then this very well could have been something we waited a long time to do. Time will tell whether we should do this sort of thing or not. But this is a very important and integral part of where we're going from here.

Going back a little bit, I'm interested by the comment you made about Julie, the main character of this issue: you said you knew who she was, but you didn't know her story. Can you explain that a bit?

I have to be a little bit coy about that. I knew the character and I knew what she was going to do in the story, but I didn't know what had happened to her before, even when I sat down and wrote the issue. I actually wrote the early sequence and the end sequence together, and I was stuck for a while trying to figure out what that middle was. But it hit me pretty quickly, and I wrote the middle sequence in a night.

This book tends to do that to me more than any other, where I'll have the wheels grinding for what feels like ages sometimes, then something clicks and it comes very quickly. Of all the things that I work on, despite having an overall arc mapped out, there's still a lot in there that's left open. I'm fascinated by the fact that this book tends to rely on last-second inspiration, tends to come out in huge bursts, where instead of writing two or three pages at a time, I'm writing twelve or fifteen. It works very differently from [other books].

With one major exception, this issue doesn't feature any of our main cast members; you're hanging this story pretty solidly on Julie's shoulders. Why should we care about her?

You know, as time goes on, people will see that Julie is emblematic of a lot of the themes of the book, which is to say, as we find out in this issue, she's someone who made some horrible mistakes in her life and she's very much haunted by them. She's trying to figure out how to atone for them and how to change the direction of her life. What's interesting to me about Julie are the parallels of freedom and being trapped. She's trying to evade a physical capture due to this thing that she's done, she's trying to evade imprisonment, but at the same time, she's built this prison for herself. That's a big part of what makes her interesting to me. I'm always fascinated by these people who are fighting for independence and freedom and are trying to escape in their exterior environment, but they're mentally and emotionally trapped inside of their own devices. That's a big part of what this is all about.

Not to be too cute about it, but I think that when the story is approaching resolution, I think people will see why [writing this issue] was both difficult and easy at the same time. The word I would use is "tricky" more than "difficult," maybe. There had to be a lot of thought put into every statement, in a lot of ways, much more so than most issues and stories that I write. I had to be very careful every step of the way. You're showing a little piece of something and you're very dedicated to not giving away the rest, so it was like walking a tightrope.

I think it's fair to say that writing Julie wasn't the trickiest element about this issue - that distinction belongs to the Jade reveal. We see her throughout the issue, but we don't see her face until the end. That couldn't have been easy on you guys, especially Joe!

I felt very bad for Joe. I had warned him about this at New York Comic Con. I remember telling him that he was going to have his hands full. I told him exactly what he was going to have to do, and he was excited about it. That's part of the neat thing of working with Joe. He's a nice guy, very laid-back and very professional, and he cares a lot about the story. When you have that combination and you go to a guy like that, asking him to do something insanely difficult, he'll just shrug and go, "Okay." It's the job. It's a great attitude. I thought he absolutely nailed it. I got a laugh out of some of the panels, just at some of the different things he did to hide her face. I think it worked out beautifully, better than I could have dreamed.

Now, I've given you a lot of guff about Jade in the past...

She's your least favorite of the Glories, right?

Well, not anymore! [Laughter] But I'm not sure what the general reaction to Jade has been so far. What do your readers think of her from what you can tell?

You know, it's interesting to me, watching people's different reactions to the different characters when you know that you're playing such a long game. I made a very conscious decision that the first arc would feel like "Morning Glories: The Movie," which is to say that it was a five-issue story about the kids ending up there, Jade getting taken to the nurse's office and their rescue of her. The natural focus of a story like that, especially at that point, is going to be Casey. She got a lot of time, and Jade probably got the second most camera time. She has a decent amount of focus in issue three, she plays a big role in issues one and two, and she's very much a big part of what drives the action forward. That said, 90% of it is things happening to her, rather than her moving things forward. People didn't get to know her maybe the same way they did with the other characters, but that's true of a lot of stories. When you're playing this long of a game, you say, "I can take the time to develop and reveal these characters. I don't have to try to force this into a story. I know that Hunter gets a bunch of time in issue #8, Jun will have his story and I can afford to be patient with all of them."

As far as people's opinions, I find that they change dramatically from issue to issue sometimes. When the book first came out, everybody sort of had their favorites. I remember at the beginning hearing so much about Ike and Zoe, since they're the A-type personalities and they get in your face right away and say outrageous things. I never heard anybody in issues one through four saying that Casey was their favorite, but when issue five came out, I heard a shit ton of people saying that Casey is awesome. You play that long game and recognize that everybody has their moments. This is a 25-issue season, so we'll see what everybody's opinions are of the cast at that point. I don't know exactly where people are on Jade right now.

Look, there's a lot to like about Jade. She's the focus of issue ten. We'll spend more time with her then. Obviously, in the story we followed from issues one through five, she's been through a truly terrible ordeal. At the same time, the last time we saw her in issue five, she seemed very happy to have been rescued and seemed to be in a brighter place than we had previously seen her. So, you know, there's a lot going on... again, I think this first arc in many ways was Casey and Jade's story. At least that's my opinion. I liked the symmetry of closing it on this issue.

There are a ton of questions you can ask about Jade after an ending like this one. Is this Jade in the future? Is she brainwashed? Is this a clone? Has she been fooling us all along? When you were planning out this revelation, were there specific questions you were hoping fans were going to ask, or specific information you wanted to convey?

