Hail God Mammon: The Black Monday Murders [Interview]
August 10, 2016
IMAGE COMICS: "Black Monday" usually refers to the stock market crash in October, 1987, and THE BLACK MONDAY MURDERS explores the aftermath of the crash. How wide is the scope of TBMM? Are you focusing on a small group of people navigating the occult and the world of finance, or is this a globe- and time-spanning mystery?
JONATHAN HICKMAN: The story starts pretty small. In the now, with a single murder and a detective trying to solve it. But it pretty quickly expands into something much larger: A story that covers a good chunk of modern history, and, of course, Black Monday itself.
And while the surrounding cast is fairly large, THE BLACK MONDAY MURDERS is basically a story about two people: The detective trying to solve the murder, and that case's only surviving family member, who is neck-deep in the intersecting worlds of finance and magic.
IC: In terms of approach, is this a "secret history" sort of tale, where only a few know the truth and are viewed with suspicion? Something more action-oriented?
HICKMAN: Narratively, it reads mostly like a Pixies thing. You know, loud-quiet-loud where there doesn't seem to be a bunch of action-y things going on and then the book suddenly gets as explosive and violent as it can.
In regards to the overall nature of the story, sure, there's the whole bit about the detective falling into a secret world he knew nothing about, but the rabbit hole in THE BLACK MONDAY MURDERS is really just the gravy. The meat of the thing is in the magic system that supports the story. How do you get in? Can you ever get out? What's the cost?
Unsurprisingly, a lot of people are doing timely work about finance right now. In my case, I'm less interested in doing a book about wealth and the logical questions that come from stories about class, and am more into doing a book about money as an actual force of nature. Which, of course, it is, and a thing that affects all our lives.
IC: You've tackled cultural institutions or control systems in your work before, from the media in THE NIGHTLY NEWS to religion and war in PAX ROMANA. With THE BLACK MONDAY MURDERS, you're tackling money. What comes first—unrelated research that leads to an idea about a new twist on a hoary old institution, or wanting to explore the institution in a story and doing the research to find an angle of attack?
HICKMAN: For me, conceptually, almost every new idea I have for a book happens tangentially. I'll be reading something, or watching television, or even listening to music and something—in my case, it's usually a specific line of dialogue or lyric—will hit me and I'll get this wave of an idea.
I'll stop and write it down, and if it's a good one, it'll stay with me for a couple days or weeks. If it sticks and I can't stop thinking about it, then I'll actually take a day to really think about only that. And then, if it's gold, usually in one sitting, I'll get the inciting action and, more importantly, the ending.
Then I do the actual research. Which, for this one, was extensive.
IC: What's the division of labor on this one? Does Tomm Coker handle the art, while you handle the writing, design, and lettering?
HICKMAN: It's pretty straight forward. I'll write a script and then Tomm will hammer it out. Michael Garland is coloring, and Rus Wooton is lettering.
I am doing all the design, but Tomm is so strong in that area that I'm bouncing stuff off him much more than on something like THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS or EAST OF WEST.
IC: What is it about Tomm's style that made you think he'd be perfect for this book?
HICKMAN: Oh, I've been a fan of Tomm for quite a while. He doesn't remember this, but I made a total ass of myself geeking out over his pages of The Ride when I first met him about a decade ago, so needless to say, THE BLACK MONDAY MURDERS has been a lot of fun for me. And, stylistically, Tomm's got that scratchy noir thing going on, which is perfect for the story.
He's a lot like Nick Dragotta was before we did EAST OF WEST. Just so good that it's really amazing to me that everyone doesn't already know how great he is.
People are in for a treat.
IC: You've mentioned that this book is "an actual manifestation of how I think a comic should be done." Can you expand on that idea for us? What are you doing differently with the presentation, or is it more of a storytelling thing?
HICKMAN: Well, I want to stress the 'I' part of "how I think comics should be done," but I've had pretty strong opinions on what could be done since my very first book, THE NIGHTLY NEWS. I think there's a sweet spot of delivering information and, more importantly, telling a story, that we don't see enough of.
Now, I've obviously been busy writing a bunch of (maybe too much) stuff since then, but I'm pretty excited that my workload is to a place where I can get back to doing a lot more on the design side. To that end, each issue of THE BLACK MONDAY MURDERS is twenty to thirty pages of comic narrative and twenty to thirty pages of "other stuff" that also serves as a narrative, but in a less linear way. I want to stress that it's not backmatter, or letter columns, or any other manner of commentary on the book you've bought, but actual story. Meaning, more bang for your buck and that you better read it if you don't want to miss something.
Also, it's very cool-looking stuff.
THE BLACK MONDAY MURDERS #1 is available now.