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Nocenti Combines Fear and Magic in DC Comics’ “Klarion”

by  in Comic News Comment
Nocenti Combines Fear and Magic in DC Comics’ “Klarion”

UPDATED July 29, 11:50 AM: An earlier version of this story stated that “Klarion” is based in Gotham City. DC Comics has clarified for CBR News that it is actually taking place in New York City.

Announced by DC Comics along with its plethora of new Gotham and Bat line books, Jack Kirby creation Klarion the Witch Boy will be getting his own solo title courtesy of writer Ann Nocenti.

RELATED: Nocenti, McCarthy Resurrect Kirby’s Klarion the Witch Boy for DC

Stepping away from “Catwoman” to make way for new oncoming creative team of writer Genevieve Valentine and artist Garry Brown, Nocenti joins artist Trevor McCarthy in depicting the magical adventures of the amoral boy wizard and his familiar in New York City, facing down two factions of magic users operating out of site of the main DC Universe.

Currently on the road with her latest documentary, Nocenti took a pit stop to speak with CBR about “Klarion,” her collaboration with McCarthy and the technological fears driving her title.

CBR News: Ann, Klarion was announced along with a host of new Bat books like “Arkham Manor,” Becky Clonan’s female-lead “Gotham Academy,” and the news that Genevieve Valentine will be working on “Catwoman.”

Ann Nocenti: It’s great, lots of girl stuff! I saw the first image from “Catwoman” and I think it looks awesome; I don’t know the writer but I’m very happy a girl is taking over the book.

Well let’s talk about leaving “Catwoman” for a second, because while you’ve got “Klarion” now you said it’s important that another woman take over.

Yeah, I think the most powerful thing for me in the past year was going to conventions and seeing the amount of young girls that came up to me, clutching their issues of “Catwoman” and just loving the book. I say, “What else are you reading?” and they say, “Nothing.” And then I talked to them about comics and they were kind of non-comics readers. It was really sweet; we’d talk and I’d talk about, if you want to call them that, your gateway comics. I’d talk to them about “Love And Rockets” and how hard that hit me, and different books that I think will bring women into the business. I found that to be really, really sweet, just finding out how many young females that weren’t really that versed in comics were reading “Catwoman.” I thought when I left the book I hoped a girl would take over, so that was great to see.

I think you’ve spent the longest time working on “Catwoman” of your New 52 books. Is there anything you’ll specifically miss about Selina, or do you have any regrets about things you didn’t have a chance to do on the title?

Well there’s always a billion stories you wish you could have told, you know? [Laughs] I’m really happy with the two arcs I did with [artist] Rafa [Sandoval], which was the whole Penguin war saga and the gang war that ripped up Gotham, and then ‘Gotham Underground,’ so I love that whole series with Rafa Sandoval. He has insanely endearing energy, I think he’s one of the most endearing artists — he just makes you fall in love with every moment. Then I really enjoyed working with [artist] Pat Olliffe on the “Race Of Thieves.” I think Pat and I clicked together really well, the last two of the four issue arc are I think are the best.

Because there’s always a transition time before they figure out who was going to take over the “Catwoman” book, we got to do one final issue. We decided to do a Tesla story, because I love the world Rafa created for Tesla and I decided, “You know, let’s get to know Tesla for an issue as our last issue on the book.” So we have her — it’s called “Remote Life” and it’s about how Tesla just never wants to leave the house because, like my friends and me every day is just a massive struggle to get offline! [Laughs] To go, “Oh yeah, there’s a real world out there!” It’s about Catwoman enticing Tesla offline and then some big things happen, of course.

I can honestly say I have a hard time imagining that you can’t get offline as you’re in the midst of touring in Maine with your falconry documentary that was shot in Pakistan. When I spoke with you before I think you were going to teach in Lapland — you’re constantly traveling all over the world!

[Laughs] You know, I’m very international because of my film career and I did my documentary work in Haiti, all that stuff. But still every single day I spend so much time online, I’m just entranced with that world and it’s a big battle. That’s one of the things I want to explore in “Klarion,” that there’s a big war going on between virtual life and real life. Not that either one is bad in my mind, it’s not like we need more so-called “real life” because I like my online life.

What made you think magic and a magical, supernatural character was the way in to talk about technology and our fears about online life?

I think “Klarion” — it’s brand new and it’s really an exciting time when you’re first starting to work on a comic. Harvey Richards, our editor, is phenomenal. He just keeps sending us links to artwork I’ve never seen before and then we spitball a bunch of ideas around about characters and Trevor sends design after design.

