Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen is a contemporary folk horror tale rich in atmosphere and feeling.
“Something strange has been unleashed in the north of England. A modern-day druid commits a series of ghastly murders in an attempt to unleash the awesome power of the ancient gods of Great Britain. But all hell really breaks loose when his latest would-be victim, Nicnevin “NISSY” Oswald, turns out to be more than she seems…”
Wyrd Daze presents a preview of the comic and an interview with the author, Helen Mullane.
WRITER – HELEN MULLANE
ARTIST – DOM REARDON
LAYOUTS ARTIST (PGS 69–123) & TITLE PAGE ILLUSTRATION
– MATTHEW DOW SMITH
COVER & PAGE 3 ILLUSTRATION – JOCK
COLOR ARTIST – LEE LOUGHRIDGE
LETTERS – ROBIN JONES
PUBLISHED BY – HUMANOIDS
What drew you to the myths of Nicnevin?
Funnily enough Nicnevin was one of the later elements of the story to fall into place.
Inspired by Jenny Agutter’s character in I Start Counting, and the more modern Fish Tank I started out with the main character, Nissy. I love this idea of a young girl with a crush, who gets drawn into something beyond her ken because of it but who’s not actually particularly interested in the mystery at hand until it hits too close to home. That felt quite real to me.
Then I knew I wanted to set the story in a place that had its own myths and legends to draw from, I was obsessed with Alan Garner as a child and the sense of place in his books is something I really wanted to emulate. So I researched ancient myths from all around the UK until I found these hillforts of Northumberland – Yeavering Bell, Eildon Hill and Traprain Law. There are loads of fascinating theories about what they meant to the ancient Votadini tribes who inhabited that area of the borderlands before the Romans came. From there I researched other local legends and discovered that stories of Nicnevin were extremely potent round that region. I’m very interested in goddesses and creatures who were either demonised or beatified by the early Christians and she has wonderful iconography and unusual powers. So then eventually I settled on that myth!
What were the themes you wanted to explore in this story?
Thematically what I am most interested in this story is isolation, romantic obsession and exploring a young girl coming into her own. A lot of the comic is quite kitchen sinky, I wanted to explore this very real and raw family drama as a mother and daughter continuously misunderstand each other, and are having trouble cementing their relationship or showing love.
The comic has an impressive creative team which includes Dom Reardon, Jock, Matthew Dow Smith and Lee Loughridge – what was it like for you to see your words brought to life by these veteran artists?
It was surreal and beautiful! Jock’s cover is so stunning, he’s truly managed to boil down the essence of the story.
I originally conceived of this story as a kids TV show in the vein of The Owl Service, and it was Dom who suggested I write it as a comic instead. He also loves folk horror and has wanted to draw something like this for a long time. It was wonderful working with someone who gets my references, and with whom I can shorthand Children of the Stones or Hammer’s The Witches. It’s so inspiring seeing your ideas and words reborn through the prism of Dom’s incredible artistic brain. His work enriches the story at every frame and even in the gutters!
Then the story was so deeply enriched by Matthew’s artistry, Lee’s colours, Robin’s letters and Jock’s astounding cover, each new contribution leaving the book better than they found it.
Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen is being released by the legendary publisher Humanoids as part of their H1 shared universe – can you tell us how you became involved in this project?
Dom and I pitched Nicnevin to Humanoids before H1 had been announced. I had chatted to Alex (Humanoids COO) previously through Pat Mills about something totally unrelated and that happily put us high on the slush pile. Alex read my scripts (I had the whole thing written before we ever pitched) and loved Dom’s spec pages and we took it from there!
Will you be returning to the world of Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen?
I would love to! I guess a lot depends on how this book sells. I have a concept which is already baked into the narrative and seeming ephemera of The Bloody Queen which I’d love the chance to explore. My idea is for a series of generational sequels that move through the maternal line. A book about Nissy’s mum at 15 in 1990, then her own mum at the same age. I’m fascinated by how the experiences and traumas of our parents are passed down through the generations, and how Nissy’s experiences as a black woman especially differ from those that came before her.
To what extent does a sense of place affect your writing?
To a huge extent! Atmosphere and location are the starting point for my writing, especially on a book like this where I am trying to evoke something so specific. Preparing to write this comic I immersed myself in music, TV and movies that had the tone I wanted to convey, when I was doing my day job I was listening to Hacker Farm and other atmospheric music, I spent hours looking at and reading about the places I was setting the story – although in the end I took some artistic license to make the story work.
I love to see locations as characters within the story. In this story the countryside is such an important element. It is slowly encroaching on the characters all the time. The bastle and the country pile that key characters live in are full of detail that can tell the reader a lot about their inhabitants.
In what ways can myth and folklore inform our understanding of the world?
Myth and folklore are our most primal ways of understanding the world. I feel like we understand them on the deepest levels, they express something of our collective id. It’s fascinating how folklore changes and how it stays the same from nation to nation, culture to culture. I’m especially fascinated by the ways in which the Christianisation of the western world involved co-opting, criminalising or demonising the myths and religions of the peoples they converted.
You spent some time as a film producer and produced the excellent documentary Future Shock! The story of 2000AD alongside Sean Hogan. Can you tell us about some of your experiences while working on the film?
Yes making that film was a wild ride at times! There were too many memorable moments to count but certainly one of the most stellar was our interview with Pat Mills. The 2000AD founder and storytelling legend was unbelievably generous with his time. The uncut interview was almost 9 hours long! He had so many incredible stories and is such a force of nature – we were all totally hero struck! It was during that interview that not only did we all have a rollicking good time, but we knew that we really had something, this was going to be a fascinating film.
