The following is an interview with Helen Mullane regarding the recent release of her graphic novel, Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, from publisher Humanoids. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Mullane about the inspiration behind this story, her shared creative process with artists Dom Reardon and Matthew Dow Smith and colorist Lee Loughridge, the impact that the story may have with readers, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recently released graphic novel, Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, through Humanoids! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Helen Mullane: Thanks! It’s so exciting to see this book actually out in the world.
The book tells the story of a teenager called Nissy who’s spending the summer (under duress!) in the countryside with her mum and brother. She meets this hot older guy and becomes a bit obsessed with him. But there’s more to him and to her than first meets the eye. From this rather mundane tale of a teenage crush, we jump off to a world of primal myth and magic.
I was initially inspired to tell this story when I watched the 1970s TV adaptation of The Owl Service, this really creepy kids’ book from the ’70s, weighty with myth and burgeoning sexuality. It was so challenging and epic and romantic but also scary, and I really wanted to explore that intense teen experience. I originally conceived of Nicnevin as a TV show in the same vein, and it was Dom who suggested I write it as a comic, which I did and the rest is history!
BD: The graphic novel deftly combines the fantastical elements of mystery and black magic with the more grounded depictions of family dysfunction. What can you share with us about your creative process in weaving these narratives together, and what have been some of your creative influences?
HM: My creative influences for this book could fill a book of their own! My original elevator pitch was “Fish Tank meets Children of the Stones.” I was just as inspired by kitchen sink drama like Ken Loach’s masterful Poor Cow as by fantastical folk horror like Penda’s Fen and The Wicker Man.
I love art that explores deeply personal stories, those brief moments in time where our personalities are either built or parts of us are destroyed forever. I think that even if the event or moment is not the same, that concept is universal.
I am a big plotter and planner when it comes to writing. So, to bring these concepts together, I drew up really detailed timelines for different strands of the story and bullet pointed the entire story from each character’s perspective. Sounds pretty labour intensive, but it meant that when I actually sat down to write the script, I could really inhabit each part of the story.
BD: How would you describe your shared creative process in collaborating with artists Dom Reardon and Matthew Dow Smith and colorist Lee Loughridge?
HM: It was incredible, having never seen this process before, to get the opportunity to see comic creation play out with so many masters of the craft on board. Dom and Matthew took my scripts, funneled them through their own creative brains, and brought things to the page beyond what I imagined. I already knew that Dom was a big fan of the folksy and wyrd, but I was delighted to find out that Matthew also loves folk horror and has a deep knowledge of the genre! It’s been really wonderful collaborating with creators who are as passionate about nailing that tone as I am, and instinctively understand how to evoke a very particular sort of eeriness.
Then, Lee did exactly the same thing, delivering page after page of these rich, muted tones. He was instrumental in selling the dichotomy of the mundane and magical.
Rob Jones’ expressive lettering really brought out all these different voices, bringing a new layer of life and meaning to everything. It was magical watching it all unfold.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Nissy’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
HM: I hope Nissy’s story will impact readers, because it’s a very personal one that feels very true to me. She is the kind of teenager that I was and who I know; she is rebellious and independent and has her own inner life, her own path to walk.
In a wider sense, I think that representation matters, and, of course, that first and foremost means representation among creators and visibility for creators of colour and queer creators, but it also means changing the default for key characters. Nissy is a middle class black woman who comes from relative privilege but still isn’t immune from being considered out of place in this remote village, even though – as we find out in the story – her connection to this land is even deeper and more ancient than she could have imagined.
BD: What makes Humanoids the perfect home for Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen?
HM: The amazing thing about working with Humanoids is that they really got what we were trying to achieve with this book. They have a European sensibility that allowed us to not be too action oriented and let the story breathe. They were behind us every step of the way, even when the book moved into difficult territory with its portrayal of teen desire – there was no aspect of the book they shied away from, and I’m so grateful for that.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
HM: For the moment, I’m staying laser focused on Nicnevin, to do whatever I can to give the book the best chance to succeed. Comic-wise, I do have a couple of pitches out in the comic book ether, more weird and wonderful stories I’m really passionate about – they’re in the early stages, so there’s nothing I can talk about just yet. I’m working on a short animated film set in Ireland with a good friend of mine. Hopefully, that’s something i’ll be able to talk more about soon.
The best way to keep up with new projects as they happen is by following me on Twitter, @supermegabot.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen?
HM: You can find out more about the book on Humanoid’s website.