The GeeksverseMichael McMillian Interview

Michael McMillian Interview
Published on Monday, March 21, 2011 by

The True Blood star and comic writer stops by to chat with us.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us.

You’re welcome! Thanks for caring.

How do you feel now that the first volume of Lucid has just wrapped up? Are you satisfied with how it came out? If you could, in hindsight, what would you change if anything?

It’s a great feeling. I’ve wanted to write comics for a long, long time. LUCID was a real dream come true and I am very thankful to Anna, Archaia and Before The Door for making it a reality. I probably would have loved to have two more issues for the first arc. Ha! One year writing comics and already I’m a greedy bastard. It’s a real challenge introducing a brand-new mythology under 90 pages. But Archaia was gracious to give me four issues in the first place! So I just went for it. I knew that I didn’t want to lead with Matthew Dee’s origin story. That seemed like it would require a longer page count. Plus it would end with him just starting his career and I wanted to get to the good stuff. I was kind of burned out on origin stories when I sat down to write LUCID. I wanted it to be like Indiana Jones where you just jumped in with the character and got backstory later. After kicking around an early treatment, BTD and Archaia gave me the blessing to weave what were essentially four single-issue adventures into a larger arc, which was this mystery of “The New Pendragon.” It was a bit of a risk throwing readers into a face-paced world with no compass, but like I said, that was part of the fun for me. I wanted LUCID’s narrative structure to mirror that of a dream with constantly shifting settings, plots and time periods. I can promise readers that if LUCID gets to continue, the world and characters will be fleshed out greatly over time. What may seem unclear now is just a piece of a larger master plan. I’m not writing LOST or anything, but there is definitely a larger, narrative tapestry at work.

Where and how did you get your start in comics? Was this always something you wanted to do? How did you end up with Zachary Quinto and “Before the door”?

LUCID is my foray into comics. Zachary and I attended the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama together along with his producing partners, Corey Moosa and Neal Dodson. They knew I was a big comic fan and Neal had read some of my unpublished TV/Film scripts. Shortly after they fromed Before the Door, they called me in to pitch them some ideas. LUCID was born out of that first meeting and was always intended to be a comic.

Where and how did Lucid originate? What prompted it’s creation and how did it evolve from concept to printed page?

Originally I was kicking around the idea of doing something on the subject matter of a hallucinogenic drug called DMT. I had read Graham Hancock’s SUPERNATURAL, which basically suggests that DMT, a chemical which found naturally in the human brain, can unlock the doorway to other dimensions. This process is greatly amplified when DMT is ingested as a drug, but some people could have an abundant amount already present in their brains. It’s this wealth of DMT in certain humans that could explain why some people experience paranormal phenomena and others don’t. For the record, I have never taken DMT and I do not endorse it, but I find that theory extremely compelling. The possibility that paranormal experiences – UFO sightings, spiritual visions, even bigfoot encounters; concepts I’ve been into since a small child- could be explained by certain people having a naturally abundant or highly active amount of DMT in their heads is just fascinating stuff. Then I thought, why not apply that to magic? What if magic, or the ability to channel magic, could be explained by a special chemical that only certain people had in their brains? This all evolved over time into what LUCID is today. But that core idea is there. Alexander Whitehall hints at it in Issue 4 and Vivian says in issue 3 that “one must be born with the ability to channel magic.” This is really at the heart of the LUCID mythos and something that I want to explore down the road.

In one of my reviews for an issue I had mentioned the rune lettering for the magic spells and Shawn DePasquale was quick to point out that it was all stuff you had created. Where did the “language” come from? Does it have roots in anything existing or was it something you made up? What do the runes mean? Are they command words to activate the spells or are they the names of the spells themselves?

They are command words, but they are the entire spell at the same time. Instead of shouting “Expelliarmus!” or “Hocus Pocus!” they speak this strange symbol, which is the whole spell condensed into one glyph. Each spell has a title, but I will get to in a moment. The runes, or “sigils” as I call them, come from a couple different places. I read Grant Morrison’s “Pop Magick” a while back- long before LUCID- and really dug what he wrote about sigil crafting. For those that don’t know, this is the magical process of literally breaking down the verbal meaning of a want or desire and rebuilding it into a brand-new non-verbal symbol called a “sigil.” The idea of mages running around a comic and casting magic spells isn’t exactly a new one so I wanted to make sure that when Matthew Dee cast a spell in the comic it would read like nothing that had come before it and maybe give LUCID it’s own distinct style in the process. I thought casting actual sigils and using them as our spells would be kind of cool. It was a literal way of putting magic into the book. So I drew every sigil you see in LUCID, but Shawn gave them their cool, glowing effect– so he deserves some credit! Every sigil has a double meaning: their meaning to me in “our world” and their meaning in the “character’s world.” In the LUCID mythos sigils are compressed spells composed from a hyper-magical language that traces back thousands of years to a classical and advanced human civilization that destroyed itself (I should probably note here that LUCID does not follow a traditional viewpoint of history). Many of the names and meanings of our sigils will be catalogued in the sigil guide available only in the hardcover collection of Volume One. What each one means to me in the real world will remain a secret I’ve forgotten most of them anyhow, which is important for allowing them to do their work.

Not that a comic book has sounds to hear, but how would a spell being cast in the world of Lucid sound?

