Do you believe in magic?
Co-creators Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott certainly do, and are building out a brand new world with their Image Comics title Black Magick. With issue #5 arriving this month and a trade of issues #1-5 hitting stores in March, Comicosity sat down with Rucka and Scott to take a deep dive into Rowan Black’s family history, surroundings, and the dark nemesis coming to get her.
Matt Santori: Tell me a little bit about how magick works in this world. Every comic book tends to come up with its own rules. What’s your starting point?
Greg Rucka: [groans]
Nicola Scott: Constant discussion!
And a lot of research.
GR: Well, it’s two different questions actually. The question to how it works is always an ongoing discussion. We talk about spell-casting, and what is a spell? The spell Alex casts in issue #4 prompted an ongoing discussion for three or four weeks to decide exactly what she was going to cast. Is it a divination or something else?
NS: We did the same thing with Rowan and the lighter. Is this a glamour? What is the nature of this spell and therefore, what are the ingredients that we need?
GR: Exactly. And then there’s the general caucusing. I’ll go off and do my research. I’ll talk to Nic and I’ll talk to Jeanine [Schaefer, our editor]. Sometimes it will be all three of us on Skype, saying, “OK. I found this, this, and this.”
One of the nice things about witchcraft is that spells are very personal and individualized. Unlike playing Dungeons and Dragons, where a fireball is a fireball, every witch is casting in their own way. And every one of them is invoking in their own way. And everyone’s relationship to the Lord and the Lady is deeply personal.
Rowan’s invocations are not Alex’s invocations, even though they share fundamental beliefs.
So, that’s on one level.
But what I really think you’re asking is, what are the rules of magick? Like, how is magic a thing in this story world?
That is a harder and easier question at once, because the working definition of magick is the ability of the individual to impose their will on reality, and thus, alter it. Then it becomes a question about strength of will. If you want to go super-hero with it, they’re all Green Lanterns! [laughs]
But no, it all goes back to the description of Rowan. And you see it in Alex. They are both incredibly willful. They are both characters with very strong will and it comes across on the page, in how they interact. It comes across in Alex’s obvious self-confidence and her Protean nature. It comes across in the difference between Alex the school teacher and Alex the witch.
It comes across in Rowan’s quiet solitude. One of the things Nic has evoked beautifully — and I think subconsciously, since we’ve never talked about it — is that, even in scenes where Rowan is surrounded (like in the police squad room), there’s always a sense of isolation. There’s space around her. Not necessarily physical space, but she does seem to stand apart. I think that’s an element of will.
And I think you get the impression meeting Rowan that you don’t want to get into a fight with her. She’s not going to go down easy.
One of the big issues of the series is the nature of magick and the ethics of it. When is it right and proper, and when is it not? What are the dangers?
One of the other rules is that it’s got a price. No magick is uncomplicated. Every spell has a complication. Some complications are obvious. Some are less so. The complications aren’t necessarily magical, like I cast this spell and instead of a turnip I got poisonous frogs.
No, it’s more like, Rowan casts a spell in issue #1. In issue #2, she’s in front of IAB. That’s a direct complication, which leads to a further complication — the lighter. And that has turned into its own enormous complication for Alex at the end of issue #4.
I think it’s hand in glove for the action of imposing one’s own will. There is a price for doing so.
MSG: And that brings us to the end of issue #4, moving into issue #5. We now have enemies on two fronts. We have the one that appears to Alex that seems supernatural in origin…
GR: Yes, I’d say that was supernatural. Most confrontations don’t begin with a doppelganger of yourself springing out of a bowl of water. [laughs]
NS: Yes! Your reflection coming to kill you!
MSG: …and we also have the agent of the Aira arriving to conclude the arc in issue #5.
GR: Technically, the end of the arc is issue #10. Issue #5 ends with an intermission for Act One. Act One breaks into two halves of 5 issues each. Issue #5 brings us to a resolution point, but continues into issue #6.
Well, if you’ve been reading the back matter, you have a really good idea of what it means for Aira to arrive. Aira is the society of witch hunters. They exist to protect the “will of man.” The greatest crime they perceive is the theft of the will. They acknowledge that magick exists and they acknowledge that magick can be used for good and moral ends. But the moment magick is used to steal the will of another to make them do something that is not their choice — to alter that reality — then that is the bridge too far. The witch must end.
They are an old, old society. According to what you read in Gilles’ account, by some reckoning, they can date themselves back to ancient Greece. They are extent in the modern world. They’re small. They have some strict rules. And clearly they’re equipped to do their job.
And if you go all the way back to issue #1 and look at the family tree, you’ll see that the Black family has had some problems with them before. But, nothing is meant to be clear cut, despite what some fans may think. Aira has a point. They’re not slavering bad guys.
That’s not to say we won’t encounter slavering bad guys, but everyone has an agenda.
MSG: One last thought that I also asked Caitlin Kittridge when we talked about Coffin Hill: why a cop?
GR: I wanted to write a cop again.
MSG: No, I meant for Rowan. Why did she want to become a cop?
GR: Because I wanted to write a cop again. [laughs]
NS: You know, so far, the witches we’ve portrayed have been Alex and Rowan, specifically. They have specific jobs.
GR: They’re each in service.
NS: Yeah! Which is very telling of the nature in which they see their role. And what their religion might dictate as appropriate for their role. If we meet some more witches, we might have doctors and nurses.
GR: Exactly. And if you look at the family tree, you’ll notice that there is one who was a “nurse,” in recent memory.
NS: Right. They’re there to serve humanity.
GR: I guess that’s the better answer. Nic is absolutely right. And it goes back to the use of magick. We talk a lot about the threefold rule: the good you do is returned to you three times over. And the ill, the same.
One can quibble about Alex’s service. She’s teaching, but she’s teaching at a fairly prestigious private school.
NS: Yeah, she’s a snob.
GR: And I think we’ve gotten that from Alex already.
And I think obviously Rowan is someone who is not afraid to get her hands dirty. She wants to do right and do well. Even if she has difficulties reconciling her legacy, it doesn’t change that desire to want to do right.
Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s Black Magick is available monthly from Image Comics with the next issue #5 arriving in comic shops and online February 24, and the volume 1 trade paperback hitting stores everywhere starting April 27, 2016.