Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen On Music, Their Creative Process, And Playing Favorites

Young Avengers, The Wicked + The Divine, Phonogram— Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen have become household names for most comic book fans.

 Especially us queer comic fans.

So, we were all pretty stoked when they both agreed to do an interview with us!



Panel from The Wicked + The Divine #1



Ian Carlos Crawford: Thank you guys so much for doing this! We’re really excited to have you both featured on Geeks Out. We’re all big fans and the reactions from my fellow bloggers at Geeks Out ranged from thank them from all of us for all their queer characters to ask them why they’re so good? Then make drool noises—so, I guess, my first question is: how does it feel being icons amongst LGBTQ geeks?

Kieron Gillen: Cripes. We'd presume LGBTQ geeks have confused us with someone icon-worthy. Or it's all some plan to trap us in an enormous wicker man and set us on fire. We'd be fine with that, obv.

Jamie McKelvie: I mean, I'd be fine with Kieron being set on fire. I've got responsibilities and a cat to look after. 



 Panel from The Wicked + The Divine #1



ICC: How much say do you, Kieron, get in the character design and how much say do you, Jamie, get in the writing?  

Gillen: The short answer is, it's complicated. I'm hungover, so I'm tempted to leave it at that, but that would be terrible rude.

 The slightly longer answer is that's it's very complicated.

The actual answer is that Jamie and I tend to bounce stuff around. Jamie doesn't really shape the stories, but certainly gets a veto - though veto is overselling it. Jamie calls a "not sure about this" and when I think about it some more, I agree with him. What Jamie gets more of is how the story is told. I write heavy scripts for WicDiv, which would be taken as prescriptive by many artists - but that Jamie and I have a relationship where it's much more a start of a conversation. On Young Avengers, I was writing multiple options for the showpiece sections, and as often as not, Jamie went with something else. In a real way, if you did a MAKING OF of any our books, you'd have to include bits of instant message transcript, fragments of conversations outside pubs, etc. 

On the design side, it's similar. The characters looks come from their characteristics as people. A big part of what we do is how outfits are semiotically loaded. So in my scripts and character descriptions there's a lot about them as people, and Jamie takes that and works out specifics. He follows a lot of fashion, both high and street fashion. A big reason why he lives in London is so that he can see this stuff. 


Panel from The Wicked + The Divine #1



ICC: How much does music influence what you guys do? Do you ever make your playlists before creating you stories or do you always make them after?

Gillen: A bit of column A and a bit of column B. There's whole projects I don't do playlists for, and there's other ones which I have these ornately designed things. Normally it's a case I'll throw a basic playlist together at the start, with songs selected for feeling thematically appropriate, and it'll grow over time. In the case of WicDiv, the songs which were part of my inspiration for the book were first, followed by me adding a bunch of stuff with 1-2-3-4 as a motif in, etc. But it's still growing today. Last I looked it was over 300 songs. I suspect by the time it's over any song I've vaguely liked ever will be on it.

Really, the music is a way of concentrating my thinking or invoking a certain mood. Songs are connected to characters, to story beats, to mood. As I listen to the WicDiv playlist a lot - normally on shuffle, treated like my own personal Tarot - it's a device for thinking about the larger structure of the work.

Jamie looks at me bemused. The most common mistake people make is assuming Jamie likes all the stuff I do. That's just not true. There is a bunch of overlap, but certain key things in Phonogram Jamie has no time for whatsoever.

McKelvie: People yell excitedly at me about The Pipettes, but they're just not my thing. I listen to music constantly when working (and when not working). I can look at an issue and know what soundtracked it. I don't connect it to the work in the way Kieron does, I'm just listening to what I'm into at the time, rather than something to evoke a mood or a character.  



 Panel from The Wicked + The Divine #1



ICC: Would you guys consider doing another run on Young Avengers (the correct answer is “yes”)?

Gillen: We could consider it, yes. And then we'd go "No - we did our take, and rather return to previous work, we're more excited to see what another set of driven, obsessional creators could do with them." I quite like the idea of Young Avengers as a place where creators can go and let rip.

McKelvie: No, we did what we wanted to do with it. We were actually offered the choice to stay on for another 10 issues, but we'd told our story.  


Panel from The Wicked + The Divine #1 



ICC: Tell me a little bit about how you guys came up with The Wicked + The Divine

Gillen: I had the core idea for WicDiv in the week following my Dad's diagnosis of terminal cancer. The book came together across the background of that. I wrote the last pages of Young Avengers the day we buried him. WicDiv is sort of what followed. In a real way, whether we have two years or ten years or seventy years, life is fundamentally very short. Why would anyone choose to spend their time being an artist? That's what sits at the core of WicDiv.

I told Jamie about it about half way through Young Avengers. We were originally planning on doing the third volume of Phonogram after Young Avengers, but I had a realisation that would be a terrible idea. It's both a betrayal of some of the core stuff in Young Avengers (do new stuff! Death to Legacy! Invent the future! Save the world!) and would be missing a huge opportunity to do a book that could reach a lot of people. I suspect if we ever do an omnibus of the whole thing, we'd include the late night scream of a mail I sent Jamie.

(And Fraction too, oddly. I'm not quite sure why.)

From then on it was just a case of us talking over stuff, researching, casting our gods, obsessing over everything, etc. My favourite thing was us starting a style tumblr where we collected visual ideas - http://wicdivstyleblog.tumblr.com/. It was originally called something entirely innocuous. 


 Panel from The Wicked + The Divine #1



ICC: What mainstream book would be you love to do together that you haven’t worked on yet?

Gillen: Heh. Honestly, we don't think about this sort of thing a lot. There's characters we love, but they're not yours, and until someone asks us, that's emotional effort wasted. But it suddenly entertains me to say "Jamie and me doing THE AUTHORITY could be pretty amusing."

McKelvie: What Kieron says. I often get asked "how would you redesign character X?" to which the answer is "I don't know until an editor phones me up and asks me to."  



ICC: In The Wicked + The Divine, you look at young people becoming gods, what do you think you would’ve done at that age if you became a god?

Gillen: Absolutely nothing good.


Panel from The Wicked + The Divine #1 



ICC: Of the characters you’ve created together, who is your favorite?

Gillen: I'd almost rather not risk angering all the other ones when they're not picked. Characters are deeply sulky at times. Oh no. I've become the sort of writer who talks about their characters as people. I'm sure Ellis will head down from Southend to beat me with his cane of death.

 You get to push and pull different parts of you to the fore with different characters. If they're working, that's a magical feeling. LUCIFER is very much the archetypal Kieron Gillen character, so maybe best to say her?

McKelvie: Inanna. *sniff* Poor Inanna.  



 Panel from The Wicked + The Divine #1



ICC: What are some random dream casting you have for character’s you’ve drawn/written?

Gillen: Hah. I'm always crap at this sort of thing. If anyone did Journey Into Mystery or Thor as a movie, I'd love to see Eva Green cast as Hela. 

McKelvie: Again this is the sort of thing I try not to think about. You don't want to get too attached to a particular idea, because if and when an adaptation does get made, it might not be the same as what you had in your head. That said, someone fancast John Boyega as Baal recently, and I'd be into that.  



ICC: And, finally, can the Young Avengers invite me to their next party? 

Gillen: Oh yeah, no worries. You're on the guest list. See you on the speakers at 3am. 

McKelvie: Be warned though, America's on the door and she's very strict about the dress code.  



Panel from The Wicked + The Divine #1 


A special thanks to Kat over at Image Comics for helping to set this up!



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Twitter: @ianxcarlos


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on February 1, 2016

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