GAME CHANGERS: Caitlin Kittredge on COFFIN HILL

Welcome to GAME CHANGERS, an interview series at Comicosity looking at female protagonists in comic books from the last decade or two (or more!) — and the original creators who brought them to life.

This week, we are returning to Game Changers with two features — both from the Vertigo imprint at DC Comics, and both featuring multiple female characters of agency at their core. We begin with a look at Coffin Hill, and its central protagonists Eve Coffin and the generations of women wielding witchcraft that came before her, all the way back to the Salem witch trials. And to take us on this journey is novelist and series creator Caitlin Kittredge.

But first, a little backstory…

 

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Who is Eve Coffin?

First Appearance: Coffin Hill #1 (2013)
Created by Caitlin Kittredge and Inaki
Miranda
Published by DC Comics/Vertigo

A spoiled party girl who knew all too well the power that fueled her wealthy New England family, sixteen year old Eve Coffin truly didn’t think about the consequences before summoning the Coffin Hill Witch into the waking world. Sex, drugs, blood, and magic led to Eve unleashing true evil onto the people of Coffin Hill, as well the death of one friend and catatonia of another.

Ten years later, after a short (but lively) career as a beat cop for the Boston P.D., Eve returns to her hometown — damaged, but determined to put an end to the evil she unleashed years before. Unfortunately, she has generations of witches to contend with, dead and alive, before she can make good on her promise. That, and she needs to beat a murder rap after killing her boss, the most notorious serial killer in Boston history. Only problem is, she’s one of only two people who know it.

And then there’s Mother to deal with.

 

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A few words from her creator

Matt Santori-Griffith: Caitlin, to start, what was your original inspiration for the series, and specifically for the character of Eve Coffin?

Caitlin Kittredge: Coffin Hill really grew out of me wanting to write a story that I would love and is very personal to me. It was my first comic book, obviously. I started off as a novelist writing paranormal romance type of novels. I had written two series at that point [Black London and Nocturne City], and really liked both of them, but felt that the story of Coffin Hill was my story.

It’s set where I grew up. It’s populated with characters that pulled a lot from my real life. And it involves all of the creepy, scary stuff that you don’t see a lot of when you’re a woman who’s into the horror genre. I wanted to combine that love of horror with this really personal story of where I grew up in New England.

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Interior art by Inaki Miranda

I’d been struggling with it in novel form for awhile, and then [editor] Shelly Bond at Vertigo came along, looking for a comic with a supernatural storyline, with things like witches and magic in it. And I said, “Boy, do I have a story for you!”

It moved really fast after she contacted me. It was probably something like six months, but it seemed really fast to me. In publishing, it can be years and years from the time you turn in a manuscript or synopsis to the time you actually see a physically finished book. It was very exciting!

As for Eve, she is really just fun for me. I know “fun” is one of those generic words that doesn’t really give you any insight into the process, but I’ve never had the opportunity to play with someone like her before — someone who is in a moral grey area, and is really comfortable with doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

There was this interview with [actress] Natalie Dormer from Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, where she said, “We need more women who are willing to go to the grey area. We need more female villains. We need women who can be ambiguous or evil without any backlash or penalty. That’s just who they are.” I really feel like Eve is one of those people. She is one of those noir anti-heroes that happens to deal with witchcraft, folklore, and traditional magic.

MSG: The nature of magic in the series is interesting. It’s sometimes very subtle and sometimes very overt. Do you have a rulebook to play by in establishing what Eve and the other characters can and can’t do?

CK: It definitely is those things.

In the past, I have had a rulebook in working on witch characters for other series. For Coffin Hill, I deliberately stayed away from too many rules other than obvious world-breaking rules that would cause a lot of plot and continuity holes. Readers tend to get mad when you do that. [laughs] I’ve seen so many great series fall apart when they break some really obvious rules.

But, I’ve set up the magic in Coffin Hill to be this wild primeval force, like the weather or gravity, or light and sound. It’s just there. Because it is a primeval force, it can turn out really wonderfully for you and be miraculous, or it can turn out really bad if you abuse it. Or if you don’t know what you’re doing. Or if you don’t respect it.

The key for Eve is that she’s very powerful and very attune to magic. She comes with this legacy that stretches all the way back to Salem. But, she’s also seen the aftermath of what happens to you when you abuse it. So, she has a lot of respect for it. This is why I think she’s able to overcome some of the hurdles that trip up the other witches within the world of Coffin Hill.

Interior art by Inaki Miranda

Interior art by Inaki Miranda

MSG: Speaking of how far the history goes back, the series is set-up to center around these two pairs of mother-daughters. Can you speak to that dynamic a little bit?

CK: I was very clear at the beginning of Coffin Hill that, while there was going to be love stories and there was going to be romance, this was really a story about family — specifically about mothers and daughters. And what kind of domino effect that relationship with your mother has on you if you are a daughter like Eve, how it attaches to your life, and that feeling of legacy that comes with mother-daughter relationships all the way down the Coffin bloodline.

