About Author Helen Mullane
Author Helen Mullane began her career in film distribution. During her time there she managed the release of titles for Studio Canal and EOne. From there, she worked on documentaries such as FutureShock! The Story of 2000AD and various shorts, including the award winning short Nasty.
Recently, she published her first comic book story Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, along side artists Dom Reardon and Matthew Dow Smith. This was published under the Humanoids H1 label. Nicnevin tells a story based on British folklore and mysticism along with the angst of youth. It also combines vibes of classic horror stories of old.
Since it’s release in March of this year, the book has been well received by critics and readers alike. It will next be released August 20th in the UK. These days, Helen currently resides in northern Sweden. She lives there with 80 huskies, and tries to balance her time between writing, dog sledding and dog training. Which has to be a first for us. We are very pleased to welcome Author Helen Mullane to GeekVibesLive Interview. Than you for giving us some of your time.
Love of Reading
GVL: So as is my norm, tell us how you got started in writing. Was it something you foresaw at an early age? And if so, who were your early influences?
HM: I’ve always been a voracious reader. I was a pretty bookish and imaginative kid, and I was always making up stories and spending my time in fantastical worlds of my own devising. Although, I never considered it as a career, I guess it just seemed totally beyond the realm of possibility – like the people who wrote the stories I loved were a different kind of creature altogether, not something I could ever be.
GVL: So that being the case, what did young Helen like to read back then?
HM: I used to read literally anything I could get my hands on. I particularly loved classics like Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass, A Little Princess and Watership Down. In truth, I was obsessed with Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen and horror like Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein. Then I walked the well trod 90s teen path of Point Horror to Christopher Pike and beyond.
GVL: So what about Comic Books?
HM: I was introduced to comics as a medium by the old Dandy and Beano annuals. Once I discovered superheroes a lifelong love affair was born!
Starting Your Career
GVL: Your career started in Film Distribution and Production. What led you down that path initially and did you get advice from anyone in the publishing world that encouraged you to perhaps write?
HM: I got into film distribution by chance. A friend was leaving a receptionist job when I happened to be at a loose end and I replaced her. The job was at a little film and TV distributor called DD Home Entertainment. DD specialised in military stuff and old TV shows like The Saint. When I started there this whole world opened up to me – I never knew that any of these jobs in DVD production or marketing even existed! I started making myself as useful as I could. Mainly for the production department because I was fascinated by film restoration. To be honest, I was a pretty rubbish receptionist, but I managed to get promoted out of there before it became too much of a problem.
From there I found my niche and ended up moving on to Optimum Releasing which was this amazing cult label at the time. The seed of Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen was sown in an indirect way when I was at Studio Canal. For them, I managed the UK home entertainment release of The Losers. It was based on the comic by Andy Diggle and Jock. I interviewed them for the disc and I was so excited. I turned up for the interview total fangirl style, arms full of their Green Arrow Year One run, getting their autographs before the shoot! Not the most professional move, but it did get us talking, and between that and the rest of the campaign we became firm friends, stayed in touch and have been ever since.
The Blank Page
GVL: I can respect that. That probably would have been my thinking and only afterwards concern myself about the professionalism of it. Oops…Too late. So, you decided that you were going to write. Had you been collecting ideas or snippets of stories to work from or did you start out cold? A blank screen or empty piece of paper can be a lonely or intimidating sight.
HM: It really can! I started kind of cold. I had an atmosphere, I had a character, and I had a head full of folk horror influences. Now, I just had to find a way to wrestle it all onto the page. One thing that really helped me was that I created some parameters for myself that proved to be a great jumping off point. Inspired by one of my favourite writers, Alan Garner who’s The Owl Service was a very direct influence on this story, I wanted both the settings and base mythology to be real. So I went through a really deep research process, where I found a real setting with its own myths and legends, and then built out the story from a patchwork of real world elements.