For me, “Klarion” is kind of a sci-fi horror book. It’s magic but the films that influenced me, the horror films that influenced me — you look at a film like “Rosemary’s Baby” — that’s a supernatural film about the devil, but isn’t it really about a woman whose fear is pregnancy? Roman Polanski said you can look at it like maybe she’s having the devil’s baby, but really you can look at it as the fears surrounding someone growing inside you. One of the things I want to address in the book is what are you afraid of? What am I afraid of? I think there’s a lot of fear out there about just where technology is taking us. Is it taking us someplace wonderful or is it our darker sides taking us someplace terrible?

Was this theme something you had been thinking about before “Klarion” came up or did this idea prompt you and DC to start this series?

You know, I don’t even know the answer to that question; I got a call that DC wanted to develop more of the magical side of New York. I’m not really privy to the conversations of [which character] they bring back. I think Klarion was just seen as a supernatural character that had potential. I mean, your first thought is, “Is there a fan base for Klarion?” Maybe not, and I went through this a little with “Katana,” because there wasn’t a built-in fan base for Katana. But they sent me some stuff, and anything Jack Kirby touched — even if it was just to polish off — always has some kind of special energy for me because Kirby is almost like an elemental force in comics! [Laughs] [Klarion] looks kind of ornery and bratty and he’s kind of a villain, and then I read the Grant Morrison series, which I thought was just amazing.

So over the years you’ve got this kid whose skill level keeps going up and up and up: he can open dimensions, he can change the future — he has way too many powers, almost. When somebody gets omnipotent, the game is over once they walk in the room. So we’re taking him back to when he first runs away from Witch World where everyone’s a witch, and he finds himself in New York where witches are covert and if they come out, there’s the long American history where witches are burned at the stake. People are afraid of things they don’t understand. So he finds himself in a whole different universe where he has to lay low and he has to think about a secret identity and figure out what is he doing here.

Then, we started developing a whole cast of characters of witches and wizards and we’re layering them with a lot of occult references. Trevor will shoot me a root or Wiccan symbol and between me, Harvey and Trevor we’re developing each character, revising and revising! Trevor is astounding; I’ve never worked with him before, he’s just absolutely brilliant. He’s such a deep thinker and we’re very in-sync with what we want the book to be about.

What can you say about the cast you’re building around Klarion and their contrasting occult outlooks on life?

There are characters trying to draw their power off of technology, using all the sorts of place technology is taking us — the Cloud, how all your information is in the Cloud, how everything you do will forever be in the Cloud! [Laughs] Your footprints in life are now indelible where they used to be mysterious; Polaroids of yourself or a home movie, every time someone snapped a photo is there forever. So there’s Coal, a character who wants to use the humiliation and the eternal nature of everyone’s false move, and he draws his power off of that.

The other thing that fascinates me is now they’re developing all this swallowable technology that will regulate your heartbeat and developing for people who have diseases, implants for the spine. For me, that gets into the realm of a horror movie, because yes, I want to have my heartbeat regulated because I have a heart murmur — but at the same time, do I really want this thing in me? It’s like in the ’50s when nobody understood what nuclear energy was. You have all these characters from the ’50s like Daredevil, hit with a radioactive isotope! Blinded but given more powers! There were so many characters dumped in a bubbling atomic vat of something and came out with superpowers! [Laughs]

What are today’s fears? Today’s fears are tech and where tech is taking us — wearable and ingestible tech, implant tech. Are you going to get more powerful and able to control your life, or is it going to be the dark side? It’s a modern horror book, I guess — a mix of sci-fi, magic and horror.

Then, let’s talk about the kid at the very center of this, Klarion. You have Coal and the techno-wizards on one side and you’ve got people who are more into the Earthy, pagan-type magic on the other. How would you describe Klarion as a character, and where does he fall inside this world and range of characters?

Klarion, because he comes from Witch World, which was created by Jack Kirby and developed by Grant Morrison, it seemed to be a pagan place; Grant Morrison did the weird Puritans with the kind of aggressive religious stuff. I see Klarion, at first at least, grounding himself in pagan magic. He ends up in a place that draws a lot of young kids with magic in them, so you have a place where they feel safe, yet there are these forces out there that are basically fighting for the most talented young witches. There’s tension between the two camps, but someone will get stolen over to the other side! For support cast, there are a couple older wizards, Piper and Noah, and then there’s some young wizards, Zell and Rasp, and they all are based in something from history and they all have secrets. We’re trying to put most of it in the visuals, so we’re coming up with visual clues and metaphors and occult layers, showing everything in a visual way. A careful reader will see all these clues right in the artwork.