You’re the first person to ask me this! Originally, I imagined them sounding very strange and alien. This is a magical language we’re talking about so they have to sound weird. I thought each mage might sound a bit different. Matthew’s “magic voice” sounds like a mix of electric guitar and gunshot in my mind. Wren’s would obviously have a bit more of a “birdsong” quality, maybe. But part of the goal was to create something that would work only on the page. I invite readers to let their imaginations run wild.

One thing that kind of bothered me, and it was answered in the last issue, was what the title “lucid” meant. How did you come up with it as the title to this series?

Yeah! That’s kind of what I mean by the “hang around and see” approach to LUCID. I think the title was the first thing I thought up. The comic was always called LUCID. Looking back, it could have easily been called “MAJESTIC “after the Majestic Intelligence Program or maybe even “PROTECTOR” or something after Matthew’s title of Protector of the Realm, but I don’t know… “LUCID” always seemed right. It came from “lucid dreaming” a practice where the dreamer asserts control over their reality and takes command of the dream. I thought it was an apt description of what mages do: they manipulate reality. They are “lucid.” Yeah, so Matthew refers to himself as that at the end. It’s a term for being “turned on to magic.” And it helps bridge us into what I hope will be the next two story arcs.

Did you bring Anna to the project or did Archaia? What made her the perfect artist for this book?

Stephen Christy at Archaia found Anna after I had described what I wanted the art to look like. I wanted something that wasn’t completely mainstream, but still had a big, bright, pop-culture feeling to it. Anna just seemed like the perfect fit. I mean, her colors alone in 3 and 4 are just mind-blowingly beautiful. She also captured how I imagined Matthew looking in my head. She nailed his “rumpled sexiness” as Neal Dodson coined it. Also, sequences like the seance of Waylan Gheilly at the end of the first issue just connected with me. That face on “Ecto-Gheilly” reminded me of the work of early 20th century illustrators like Ivan Bilibin or Arthur Rackham. That’s a style I love.

What’s next for the world of Lucid? Will we see more of Agent Dee, Vivian and President Monday? Will Anna Wieszczyk be involved?

Well, we don’t have a second volume green light from Archaia just yet… so hopefully more and more readers will pick up LUCID and give us a chance. The hardcover collection due out in April will totally be worth it, by the way. It looks awesome and it has all the goodies you’d want in a graphic novel. We spared no detail! So please check it out. I have the next two volumes of Lucid sketched out. Our core cast will all return in some form or another. Volume 2, which I’m tentatively calling “The Apocalypse Spell,” will introduce China and Russia’s Protectors and give readers their first look at the Ambrosian Order. Volume 3 is planned as Matthew’s origin story, but I may end up flipping the order. The Daoine Sidhe, mentioned in issue 1, will also return. Finally, if they’re still willing to work with me, I’d love to have the whole creative team back!

You’re writing the current True Blood mini-series, Tainted Love, at IDW. How does it feel to write the adventures of people you’ve met and interacted with? Is writing True Blood different from writing Lucid? Does knowing the people affect how you approach the project?

TRUE BLOOD is a bit different, yeah. Somebody else already did the heavy lifting. The world is already established, whereas I had to build LUCID from scratch. That’s the major difference. Then there’s the fact that the characters Marc Andreyko and I are writing in this book are actually based on real people interpreting characters in a script. They come well-equipped with very distinct voices and personalities. This writing process for me has kind of been it’s own Morrisonesque magical experiment in a way. I’ve interacted with it as a physical actor in the third dimension as the character of Steve Newlin. Now I’m getting to access it as a writer through the second dimension of a comic book and play all of the characters!

How did you come to be involved with Tainted Love? Did you have any hesitation about taking on the project? How does the process work with the co-writer, Marc Andreyko?

Zero hesitation. I really wanted to write this comic. Marc and I are neighbors and we just decided to team up and pitch some True Blood stories together. We sent a bunch of ideas to IDW and they passed them along to Alan Ball’s office. A month or so later, we got hired. Our approach is pretty simple We broke down the outline of the 6-issue series first. Then we take turns writing the first draft of each issue. I’ve been doing odd-number issues, Marc has been doing the even. Once one of us has done our first pass, we hand it off to the other. After we’ve both done a pass we do a final polish and send it off to our editor Scott Dunbier at IDW to read and then he sends it over to Alan’s office for notes and approval.

Do you get a chance to write your character in this series?

Yes. Steve Newlin appears in “Tainted Love.” I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to bring him back! Readers may get a glimpse of Sarah Newlin as well.

What’s next for you beyond Lucid and True Blood: Tainted Love? Any more books on the horizon? Any more roles beyond the Reverend Steve Newlin on True Blood?

I just wrapped up a nice guest spot on “Hot in Cleveland,” where I play Jane Leeves’ long lost son. Those women are great to work with and Betty White is as lovely as they say. A feature film I co-wrote with director Kat Coiro called “The New Life” could begin shooting later this year. Kat is another Carnegie Mellon alum. She just finished her first feature, “BFF and Baby,” starring Kate Bosworth and Krysten Ritter. In comics I’ve been working on a project with my artist/writer friend W. Dave Keith, called “The Indian and the Bandit” which is a OGN loosely based on our experiences growing up in suburban Kansas in the late 80’s. Dave is a super talented and funny guy. I’m really looking forward to this book coming together. I have a few more ideas in the cooker as well, so hopefully I’ll have something to announce this year at San Diego Comic Con.

Thanks to Michael and pick up Lucid at your local comic store and look for the collected edition in August. True Blood fans, don’t forget to pick up True Blood: Tainted Love, on sale now from IDW Publishing.

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