The latest project from MTV Comics, Divination, debuts today on MTV Geek -- and we chatted with creators Val Staples and Gina Iorio about the manga-inspired comic!
MTV Geek: Could you guys tell us a little about the main character of the piece—she’s convinced capital “D” Death is after her, right?
Gina Iorio: She's right.
Val Staples: So, it's that simple, huh? Scaring away our readers already?
Iorio: Okay, I want to change my answer. Our main character Ana is surrounded by death and dying. But she doesn't say “I see dead people.”
Staples: We also can't exactly say that Death itself is after her. It's way more complicated than that. But I don't want to give anything away. Death is a theme. And a lot of the characters and associations deal with supernatural elements rooted in themes centered [on] life and death. Demons, angels, zombies, ghosts, reapers...
Staples: No, there's no aliens.
Iorio: There should be.
Staples: I'm considering ignoring Gina at this point.
Iorio: I only said that because you said “zombies.” I hate zombies.
Staples: I should clarify, our zombie isn't a flesh eater. I'm a bit worn out on flesh eaters. We're going back to the pre-Romero age of the zombie. We won't have any rotting corpses that crave brains (sorry, Romero zombie fans). It will all become clear as the story goes on. It's all tied together in a nice package.
Geek: Who are some of the other characters readers should be looking out for in the story?
Staples: Aside from Ana, there's a number of characters that play important roles. Some are there from the start. Some come in as the story goes along. The main two you see right away are Ana's friend Heather and this mysterious man who appears randomly.
Iorio: Chicks like mysterious men. He's one of my favorite characters. I enjoy writing about him because I get to use my history geek knowledge on the Victorian era. I don't think I'm giving away any spoilers by saying this mysterious guy is wearing a Civil War Union Army uniform. The Civil War shaped this particular character and plays an important part in defining who he is and why he is here in this time period.
Staples: I like the zombie.
Iorio: Stop that!
Staples: But you know he's important. Ugh, I hate being so vague. I want to say more but it has to be revealed as you read along.
Geek: During your SDCC panel, Val, you described the story as accessible to anyone. For both of you, what was a particular point of connection for the story?
Iorio: Death. Everyone is affected by it. You can't escape it. I'm fascinated about customs dealing with death. I collect mourning jewelry, I visit graveyards, I take photos of tombstones. I draw from all of this when I work on Divination.
Staples: If you had it your way, you'd probably set up shop in the graveyard. Maybe build a little house there.
Iorio: I DO want a house near a cemetery.
Staples: This is why I don't visit Gina too often. Anyway, for me, there's much more in later chapters of the book that focus on beliefs loosely based on some religious ideals about life and death. As soon as you mention religion, some folks immediately say “uh oh” worried about the direction you might take. But for the story, it's more about drawing from fascinating ideas about what happens when you die.
Iorio: And don't think about the book being just about death. At her core, Ana's a relatively typical teenager. She's dealing with the pressures of school, trying to find love and coping with being a teen in general.
Staples: Definitely. This is the story of a girl who has many of the same problems of any young woman. So imagine how much worse things get when you combine supernatural forces that throw her life into further turmoil.
Geek: What was the actual origin of the story for the two of you?
Iorio: I told Val one day that I wanted to make a comic. He told me to throw out some ideas but he hated them all. I then said I had an idea about reapers stealing souls. He wasn't thrilled with that concept either. But he liked the idea about reapers and then the ball started to roll.
Staples: Gina is simplifying her contribution too much. Her plot was way more robust than that. She has a degree in history and many of her interests were rolled into the story and they came together perfectly. I had an earlier idea that played with some afterlife concepts. We were able to flesh out the story even farther once those were applied.
Geek: Why the decision to go for a manga style with this project? How did you connect with Julia for the series?
Staples: I definitely don't want to call this a manga book. It's manga-influenced. Both Gina and I are a fan of manga and anime. I have always wanted to do a book that could utilize a visual style that took it's tone from manga. And let's face it. Manga is awesome.
