Shortly after the new Buffy the Vampire series landed at Boom! Studios, fans were thrilled to learn that audience-favorite and series spinoff Angel was getting his own storyline from the new home of Sunnydale’s finest. Fans were even more excited to hear that Detective Comics and Witchblade veteran Bryan Edward Hill would be weaving the tale of the monster-turned-do-gooder, telling horror comics stories as he never has before. Monkeys Fighting Robots sat down with Hill to discuss the first collected volume of Angel (out October 1st), and what we heard certainly had us turning on some lights and pulling up some sheets. Just not for the reason you might expect. Read on for all the spookiness Hill had to impart…
Grant DeArmitt for Monkeys Fighting Robots: This is a really deep, thematic comic, and there’s so much to talk about on things like social media and redemption. But first, let’s talk about the mechanics of this book. Can you tell us about bringing Angel to Boom? What was your collaboration like with Buffy writer Jordie Bellaire? How did you build this new mythos?
Bryan Edward Hill: This all happened because my editor, Jeanine Schaefer, reached out and asked if I would be interested in writing Angel. I was glad to receive the email, because no one understands how much I like horror. Most of my work is sci-fi, or action, or thrillers. Plus, I talk about Tom Ford on Twitter all the time. So Nobody knows I’m a huge horror fan too. That’s a shade to my rainbow that I haven’t been able to explore. So Jeanine reached out and we talked through what this book could be, how it could be relevant. She is one of the most warm and genuine people in the business, and I can’t say enough good things about her. Working with her with a book was certainly something I was interested in doing in general. I’m a huge fan of the show too, of Joss [Whedon]’s work. So it was a natural fit.
Now, as to what Jordie’s doing; because these books are a little siloed, at least prior to [upcoming storyline] Hellmouth, I would be aware of what was going on. There was mutual awareness. But it wasn’t like one person gave the other person rules. It was more like, “Oh what’s happening over there? This might give me an opportunity to do this or do that.” So the collaboration has been very smooth and pleasant and I’m really excited about what happens with the books going forward after Hellmouth. That’ll be really exciting for people. It’s been a beautiful process so far.
MFR: That’s awesome to hear that you’re such a huge horror fan. Can you talk about that a little bit? What kind of horror do you like? What are your influences?
BEH: Well, when I was a kid, I saw a ghost in my grandmother’s basement.
MFR: Wait, what?
BEH: Yep. I saw an actual ghost. I walked into this basement, and there is no wind there, but there was a coat that was on a clothesline. It just started swinging. Back and forth back and forth. Like the blade of a fan, or a pendulum. At one point, it swung to the right, and I saw an older white man in formal wear, but formal wear of the day. It was from the 40s, I imagined? It wasn’t aggressive, but he pointed at me and muttered something. Well, I ran out of that basement. I bounded up those stairs. I too maybe two steps of the whole flight to get up there, which was impressive, because I was a pretty chubby kid. I didn’t go back in that basement for years, but it wasn’t the last supernatural experience I had. So that got me interested in exploring those things. From there it was esoteric thought, and studying the different schools around that stuff.
As far as cinema goes, I think The Exorcist was a formative experience for me. I rented it on VHS from a video store that would rent R-rated movies to kids. And at the time I took it home and I watched it, I didn’t know what a subliminal thing was, what a flash frame was. Then there’s that moment in the movie when Damien Karras is having the dream, and that face comes on screen. I thought that was only on my tape. And I’m like, “Oh no there’s a demon in my television; I’m going to die. I rented an R-rated movie and now I am being punished by the universe.”
So when I got the chance to work on Angel, I saw this really great opportunity to bring in Byzantine, almost classical, horror elements. I looked at the work at Mike Mignola on Hellboy, or even his adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. (Which I think is an under-seen masterpiece, it’s incredible.) Being able to do that stuff in comic form, that’s incredibly exciting, especially when I can filter it through a contemporary narrative.
