We Talk Hexed with Michael Alan Nelson
With a heavy influence on fantasy and horror, Michael Alan Nelson has established himself as a noteworthy comic book writer with such titles as 28 Days Later and Fall of Cthulthu (in addition to a decent amount of superhero stories.) His most recent series is Hexed which details the life of supernatural thief Lucifer. We got a chance to talk with him before the final issue of the series to talk about all things Hexed.
Graphic Policy: There are obviously a lot of entries in both the supernatural genre as well as stories involving thieves, but not very much of the combined together. What gave you the idea for the character and the series?
Michael Alan Nelson: When I first came up with the character of Lucifer for the Fall of Cthulhu series, I knew I wanted her to be a thief. But I also wanted her life as a thief to be something that was born out of necessity. She doesn’t steal because she wants to be rich or sees herself as unable to do anything legitimate. She does so because there were no other options for her survival. So I went about developing her as a character first. After I worked out her backstory as a street kid surviving in a Brazilian favela, I then figured out how that life experience brought her into the whole supernatural world she finds herself in. That’s where the most fun comes in for me as a writer. I love taking seemingly unrelated concepts, ideas, or situations and finding a way to piece them together. With Lucifer, it made perfect sense to me that she would use her exceptional thieving skills to make the world a better place. And since she had to become an expert on all things mystical at an early age, it was fitting she’d choose to operate in that world of magic.
GP: Can you talk about any other inspirations for the main character?
MAN: I certainly can’t speak for all writers, but, I think for most, our characters are all reflections of different aspects of ourselves. Granted, those aspects are magnified to the nth degree, but there always seems to be a little part of the creator in each of these characters. With Lucifer, she’s more the kind of person I wish I was. She’s knowledgeable, capable, takes care of those she cares about most. But she’s still flawed like everyone else. She makes mistakes and quite often her attempts to help makes things worse, not better. But that still doesn’t stop her from trying to make the world better. She has a tenacity I wish I possessed. From day one, the sky opened up and has been raining on her parade ever since, but she still finds a way to smile, crack a joke, have fun. The cruelties of life don’t get her down, they inspire her to do better, to help more. And her brightness of spirit amidst the darkness of the world she inhabits makes her incredibly interesting to me.
GP: It seems often to be the case that a female lead character is more appealing when it comes to tales of the supernatural. Do you think that it is true, and is there a reason for it?
MAN: That’s an interesting question. I wouldn’t say that female protagonists are any more or less appealing in any given genre since that’s pretty subjective. Personally, I prefer female protagonists across the board, regardless of genre or medium. But I can only speak for myself. If you were to look at my bookshelf, you would definitely see my bias toward female leads. But I’d be very curious to see some hard numbers on this subject. Has there been an increase in female protagonists over the last ten years? If so, in which genres? Which mediums? Are there genres or mediums that are getting closer to gender parity? Farther away? Why? It’s a subject worth some serious study.
GP: Supernatural dimensions such as Hell are often confusing with different planes within the planes, and Lucifer in Hexed has had similar issues of jumping between dimensions. What do you do to keep the rules straight and the readers not too confused?
MAN: Any time you create a world with magic and dimensions, you have to be very careful when making the rules. It’s very easy to wave a wand or cast a spell to fix everything. So you have to establish the rules early on so that if you use magic in that way, it doesn’t feel like you’re cheating. With multiple dimensions, it’s key to focus on one particular dimension at a time. With Hexed, there are numerous dimensions and planes of existence, but I try to limit the ones the reader sees to keep things from getting confusing. I also try to make travel to those dimensions difficult and accessible only in certain ways. That helps give each dimension a flavor the reader can identify. Every time we see a dimension, I want it to have a certain look and feel. So even if the reader can’t remember the name of a dimension, she’ll recognize it by its appearance. The reader probably won’t remember The Shade, The Denazian Desert, or Quandrin’s Lair,but she’ll hopefully remember the one with the Sisters of Witchdown, the one with the sand that makes you forget, the one that’s only accessible through a corpse, etc.
GP: It often seems that the idea of the afterlife in comics is based solely off of Judeo-Christian concepts, even though the afterlife is common to most religions. Is there something more captivating about this inspirations about the others? Does the Christian devil make for a better enemy?
MAN: Judeo-Christian theology permeates Western culture. And since most of my readership is in the west, it’s an easy shorthand that I trust most of my readers will immediately understand. But I also mine heavily from the Greek pantheon. I put Old World deities inside a generic framework of Western faith that readers will recognize. Then I just work from there.
As for the devil making a better enemy, I would say yes and no. Most readers probably believe the demon summoned at the end of issue 8 to be THE devil even though I never specifically state that it is. I didn’t want to come out and say that this indeed is the Christian devil because so much baggage comes along with that and could easily derail the story. However, I did want to the creature to have that same level of horror. I wanted readers to see the lengths that Lucifer would go to avenge the death of Val. And for me, it wasn’t the demon that shows how far she was willing to go, but the incantation she used to summon the beast. It’s the Catholic Rite of Exorcism spoken backwards. The idea that Lucifer had that in her head, waiting to use it if need be shows just how gently she’s been moving through the world.
GP: Issue #9 features an interesting cover, as there are typical demons but also a squid like thing that seems more Lovecraftian. Do you have a favorite source or inspiration for horror based monsters?
MAN: That is all Dan Mora. His work on this series has been absolutely stellar and his creature designs are just one example of that. The cover to #9 certainly looks to have some Lovecraftian influence which I think is perfect since Lucifer’s story began in my Fall of Cthulhu series. Dan was able to tap into that while still keeping it firmly rooted in the Hexed universe. It is not possible for me to sing his praises enough.
That said, when I do come up with my own creature descriptions, I often use my nightmares. I’ve always been plagued by horrible dreams ever since I was kid. Sometimes the nightmares are more about what isn’t seen than what is, but occasionally when something does rear its gibbering head, I’ll use that as an inspiration. But I often just let Dan play in the sandbox and let him come up with something ten times better than I could have ever hoped.
GP: Can you give us an idea of what you have planned for the future of this character?
MAN: Well, Lucifer’s story is about to come to a close in issue 12. That’s the final issue of the series. But I can certainly see plenty more stories in the Hexed universe. Whether or not we’ll see any remains to be seen. But at least in this, I was able to tell the story I set out to tell with the very first mini. I couldn’t be happier with the way the series has turned out.