Interview: Cady and Howard Unleash THE MAGDALENA

With Easter right around the corner, a young woman’s fancy is liable to to turn to thoughts of chocolate eggs, Sunday Mass, and lancing demons with the Spear of Destiny.

Okay, maybe not that last one unless you happen to be a direct descendant of Mary Magdalene tasked with saving the world from demonic forces. With a brand new volume of the Top Cow’s Magdalena right around the corner, I caught up with its writers, Ryan Cady and Tini Howard to discuss religious inflected horror and trade awful puns.

Véronique Emma Houxbois: I’ve been reading Top Cow books for 19 years now so all of this comes about as naturally to  me as falling out of bed, but The Magdalena is a pretty daunting concept for new readers.

What’s your guys’ elevator pitch for people who have never heard of the character before?

Ryan Cady: What I’ve been saying to people is —

“Monsters, magic, demons – it’s all real, and it’s all horrifying, but there’s a woman out there fighting it all, every night. It’s a story about legacy heroes, and sisterhood, and a heaping helping of horror and occult imagery.”

But there’s a charm to the way we used to pitch the series at Top Cow, before this relaunch:

“It’s about this badass warrior nun with a holy spear, and she takes on the worst Hell can throw at her.”

Tini Howard: My friend Ryan is being mighty poetic, but he’s leaving out kind of an important part:

The Magdalena is a descendent of the the rumoured union between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. That bloodline gives her magic powers and lets her kill stuff using the spear that pierced Christ’s side at the the crucifixion.

Like The DaVinci Code, but better, because the fights are better and the female characters get to DO STUFF.

VEH: Okay, so, with that out of the way, let’s tackle the big questions. Namely, will Magdalena take us to Vatican City where the Pope is young and the tone is gritty?

RC: Taaaake ~~~ meeee ~~~ hooooooooome

TH: Oh shit, Ryan, let’s get on it. can you see the speculators now? FIRST APPEARANCE: YOUNG POPE.

RC: Let’s double ship while we’re at it.

VEH: With a lenticular Paul Pope variant cover to really mark the occasion. 

The big thing about Top Cow to me is that going back to 1998 when I was really starting to buy comics for myself for the first time is that all roads really lead there if you wanted to read comics starring a female action hero at the time. What attracts you guys to The Magdalena out of the rest of the line?

TH: I grew up Catholic, so the opportunity to play with that is big to me. My thematic inspirations for the Magdalena are a little less Buffy and The Exorcist, and a little more Dogma, you know? I mentioned early on to Ryan that there aren’t enough stories about women having a crisis of faith that aren’t related to marriage or motherhood. Magdalena is an opportunity to fill that niche.

As you know though, I’m also a huge Witchblade fan, for similar reasons. For years, they were some of the only female-led comics that were easy to find and had girls kicking ass on the cover!

RC: Similarly, I was raised in a very religious household, but it was very WASPY – we were removed from any of the mysticism of religion. So I’m drawn to Magdalena for the same reason a lot of people are drawn to Star Wars – the quasi-magical forces of good doing battle against a very tangible evil.

Plus, I’m a huge horror junkie, and out of all of Top Cow’s books, Magdalena has the strongest horror vibes. I love Witchblade and The Darkness, but they could get hung up in genre-mixing – Mags could get genuinely bone-chilling.

VEH: I grew up Catholic too, so this is all really fascinating to see come to the forefront immediately. There’s also a lot of emphasis on Patience’s age both on the page and your (Tini’s) tweets about the comic. I’m also the same age as Patience, 32, so am I the exact demographic model that you’re pursuing here?

RC: Yes, and no. I think what’s been big in the forefront of our minds is the notion that this can be a book for…well, not everybody, but almost everybody. We really want to tell a story that will ring true for all the generations of Top Cow fans, as well as someone who might never have even heard of The Magdalena before.

