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Between the Panels: Writer Emmett Nahil on Magneto Love, Narrative as Living Document, and Being “the Artistic Kid”

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

If one were to check in at different points on Emmett Nahil’s creative journey, the end goal might have been artist or novelist or editor or game developer or comic writer. While one of those fell by the wayside (Keep reading.), Emmett has combined his skills in the other areas to establish a multidisciplinary track record on the way to his debut graphic novel coming just over the horizon.

First, the particulars…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Writer
Your home base: A haunted town north of Boston.
Social Media
Instagram: @_emnays
Twitter: @_emnays

Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: For someone like yourself who’s written in other media, what attracts you to making comics?

Emmett Nahil: I think the accessible nature of comics is really seductive. There’s something about pictures that make the words go down easier. You can tell deceptively subversive or complex stories if you pair it with interesting enough visuals, and they’re usually fairly cheap to purchase or read online, which is like catnip to someone like me who really enjoys getting my work out to as many people as possible. Plus, I’m a social creature, and I like working with my friends.
KS: If we flipped through teenage Emmett’s comic collection, what kinds of books would we see?

EN: Lots of Hellboy and B.P.R.D.! Nothing has changed on that count. Also, many volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist, Sandman, Bleach, Death Note, Shaman King, and Akira. Shamefully, I didn’t really get into indie comics until I was older.

KS: Did you have an easy channel to get your comics back then?

EN: I had pretty easy access to comics! I lived near a Barnes & Noble, and Newbury Comics is a New England institution for all kinds of comics. I definitely spent a lot of time there. 
KS: Is there a particular story that really stuck with you from a young age?

EN: My dad was a big comics reader, and I would paw through a lot of his old of X-Men, Iron Man, and Spider-Man comics when I was a kid — I always loved Magneto best. But the first story that really impacted me was Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

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KS: Why was that the right story for you at the time?

EN: Specifically when it comes to the confluence of Magneto-centric X-Men issues and Persepolis, I think they’re both stories of rebellion, weirdly enough. Obviously in vastly different contexts and utilizing distinct artistic histories, but I think the one-two punch of 1. a young brown woman rebelling against dictatorship and intellectual stigma and 2. what is, functionally, a thematically queer text centering a Jewish antagonist/sometimes hero being very angry about a lot of stuff really hit teenage me right in the gut. They both address unconventional catharsis, which was and is still a huge theme in my work.

KS: Sounds like your dad expanded your comic horizons significantly.

EN: Yes, definitely. He’d let me and my sister go through his old boxes of back issues from the ‘80s. He writes casually, and my mom is a big reader generally, not just of comics.

KS: What did your artistic life look like growing up? How early were you dabbling in writing?

EN: I was an imaginative kid, and for a long time I thought I really wanted to be a visual artist, so writing came after that. I was always writing stories and creating characters in middle and high school, but I mostly started writing completed stories in college during NaNoWriMo. I got a lot of positive feedback on my work, and after burning out on art and academia after high school and early college, it seemed like something that would actually bring me joy.

KS: While many kids have artistic hobbies growing up, not as many consider it an actual career path. When, roughly, did that idea develop for you?

EN: To be honest, I actually went to school for studio art before I wrote. Luckily, my parents are wonderful and have always encouraged me in anything I wanted to do, and I was able to pursue illustration and printmaking there before I shifted to writing. 

KS: Looking back, can you see the cause or causes of your burnout on the visual art side?

EN: I had seen myself as “The Artistic Kid” for so long, because it was something I’d shown some aptitude for since I was little, right alongside telling stories, and so it was kind of just accepted that I’d have an art career post-grad. When I realized that that wasn’t what I actually wanted to do in art school, it wasn’t because I didn’t like telling stories with art, it was because I didn’t like the studio setting and the context of art school as a whole. I felt like something wasn’t right. When I shifted over to art history and academia, it was moreso a confluence of classism, racism, and transphobia that made it really difficult to succeed, especially while working at the same time. There’s a huge financial barrier to entry with academia, especially art history, and I wasn’t interested in being in school forever.

KS: What’s the first serious writing project you remember completing? Something that felt like a big deal at the time, whether or not anyone else ever saw it.

EN: My first serious project was a novel, actually! It’s a now-trunked weird western book that I will always think about rewriting, but it was my first book project that I queried to agents.

KS: Is there a specific appeal when you think about diving back into it, that makes it different from your comics and game work? Obviously on a novel, you’re working in a vacuum vs. having collaborators, but as far as the craft goes, what would draw you back to novel writing?

EN: I mean, I still write novels alongside working in comics, so I’m never really out of it — I’ve got two in progress right now! I think the difference now is that I know more about planning books structurally, and I’m more interested in my current projects. Books just feel different from comics to me, and I still don’t know why. Whenever I first think of an idea I immediately get a gut feeling as to if it’s a book or a comic idea, and frankly I have no clue why or how that works. 

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KS: What was the first time you ever got paid for your work?

