Pretty Deadly: Making Sense of Life & Death [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: How do you personally see PRETTY DEADLY? Is it a chance to jam on comics with friends? A storytelling engine that'll let you go anywhere and do anything? Something else entirely?

KELLY SUE DeCONNICK: A lens through which we turn over big questions. Creating a mythology to explain the ways of the world to ourselves.

That makes it sound so heavy, and I suppose it is, but there's a playfulness about the project too. We talk a lot about there being a trickster element to the book itself. It toys with us.

EMMA RÍOS: From the very beginning—after working on more restrained projects—I always considered PRETTY DEADLY as a playground for both of us. A safe zone to hang around and enjoy creating a world, explore concepts we care about, and give life to people while challenging each other to raise our games. It still feels that way.

IC: The prior series incorporated a wide variety of influences, from the work of Meiko Kaji to Sergio Leone. What should readers be looking to in order to gain a greater understanding of this second arc, or at least to see what influenced you to co-create it?

KD: It might be fun to dig around and read up on the Harlem Rattlers—the 369th—as we read a good bit about them to prepare for this arc. (Very little of it makes it to the page, but it was important background for us.)

ER: Besides learning about the 369th, I got rather carried away doing research about The Great War in general. About how the life in the trenches was, or about how people were trying to adjust to the "modern" war concept. During this process I watched several movies; to name a few that would blow anybody away, I'd say All Quiet on the Western Front, Paths of Glory, La Grande Illusion, and Joyeux Noel. Comics related, even if the battlefield was different, I read several war stories by Shigeru Mizuki and, of course, Jacques Tardi. The huge database The Guardian built about The Great War after the anniversary was very useful to me, too.

Besides that, for the more surreal part of our story, I've been literally devouring paintings by Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński and Otto Dix.

IC: What do you two like most about what Jordie Bellaire brings to the project?

KD: Jordie's the spark, man. She lights the whole thing on fire.

I especially love what she's does with the scenes in the World Garden—but it's all lovely. (And there's an effect she uses—something that makes it look like water spilled on the pages in places. I love that. I look for it.)

ER: The way Jordie manages to create atmospheres in this arc is to die for: from the warm and golden Far West to the coldness of the front of the war in France.
We play a lot with different realities in this book, like the garden, the dead, the visions, real moments that look like hallucinations, even more so than the other side...and she always finds a way to emphasize each moment and kill me with every page.

IC: PRETTY DEADLY was often described as a "lyrical western," the kind of setting where hardcore, true-to-life realism wasn't so important as tone or mood. The second arc takes place during World War I, which has more expectations as far as setting goes. Social media shows that you've been researching the Great War. How are you approaching the setting this time?

KD: Very carefully. We really wanted to protect the feeling of "myth space"—that lovely disorienting quality the first arc had. As we move into some historical touchstone events, we didn't want it suddenly to feel as though Ginny walked into a Starbucks. We wanted to preserve the Mythspace feel. So for that reason, we never name the battle, the battlefield, or the 369th, specifically, even though they clearly influenced the book. This isn't a history; it's a fairytale.

IC: How do you describe the second arc of PRETTY DEADLY? The first was undoubtedly a western, but does the inclusion of World War I elements make this one a war comic?

KD: Hm. I guess...? Still feels like a western to me—at least as much as the first arc did. I haven't though about it in terms of genre, oddly enough. It's a book that tries to understand. The first arc tries to understand Death. The second arc tries to understand War.

That sounds so highfalutin. Blargh.

IC: The new PRETTY DEADLY arc moves forward in time to the Great War, a far cry from the dusty wilds of the west. Are you trying new techniques or approaches when it comes to art?

ER: Being our second arc, I feel like I can allow myself to worry less about reactions, so I think I'm experimenting a bit more when it comes to layouts and character development. I'm trying to use our new elements—like the trenches—to look for narrative solutions, and to go weirder when it comes to building the mythic space. I'm playing with making it familiar, somehow, by repeating elements attached, like the trees acting as sky or by using the gas—or smoke—to do the transitions and bring the nightmares from the war itself and the reapers in.

IC: With a time jump comes aged characters placed into new settings. As an artist, what are the main differences between the first and second arcs of PRETTY DEADLY to you? What kind of mood are you trying to express in this second arc?

ER: The world's status quo changes quite a lot from the first arc to the second. Sissy is Death now, and her attitude towards the role makes it definitely differ from what the old Death was doing. Sissy is still a child that suffers doing her work. That makes me feel that it was actually easier for our characters to deal with the former one, being more unlikeable, and what I'm trying to do beyond the regular world building is trying to show this conflict somehow in the new pages. For example, Alice, reaper of Cruelty, changes from looking elegant to looking untidy and homeless-like, and Foxy, who was actually rather lucky in being somehow forgiven, looks a bit younger and definitely more fancy. Their behavior is a bit different too, moreover because they gather in weird pairs that allow me to be more nuanced in thinking of the way they would interact with each other.

I want to be extra careful depicting both settings too: separating the western one, which in this arc is connected with old Sarah and her people, and basically represented by Family and Love instead of Violence like in the first arc, from the horrible battlefield in France. And also creating a similar but different mood trying to make the surreal blend with a reality that looks even harder and deadlier.

PRETTY DEADLY, VOL. 1: THE SHRIKE and PRETTY DEADLY #6 are available now. PRETTY DEADLY #7 arrives 12/23.