There’s a lot of ways to parlor trick that in with the introduction of a new Bearer, someone who can sort of serve as Patience’s apprentice. I want readers from all demographics to be able to pick up one of our issues and pull something from it – old school readers will find themselves empathizing with Patience’s struggle, and maybe some newer readers will really see themselves in our new Bearer, Maya, and still others might get along with our villain just fine. Maybe you’re feeling the explorations of Catholic tradition, or digging on the occult imagery, or maybe you just like badass chicks with magic spears. We’re hoping to appeal to all of that and more.

TH: We like to call it the ‘targeted d-Emma-graphic.’

I think…oh geez, how to phrase this delicately. I think a lot of male writers write women at a percieved ideal. Maybe it’s not intentional, but I see a lot of cute, young, awkward-in-a-charming-way female characters, so it’s exciting to be working on a book that is really devoid of that. Maya is a mess in ways that legitimately frustrate the people in her life. Shilpa (Maya’s best friend, who you meet in the first issue) can be kind of blunt and harsh when she feels she’s right.

And yeah, you know what? There definitely is some layered nuance to Patience being in her early thirties and dealing with perceived obsolescence. That’s got meaning for everyone over 25, I’d say, but women deal with it in a kind of particular way.

That’s also not to say that this is a thing that should or would appeal to only women. I spent my teenage girl life reading about grumpy dads fighting crime – I relate to those guys and love them for a hundred reasons. If a 19 year old dude sees Patience the way I saw Iron Man at that age – like the coolest dude around who was DEFINITELY me, that’s amazing. I’d love that.

VEH: While I was reviewing the most recent Mockingbird run I made note of that lack of female leads who are 30+ and portrayed the way Bobbi was, so I’ll definitely have my eye on what you do with Patience.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is also the first time that successive Magdalenas have interacted and presented the opportunity for mentorship, right? Having another woman in an active mentor role seems like another rarity in comics unless your mentor is a talking cat.

RC: You are correct! In all the Magdalena’s history, we actually see very few other women “of the bloodline,” except for once in Ron Marz’s one, where a cardinal had trained a successor to assassinate Patience and steal the Spear from her.

And I think it’s crazy that that hasn’t been explored more. The Top Cow Universe — even when it was first introduced — is all about these lineages and the passing down of powers and Artifacts, but it’s rarely been depicted. It was done a little in Witchblade, but the master/apprentice relationship wasn’t really explored. I’m excited that we can do that, really dig into the notions of the mystic sisterhood, and not only show off a new Bearer but also show what Patience can do in a leadership role…

Which is another thing we’ve never seen before. Up until now, the Magdalenas were all trained by a secret order of knights and some selfish, crusty old cardinals at the Vatican – who usually had their own agendas.

VEH: The place you guys find yourselves in here is a bit like the last season of Buffy in how the power of the Slayer had been controlled by the council for centuries before being disrupted by the Scoobies.

TH: EMMA get out of my HEAD! (But seriously, don’t, I love it.)

It’s easy to make Buffy comparisons when you have a young woman balancing her destiny of slaying evil with life in SoCal, but the only Buffy comparison I’ve been heavily leaning on is that exactly – last season Buffy. Watching the legacy go into the hands of those who hold the power. And finding that lineage to be something bigger than expected. Absolutely.

And yeah, regarding your previous question, it always chapped my hide that in a mythos so heavily about a lineage of women, we almost never actually see those women mentoring each other. I mean, I loved the Witchblade issues where Sara would see/deal with some past Witchblade bearer, but it was always in a distant, lessons-learned kind of way. And the Witchblade itself was…male, which….hoo boy. Anyway.

It was the clear answer, when it came to reinventing a part of the Top Cow Universe, a world of so many powerful women. Let them mentor one another. Female mentorship is so cool and rare, and we don’t see enough of it in comics. The other big comparison we’ve been having fun with is Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis.

VEH: It’s ironic to think that this kind of dynamic wasn’t explored earlier because my favorite thing about Top Cow back in the day were all the team ups. Witchblade/Tomb Raider/Fathom was everything I wanted from the world at the time.

Comics in generally really need better and broader Latinx representation, but what struck me the most about introducing Maya as a legacy character is how especially pertinent it is to The Magdalena.

This handoff between Patience and Maya is happening in parallel to the Vatican elevating its first Latin American pope, which as a nationality represents 40% of practicing Catholics worldwide. Were those conscious parts of the equation in developing her?

