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“People who read the book, it’ll take the top of their heads off” Kieron Gillen sounds off on ‘Once and Future’

‘Once and Future is better than anything Marvel or DC is putting out.’

BOOM! Studios is on a roll these days with excellent sci-fi and fantasy series, and August 14th will come at fans hard with a brand new series to watch out for. Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora are joining forces for Once and Future, a new action-fantasy series Gillen dubs a “pop thrill book.” The series will feature a unique character dynamic between an ex-monster hunter named Bridgette and her twenty-something grandson Duncan on an adventure which weaves in Arthurian myth. Check out the full synopsis below:

When a group of Nationalists use an ancient artifact to bring a villain from Arthurian myth back from the dead to gain power, ex-monster hunter Bridgette McGuire pulls her unsuspecting grandson Duncan, a museum curator, into a world of magic and mysticism to defeat a legendary threat. Now the two must navigate the complicated history of the McGuire family and combat the deadly secrets of England’s past that threaten its very¬†future.

I was lucky enough to talk to Gillen about the series at San Diego Comic-Con where we discussed the series’ inspirations, how it fits in with his current work, working with artist Dan Mora, and so much more!

AiPT!: So Once and Future, how long has this has been percolating for you?

Kieron Gillen: It was an idea I’ve had since maybe the early 2010s. When BOOM! came to me, I was like, “Okay, here’s an idea I’ve had for a while and I think it’s quite timely — let’s develop this now. Like the idea, I didn’t have the leads, for example, like Bridgette and Duncan kind of came from a different place. I want to have heroes going into this adventure. Who are the heroes? When I get ideas it’s often quite like that. I get a big setting and the story is about this, this, and this. It’s very rarely, “This story is about a young girl who goes forth and discovers something.” It’s a device, like “comparing teenage life to midlife crisis” book about their adult realities and teenage fantasies comparing them. That’s before I have any characters. The characters arrive quite quickly after that but it’s still kind of the core concept of “this is the device.” Trying to find a way to make the questionable core of the adventure fiction genre work in 2019. Kind of like, how would you do The Mummy? Which is a bit weird now.

AiPT!: I mean, you look at your career and you’ve written this you’ve written that, but have you written something like this before? You’re sort of taking everything you’ve done and learned and turning it into something else. What is this for you?

KG: It’s definitely me working a way to make classic adventure fiction. The Mummy is the best reference. That whole genre of these are adventurers and investigators and they’re going to go and look into something. That’s kind of like my take on that. So it’s all based on the folklore, primarily Arthurian. If we do a second book we might go a bit wider but it’s primarily Arthurian folklore.

AiPT!: Did you do research?

KG: My primary objective was it wasn’t going to be like Die. I wanted this to be lighter. In my head actually, probably the thing that it’s closest to is [Doctor] Aphra. Doc Aphra is the adventure fiction in Star Wars. Well, this is like adventure fiction with a very different source fiction we’re exploring and also with very different leads. I would imagine Bridgette and Aphra would probably get along — they are two quite acerbic and interesting women.

AiPT!: Are they both archeologists, then?

KG: It’s the right word for Aphra, but the wrong word for Bridgette. Bridgette is a monster hunter. Or a retired monster hunter. Her grandson who she raised knows nothing about it. She’s never ever told him, for reasons we’ll get into. But mainly because, “Why would I scare you?” Does it really help to know that there are monsters out there?

AiPT!: Did this come from your personal life?

KG: That kind of comes from my female relationships that I’ve never actually written about. I was quite close to my granny who lived around the corner. I find myself thinking, “That’s a relationship I don’t see in fiction very often.” Let’s try to use that to drive that story. The easiest way to talk about it is brawn vs. brains. Bridgette leans the brawn — physically, she has limitations since she’s much older, but she knows stuff. And Duncan is academic. He’s a smart guy, he just doesn’t know anything about this. He’s also a sweet person and Bridgette’s not. Bridgette’s like the iron fist and he’s like, “No for God’s sake Gran, you can’t do that!” There is real wonderful energy between them.