So Nicnevin is a real mythological figure. The village in the book is real, as are the hill forts that play a big part in the story. In fact, all sorts of other elements are hewn raw materials from the real world. Then I outlined the hell out of it all. This was so before I got to actual scripting, I knew what was supposed to happen on each page. I think that was very helpful to keep the story manageable and focused.
Comic vs. Novel
GVL: Was writing a comic your first thought or did you see yourself more as a novel writer?
HM: I have never seen myself as a novel writer. I enjoy collaboration far too much to disappear for a year writing all alone, I’d go mad! I spent some years working in film development and during that time I discovered I had a knack for understanding how stories fit together. How different elements can be refined or improved, and that I loved that process. At that time, I thought my destiny was to be a development producer. I would find new voices and help them work their concepts to script. Helping them create talent and script packages before moving on to the next project. It never really occurred to me to try to branch out to my own stories.
It wasn’t until Dom encouraged me to write this druidic horror we’d been discussing as a comic that I wrote a script that was entirely my own work. But then once I did, it opened the floodgates! I realized that I do have a particular perspective, and this book gave me the confidence I needed to push me to really explore it. Since then the stories have just come pouring out, and it feels like I always wanted this. But until then, I just never had the self belief before to make it happen.
GVL: You have already discussed some of what went into your story. Explain little bit more about what were your inspirations for Nicenevin? Did the story make any diversions from how you originally envisioned it?
HM: The book was deeply inspired by British folk horror from the 60s and 70s. I’ve already mentioned some of the novels, but there are also incredible kids TV shows like Children of the Stones and King of the Castle that are just so scary and atmospheric. Then films like The Wicker Man, I Start Counting and Penda’s Fen played a large part in inspiring the world of Nicnevin. The biggest diversion came in the form of much more text than we originally envisaged. Dom and I started off trying to make the book quite close to silent, with no text beyond bits of dialogue here and there.
The problem with that came clear as we received the first lettered pass of the first chapter. The visual storytelling and atmosphere were absolutely on point, but the book read way too fast. Instead of being this slow, meditative piece, the story just flew by because there wasn’t enough text to keep the reader lingering on each page. So from there, I went back into all the scripts and wrote these different threads of voice. For example, song lyrics from Nissy’s headphones were added to give insight into her mental state. Various prayers and magical poems were added that hopefully maintain the tone but slow down the pace. This should help to illuminate the mythology we had created. The great thing about it was it gave our wonderful letterer Rob Jones a chance to shine. He found inventive ways to separate the voices whilst maintaining a coherent whole.
GVL: Your representation of Nissy and her relationship with her Mother was particularly well done. Any experience with that dynamic?
HM: Thank you! Yes, that complicated relationship comes absolutely from the heart. My mum and I are really close now, but we had a very fractious relationship in my teens. Mostly because I couldn’t bear being told what to do or having my actions limited in any way. I guess these scenes allowed me to re-examine my own behavior and release a little of the guilt I feel for being such a nightmare.
GVL: Again, obviously being psychic, you have answered part of this question already. But I’m old and stubborn so let’s do this anyways. 😏 You based some of your comic on British folklore. Did you have a historical education of that genre or was it something you examined once you started the book?
HM: I’ve always been interested in folklore, but it’s not something I’ve ever formally studied. I got so deeply into it once I started researching the book though – I have enough material I didn’t use for a whole bunch of graphic novels!
GVL: Who put you together with your talented art team? What was your experience like collaborating with them? Did they make any suggestions to you about framing your story? Did you have any suggestions to them as far as laying it out? I have always been fascinated how well artists and writers seem to work together.
HM: So as I mentioned, Dom, Jock and I already knew each other so we kind of put ourselves together and went from there. The next piece of the puzzle was getting signed to Humanoids, which was a hugely exciting step for us. It’s the home of Moebius and Jodorosky. Talk about being in iconic company! Humanoid’s amazing editorial team then put us together with Matthew Dow Smith, who’s incredible layout work was a real boon to the book. We then added Lee Loughridge, who gifted us this fantastic muted yet rich palette, and Robin Jones who did some magnificent work on the lettering.