EN: I first got paid for editorial work. Before I worked on my own projects, I started out doing freelance editing, and so my first paid gig was for my editing on friends’ projects.
KS: Beyond your friends, who knew what you could do, how would projects find their way to you or vice versa?

EN: Via social media! I initially promoted my work via Twitter and still do. Those same friends like to help each other out with promotion, which is a great way to lift each other up.
KS: How did the idea of specifically making comics arrive for you? Given that you dabbled in both art and writing, where did comics enter on that timeline?

EN: As I mentioned, I went to school for illustration and printmaking before I started writing, so I was already interested in visual media and in the fusion of art and narrative. I loved reading comics, and so the option was always in my “creative palette,” so to speak. Once I started writing instead of drawing, I never really saw the point of restricting myself to one medium, since I didn’t really do a degree in creative writing, and I really enjoy collaborating. So, comics were a natural fit in my process.
KS: Thumbs up or down: listening to music or other background noise while you work?

EN: Big old thumbs up. I almost always make different playlists for each project that fit the themes, era, or characters, so it really varies! I definitely need headphones in to get in the zone while writing, and white noise makes me sleepy. My baseline favorites are always Green Lung, Type O Negative, and John Carpenter’s clangier tracks.
KS: Talk about your approach in video game writing in contrast to comic writing. They’re obviously both visual media, but, as a scripter, do you come at the same in any significantly different ways? 

EN: This is something I could go on for ages about, so bear with me. I actually don’t think about games writing the same way as I do comics at all. Obviously, you’re using the same craft fundamentals in both — like plot, scene, worldbuilding, dialogue — and I’d like to think my “voice” carries over, but I go about games writing as a narrative designer and narrative director first, which is my technical title. As much as comics are collaborative, games are doubly so, and while narrative is important, it is also the cheapest thing to change in the design pipeline. I find myself in charge of the story as much as I find myself bending it to the needs and restrictions of my co-workers, which isn’t a problem for me; it’s just a learned intellectual separation you have to make to work in a game studio. In all this, I’m also constantly thinking about gameplay, a short player attention span, and how to make the narrative earn its keep with a very active third party in the player, who is in a lot of ways a co-creator to the game’s story. Whereas in my comic work, I have more room to make “selfish” narrative decisions, if I ask the artist nicely enough. Since the cost of creation is so much smaller with comics, there’s more room to take big swings and to work out a functional middle ground if there’s any conflict with your collaborators. I like to say that writing for games has more in common with writing a screenplay than writing a comic book.

KS: Let me drill down on this a bit. You and whatever comic collaborators answer only to each other, whereas a game has multiple levels of development before it reaches an audience. Because you’re trying to remain conscious of potential players down the line, do you have to “check in” on the narrative along the way?

EN: To be honest, the narrative is a living document, and all changes go through me. It’s not so much checking in with the narrative, because the narrative is designed with player interaction in mind. So, it’s not like the narrative is separate from mechanics or player experience, ever. I help with play testing, management and production, and marketing, so it’s not like I’m ever really checked out of the process.

KS: What’s a hobby of yours totally unrelated to writing or comics? Something you study, practice, collect…

EN: I am a chronic, compulsive movie-watcher. I love going to see a movie more than I love most things, up to and including writing. It’s mega-detrimental, and there’s a tiny theater in my neighborhood that I go to all the time. I also bike everywhere, which is equal parts hobby and necessity, but it does get me out of my own head for a while, which is always good.

KS: To put you on the spot, what’s your record number of theater visits in a month? Or what would qualify as a “busy” moviegoing month for you?

EN: Oh god, I couldn’t tell you exactly, but pre-COVID, I’d usually go once per week? Maybe 2-3 times per week if I’m going with friends who haven’t seen a new release before, or if there’s a lot that I’m interested in. I’m one of those people who doesn’t get decreased value from rewatching movies, so for example, when Mad Max: Fury Road was in theaters, I saw it, like, five or six times. Obviously, I lead a really dull life.
KS: Give some love to a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with admiration.

EN: I am obsessed with Cullen Bunn and all he’s written, but I have a lot of love for his and Tyler Crook’s Harrow County. It’s absolutely masterful and juicy southern gothic, and has everything I love in a horror comic: tension, gore, plucky kids, terrors in the woods! I tell everyone I know to read Harrow County, but I really do revisit that series all the time.
KS: As we wrap up, tell us what you’re working on now and what you’ve got on the way.

EN: Well, my debut graphic novel alongside George Williams, Let Me Out, is slated for a Fall 2023 release with Oni. It’s a Satanic panic, coming-of-age horror about four queer friends teaming up with Satan to defeat the real evil, which is cops. Additionally, Love Shore, Perfect Garbage’s debut video game, is coming out this very fall. On the regular, I’m chef-ing up new things over on my Patreon, where I talk about horror as a genre and make horror stuff. I’m currently working on a possession/aliens serial novel over there.

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Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor



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