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Róisín Dubh, Demons, and Bicycles: an interview with author Maura McHugh (Part Two)

2011 May 26

Here’s the second part of our interview with author Maura McHugh, whose comic Róisín Dubh – featuring a young Irish suffragette battling dark supernatural forces! – has just hit stores. Read part one here!

black and white preview scan of a page from the comicFor any of our Irish-folklore-unfamiliar readers, “róisín dubh” is gaelic for “dark rose” and the title of a traditional Irish folk song. You’ve studied Anglo-Irish supernatural fiction at university, Abhartach appears in Róisín Dubh and the ghost of Oscar Wilde turns up in your other comics project, Jennifer Wilde. Which other myths or historical figures can we expect to turn up in Róisín Dubh, and do you have any favourite people, legends or mythological monsters from Irish history and folklore?

“Robert Curley at Atomic Diner comics pitched the core idea of Róisín Dubh to me and told me about the existing myth around Abhartach. I did what I always do: research. I thought a great deal about the time period, the story of Abhartach, Róisín herself and her situation.

For me, I need to find what I think of a ‘mythic resonance’ in a story that I’m trying to create. Making a character swing a sword and lop off a head is easy: making a story with horror and fantasy elements feel like it could possibly be real requires that it resemble mythology itself.

So, I went back to my books on Irish mythology – of which I have many – and kept reading until elements connected with what I already had in my head about the story. I added a few Irish gods into the mix, a companion character and a couple of magical items. I widened the canvas. And I gave Róisín a very painful thing to do, which happens in issue 2 and is something that will haunt her forever.

Equally, I thought a lot about Abhartach. I don’t like simplistic villains. I added to his backstory and made him into a person who does unpleasant things, but who has motivations and reasons for his view of the world. Thankfully, Rob was very receptive to me bringing all this to the characters and the story!

I’ve been reading mythological stories from all cultures since childhood. One story that holds a lot of fascination for me is ‘the descent into the underworld’. There is a variation on that in issue 1 of Róisín Dubh – though I’m not always aware of every element like this that I’m tapping into when I write the story. Sometimes it doesn’t become obvious until later.

Ultimately, when writing I try to feed my subconscious to stuffing point with lots of influences and then allow it to serve me up suggestions as I’m going on. I trust it to give me the right element at the right time. Then, some time afterwards, I marvel at how it all came together. That’s when it’s really doing its job.

But I have days when it gives me nothing and I soldier on anyway.”

Creating a comic book in this way, with a separate writer and artist, is a collaborative process, and one that tends to be favoured by most American and European publishers. How did this process work for you, how much input did the artists have, and what was it like seeing your character come to life in their hands?

“The collaborative element is what I enjoy the most. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to see the words I’ve written translated into images. Mostly, it’s better than I hoped. Sometimes we’ll discuss how a certain panel is working and ask for changes.

No one is going to draw the Róisín in my head unless I do – so I have to allow the artists to bring their version of her to the page. A successful comic book collaboration – in my experience – is about respecting the strengths each person brings to the project. The writer understands story dynamics and the artist knows visual storytelling. You have to learn to depend on the other person’s knowledge and experience to guide changes in the comic book.

Also, you have to be open to seeing things from a different perspective, and accepting change. I’m always happy when the artist makes suggestions that are innovative and work better than my original concept. We’re all pulling together for the same goal: to create a comic book people will enjoy.”

cover art for Jennifer Wilde showing a fob watch with the faces of Oscar Wilde and a young woman reflected in itI’ve heard good things about your upcoming comic Jennifer Wilde, and when fantasy author Juliet McKenna recently told me about a charity anthology of flash fiction she was part of, Voices From The Past, I was pleased to see your name on the cover. You’re a busy woman! Why don’t you tell us a bit more about the projects you’re working on at the moment besides Róisín Dubh?

Jennifer Wilde is a fun project. Again, Robert Curley came to me with the core idea, and I went off and did my research – and that was just brilliant. The 1920s was an amazing era of change: social, economic, and cultural. The story is lighter, and more in the detective genre – albeit with a supernatural element. Jennifer is a French artist who – through personal tragedy – becomes embroiled in a mystery that takes her from France, to England and finally to Ireland – all helped by the ghost of Oscar Wilde.

Writing Wilde is the most intimidating aspect of the project. I’ve done a lot of research on him, and he was a brilliant, complex man, but not always wonderful. I try to be respectful of who he was and to bring as much of that to the project as possible.

Most of the art is complete on issue 1, and it should be out in about six weeks. Our artist Stephen Downey has done a fantastic job. I’m currently working on the scripts for issue 2 and 3. Issue 2 of Róisín Dubh is in the editing stage at the moment, so that should be good to go soon enough.

I usually have other projects in the sidelines, in various stages of completion: non-fiction, screenplays short stories, poetry, a novel. I even have an idea for a comic book strip, which I would draw as well as write. These projects go up and down in priority depending on deadlines.

All things going well, I’ll probably write another volume of Róisín Dubh and Jennifer Wilde for Atomic Diner. I’d also like to create and write my own comic book series. I have several stories in development.

As well as this I have my job with the Irish Playwrights’ and Screenwriters’ Guild as their blogger and website-wrangler.

It’s good to be busy!”

  • Maura McHugh is an Irish writer with films, comics and short stories to her name. She blogs at Splinister and you can read her recent guest post for BadRep, in which she recommended us some horror writers, here. Róisín Dubh is published by Atomic Diner and the first issue can be bought online here, or go pester your local comic shop to order copies! Warm thanks to Maura for talking to BadRep.
One Response leave one →
  1. May 27, 2011

    In the last few years I’ve really got into Irish comics, Sancho, Last Bus, mbleh among others, this looks like a really good story. I’ve heard good things about Stephen Kane’s new book too. I don’t know why one of the main print papers don’t take up one of them, Róisín Dubh looks perfect in terms of the characters legend and no doubt sharp writing style

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