One of her latest writing projects, the Four Book Graphic Series, Ash and Thorn, is now getting ready for it’s 1st Issue release on June 24th for Ahoy Comics. We are very honored to have a chance to talk with New York Times best selling author and Harvey Award nominated editor, Mariah McCourt.
Thank you for giving us some of your time, Mariah.
GVL: You have done so much in your career it is hard to know where to start. So let’s start at the beginning. When did you realize that you had a love of writing and when did you really believe that it would become your professional calling?
MM: I’ve always loved telling stories and started writing when I was very young but I didn’t think it would be my professional career until I was in my 30’s. I’d been editing comics for almost 10 years by that point and it hadn’t really occurred to me to try writing them until the True Blood license came up for IDW to try and acquire. I knew the show and put together the story pitch for the writers. They loved it and that’s how we got the series. I ended up co-writing the first storyline and then a few other books and it just kind of snowballed from. I still edit and write these days, I find them to be very complementary creative skillsets.
The Novel vs. Comic Writing
GVL: Many writers start out thinking they would be writing large novels or expansive think pieces. Did you ever have that ambition and when did you decide that writing for comics or graphic novels might be an avenue for you?
MM: I actually have written a few novels and longer series of graphic novels like STITCHED for Papercutz. I like both the short and long form styles of writing in prose and comics, though they’re very different to execute. I’m a verbose writer in some ways and the comics format forces you to get to the point a lot faster, which makes you a better writer. I honestly just kind of fell into after editing for awhile, it was terrifying but now I’m glad I did.
Wearing the Editor/ Writer Hat
GVL: Like Tom Peyer, you have been both writer and editor. Both have their challenges and you (Like Tom) have proven to be successful at both. At what point were you approached to be an Editor and did you have any reservations about that position? In addition, how has your work as an Editor shaped your writing…or visa versa?
MM: Being an editor in comics was actually something I approached by applying to be an intern at Vertigo when I was in college. After graduation I was called in to interview as an assistant after an editor left, someone else came in, and they needed someone fast to help out editor Shelly Bond. It helped that they knew me and somehow I got the job even though I was super young. I was definitely nervous but I kind of just threw myself into it.
Because I started out editing rather than writing I tend to think about the story a little differently when I’m putting it together. I know that while you technically can draw anything in a comic it’s still a lot of work and you can’t just make your artist crazy with details and actions that don’t really fit on a page. Pacing, storytelling, narrative structure, character development, I think about them as a writer AND an editor when I’m working on a script. I think it’s also helped me be less precious and very open to notes and criticisms. I don’t take it personally and I really appreciate editorial feedback.
GVL: I usually ask this at some point to everyone I interview. Especially among the Creators. Who were your mentors early on? Who gave you the support and encouragement to make you believe that you could do this? (Whoever they were, I’m pretty sure they would feel their belief in you was vindicated by your career thus far.)
MM: Shelly Bond and Karen Berger were huge influences on me and I was incredibly lucky to get to work with them at the very start of my career. I learned how to edit comics by editing them and they taught me so much, every day. Later on, Chris Ryall at IDW was really responsible for encouraging me to write comics. I don’t think I would have had to the confidence to even try to write the pitch for True Blood if he hadn’t told me to go for it and later supported me co-writing the first series with David Tischman.
GVL: As I was studying a bit on your career, I saw you worked at PaperCutz. Jim Salicrup was the very first person I ever interviewed at Geek Vibes Nation. It was mainly about his time at Marvel and we talked for hours. (Probably could have been longer). Did you work with Jim and how was that experience like if you did?
MM: Jim is one of those old school editors that seems to just effortlessly know what a story needs. Working on the Charmz line for Papercutz was a lot of fun and I think Jim’s influence is why Papercutz has such a rich library of book for kids.
Ash and Thorn
GVL: I have read the first issue of Ash and Thorn and I liked it for many reasons. Number one was because it approached the whole saving the world in a new and different way. Not all heroes have to be muscle bound men or women. Sometimes heroes can come from where you least expect. What was your inspiration for Ash and Thorn and how did you get hooked up with the talented Soo Lee?
MM: I grew up with my grandmothers playing a big part in my life and I watched a truly ridiculous amount of Miss Marple, Murder She Wrote, and The Golden Girls. I’d wanted to pair an older woman hero character for awhile now, probably since watching Buffy, but wasn’t quite sure how to approach it until a scene with Peruvia (in the 2nd issue) trying to get in touch with this worlds magic council kind of sprang into my head one day. From there I developed the ASH & THORN concept and while I was doing that Stuart Moore approached me about working with Ahoy! I sent them the pitch for Ash & Thorn and they said yes immediately. Our great editor, Sarah Litt, was the person who suggested Soo, who was absolutely perfect for the books mixed tones of horror and humor.
GVL: (Another question that usually comes up) When collaborating with an artist such as Soo Lee, what is your work flow? Is it entire script first and then the artist takes over or is it basic outline? Or does it change depending on the artist you’re working with.
MM: It usually depends on the artist, though I think I’ve always done an outline and full script first. I always leave as much room as possible for the artist to interpret things. It’s collaborative, not a dictatorship. I love seeing artists interpret a scene differently that I conceived of it and Soo captures the emotional nuances of the characters splendidly in every scene.
GVL: Along with Editor Sarah Litt, Cover Artist Jill Thompson, Colorist Pippa Bowland, Miss Lee and yourself, you have assembled a great creative group. Do you see perhaps working on another project in the future with them? If Ash and Thorn is as popular as I believe it might be, can you see doing other stories with the characters?
MM: I do have more stories lines planned for ASH & THORN, it’s a world and characters I really love. The team is incredible and I feel so lucky to be working with everyone. Jill is, obviously, the most amazing cover artist you could ask for. She captured the entire feel of the book in every painting to a spooky degree. Soo and Pippa make the interiors playful, dynamic, and horrifying. And Sarah has been a fantastic editorial presence, helping the story move along and say what it needs to say.
GVL: I will leave you with my now iconic (well, it’s iconic to me) hypothetical question. Actually, for you, I leave you with two.(You don’t have to thank me)
GVL: 1) You have been given the opportunity to write for any Comic character that you wish, DC, Marvel, Image, Ahoy…the choice is yours. But your task is to re-invent them in some way. Which character would you choose and why?
MM: I would have loved to write a DEATH comic ( Death from THE SANDMAN), about the end of the world from her perspective and what she found most interesting about humanity.
GVL: 2) This is my go to hypothetical: We have started a time capsule to preserve the very best of comics and graphic novels. We are wanting contributions from the most accomplished writers, artists, editors, the complete gambit. We come to you, Mariah McCourt and ask you to contribute 3 of what you feel are your best works. The pieces that symbolize what you are as a writer, and editor? What are those three pieces?
MM: ASH & THORN, Illyria: Haunted, and STITCHED
GVL: Great Choices, All. Any Time Capsule would be thrilled to include them. Thank you so much for your time today, Mariah. We look forward to the Ash and Thorn series and your future projects.
Senior Writer at GeekVibesNation – I am a 50 something child of the 70’s who admits to being a Star Trek/Star Wars/Comic Book junkie who once dove head first over a cliff (Ok, it was a small hill) to try to rescue his Fantastic Four comic from a watery grave. I am married to a lovely woman who is as crazy as I am and the proud parent of a 17 year old boy with autism. My wife and son are my real heroes.