Kieron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie Discuss Phonogram 3, The Ludocrats, Wicked + Divine and Revenge Against Sex Criminals

Ludocrats

At Image Expo the comics wonder-duo Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie sat down with the press to discuss the bevy of announcements they made, including Phonogram 3, The Ludocrats, a murderers row of guest-artists on the third arc of The Wicked + The Divine, as well as their plans for revenge against Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky of Sex Criminals.

So, Phonogram 3! Finally!

Jamie McKelvie: Yeah, we were always going to do it at some point, but this was the plan from the beginning of The Wicked + The Divine.

Kieron Gillen: Yeah its weird, originally we were going to do Phonogram 3 instead of the second arc of The Wicked + The Divine, but then we realized we hadn't defined the world enough to bring on guest artists. There was still just so much work to do, so we put it back to the third arc of W+D. Since people are always asking us about it, it was probably worth re-announcing to say, “No, we’re definitely doing it now.”

It’s been written since 2012, the first draft. I’ll be doing the usual re-writes, but it exists. Jamie has it in the calendar and we’ve got it all worked out. It just feels like unfinished business we get to finish.

Is it strange to go back to something you’ve already written?

KG: Maybe? Thing is I’m quite used to re-writing old projects. Going back and seeing what was interesting there. It’s not that old. It’s set in 2009, three years after the end of The Singles Club so the characters have only grown slightly. The idea is that when this one is over you’ll be able to see this all as a weird sort of trilogy. It kind of merges a lot of things in the first two.

Basically its Emily Aster having what Kohl had in the first series which was basically about Kohl hitting 30. This is Emily also hitting 30 but it’ll be different because we never explicitly say that in the book, but its always there in the subtext. Basically, Emily sold her soul for power, and this is when that faustian deal starts to unravel. It’s about a lot of things. It’s main visual motif is 80’s music videos and we kind of reveal who she sold her soul to, the idea of pure image.

That’s actually the first caption of Rue Britannia, so it goes all the way back to the first panel of Phonogram. It’s basically the idea of pure image, and this idea there is this world of music videos that exists behind the screen. A lot of the action is set in this place that's riffing on a lot of stuff from that period, but at the same time its also set in 2009.

JM: Yeah, it always felt unfinished with The Singles Club, and we want to bring the story to the end that it needs to come to.

KG: And everyone asks if we’ll keep doing more Phonogram, but we don’t need to do any more Phonogram. I think we’ve both learned to never say never, but there is no need to do another Phonogram. Especially, if we did do another Phonogram, we wouldn’t do it with these characters. This is the end of them. Yeah, that’s Phonogram 3.

Phonogram 3

The series will run for 6 issues?

KG: Yep, six issues.     

Is it the full Young Avengers/W+D team you two have been working with consistently, with Matt Wilson and Clayton Cowles?

KG: We haven’t asked Clayton, actually.

JM: It’ll definitely be us and Matt. Clayton is a busy man. He’ll continue to letter W+D for the time being.

KG: If Clayton can fit into his schedule, then yes, but we haven’t actually formally asked him yet, which says a lot about how organized we are. [laughs] We’d like him to do it. That would be very nice, Clayton.

JM: Hi Clayton!

So what will be going on with Wicked + The Divine? You guys have guest artists coming in for 6 issues?

JM: Yep, six issues for an arc called Commercial Suicide. 

Is that actually what its called?

KG: Yep, we’re pretty shameless. [laughs].

JM: There will be 5 guest artists, 3 of which we announced today, which is really cool because we’re big fans of all of them.

KG: We wanted to get people we both love as people and as creators. We did that in Young Avengers for the jam issues. We like working with people we like. These are our people. These are people we’d go to the bar with and have a few drinks.

So we’re using Kate Brown... ‘Using.’ Jesus.

JM: And the writer’s mindset comes out! [laughs]

KG: Yes, we actually inject Kate Brown [laughs].

Anyway, we had her on to do Young Avengers #6, and she was one of the first people we wanted to have come on to do issue #12 of W+D. Then we have Stephanie Hans who I worked with on Journey Into Mystery and am also working with on Angela for Marvel. Her issue will probably be Amaterasu. We also have Tula Lotay who is another old friend who I’ve never actually worked with, but we’ve known her from Thought Bubble all these years. After seeing Supreme: Blue Rose I said I would like to have you for an issue. I’ll sneak her away from Warren’s hands.

That’s the plan. The arc is six issues, 5 of guest artists, and one which is conceptually… well, we don’t want to say it yet, but put it this way, if we do it and it works, it will probably be one of the strangest issues to come out in the mainstream. I think that’s fair. I don’t mean that in the way of us showing off, not in hype mode, but in a purely practical way. It will be a fucking weird comic. But if it doesn’t work we won’t do it.

JM: I’ll still be doing the covers, and I may do some back-up pages about a different part of the story, but we’ll see how it works.        

With the The Ludocrats, the way you introduced it, it seems like there are some comedic elements to it. I was wondering what kind of story are you trying to tell with it?

