Predicting a Maximum Hellstorm

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Noted novelist Alexander Irvine makes his Marvel with his reinterpretation of one of comicdom’s famed cult heroes: Daimon Hellstrom, better known as the Son of Satan.  Irivine sat down for a chat about himself and his plans for the character.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Seeing as how you are a known novelist but relatively unknown to the comic book world, how would you introduce yourself to this slightly different literary crowd?  Are there any of your books that you think would be a good place for someone who is not familiar with your writing to start with?  And, what is it about your writing that will lend itself to writing comics in general and the character of Daimon Hellstrom in particular?

ALEXANDER IRVINE: I guess I might introduce myself by way of something a Bangor Daily News reporter said about me not too long ago. According to him, most of my fiction is concerned with people who feel sort of lost within their culture, and are trying to find their way. The fantastic elements of my writing, monsters etc., are a way to amp up the stakes in this kind of story. Plus they're fun; who doesn't love monsters?

Someone who wanted to get a taste of what I'm about could start with either The Narrows or A Scattering of Jades. Both of those books combine secret history, weird conspiracies, various monsters, and ordinary human troubles. Plus they're funny once in a while.

What attracted me to Daimon was the sense I had that his dislocation in the world hadn't really been explored. Here's a guy whose mother is dead, partially because of him, and whose father is probably The Adversary, symbol of all that is wrong with the world. Given those circumstances, how does he figure out the ordinary human dilemmas that keep us all up at night: why am I here, what should I do, can I make a difference, etc.

Whether any of that makes me particularly suited to writing comics, I'm not sure, but I've always wanted to, and I think I can bring a sense of merging the absurd and the ordinary-- not that I'm the first person to do this, but it's something that has always interested me in fiction. The comic-book version of it might be expressed as getting beneath the costume to see what's really ticking there. (Although in Son of Satan, Daimon doesn't wear a costume, so that figure of speech isn't really accurate in this case. Anyway…)

BF: Before moving on with more specific questions about the plot of the book and your plans for the character, I wanted to get a little more detail on your history with comics as both a reader, writer, and educator.  I read somewhere that your fandom with Marvel resided mostly with books like ROM and the Micronauts and not within the main recognized Marvel Universe. 

Is this what made up most of your collection as a youth reader?  Why do you feel that you were a fan of such properties, yet became more of a horror writer?  The other question along these lines is: were you a fan of Daimon Hellstrom at that time?  I've read that your connection to the character started because he was a side character for Dr. Strange (which is a more obvious fan connection considering your writing), but did you collect his stories?

If so, did you have any favorites - stories that you might recommend as the "Essential Hellstorm"?  If not, how much research did you do in terms of getting a feel for the character and how he has been historically presented?

AI: For some reason, the Marvel characters that I really loved were the peripheral misfits on the list of titles. I read Spider-Man, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Thor, the Fantastic Four, and so on, but I was content to check those out at my friend Kevin's house and then get privately obsessive about the Man from Atlantis. Now that I think about it, there's probably a fish-out-of-water aspect common to all of the titles I really connected to as a kid. I didn't really read Son of Satan, although I knew who he was, and I think I once cooked up an idea for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that involved a character fighting for control of Hell.

When Axel and I settled on Hellstrom/storm, I did track down some old issues and do some reading, but the way we were approaching the project didn't demand a great deal of research. As Axel said somewhere else recently, all you need to know to read my story is that the guy is called the Son of Satan.

I got away from comics when I got a little older and found other things to devote my time to: girls, soccer, theater, sort of in that order. Then, in college, when people started raving about titles like Watchmen and Love and Rockets and Cerebus, I started checking out comics again (and this is where I should put in the shout-out to Dave's on the corner of State and William in Ann Arbor).

As far as me being a horror writer, I feel like that label doesn't completely describe what I do. I won an International Horror Guild award for my first novel, A Scattering of Jades, but I never actually felt that it was a horror novel. I don't resent the label, since the literature of horror is varied and interesting, but I don't feel like I'm trying to do the same thing as most of the other writers who share the label. I've written some horror, some fantasy, some science fiction, a couple of mystery stories, and a fair bit of regular old literary stuff.

Bringing this all back around to the question of my comic reading as a kid, I guess I would say that I read *everything* as a kid, and as a result I try to write lots of different things now. What attracts me to the Son of Satan is, again, the fish-out-of-water angle, the question of alienation and seeking. Plus the demons and monsters.

BF: That is pretty interesting with your comic reading history, especially since most characters are considered "fish out of water" anyway and you seemed to migrate to the even more misfit fish.  In terms of not necessarily needing to do a lot of research (and I do agree that the line from Axel Alonso fits the character perfectly), most of the more obscure Marvel characters have a pretty avid fan base; has there been any fear on your part about alienating these fans with a vision of the character they don't agree with?

