For her first graphic novel, Nicnevin And The Bloody Queen (paperback, Kindle), writer Helen Mullane has come up with a coming of age story that — as she explains in the following email interview — draws inspiration from ’70s horror movies, family dramas, and the work of young adult fantasy author Alan Garner.
I always like to begin with a story overview. So, what is Nicnevin And The Bloody Queen about, and what kind of world is it set in?
Our story is set in a world where the modern and mundane meet the arcane and ancient. Nissy, a rebellious teen, is forced to spend a boring summer with her family in the rural north of England. While she’s there, she develops a crush on an older man who she effectively stalks, and through him stumbles across a world of magic, murder, and mayhem.
Where did you get the original idea for Nicnevin And The Bloody Queen, and how, if at all, did that idea evolve as you wrote it?
I was initially inspired by the work of Alan Garner, both in books and on TV, to try to create a story that had a similar atmosphere and tone. Something that might appeal to teens, that deals with dark and mythic themes in the folk horror or dark fantasy vein. Garner is, in my personal opinion the Y.A. G.O.A.T.
Because my starting point was pretty vague, more a feeling than anything else, I’d say the finished book remains pretty true to it. But also, because that starting point was so ephemeral, there was a lot of evolution and work that went in to making it an actual story.
Are there any movies, TV shows, games, or other novels — graphic or otherwise — that had a big influence on Nicnevin And The Bloody Queen but not anything else you’ve written?
Well, this is the first comic I’ve written, so I can’t compare it to any others, but Nicnevin certainly did grow out of myriad influences across a range of media. From the works of Alan Garner, who’s psycho-sexual, mythic teen drama The Owl Service was a particular influence, as were the folk horror classics like The Wicker Man or the Hammer movie The Witches. There is a film called I Start Counting whose heroine, played by Jenny Agutter, has this amazing mix of passivity and selfish self-determination that I find really fascinating. Also, the movie Fish Tank. Both those movies feature a teenage protagonist who allows her boredom and sexual desires muddy her judgement and narrow her vision. This is a story we see often about teen boys — desperate to have sex, judgement totally clouded by the object of their affection — but when it comes to girls too often we like to pretend that they are only desired, never desiring.
Nicnevin And The Bloody Queen has been called a coming of age horror story. Is that how you’d describe it?
I think most stories are more than just one thing. I definitely agree that this is a coming of age story. Maybe that’s its true core. It’s also an intimate family drama, a surreal fantasy story, and an attempt at a modern reinterpretation of ancient myths.
You worked on Nicnevin And The Bloody Queen with artists Dom Reardon and Matthew Dow Smith. What was it about their style that made you think they’d be good to collaborate on this?
Dom and Matthew are both such outstanding artists. They both share with me an abiding love for the folk horror sub-genre, and I think that really comes through on the page.
Matthew’s layouts were really dynamic and exciting, and he nailed that contrast between the surreal and the still.
Dom brings a fabulous intricacy and richness to the art, and without his supreme talent for evoking the emotions of the characters, so much of the book could not have worked.
The team was rounded out by Lee Loughridge, whose rich yet muted color palette is a job to behold, and last but not least Robin Jones who lettered it with great range and sophistication.
Did anything in their art inspire you to change anything about your story?
I think that the whole team of collaborators really inspired me to up my game in terms of the words, dialogue, and poetry, to try to stay on their level.
Finally, a lot of comics are not stand-alone stories, they’re often just the first parts of larger — and in some cases, ongoing — sagas. What is Nicnevin And The Bloody Queen?
Nicnevin And The Bloody Queen is definitely a stand-alone book, but it also is part of a much larger mythology in my head. I have ideas for stories that happen before the action of the book, following Nissy’s mum and grandmother when they were teens themselves, and also after, as Nissy deals with the fallout of this book back home in London.
These are stories I would dearly love to write, but of course it all depends on reader’s appetite for more.