On a personal level I have a couple more standout moments, one was totally bonding with Grant Morrison over a shared love of Alan Garner, Children of the Stones and other classic weird kids horror and fantasy. Then, when the director Paul and I did a roadtrip to interview various legends around the UK, we stayed the night in Jock’s home town and went to the pub (of course). That night I had what turned out to be a fateful conversation with Dom Reardon, in which I outlined my idea for The Bloody Queen and he told me that if I wrote it as a comic instead of a TV series he would draw it.
And the rest, as they say, is history!
What are some of your favourite/most memorable 2000AD stories?
(for me, as well as the classic Dredd and Slaine stories, I have fond memories of John Smith’s Revere with art by Simon Harrison, Dan Abnet’s Durham Red: Scarlet Cantos with art by Mark Harrison, and Alan Grants Anderson: Psi Division – Childhood’s End in Judge Dredd Megazine with art by Kev Walker being a particular highlight).
My absolute favourite 2000AD story is probably The Ballad of Halo Jones, the story touches me deeply and it is a tragedy that it will never be finished. Like you, I also love both Grant and Wagner’s work on various Judge Anderson Psi: Division stories. I’m drawn to stories with female protagonists. Whether they are just living their lives, or trying to comes to terms with trauma, I like to see women’s journeys in sci-fi spaces.
Other favourites are Slaine (of course, so relevant to my interests!), the ultimate Judge Dredd story, America and Nemesis.
I understand that you’re working on your next comic – what is it about and when can we expect it?
I’m pitching out a few stories and the moment, hoping one sticks – I guess that’s the name of the game this early in my comic writing career! I am particularly passionate about an acid-drenched erotic adventure story inspired by Manson, Filmore Posters and The Moody Blues, and a pro-choice bit of southern gothic horror steeped in old school Catholic Mary worship. Both stories are pretty wild and I’m really hoping someone bites!
Are there any current comics that you are particularly enjoying?
Oh hell yeah. We are living through a comics golden age right now, there is so much interesting work out there! Recent favourites include Infidel, The Savage Shores, Pretty Deadly, Friendo, Auteur and My Favourite Thing is Monsters. Some of the many current monthlies I’m loving are Snotgirl, Black Stars Above and Gideon Falls.
Even in the superhero space – a former obsession of mine that I have totally fallen off in recent years, there’s some fascinating work out there. The Martian Manhunter series has been a wonderfully weird and rewarding read, The Vision had such deep pathos, Mister Miracle really pushed the limits of what a superhero comic can be and Ms. Marvel has been quite remarkable for years now.
You currently live in Sweden, training and racing sled dogs with one of Europe’s top mushers Petter Karlsson and his wife Angela. How did you come to embark upon this adventure, and what is it like?
Bizarre though it sounds this is an adventure I kind of fell into. After Futureshock completed, I had a series of things all come together at once that were very exciting but that ultimately left me totally drained. I felt like I needed a bit of a sabbatical before I could move on to the next thing. A year earlier my friend and I had gone on holiday to Norway and had tried dog sledding. I remembered it being just the most fun. So on a total whim I emailed the company I’d toured with if they needed any workers for the remainder of the winter, I had an idea that to toil in the earth was the thing that would bring me back to myself, and to my surprise they said yes! So 2 hours later I got the job offer and 2 weeks later I was in Tromso!
I had no intention of making a career of dog sledding, it was just supposed to be a little adventure to bring the excitement into my life again and shake off the cobwebs. But I soon discovered that I really thrive through physical labour, it’s so good for my spirit and my mind. I love the peace and tranquillity, as well as the toughness of the work. So 3 months turned into 10, then another season and another. Once I discovered the world of competitive dog mushing it was game over! In 2016 I moved to Sweden to work for Petter Karlsson and things really started to get serious. Now I am deeply invested in the world of long distance and my dream is to get to a place where I can have my own competitive team and write comics in a little cabin in the woods and that’s it, I’m done.
You completed the Femundlöpet 400km in 2018 and the 650km in 2019… did you compete this year as well?
That 650 was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. The physical exertion, the sleeplessness… it was savage. But at the same time it was beautiful. Watching the sun rise over the mountains, miles from anyone when you’ve just been teetering on the edge of exhaustion is the type of transcendent experience that lifts the soul. And the dogs! The mutual respect, pride and closeness you share with your team at the end of a race like that truly brings a tear to the eye. That race was recorded by RTE radio for their Documentary on One show, and will hopefully be released in the next couple of months – people can check my twitter if they’re interested in listening when it comes out.
This year I might compete in the Beaver Trap Trail in Sweden in March. A relatively short 250km race. I didn’t want to take on a truly long race with NTBQ coming out in the middle of the season because a race like that really takes over your life.
Is there anything else on the horizon you’d like to tell us about?
Not really! At the moment I’m trying to do whatever I can to make The Bloody Queen a success, and am working hard to get the next thing underway. I’m working on a short film with a good friend of mine, which I am super excited about but can’t really say any more about just now.
Helen Mullane began her career in film distribution, managing the release of major films for the likes of Studio Canal and EOne. Later she produced the feature documentary FUTURESHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD and various shorts such as the multi-award-winning NASTY. Helen currently resides in northern Sweden where she lives with 80 huskies, balancing her time between writing and dog mushing. In NICNEVIN AND THE BLOODY QUEEN, Mullane, acclaimed artists Dom Reardon and Matthew Dow Smith, and celebrated colorist Lee Loughridge have created a haunting and unsettling coming-of-age horror story for our times.