Gutter Magic is a four part miniseries written by Rich Douek and superbly illustrated by Brett Barkley, and set in a world where World War II was fought with magic instead of technology. The comic is a interesting take on a magical fantasy set in an alternate version of our world, and one that we at Graphic Policy have been enjoying quite a bit. Alex had a chat with the comic’s writer Rich Douek about where the idea for the comic came from and, among other things, just how he envisioned a certain page in the script.
Graphic Policy: Firstly, thank you very much for your time. The first issue of Gutter Magic is fantastic; where did the inspiration strike you for the series?
Rich Douek: I’ve been a longtime fan of fantasy in all it’s forms, and I wanted to write your typical “fantasy epic”, but I think one of the problems I was running into was not having things ring true in terms of the emotional content, and issues I wanted to address within that context – so I decided to look at what it would be like telling the tale someplace closer to home, like New York, where I’ve lived my whole life. I don’t know exactly when or where it happened, but I got that picture in my head, of the building split in two and hovering in the air, and things just started clicking from there.
GP: In terms of setting the story in New York, what made you decide to set the tale in an alternate history, which personally I think is a great choice, as opposed to “our” world with magic elements?
RD: One of the reasons I set the story in NYC is because it’s my hometown. I know it’s not exactly virgin territory when it comes to comic settings, but it’s in my bones, so to speak.
The reason I went with an alternate history is because I wanted magic out in the open, an everyday fact of life. A lot of urban fantasy has it all going on secretly, and I do love stories like that, but I wanted to do something different. And I wanted a reason for it all to be out in the open – so looking back through history I thought WWII would make a great incident, so to speak, to allow magic to come to the forefront and create a very different world from the one we live in.
GP: One of the things I enjoyed about the first issue is that the world already feels pretty fleshed out, even if the audience may not know too much about the world (yet). You must have delved into the world building in planning the series, do you have any plans of a prequel type story based around the war (or is there more to come on that in the following three issues)?
RD: Thanks! Fleshing the world out was a huge part of the way I approached the series both in writing and talking to the rest of the creative team. I joke around that it was kind of like writing a D&D sourcebook or something – but all that work really shows through with the way Brett rendered the world – we wanted it to feel huge, immensely detailed, and fully formed – like you could pick a random background character and follow them on their own adventure.
In terms of further stories fleshing out the background, yes, there is quite a bit that gets revealed in this series, and plenty more for potential future series – a prequel set in World War 2 is something we were definitely considering – but any and all of that will come out down the road. It was a choice of mine, not to reveal everything about why things are the way they are all up front – it’s something I’d like to reveal bit by bit as I work on stories set within the world – I’m not a huge fan of info-dump expositions that just lay it all out there. I try to instill a sense of discovery, of this wonderful world unfolding as you delve into it.
GP: I think the sense of discovery you mentioned is definitely a strong point here. Obviously we’ve only read the first issue so far, and so you may not want to answer this, but with any potential sequel or prequel, are there plans to follow a back ground character around in place of Cinder and Blacktooth?
RD: Well, one of the things that has been so amazing for me during the writing process is finding all these characters and plot threads I want to explore. I can’t promise that anything is in the works right now, but no matter what happens with the book’s release, this is a world I want to tell stories in for a long, long time.
And there are plenty of background characters, both from the past and present who I want to expand on and illuminate – and while talking about spinoff a might be a little premature, the material is definitely there to work with.
GP: Cinder looks like he’s a lot of fun to write, reminding me in a couple of ways of the guy that shot first in certain movie.
RD: He’s a blast, and definitely inspired partly by a certain scruffy looking nerf herder. I’ve drawn my influences from a lot of different corners of geekdom, and Cinder sits squarely in the court of (hopefully) likable scoundrel. Blacktooth is a blast, too, and one of my favorite parts of writing Gutter Magic is the banter between them, and showing these two very good friends snark on each other constantly.
GP: The brilliant market chase double spread that Brett Barkley drew; I have to ask – just how did you describe that to him?
RD: Haha, that’s actually a funny story – the first line of my panel description in the script was: “OK. Time for something crazy.” I tried to describe what I was picturing, as sort of an MC Escher painting, ending the description with “Do 1 panel, do 100 panels, just go nuts and have fun with it.”.
Ultimately, I knew that I couldn’t be too prescriptive with it, or it could easily wind up looking disjointed or stiff. I wanted Brett to really cut loose with his imagination – so we discussed it several times over email, going over different possibilities, and having a couple of false starts – but he sent me a layout he was really happy with, and I agreed that he should run with it – and it paid off, because it’s one of the things people consistently point out as a great part of the book.
GP: Finally, one last question; aliens, pirates, cowboys or ninjas?
RD: Gotta go with the pirate life, because, let’s face it, pirates know how to party. Still, though, not a huge fan of the whole Pirates of the Carribean thing, so let’s say SPACE PIRATES!
GP: Again, I really appreciate your time!
RD: My pleasure!
Gutter Magic #1 was released on the 14th of January. I urge you to check it out, because on top of it being a great read you need to see the double page spread we were talking about earlier. You can find the comic in your local comic shop or on ComiXology here.