The collaboration was a wonderful, enriching experience. The whole team is so talented and had so much experience to bring to bear on the book. Dom and Matthew really took the script up a notch with their layouts and character work. There were times when what I had written worked better re-ordered. Or situations where I thought scene A needed the most space but they could see that actually it’s scene B that should have this page or that. They were always right! For a lot of the script I didn’t write panel breakdowns. I knew that what they would produce would be stronger than any constricting framework I might come up with. So I only wrote page layout in those few cases where I had a really strong vision for how something might look.
Dealing with Reviews
GVL: From the reviews I have read, your work has been well received, as it should be. It was from my review as well. But if it had gone the other way, would that have discouraged you? I somehow think not.
HM: I hope not! We’re very happy as a team with how our work has been received. But bad reviews, just like good reviews, are only a matter of opinion, and not something that should shake your belief in your work. I think I love too many comics, books and films that are dismissed as cult, lurid or trash to worry about bad reviews.
GVL: That’s good to hear. I’ve lost track how many films that I love that have been trashed by critics. It’s unimportant if I like it. Fortunately, that’s nothing you have to worry about. So, do you have anything new you are working on that you’re free to talk about?
HM: I have just signed on to a super exciting project that unfortunately I can’t talk about at all yet (sorry, that’s a real tease – I’ll be shouting about it on my twitter @Supermegabot just as soon as I’m allowed). In the meantime, I’m working with a really exciting young artist called Gabbie Scanlon on a really cool sci-fi short story for the upcoming Big Hype! Anthology. And then I have a few other really cool projects in development that run the gamut from psychedelic sex adventure to giallo tinged Catholic horror, watch this space!
GVL: It looks like you have a busy schedule ahead of you. We look forward to seeing your future projects. Now, before I even THINK of letting you go, I have to ask…No writer I know of currently also trains and races sled dogs. That’s a big check in the COOL factor. How did you get into that endeavor?
HM: Ha! The cold factor. 🥁 Yes I’ve been living in the arctic working with sled dogs for 6 years now. I love it, it’s an incredibly challenging and rewarding lifestyle. I recommend it to any writer – the daily contrast between exercising your body and brain is really inspiring! If you want to learn more about how I got here, and get some insight into the races themselves, I really recommend listening to this documentary by the Irish radio station RTE. They came and stayed in my village and followed me through my longest ever race. Anything I could say here, I guarantee they said it better. https://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/2020/0605/1145648-the-long-run/
You are the Boss
GVL: We so appreciate you giving us some of your time. Let’s finish up with my tried and true hypothetical. Your work is in high demand.So much so that you have been offered to write for a one off story for any comic publication. You pick the story and which artists you can work with. What kind of story would it be and do you have any idea who you would like to draw it? You are THE BOSS!
HM: Wow, that’s a big question! I don’t know if you’re asking about existing properties or not – if so in this hypothetical world my first choice book to write would probably be Swamp Thing. But if I was the most in demand writer in the whole world ever I’d probably put my amazing industry power to work getting my freaky original stories out there, and maybe curating a new imprint like Joe Hill, so I can amplify my favourite up and coming voices. There are so many artists I’d tear my own arm off to work with – Christian Ward, Andrea Sorrentino, Tula Lotay, Marguerite Sauvage, Leslie Hung, Jenna Cha, Martin Simmonds… the list really goes on and on. I could sit here excitedly reeling off incredibly inspiring artists all day.
GVL: I love when our creators really give these type of questions some serious thought. You have succeeded in the extreme. Thanks again Helen and we will be following your career with interest.
HM: Thanks for the interesting questions, and for taking the time to read Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen!
If you haven’t had the opportunity, you should check out Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen. It does call back to the horror type tales of old, while also exploring the relationships between Mothers and Daughters. And as always, stay right here with GeekVibesNation for news on all types of upcoming comics from all over.
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.