MFR: You talk a lot in this book about evil and its nature. Do your supernatural experiences or interest in the esoteric factor into that? When I was reading this, I got the sense that you were talking about a very modern evil. Namely, bullying on social media. But does that classic, Byzantine idea of evil affect this story?
BEH: One of the things I think about a lot is subjective and objective evil, snd how ethics can shift and change based on how civilization evolves. If we were to go back to ancient Rome, we would find most of what they did to be evil, to be abhorrent. But that was just the way they lived. So there is a subjective definition of evil. But then you wonder: underneath that, are there sentient forces that exist only to destroy? I think that’s been one of the questions that mankind has had ever since the first time the sun went down.
I’ve always felt that what lives in the darkness is what lives inside of ourselves. One of the ways to understand oneself is to understand your own darkness, to confront those aspects of your own nature. Carl Jung talked about it in Psychology and the Occult. When I was growing up, comics were always the place I went to to get discussions about those kinds of broad, almost primal ethics. So when I write books, I tend to write engaging those things. Angel is the story about a character who has been evil. Now he’s trying to be good, but still carrying the memories, and likely some of those desires still.
The question Joss asked when he created Angel, to me, was, “Can a monster be a hero?” I think that’s still relevant question for the day. Is redemption possible? Do you deserve redemption in the face of the things you’ve done before? That’s an ongoing discussion in popular culture right now.
As far as social media goes, I’m very concerned. I’m concerned about what it does to people’s self-esteem. I’m concerned about how it exposes us to so many opinions. We might not be biologically engineered to engage with that many people at a time. I’m concerned with how it forces us to demonstrate our lives to others. It’s performative living. It can be very difficult on a soul.
So I wanted to explore that and ask the question: is there something truly Insidious at play there? If it’s not the cause of it, is it taking advantage of its existence? You can look at social media as its own hive mind, as its own kind of global consciousness. And if it is a global consciousness, what lives in that global subconscious? That seems like a good way to approach a narrative.
MFR: This theme of redemption comes up a lot in your book. Do you think the character of Angel believes that he can be redeemed?
BEH: You know, I think he believes he should try to redeem himself. What makes him heroic is that separation from what I deserve and what I must do. I don’t think Angel is a person that sits and thinks very much about what he deserves. That to me is the essence of heroism. It’s not doing something so that it will change someone’s perception of you. It’s doing something because you know it must be done. I’ve always been attracted to those characters. It’s what drives me to Batman. It’s the idea of becoming a thing, and saying “I might be judged because of the thing I become, but I must.. Because that’s more important than my desire at the moment.” That’s what I’ve kind of always been drawn to with Angel as a character.
I personally believe in redemption. I think when you have a society that will not allow redemption and rehabilitation, then you have a society based on punishment. And if you remove hope from the punished, then you have to make sure that the punished can no longer affect you, which is very difficult to do. Or, you’re going to get people who just never want to be better. If you tell people you can never be better, you can never be redeemed, then why are they going to try to be better? I think it’s incredibly dangerous to remove the concept of rehabilitation and redemption from the world. I’m not saying it should be easy. There should always be a price. But hopefully we can evolve into a society that seeks to do more than punish.
MFR: Returning to the story, you created an awesome new character, a new addition to the Boom Angel universe, and that’s Lilltih. Can you tell us a little bit about who she is and what went into creating her?
BEH: Well, I didn’t create her. Lilith has existed in mythology and religion and esoteric thought far, far before I ever existed. And if I were to say I created her, she might be very angry. (Laughs) but I did decide to incorporate her into the story, at least, a version of her as I understood her. Mainly because I wanted to bring in an ancient archetype into this world. It was really about making [Angel] feel a bit more epic, like a story that has spanned time and space. Having a character that can represent that helps facilitate that feeling in the book.
