The Discipline: Fernandez & Milligan Take Us To Dark Places [Interview]
March 2, 2016
IMAGE COMICS: After an otherworldly opening, THE DISCIPLINE settles into something we can recognize as real life—human problems, like shabby love lives—before amping up the weird again. How do you see or describe this series in terms of mood or genre?
PETER MILLIGAN: In a story like this, where a character is going to be dragged into some weird and dark places, it's important that we have a solid grounding in reality, that we see the place where she starts from so we can appreciate the weirdness and difference of the world she begins to occupy.
In the case of Melissa (our hero) it goes even deeper than this. I wanted to show the working class background she comes from and how different this is from the wealthy life she now leads. So straight away we see that this is a woman who is used to changing realities. Here is someone who can be, in a sense, a chameleon. It's this ability to be able to adapt to new realities that both allows Melissa to cope with what's going to happen to her—but is also one of the things that the people who are watching her find attractive about her.
As the story progresses, we'll continue to have this interplay between what you might call the normal and abnormal. Melissa continues to have to juggle two very different worlds...but those worlds have become even more shockingly different.
LEANDRO FERNANDEZ: Yeah, Peter described it perfectly. We tell this story that starts in a real world, real problems, real life. The description of the context is very important to set the readers into the situation.
IC: Who is Melissa Drake? How do you see her character at the beginning of the first issue?
PM: I've gone into this a bit in the previous answer. Melissa is a working class girl who is bright and is now married to a guy who's pulling in a lot of money in Wall Street.
Her life from the outside seems pretty great, but she has problems at home—a sister who resents her, and a husband who seems too busy for her. Melissa is bored, frustrated, and ready for an adventure. She's ready to surprise herself. But she quickly finds herself getting into something beyond her imagining.
LF: Knowing this, I've felt I had to work on her gestures and acting like if she IS ready for an adventure, but a part of her makes her hesitate at the beginning...she feels the danger of the real life situation that meeting a lover might have, so, in consequence, when she meets the new trouble she's got into, we will face the true side of this character, who is, in fact, a strong one. She's not only a shy, frustrated girl. She will become something else.
IC: You two worked on another project between beginning and ending this one, so clearly there's a connection there. What is it you enjoy most about each other's work?
PM: First of all, and most importantly, Leandro is a great artist. I feel lucky to be working with him again.
He's great on character—which I think is of prime important in comics—and is very intelligent. He asks good questions. And he's usually ready to accept a good answer! We've become friends, which really helps. It means there's that degree of trust.
LF: I feel glad about what Peter said...what could I say about working with him? Besides the obvious of working with a writer who writes such cool books, right now I can say that I really enjoy that. I have fun doing it. We did a single issue for Marvel as our first work together, and I found out at that single moment the way he handles the storytelling is very friendly for the way I see my work has to be done. I have the necessary room to tell the story the best way I can. The situations are clear, so I can focus on doing my job on a clear way too, with freedom and no problems. I have fun drawing his scripts, and I hope it can be seen on the pages. He's a true professional, delivers on time, and we have great contact as we work...this is a book that is being done day-by-day, carefully analyzed all the time by the whole team. And yeah, we became friends. I think that, if a friendship is born after a mutual benefit society, that's a good thing. I have my doubts when the situation is intended to be on the opposite sequence. I avoid that.
IC: The semi-Latin dialogue at the end of the issue is interesting, and changes where I'd assumed the series was going. Can you talk about why you chose to include a narrative device like that, and what you hope it evokes in the reader?
PM: I thought hard about this.
I wanted there to be a real sense of the "other" about this dialogue. Something dated, not of our time. I'm not trying to suggest that this dog Latin is in any way accurate, but what I wanted was a sense of Latin. Something that tells us this is how they're speaking without resorting to that system where you use italics and a note saying it's translated from the Latin. I always find that kind of thing takes me out of the drama.
IC: Your attention to both fashion and acting is front and center in THE DISCIPLINE. On top of that, sometimes you drape someone's face or profile in shadow, obscuring their emotions. How do you decide when to put something on full display and when to pull back?
LF: Well...contradictory to what you say, I think silhouettes are very moving. It's true, the faces are obscured, and we don't have a clear view of their emotions, their expressions. But this moves the storytelling into the right context: when we follow the story, we might understand what or how the character feels, and the silhouette might suggest it without necessarily showing it.
My point is, when we "complete" what we don't clearly see with our imagination, we will see it anyway, with an even bigger strength. It's a resource I like to use in storytelling, making the reader complete what isn't shown completely.
Sometimes it's better to hide than to show.
On the other side, I find the silhouettes very strong. I use them many times and I think they are very powerful, and above all very emotional.
IC: The cover design for THE DISCIPLINE is cool, with one dominant color and a black background giving the covers a cohesive feel. How do you approach creating covers? Do you prefer them to depict specific scenes from the comic, or something more moody and general?
LF: I used to plan the covers to tell something we will find inside the book. When I was only a reader, I liked that fact, because I had a glimpse of what the book had inside. But after the years I have spent working on this, and the natural evolution of comics and entertainment, the way images work have changed in that way. The audience expects something different from that side. It's natural we will see images that tell us something about the story, give us some concept of it, but not a finished piece, an exact moment of the story. It can be a comic, or even a movie poster or a tv series promotional shot. The challenge for these new images we are creating is to tell the general idea of what the book is about. It's interesting, I find it like a different side of the storytelling.
IC: Examinations of sex and sexuality have been a running theme throughout your career, never tackled the same way twice. It's a broad question, but bear with me: what continues to fascinate you about the subject?
PM: What continues to fascinate me is, I think, that as well as being one of the prime movers—consciously or unconsciously—for so much of what happens, sex or the pursuit of sex is about as varied and different as there are people. That is, each and every one of us contains a sexual universe that is slightly different from every other sexual universe. It's a drive that reveals character and character flaws.