In the new story arc that we’ve started with issue #15, we get to see the relationship Emma Coffin (the original Coffin Witch) has with her daughter. And we get to see a different side of the relationship between Eve and her mother Ellie than we’ve seen so far. We get to see a different side of Ellie that Eve has never been aware of, because you never really know who your parents really are when you are a child. But Eve is an adult now, and they’re finally reconciled and starting to relate to each other as adults.

It’s scary for Eve, but I think it will be interesting for the readers to see them build this kind of relationship out of the antagonism, as they come to understand one another.

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Interior art by Inaki Miranda

MSG: It’s funny you say that, because I’ve come to enjoy the series more as Eve’s mother plays a greater role.

CK: I hear that from a lot of people, that Ellie is their favorite character. I’m glad because she’s a blast to write. I love writing sarcastic people who just don’t care what they say.

MSG: The issue of class also creeps into both volumes to date. How does that play out for you in the setting of the overall story?

CK: I’m really glad you asked me that. Not many people talk to me about the issue of class. It was a really deliberate choice for me to include some of those issues in there.

Just to give the readers a little background: the Coffins are extremely wealthy. The town is obviously named after them. They live in a big mansion. Eve is very spoiled and very privileged, and only backed away from that when her magic went horribly wrong and killed one of her friends.

She had these friends that were basically townies. They weren’t necessarily as wealthy as her. One of them, her friend Nate, was relatively “lower class.” He’s the kind of guy the Coffins might look at and say, “Oh no. You have to use the back door.”

I was actually the Nate when I grew up. I was one of like three middle class kids in an insanely wealthy enclave. I saw a lot of people just like Eve growing up, and I did not have that. We didn’t have second houses in Europe. I didn’t get a car for my sixteenth birthday. We weren’t strapped for cash, but we were just average. Anywhere else we would have been like everyone else in the suburbs. But there, I was very aware, as I think a lot of people are at that age, of exactly what money can get you and exactly what kind of trouble money can get you into. And how much power it gets you.

I definitely wanted to explore that with Coffin Hill. I always enjoy putting in little tidbits about the town’s freaky past and the prejudices they all have about Eve’s family. They all have heard these crazy rumors the townspeople make up about their eccentric family that lives on top of the hill, and you hear them in each story arc.

Interior art by Inaki Miranda

Interior art by Inaki Miranda

MSG: Another interesting thing about Eve that we haven’t touched upon is Eve becoming a cop. How intrinsic is that to Eve’s story for you and why was that decision important to the story overall?

CK: It’s very intrinsic to the story. On a practical level, Eve’s background gives her the necessary skills to deal with what happens in the series. There’s a lot of murder and mayhem. I wanted the character to be someone who was comfortable in that world. I didn’t want her to be someone that needed all of that explained to her.

The back story of Eve becoming a cop was, after she killed her friend with her magic, she kind of dropped everything. She dropped being a wealthy kid. She dropped being a spoiled party girl. She gave up her money and didn’t consider herself a Coffin anymore. She moved out of her house and moved to Boston. Went to college on her own dime, and basically decided she wanted to atone for her friend’s death by helping as many people as she could.

If you’ve read the comic, you know that Eve doesn’t necessarily have the temperament to become a doctor or a therapist, someone who is gentle or relatable to someone in a crisis. So, I thought that a street cop, someone who’s right there on the front lines, dealing with people having their worst day ever, would be perfect for her. Because Eve, for all of her background and attitude, is really a good person and only just wants to help. She just has to work for it. And as the story progresses, she’ll get there.

MSG: Issue #15 seems like a great jumping on point for new readers, with all the history it lays out. Is there anything you want to share with those who haven’t yet given the book a try?

CK: Yes. You can jump right into issue #15, without having read any of the previous fourteen issues, and you will not be confused. I know a lot of people say that, but my editors and I worked really hard to make this true. It starts a completely new story in Coffin Hill.

If you have been reading, the supporting cast you love is there, but if you haven’t, there’s new supporting cast introduced. There’s a new police chief. There’s a couple new bad guys, including one really bad guy that I think everyone is going to love. It’s a ghost story, and it deals with the best of murder and magic.


“Kittredge and Miranda are working with a very compelling story in Coffin Hill, and have created what could be an exceptionally compelling protagonist in Eve Coffin. Tough personality, sexy demeanor without any feeling of gratuitousness, great set-up for drama. Really, Eve’s journey to becoming a cop, and then falling from grace to return home to her — no kidding — super-creepy family and friends is a slam dunk of an idea.”

Matt Santori-Griffith, Comicosity

 

Where can I read more?

  • Coffin Hill #1-7: Forest of the Night (2013-14)
  • Coffin Hill #8-14: Dark Endeavors (2014)
  • Coffin Hill #15 (2015)

 

Courtesy DC Comics, the cover and sketch pages from Volume 2 of Coffin Hill, available everywhere DC and Vertigo Comics are sold:

 

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For a full list of Comicosity’s Game Changers, please visit our index.

 

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