I think all of those questions are pretty much inevitable, and I think they're all questions that you should be asking right now. Whether or not this is our Jade is the question that a lot of people will maybe ask.

This is a tough one to answer. Honestly, I can't really tell you anything about this issue! [Laughs] We didn't even give a solicit for this issue! We didn't do any previews or anything, and I doubt this is the last time we'll have to do something like that.

I want to quickly check in with Joe about this issue, because it really is one of the trickier visual entries in the series so far. Joe, what was your reaction when you found out about the Jade angle for this issue?

Joe Eisma: It threw me for a loop, honestly. I had to ask Nick a couple of times if this was for real. It was a challenge to draw. I had to get creative with how I framed my shots and positioned other characters and environmental pieces. I also didn't want the framing choices to look awkward -- I was going for more practicality in how I obscured Jade, and I hope that came across.

It was just a nice, fun change of the norm. Not that I dislike drawing the main storyline, but the chance to do kind of a segue in the story was really appealing to me. I particularly enjoyed the various locations. Growing up, one of my favorite books was "Excalibur" from Marvel, and that's always been a dream gig for me, to draw a book set in London. With this issue, I got my chance. Plus, for the pub scene, I spent lots of time in a local pub here where I live in Texas for "research." It was one of my favorite sequences from the issue. I designed it all from scratch in 3D Studio Max, after my aforementioned pub research. It's silly, but it was one of things that made me realize what a joy it is to draw comics and to do this book.

What were some of your concerns going into this issue?

Eisma: I was nervous to tackle such a story that didn't include much of the main cast. Nick's script was great, though. I loved the father/daughter storyline. It was powerful enough to alleviate my concerns about the issue. I did miss drawing the main Glories, and I was happy to get back to them, but now, even as a reader, I want to know more about Julie!

Thanks Joe! Nick, a few more quick points before we wrap. In addition to Julie and Jade, we met some other new characters in this issue, like Andrew. Will we see him and his colleagues again?

Yeah, we'll see Andrew again. He's a blast. I like his little spiel to Jade. It was fun for me, because I know that there are people who are already annoyed as hell after six months. [Laughs]

The cylinder also makes another appearance...

It does. There are all sorts of parallels to the first issue and even the fifth issue that we tried to sprinkle throughout. That was, again, part of what made writing this issue so tricky, just connecting points in this to points in that, but doing it in a way that sustains the mystery.

Man, I can't really say much about the cylinder. [Laughs] I guess what I can say is that sometimes, the things that lead to our greatest failures can lead to our greatest successes. We established very early on, in the first preview of the first issue, that the cylinder is an important part of the story. We didn't see it again until issue #5, now we're seeing it in #6. Who knows how long it'll be before we see it again, but this is one of the pillars of the story and the mystery. Julie's story is intimately linked to that, and somewhat tragically so.

Let's talk about the pub scene that Joe mentioned earlier. Julie is in London, and we hear a broadcast of some kind talking about "forces amassing on the border." Is this information significant or just filler?

Significant. We'll get back to that. Look, I answered a question! [Laughs] In fact, I'll say that not only is it significant, but the solicit for this issue was "mutually assured destruction," and you hear that phrase again right here. Also, I want to apologize to the English for butchering their accent so brutally. [Laughs] I just can't seem to do any accent with any semblance of subtlety.

How about the apple that Julie is holding in this final scene? What does that represent to you?

This is an interesting example of one of those things that wasn't in the original plan. I feel like sometimes I spend so much time reassuring people that we know where it's going that sometimes we leave out that we do come up with things on the fly. In this case, a lot of the credit goes to Rodin, who included Casey holding the apple on the cover of issue #1. It was such an amazing visual and it kind of stuck in my head, so I used it as a motif a couple of times throughout the first five issues. But it wasn't until I got to this issue that I realized how I could fit it into the broader story. I think Jade's choice of words here is pretty interesting, particularly when she says, "I can almost guarantee that you'd rather starve than take a bite." It's an odd thing to pick up a piece of fruit and stare at it for a while seemingly not having any interest in eating it. It fit in so nicely and perfectly into the broader story where you just stumble onto things as time goes on.

Closing out on this issue, how long will it take to see the seeds of this issue play out over the series? Will it be a while before we see Julie again?

Yeah. You'll see Julie again within a year, in terms of publishing. So there's a little bit of time to wait.

Looking forward, what can we expect from "Morning Glories" #7?

The second arc is very much about getting to know the Glories individually and getting to see a bit of their lives before they came. It's also about them interacting with some of the other students in the school, which is something we haven't done almost at all with the exception of Pamela. They've just gotten here, and they're a very tight-knit group; they haven't spent much time with anyone else at the school. Now they're out of their first week and there's not this driving goal of rescuing Jade anymore. Now, they're starting to fall into their lives at the academy. That'll mean very different things for all of them.

Zoe is first up in that regard, and something happens in issue #7 that'll shock the hell out of everyone. That's exciting! On the other side, we'll find out more about Zoe's life before she got to school. What you're going to see there are very small snapshots of a much bigger story for her. Readers who are really paying attention will be able to connect certain points, and others might miss it and just get angered by it. Again, no matter what, we'll spend a few pages on something that's a big and defining moment of Zoe's life, and a lot of people will go, "Wow, they just brushed past that." It's something we'll come back to over time. It's an exciting issue on two fronts, both of which will generate a bit of controversy among the readership. It should be a fun issue.

"Morning Glories" #6, written by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Joe Eisma, is currently on sale. The seventh issue hits stands on February 23, 2011.

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