AI: I think it's inevitable that when you bring a new perspective to a character who has a committed fan base, some of those fans are going to disagree, for the natural reason that they've gotten to know the character in a certain way. I understand their perspective, but having said that, I had a particular idea about the kind of story I wanted to tell with Daimon Hellstrom.

If that story doesn't keep all of the peripheral characters, I think it does keep Daimon's essential nature--and it brings to the forefront some aspect of his character that I think have been waiting to be explored. Long-time Son of Satan fans will find plenty to enjoy in this new take on the character.

BF: I will also assume that this means that you won't be diving too much into his comic history so I'll move onto your thoughts and the creation of this idea.  This series is rather topical in its setting of Post-Katrina New Orleans.

Did you come up with the initial idea first and then add this setting or was this just too much of a good starting point to not use it (not to mention the voodoo and mysticism already associated with the city)?

AI: I had the initial idea a long time ago, and envisioned it as a long short story, maybe a novella. At that point it wasn't set in New Orleans and didn't involve Daimon Hellstrom.  Once Axel and I started kicking around ideas, though, that kernel of story popped back into my head and I thought Daimon was a perfect character to tell it. Using New Orleans as a locale came along right after that. My girlfriend is from New Orleans, so I paid a lot of attention to Katrina, and the city's history of voodoo and debauchery and general weirdness was too good to pass up.

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BF: And how much of a “real world setting” are you going to actually be using?  By that I mean, will Daimon interact with "real" people in the series in order to make a political statement of sorts about what is going on or will he be pulled into the supernatural pretty quickly in order to avoid such a direct statement?

AI: There's plenty of blame to go around for the severity of Katrina's impact on the people of New Orleans. Anything I said in that regard would be superfluous. I have a tendency to use regular places in my fiction (Kentucky and New York in A Scattering of Jades, Detroit in The Narrows, etc.), so my instinct is always to fit in lots of real-world detail. In this case, I shied away from that a little, since the story I wanted to tell had to do with invisible demonic forces operating in the city. It would be kind of silly to write a comic in which Ray Nagin is a demon, so I skipped the whole question in favor of some exploration of how large-scale human misery affects individuals. And if that's too serious, let me remind everyone that there are lots of demons!

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BF: Would you qualify this story as a redemption tale?

AI: I would say that it's a story of a man searching for an identity, a part he can play in the world. By the end of the story, he has found at least part of it, and that gives him the resolve to go on.

BF: The last question I asked you was about whether or not this was a redemption tale.  You mentioned that this was a character searching for his identity and whether or not he would ever find it.  But does the character of Daimon have a real "single identity"?  Being tied into two separate worlds the way he is, is there a sense of duality to the character and is it possible for him to reconcile them?

AI: That’s one of the things he’s trying to work out. In day-to-day life, he’s pretty much a mortal man, by which I mean he lives in the human world, he has human emotions, he drinks coffee and likes to have a beer. But his patrimony is a huge psychological issue, since he knows there’s another part of his being that is usually invisible, and then wham! All of a sudden there are demons everywhere and he’s the only one in a position to do something about it.

So, one way to look at it is that he’s trying to find an identity for himself, and another is that he’s trying to reconcile the two irreconcilable sides of his ancestry and find some balance even if he’s never going to have a single stable identity. Either way, it’s a tricky problem.

BF: What about the choice of artist? Can you discuss the choice of artist for the series? Russ Braun is the artist for this series.  Was he your choice or was that just a match Marvel made?  And how has the "marriage" (for lack of a better term) worked out thus far?  Have you changed the way you approached your scripts once you've seen some of the artwork?

AI: Russ has been terrific (as has the rest of the team). Our marriage is happy, and shows no sign of losing its initial luster. He’s been very rigorous about coming to me with questions when something in the script isn’t clear, which has meant that for both of us, the final product is more like we’d wanted it than might have been the case if we hadn’t talked so much. The learning curve for me here was pretty steep, since I wasn’t used to such a collaborative process, but I think I’m starting to learn how to use it to the advantage of the whole creative team.

BF: And finally, what are your plans for the character?  Will this series setup further adventures?  By the end of the series is it your hope that you have created a new defining series for the character or just started him on the road to discovery?

AI: I think there’s a lot more there that could be explored, and this series will leave a number of questions open—not about the conflict at the center of the story, but about Daimon’s character and his quest. I don’t know whether it will be a new defining series, but I sure hope that it’s one people come away from thinking, yeah, I’d like to see more of that approach. I’m sure I could tell a few more stories about him.

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