Mythic: The Sacred and the Profane [Interview]
January 7, 2016
IMAGE COMICS: MYTHIC is maybe best described as a pantheistic apocalypse tale—everything is real and it's all burning down. What sparked this idea? Did it begin with the idea of supernatural troubleshooters like Mythic, the idea of every faith being valid, or something else entirely?
PHIL HESTER: It began with with the usual "what if there is a kernel of truth to this legend?" thinking comic book writers do at stop lights and in waiting rooms, but took hold in my mind when I began to imagine the chaos of a world where "what if ALL this were true—at the same time?" So, if you have a world where the sun is Helios's chariot, but also Ra's riverboat, how do you keep all that business running smoothly? And, of course, if modern humans were aware of this kind of nuttiness seething below the surface of our mundane world, we'd go crazy, so who manages to smooth the sheets over all the elephant-sized lumps in our bed? I thought there might be a lot of humor to be had from contrasting this anything-can-happen world with the drab realities of work life for the people in charge of maintaining it. Like finding out there are janitors in heaven. From there, staffing this organization with weirdos and misfits is sort of second nature to me—a lot like what I did with GOLLY, another Image book of old.
IC: How did you end up collaborating with John McCrea once again for this tale? What do you like best about John's talents, particularly with what he's doing on MYTHIC?
PH: John's amazing in that he's at a stage in his career when a lot of artists sort of coast on what they've done in the past, revisiting former glory, or at least refining an already established style, but John is finding new levels and new techniques for expressing himself. He's always had that gift for capturing less-than-heroic characterization, but he's now displaying this amazing eye for environment and texture that feels very fresh. As for MYTHIC, I know John likes to draw outrageous creatures and places, and our book has that natural juxtaposition of the incredible and the mundane, both of which John excels at. Also, John's a gifted storyteller, so we work Marvel-style, meaning I give him a run of dialogue and a brief paragraph for each page and let him explore the storytelling opportunities on his own. It's exciting.
IC: You're scripting backup stories for artists like Brian Churilla and Christian DiBari, as well. Why were backup tales the best place for these stories, rather than integrating them directly into the story as flashbacks? Are you going to keep these up for the duration of the series?
PH: That's mostly housekeeping. John's in high demand and has a lot of obligations with companies that pay him a lot of money, so we have to work around his schedule. Rather than just become a very late book, we decided to let him work half-time on a few issues and let guys like Brian, Chris, and PJ Holden take up the slack. But to preserve the integrity of the main story, we thought John should be the only one to draw it, and cooked up these short stories that would both inform the larger saga, but also let us explore fun asides and see the characters at different points in their lives, not to mention drawn in different styles. It was born of necessity, but has turned out pretty rewarding. Brian Churilla's Jesus is my second favorite character in the book.
IC: Dr. Baranski's origin story was fantastic. What can you tell me about how you and John came up with her?
PH: Well, I think everyone at some point in their lives feels like the world—cosmologically—is just nuts. Like they're trapped in a universe that doesn't make a ton of sense. Dr. Baranski is sort of the epitome of someone who possesses an intellect that demands the universe hang on some sort of logical framework, and when she finds this is not true, refuses to let go. I mean, she is a ghost who doesn't believe in ghosts. Sort of the reverse of someone who is so pious they cling to orthodoxy even after it's disproved by fact. Anyway, she's a delightful crank trapped in this miraculous world, and that is fun to write.
IC: The Mythic organization is composed of a mixture of mythological creatures and normal joes. What appeals to you about that mix?
PH: Again, we have that contrast between the truly bizarre and the very average. The fun thing about comics is you can do anything, not only practically/visually, but conceptually. Comics readers are used to characters who can move between planets by clacking wristbands together, so they're more accepting of something like a character with a permanently severed head. So we can take something as fanciful and grandiose as gods and myths, but ground them in humanizing, amusing ways that don't diminish them, but actually make them richer. I mean, finding out Perseus prefers blue Icees over red would make him cooler, right? Seeing the sacred and profane elements side by side is funny, but then, after acclimating, seeing them work together is kind of reassuring.
IC: You guys are playing it pretty fast and loose in terms of faithfulness to the original myths, which has resulted in some pretty great takes on the classics like Jormungandr and Venus. What's your thought process like when you're reinventing myths? How do you pick what to keep, what to discard, and what to poke fun at?
PH: I think that's the beauty of human history. It's such a gigantic, inaccurate mess that you can always just say, "Oh, well, the myth-makers got it wrong." For example, before Marvel decided to make Thor a lady, one of the characters I wanted to introduce was Magni, Thor's son—the strongest of the Norse gods. Only I wanted Magni to be a girl. It was just that the scribes of the Edda couldn't handle the toughest being in existence being a girl, so they made her a boy in all their epic poems. That's our ethos: treat every belief system the way Stan and Jack treated Norse lore. Find out what's cool or funny or awesome, toss what you can't use, and chalk it up to human error.
From MYTHIC #5: