Interview with Maura McHugh
Having already helped put Ireland’s Atomic Diner on the map with her excellent book Roisin Dubh, Maura McHugh has yet another series starting titled Jennifer Wilde, written in collaboration with Rob Curley. Recently it has also been announced that she is joining the impressive collection of comic creators on Womanthology! McHugh kindly agreed to take a moment out of her increasingly busy schedule to talk about her projects with Comic Booked, with further information about her contribution to Womanthology, the short story the Nail.
The first mini-series of Róisín Dubh is complete, and I’ve plans for the next series, but I can’t divulge them at the moment. In the coming two issues Róisín is coping with the death of her parents and her mission to stop the undead Abhartach while being a young woman in Ireland in 1899. She’s also been tricked into a pact with ancient Irish deities and is unsure how that is going to affect her previous ambitions.
Ireland is in the unusual position of being in a buffer between the States and the UK, both of whom have comic book companies (Marvel, 2000AD etc.) What’s your assessment of the indie scene in the country?
I think we’re finally seeing the growth of an indigenous comic book scene in Ireland because we now have a generation who have grown up with easy access to comic books from the USA, the UK, and elsewhere (Manga being very popular). Before the 1990s there weren’t many places in Ireland that stocked comic books other than the British ones, and they were seen as something for children.
It’s great to watch Irish comic book creators establish an identity for themselves. It might be influenced by the likes of Marvel, DC, or 2000AD, but it is also offering an Irish perspective.
Could you talk about your new book Jennifer Wilde?
Jennifer Wilde begins in France in 1921, and follows the adventures of Jennifer Chevalier, a young artist who starts to untangle a mystery around the death of her father. During this she is aided by the ghost of Oscar Wilde. The next issue is set in England and the final issue is set in Ireland, so there will be a strong Irish component to the story. Stephen Downey is producing excellent art for the series that brings the era’s joie de vivre to life.
Writing Jennifer Wilde has had it challenges – especially bringing Wilde to life in a believable fashion – but I’m enjoying the more light-hearted tone compared to Róisín Dubh. I love writing the interaction between Jennifer and Oscar.
From your experiences as a writer/blogger do you think anyone who has ambitions of getting involved in comics or writing generally today has more opportunities due to the amount of online activity out there than previously?
I think it’s more important to concentrate on becoming a good writer, which is where your bread and butter will come from eventually. You can hone your abilities somewhat by writing blog entries, but if you’re serious about developing your writing talent then you need to put in the hard graft on scripts and prose. Plus you must start submitting work to editors so they become familiar with your style, and you need to learn to take the inevitable rejection. A large part of writing is dealing with criticism yet continuing to evolve your work. You only learn that through putting your work out there for evaluation.
Social media has its uses, especially for networking with people in the industry. But bloggers/tweeters are legion and it can be difficult to establish a presence amid the noise. In some ways it’s harder to get noticed that way at this point, certainly not without concerted time and effort. On the other hand if you’re a writer having an online presence isn’t optional: you are expected by editors/agents/publishers to maintain your multitude of online identities and readers want it too.
The issue at the start of a career is where to focus? Starting an online presence is important, but ultimately – for a writer, anyway – what will bring you most attention is the quality of your writing.
What is the idea behind the Womanthology project?
Artist Renae De Liz is the powerhouse behind the project, and to quote her: “I want to showcase the powerful and unique voice of all women who create comics. Sort of shine a spotlight on the small percentage that makes up the industry we love. And of course, to raise money and have fun doing it!”
How did you become involved with Womanthology?
I heard about the project a few days after Renae announced she was looking for submissions. I’ve always been supportive of encouraging more women to work in the creative industries so I was immediately interested in being involved. There were a huge number of applications, and the open call was shut down quickly – just before I could cast my hat into the ring.
I put my name down to be considered on the secondary creators list. Several weeks later, one of the anthology’s editors, Suzannah Rowntree (who is also an editor at Archie Comics), contacted me and asked me how quickly I could put together a four-page script for submission.
The theme for the anthology is ‘heroic’, so I pondered the different kinds of heroic acts there are in life. I was inspired to write the script for ‘The Nail‘ after reading the true story of a woman who was incarcerated unfairly for seven years in solitary confinement in 1950s Hungary.
I wrote the script and sent it to Suzannah, and was utterly delighted when it was accepted for the anthology. I’ve been paired with artist Star St. Germain and I love how she’s interpreted the script.
What’s the Irish comic convention circuit like? Have you travelled overseas to any cons to promote your work with Atomic Diner or Womanthology?
The only regular comic book convention in Ireland is 2-D in Derry in Northern Ireland. I went there this year and it was brilliant: it’s very friendly and chock-a-block with creative talent from Ireland and abroad.
I’ve been going to conventions for a long time, first as a fan, now as a creator, so I’m pretty familiar with many of them. Comic Books and Manga are becoming a part of nearly all the events because of their translations to the big screen and the popularity of Cosplay. So, you have events in Ireland like Octocon (happening in a few weeks time), TitanCon and P-Con which have historically focused on literature, but are branching out, there’s a huge Anime convention called Eirtakon that’s very popular, and the gaming conventions like Gaelcon are doing well too . Then, there are new events appearing like ArcadeCon which has more of a multi-media slant. The trend is moving toward organising events with a multi-media focus, so they celebrate books, TV, films, games, comic books, etc.
I’ve attended lots of science fiction conventions in the UK, but my first comic book event will be Thought Bubble in Leeds this November. I’m aiming to go to one of the American cons next year too
What creators in the industry at the moment are you following?
Gail Simone, Grant Morrison and Greg Rucka are writers I admire a great deal, and I tend to buy almost anything they write. Other writers I watch: G. Willow Wilson, Mike Carey, Warren Ellis, Joe Hill, Robert Kirkman and Marjorie Liu.
Is there anyone in particular you would like to work with yourself?
There are so many artists whose work I admire: Ben Templesmith, Amanda Connor, J. H. Williams, Pia Guerra, Linda Medley, David Mack, Marjane Satrapi and Phil Noto to name a few.
Do you have any advice for folks interested in working for comics?
If you’re a writer: keep writing. If you’re an artist: keep drawing. Comic books are intensely collaborative so it helps if you’re open-minded, friendly and good with working with others. Get something in print if at all possible. Start with small presses and build up your reputation. Challenge yourself as much as possible. Everyone has something new to learn.