It sounds like you’re all doing a ton of research for this book. Are there specific cultural or magical traditions you’re drawing on?

Yes, all three of us have things that are powerful to us. I remember I read a Colin Wilson book called “The Mind Parasites” when I was way too young for it. It terrified me! It was the idea that as you develop powers other things in the universe start noticing you. I love Colin Wilson, I love the old sci-fi writers.

Trevor is bringing in some Wiccan stuff. He’s really into runes and we’re developing how you hold your hand casting spells — each character will have a different way they hold their hands. We’re building on a lot of traditions that go way back in sci-fi, horror and magic. I’m probably the only one in the planet who hasn’t read the “Harry Potter” books, but Harvey can reference the stuff I haven’t read. They hadn’t read Colin Wilson, so I think we’re all bringing our own influences. It’s really a collaborative process between the three of us; to a certain degree there are moments I back off and say, “Wherever Trevor wants to go with this, let’s just let him go!”

Harvey’s influence on the book is pretty strong. He said to me, “The thing that bugs me about supernatural characters is that their powers are abstract and they have too many powers. They say, ‘Let me cast this spell and I get out of that problem!'” [Laughs] We’re working on developing a specific talent each one of our witches and wizards have, so we don’t go down that road of too much power.

While Klarion’s been portrayed in various comics he was most recently on the “Young Justice” television show as a powerful bad guy. What is your version of Klarion? Is he an anti-hero? Is he an established villain? Is he an emerging hero?

I’m taking my cues from his first appearances from what I’ve seen of the TV show, and I love Grant Morrison’s work. It seems that overall, people play him to be somewhat amoral and driven by his own pleasure. So there’s a love story in Klarion where we see Klarion starting to realize the girl is impressed when he does something good, as opposed to when he does something bad. At first the good things that he does is based on wanting to impress the girl, being jealous when someone else likes the girl, so his motives are not a hero but he’s becoming someone doing better things with his powers. It’s your basic emotions of love, jealous, envy, ambition — and wanting to impress a girl! [Laughter]

What part of Klarion and this entire corner of New York City’s magical underground is most appealing to you?

To me it gets back to what we’re afraid of. What I’m both excited and afraid of is where technology is taking the planet. But also having lived in Manhattan all my life, there’s a lot of deep mysteries in Manhattan. I touched on that with “Gotham Underground.” Manhattan is layered with a lot of fascinating history; right down the road from me they discovered ancient bone graveyards they didn’t know were there. It’ll be exciting to me to layer New York with old secrets, and what is technology’s role in kind of an occult mystery.

That probably didn’t answer your question at all! [Laughter]

We’re at the very beginning of creating something, so I’m not positive about everything — you also draw on your unconscious life and you do a lot of work by instinct. Often writers and artists don’t know what they’ve done until they look back at it.

Plus you’re doing a lot of work world-building here —

I like work! [Laughs] I think all of us in the comics field like to work, we like to jam on these ideas and work on that.

It sounds like you’re hitting a dark fantasy Vertigo tone, which DC has been trying to foster among its magical books.

I think it’s smart because the power of what we’re afraid of played a huge role in film and literature and comics; I think comics are just now addressing what we’re afraid of now.

Looking at your past books in the New 52 you wrote “Green Arrow” where Oliver was cocky and learning to be a more measured person, then “Catwoman” with her also developing a conscience. Do you feel “Klarion” continues the theme of a cocky character coming to terms with the world, or is this completely different?

I think this a whole new ballgame, largely because of the synergy happening between me and Harvey and Trevor creating something as a team. Also I’m really channeling a formative time in my life, which was the high school years when you’re just exploring, sex, drugs and rock and roll, wanting to run away, all those things. It’s trying to channel a particular time in life. I would love the write a straight-out here, I haven’t written a straight-out hero in a long time! [Laughs] For now this seems to be what I’m exploring. And that’s challenging because the heroic impulse is clear, but I don’t know too many heroes. I know regular humans doing that do a good thing then a bad thing and are torn and they screw up and they try to fix things. So it feels comfortable to me.

“Klarion” #1 hits shelves October 8.

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