I’m also interested in her divine archetype: feminine power without regret. Certain cultures and viewpoints demonize her because she simply wanted to be equal to Adam. Other cultures have seen her as the catalyst for not only the empowerment of women, but for the empowerment of anyone who wants to live at the beat of their own drum. Angel is a character that is somewhat of an outcast, by his own choices and the world in which he lives. Lilith has always been symbolic of an esoteric idea about the value of being an outcast. Having this rebellious ancient spirit that is leading this group of vampires and people and other things towards a better end, I thought, would be really cool. And any time I can put a really cool female character into something, I’m certainly going to do that. I grew up with a single mom and, in a lot of ways, my work is always kind of a testament to her and her strength and what was required of her to raise me. That’s how the Night Mother wound up in the story.
MFR: Along with introducing Lillith into the story, you reinvent two very popular Angel characters: Charles Gunn and Fred Burkle. How much of that was your twist on these characters and how much of it was Boom?
BEH: It was all really organic, through those long conversations with Jeanine Schaefer about what I wanted to do a thematically and emotionally. We sort of landed on some things together. I did pick that cast because I thought they would be the most interesting to this first story, but not at the exclusion of other characters. They’re dealt out at their own pace. I’m trying not to change anything I believe is essential to these characters. I like to have a light touch in that way. There are a lot of creators, brilliant creators, who like to come in and turn the apple cart upside down. I’m not that way, I like to find my own way in, but still work with what I think are the basic qualities of these characters.
But I have to give full credit to Boom for giving me as much space as possible to work. Licensed work can be difficult. It can come with a lot of rules, I’ll just be frank. I have turned down opportunities to work on certain projects because I didn’t want to deal with the rules. I never want to write a story where I can’t actually do anything, where the ball just spins but nothing really changes. This isn’t that. I’m able to tell a good story and work with these characters and advance them in ways that a lot of license fiction won’t allow. That’s not me putting an edict down, that’s Boom being willing to create an arena in which myself and Jordie can work with these characters in a way that we feel is best for the stories we are trying to create.
MFR: We’ve talked about social media and how it plays into Angel Volume One. So going back to our hero, what would social media look like to a centuries-old vampire? What does Angel think of this modern thing going into the story?
BEH: I think he wonders why people are so fascinated with themselves. I can’t imagine Angel would understand why anyone would want to see an image of someone else’s lunch. This is a strange thing to him. But the other side of him is that he understands the need to connect, especially the need to connect through an avatar. To find a safe way of building community and self-esteem around yourself, and also be able to live as an imagined version of yourself. I think he, more than most people, would understand the need for that.
But ultimately, Angel likes to fight his battles in the real world. I think he is wary of the lowest hanging fruit of self-esteem that can be out there. And the way that fantasy can enrapture us and also keep us from manifesting what we want in the actual world, with our feet on the ground. So while he can understand the need that people have and the reasons why it is what it is, I think he ultimately will see it as something that might prevent people from manifesting actual change in their lives that can make them happy.
MFR: Volume One is wrapped up now. I know you can’t give us too many details, but what is on Angel’s mind moving into moving into the next segment of the story?
BEH: Many things. The events of Hellmouth are going to shift his perspective for sure. If he has been fighting this battle on his own terms mostly, I think he’ll come to realize that he can’t do that anymore. He’ll come to realize what is truly at stake and how far advanced the march of evil has made it, in a way that he hasn’t been able to see. That’s going to renew his dedication to things.
He’s also forming these bonds with new people. He’s making a pledge to protect them from things that he does understand and some things he doesn’t. That’s the heaviness on him. Sometimes you realize you can be lonelier with people than you are by yourself. I expect him to have thoughts and experiences on leadership and purpose. He’s going to be asking: “How do you bring people into a world of madness without making them go mad?”
Angel Vol. 1: Being Human is written by Bryan Edward Hill, drawn by Gleb Melknikov, colored by Gleb Melknikov and Gabriel Cassata, and lettered by Ed Dukeshire. You can pick up a copy at your local comic store on Tuesday, October 1st. Until then, tell us what you think of Angel over on our Twitter page. And for more comic book interviews like this one, plus reviews and discussion, stay tuned to Monkeys Fighting Robots.