AiPT!: What’s your favorite part of the series?

KG: My favorite bit of energy is always Bridgette saying something and being absolutely unflappable and Duncan kind of just going, “ohhh!” Imagine me doing a Wile E. Coyote face. This is really a deep dive into Arthurian myth. Always, there is too much research. There is less than Die, but I’ve been very interested in how myths have changed in different periods, what they are about, and how they’ve responded. How people have chosen to write and rewrite the myths. The thing is I’ve left so much on the table.

AiPT!: It’s only six issues, right?

KG: Exactly, yes. Hellboy is probably a good metaphor as well. You know I mean people investigating monster stuff.

AiPT!: When it comes to the monsters are they from myth or did you create them?

KG: Mostly they are me riffing on myth. I mean, Merlin isn’t in it, you know. I’ve left Merlin lying on the table. Lancelot is not in it, Guinevere is not in it. There are a lot of A-List Arthurian characters I have not touched. And there’s like, some B and C list I’ve got in because people won’t know who they are. It’s quite fun dropping the Questing Beast. It’s something some people will know, but not something people will know-know.

AiPT!: It’s a deep cut for those who are really paying attention.

KG: Exactly. The Questing Beast is basically this weird animal that has a snake for a head and a body. It’s got a belly full of like, yapping dogs. It’s in The Sword and the Stone, so it is around. It’s actually a pretty good pun of the questing beast is a beast that basically people get obsessed with hunting down. It is the Questing Beast, so it’s literally someone’s mission to get the Questing Beast. When dogs are used to chase down animals, it’s called questing. So when a dog goes on the hunt and that’s why it’s got a belly full of dogs — “a questing” quote-unquote. It’s a pretty good pun. You know, it’s functional. That’s a weird idea; imagine taking that seriously for a second. So he turns up in the first issue.

AiPT!: Where does this book stand amongst your other current work?

KG: Typically for my stuff, we start by saying, “Okay, this is what we’re doing” and we go for it. [Here] we have one major twist. We see the characters, we see the chaos first thing. This is like the missing bit of my work this year. Wicked [+Divine] is ending, which is the end of this big long thing. Die is this big, intense, and bleak as all hell book. Peter Cannon was this pretty small deconstructionist but playful book, and this is basically the pure pop thrill book. And yeah, it kind of has got the usual level of over-the-top research.

AiPT!: You’re scratching different itches.

KG: I get bored very easily. So I want to do a book, because I’ve never done a work for hire book, which feels like Aphra or Avengers or any of those books people enjoy and I enjoy writing. This is a pop horror adventure book with some really creepy imagery. But at the same time, this is so much like the actual movie on paper sort of setup. And I think people will like it a lot. And Dan [Mora] is killing it.

AiPT!: How has it been working with Dan Mora? Have you approached the project any differently with your scripting?

KG: You’re always trying to find it right for the artist. Always. With Dan, he’s somebody who I try to get the panel count down. I try to leave space to add panels, because he will. I leave lots of space for his action sequences to breathe because he likes to use space and scale. Also, I knew that he wanted to do a horror comic. He wanted to scratch the horror itch a bit more so that these set pieces where we lean hard into the horror imagery, and then we pull back to do the comedy. He’s really good at light stuff. This book looks like a cutting-edge action comic.

My favorite thing about comics is that basically, comics is a real equal playing field to get an artist and a writer, or an artist by themselves really, and then 22 pages later it doesn’t matter if you’re from Marvel or DC or anyone else — you’re all basically doing the same thing. For me, Once and Future is better than anything Marvel or DC is putting out and it’s doing a similar sort of thing because this is a fun action comic. But with totally new characters with a strong mythic bent. I quite like you can do something that is utterly mainstream but with the volume turned up and the freedom that you allowed to do from a clean start. Dan is a mainstream pop phenomenon. People who read the book, it’ll take the top of their heads off.

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