Iorio: Plus, I'm a high school librarian. I've seen that a lot of my students read manga. I see how eager they are when new books come into the library. I wanted to tap into that excitement.
Staples: I agree. When looking for artists, we initially tried a few different approaches for the style. They all looked fantastic, but the artists never panned out.
Then the more we thought about it, the more we realized how important it was to have a story that was very accessible to a large audience. Manga is a style that crosses multiple generations with ease. It's also proven to be very versatile in subject matter. Divination does all of that as well, so a style influenced by manga was the logical choice.
At that point, we turned to David Campiti at Glass House Graphics. I've known David for over ten years, and he works with a number of artists from East and Southeast Asia. He suggested a few, but we fell in love with Julia Laud and her studio. We hope she's going to be on the book for a long time to come.
Geek: Could you both walk us through some of the thoughts you had in terms of the designs of the characters and the conversations you had with Julia in building the world of the story?
Iorio: I want to say Gothic. But people get an image in their head when you say that and it's not what I mean. I'm not talking about emo chicks clad in black, moping in corners. That's not who Ana is and that's not what the book is about. When I talk about Gothic, I mean Victorian Gothic. Dark secrets, shadowy images, horror mixed with romance. My students also inspired me. I want Ana to be as real as possible. I want older readers to relive moments they had as teens. And I want teens to relate to Ana because they are going through the same thing or know someone dealing with similar problems.
Staples: Well, you have to admit, some modern Gothic attire themes worked their way into the wardrobe design for Ana.
Iorio: Well, yeah, sorta. For instance, the first dress Ana wears could be construed as Gothic, but we also looked at modern fashion and pulled some of those design elements into what she wore. The idea was for Ana's outfits to be unique to her personality, but not so far out there that she wouldn't fit in with other students.
Staples: Working on Ana and Heather's outfits was fun. Gina did a lot of research into attire and I smiled and watched because I have zero fashion sense. Then we had Steffi Schütze, an illustrator friend of mine, take all of the elements and put them together into cohesive designs.
Iorio: Yeah, Val has no fashion sense.
Staples: What are you talking about? I wear those sweat pants with style!
Staples: The other characters required more historical research. Once again, I got to relax a bit while Gina did a lot of heavy lifting. Then we discussed their designs and turned the visual elements over to Julia who put them together in one final image.
Geek: Beyond anything either of you might have read for Divination, what are some other manga titles you’ve been into lately?
Iorio: I've been reading a manhwa called Bride of the Water God. I've also been enjoying Emma.
Staples: Like many comics, I'm way behind in my reading. Blade of the Immortal and Oh My Goddess still rank high for me. And I'm always going back and re-reading Shirow's classic Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell stories (“Man-Machine Interface” still has my mind racing). Twin Spica and Bunny Drop are probably next on the Val-needs-to-catch-up list.
Geek: Val, you talked a little about getting back into original properties for the first time in a long while. How was that transition for you?
Staples: I'll let you know when I'm writing full time. In all seriousness, it's a bit difficult. When you're working on your own title, you want it to be the best it can be. But I'm also a colorist and that's currently my main source of income. Coloring takes a lot of time each day. Sometimes I'm working seven days a week. It makes it hard to work all day and then find the energy to stay focused on your own project. So Gina's been kicking me in the butt on a regular basis to keep me on track.
Iorio: You deserve it.
Geek: What are some other upcoming projects you’d like to share with our readers?
Iorio: I'm currently working on a young adult historical fiction novel. I'm in the middle of shopping it around to various publishers.
Staples: Coloring and more coloring. I'm working on Suicide Squad at DC and New Mutants at Marvel. I also do various projects at Hasbro. There's a Transformers style guide I'm working on right now. In addition to that, I manage a convention called Power-Con / ThunderCon for He-Man, She-Ra and ThunderCats fans. I wish there were more hours in the day.
Iorio: Staples sounds way more important than I do at this point.
Staples: More tired than important. Go read Divination, folks! I'm exhausting myself for your entertainment!