KG: Oh it’s very much a comedy. The first paragraph of the press release is all the facts I’m trying to give, which is the least possible amount of stuff. It’s a very broad-hearted romp. Yes, I’m going to use the word romp. [laughs]

Think Jodorowsky’s Dune but more apeshit and a comedy. It’s like Asterix & Obelix meets The Metabarons but put into a very elevated, very broad, and very warm comedy. It is incredibly violent but in a very loving way. It’ll kill you very tenderly. [laughs]

That’s kind of why I did the ludicrous speech to announce it and I’m doing all this hand waving, to give it the idea of what this is going to feel like. I quite like the plot. There is stuff in there that I’m really very happy with. It’s kind of like The NeverEnding Story in that this is a story about another universe that is completely and utterly about ideas and the ludicrous. The point is to generate ludicrousness. The idea is to experience life at its most extreme and imaginative and joyous. It’s a very classic kids book plot, like The NeverEnding Story, but we do it in a kind of adult way, but without being grim and gritty. It’s about being joyous.

2014 was fucking horrible. It was an awful year for everything. With The Ludocrats I wanted to make something that makes you feel good, while not being patronizing. There are things of incredible joy in the world and that is what this is about. That these are worth fighting for.

Every issue is going to have a fold out cover, because why not? That was David [Lafuente]’s idea and I said, “Yeah why not! That sounds like a fun thing to do.” We’re going to have prose stories at the back and have a letters page in character. We’re looking at getting a board game in there and we’re going to do weird things with house ads.

Looking back, I remember being fundamentally broke, like most people were then. My girlfriend was even more broke at the time and if she got a comic that was all her money. For that comic to be bad made her very angry because this would be the only thing she would enjoy that week, you know? I remember when Nextwave was coming out, and that was a really dark year for me, and every new issue of Nextwave was this thing that I would just cherish. It was one of the few things that made me smile in that period. I want Ludocrats to be that for someone. It’s a big maximalist blast of everything that we love.

I’m co-writing with this guy called Jim Rossignol who I’ve known since 2000. He’s a games designer now and he used to be a journalist, same as me. Ludocrats developed as a writing exercise where we went back and forth with the idea of the Ludocrats and it turned into this enormous story exercise. We cut back a lot of the stuff and then edited that down to the comic.

David Lafuente I’ve known since 2007 when he emailed me out of the blue before The Singles Club came out and said, “We should do some work together.” Of course, you rarely ever hear from an artist who will say, “We should do some work,” and it’s rarely ever someone like David Lafuente [laughs]. We did a three page Phonogram story together but then he went Marvel exclusive and he’s been involved with them ever since, but now he’s free and he dropped me a line to do something and I told him I’ve got this big project I’ve wanted to do for years and you’ve got this incredibly imaginative line. He’s got so much energy and power and he gets the sense of playfulness and also the sense of seriousness. He gets both the Asterix and Obelix, and the Metabarons part of the comparison. It’s really very good to be working with him.

Is there a release date?

KG: No. We’re saying summer, but we basically want to get some issues done. I think it’s going to be five issues, so it’s quite a short statement but we want to get 2 or 3 issues in the can completely before we actually solicit.

For the next arc of W+D, did any of the guest artists have a preference for which Gods they got to draw?

Stephanie Hans

KG: Yes!

JM: Kate Brown was like, [slams fists on table] “INANNA!” [Laughs]

KG: We haven’t decided all of them yet, but I was originally thinking the Baphomet issue for Kate, but she was like, “Fuck off!” [laughs]. But Inanna is definitely for her. I think she would work better with Inanna for a variety of reasons.

The Morrigan and Baphomet issues are about them before they became Gods. It’s my little love letter to being a dodgy teenage goth in a small town with no hope, in a very midlands cheery geek way. A friend of mine once said Morrigan and Baphomet are very much like vampire larping [laughs]. That’s kind of very much where they’re coming from.

JM: Stephanie Hans will be drawing the Amaterasu issue. She did that amazing variant cover of her.

KG: When I saw that I immediately said, “I want to see more of this.”

Your guest appearance in Sex Criminals. When did you find out about it?

JM: When people started tweeting us pictures of the issue. They didn’t tell us before hand. We are currently plotting our revenge.

KG: We shall get vengeance! Yeah, we had no idea. It’s impressive. That pose I actually do a lot.

JM: It was very in-character.

KG: It’s a bit hard to work out how to get revenge because the only thing we could really do is take that character into our book and write them very seriously and dramatically [laughs]. It’s not quite the same.

We just did issue 7, and I wish I had got this idea then because issue 7 is set at a con. We’ve actually got a map of the con with annotations and we made it look like an actual con with what bits go where, and we could have done Chip Con out front, but its far too late. Maybe for the trade!

Will you guys ever do a hardcover for W+D?

KG: No plans. I’d like to do one. It would make sense.

JM: We could do one every couple of years.

KG: I’ve said to Jamie, if we ever do an omnibus, if we get to the end of this, and we do it in a big book, I know what the epigram would be. It’s like Journey Into Mystery. When I did that I knew the end when I started, so I kind of over-wanted to get to it. The idea that you see the higher structure of it all and you know how it all pays off and how it leads there. We know that for W+D.

We’re saying 30-60 issues. My guess is about 40. That’s my ballpark figure. But the end of these fill-in issues will bring us about halfway through. Time goes very quickly. That’s why we’re doing a book about death. [laughs]