TH: Absolutely. Ryan being from SoCal, me being raised Catholic, we were absolutely interested in writing about people that seemed real to us. So many of the prior Magdalenas are heavily influenced by European traditions, so writing this very American Magdalena…writing a SoCal Catholic girl without giving her that heritage seemed…almost obtuse.

Maya’s not based on stereotypes or lofty ideals, she’s based on girls we know, and I’m happy that I’ve been able to talk to some of those friends about the process, you know? Besides, genre fiction and horror loves playing with Catholicism, so where is the Latinx population in that media?

But at the same time — Ryan and I both being white writers, we’re careful to not be telling a story about Maya’s heritage. Her background informs her character but we’re not here to write about Latinx issues. We’d bring in someone else to do that.

RC: I don’t want to fall down that rabbit hole of “writing the other,” and like Tini said, I don’t presume to think I can chronicle the heritage and mindset that comes from being Latinx in Southern California. But I grew up around people just like Maya – parts of friends and classmates and neighbors bleed into my writing of her, and I hope I can do those people – and of course, Maya by extension – justice.

And funnily enough, while Pope Francis being from South America definitely makes for nice parallelism, and it’s definitely something we’re taking into account (Maya’s mother is a very big fan of his for that and other reasons) – the big aspect of the new Pope that we’re leaning into is his focus on the secular world. Maya isn’t much of a believer, and the new Vatican is very world-focused, and these are things that Patience wants to combat and challenge.

VEH: As an ardent fan of Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer run, I’m always down for socially conscious demon wrangling. Tell me about your art team, though. Tini, you’ve tweeted recently about what Christian DiBari’s cartooning brings out in Patience, can you expand a bit on that?

TH: Christian is brilliant at showing women as everyday, realistic people who can still act like powerhouses, plain and simple. With a cast of primarily female characters, sure they’re differentiated by things like ethnicity and clothing style, but Christian also uses his cartooning masterfully to show differences in mannerisms, age, and attitude.  He never forgets the mental or physical state his characters are in when he’s drawing. And his expressions are the BEST.

RC: Even his horrifying (yet beautifully rendered) demons have perfect expressions.

VEH: My favorite question about creating horror comics is who’s spooking who the most: is it you two one upping each other, you terrorizing Christian with what he’s got to draw next, or him bringing it all to life?

TH: The three of us talk almost every day – that’s the awesome power of the internet for you – and we’re all so good about sharing stories, ideas, snippets of dialogue, and sketches that inspire us. We’ve been linking each other to songs, music videos, movie scenes, art pieces, and more that give us the ~feel~ of our book, and it’s such a blast.

We have this awesome garden of ideas of the shit that truly scares us, and we just get to go pluck a ripe one any time we need. We have so many ideas, I just hope we get to do all of them.

RC: It’s no contest that Christian’s winning on the horror front, I think – the dude’s a master of visual demonology. We’ll write a scene that’s basically characters walking down an alley and talking, or sitting down to a meal, and he knows exactly how to make everything look so sinister and threatening.

But we’re all really good about sharing ideas for scenes and imagery in this little facebook group chat we have. And sometimes I’ll come up with something I’m really proud of and think, “Ah, this is definitely the spookiest part of the issue so far,” and then Tini will come up with some panel idea or Christian will send some concept art that just blows it out of the water.

As a horror fan, I feel so lucky to work with these two.

VEH: Awesome! Any closing thoughts? Hints you want to dangle to bait the helpless readers with?

TH: A lot of fans keep asking “is the book about Patience or is it about Maya?” Which I never know how to answer. The book’s about the relationship between them – and a lot of my favorite books do just that. So enjoy!

RC: We’ve been playing pretty coy about our antagonist, and a lot of the plot, and that’s because the core of this story is about Patience and Maya’s relationship, but that doesn’t mean we’re neglecting the villains.

TH: Oh yeah, that’s a great point. We’re totally gross in love with our antagonist. Hopefully you will be too!

The Magdalena #1 is out this Wednesday from Top Cow.

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