POP Comics® Creator Spotlight: Shaun Manning
This week on POP Showcase we're talking to Shaun Manning, writer of Hell, Nebraska.
What would you do if you discovered that Hell did not exist? For one man, the answer is simple: create it. As a monstrous infernal city erupts from the soil of America's heartland, a teenage boy discovers he may have the power to prevent Hell on Earth -- but does he want to?
A dark tale of revenge, justice, forgiveness and the fickleness of humanity, we sat down to talk with Shaun about his experiences as a creator. But first...
Q&A WITH SHAUN MANNING
WHAT ARE YOUR MAIN INFLUENCES WHEN IT COMES TO WRITING?
I take inspiration from everything around me, especially things that seem unusual, or funny, or worth a closer look. Hell, Nebraska was actually the result of my reacting against a DC Comics Spectre story -- while suffering from food poisoning, on my last night in New York before moving away. The first six pages are almost exactly as I imagined them while lying on the floor in my now-empty apartment. :-) So I guess inspiration can take many forms.
WHAT KINDS OF CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE WORKING AS A WRITER COLLABORATING WITH AN ARTIST?
This was my second project with [artist Anna Wieszczyk] (though much of it was originally published before our first book together, Interesting Drug, saw print), and our communication has been good from the start. Even though we're working from different countries -- she is in Poland, and we've never met -- she's done an exceptional job bringing these stories to life, and has responded very well and very quickly during the few times I've had notes.
The main challenge for me were keeping up with the script during original serialization, as she works quite speedily, and then making sure I had the funding to keep going.
WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR HELL, NEBRASKA COME FROM?
Did I mention food poisoning? ;-) No, the main idea was responding to a Spectre story. Quite a while ago, DC Comics did this story arc where Green Lantern Hal Jordan became the Spectre, and instead of being the Spirit of Vengeance he became the Spirit of Redemption. It was really cool! But then several years later they played this line again, and it got me thinking, well, if the Spectre isn't going to be the Spirit of Vengeance, who is?
I consider myself to be pretty far to the left of the political spectrum, I favor significant criminal justice reform and the abolition of the death penalty. But these are real-world concerns and relate at least partially to real-world implementation. Comics occupy a bit of a different space -- all you need to know about Joe Chill is that he killed Batman's parents, you don't really want to get into his backstory. And similarly, I think we recognize that in the real world, evil does often go unpunished, and so we want some fulfillment of retributive justice in our comics. We like the Spectre because he ensures that the bad guys pay the price.
But then I actually got down to writing this and the idea evolved further. Because Abaddon, my devil character, is not actually the devil, just a guy with powers. And this allowed me to work with another long-running fascination of mine, the implications of religion and theology in people's lives. If an ordinary school teacher received the power to damn souls to hell, what would that mean? And what about the power of redemption or forgiveness? And because these characters are humans, and fallible, what if they got it wrong?
HOW HAS THE STORY CHANGED SINCE YOU FIRST CAME UP WITH IT?
The idea to give David a power wasn't in the original concept, but I think it was necessary. Because of the way it was serialized, a lot changed in the telling. I think I had in my head at the start that it would be a bit more gory, but as I wrote it I found that that wasn't what was most interesting about these characters, or at least not what was most interesting to me.
DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER PROJECTS YOU'RE WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?
I have early copies of my new graphic novel with Anna, Macbeth: The Red King, with a wider release coming shortly. If you'll be at Dragon Con over Labor Day weekend, stop by and say hi! Other than that, I'm working with another artist on a superhero story that turns the traditional "legacy" narrative on its head. We'll be shopping that around shortly, I'm really hoping to get it out into the world next year.
I'd also love to do another volume of Hell, Nebraska... We'll see.
FINALLY, ANY ADVICE FOR NEW POP COMICS USERS TO GET STARTED?
Keep posting! Keep your story moving, and don't be afraid to try something new.