Titan Comics Brand Manager (and former Bleeding Cool contributor) Chris Thompson interviews Hammer Comics editor David Girvan and writer Peter Milligan about their new series, The Mummy: Palimpsest #1, which is out now from Titan Comics.
Chris Thompson – A lot of people assume these are re-imaginings of the original Mummy mythos, but am I right in saying you view this more as the next instalment in The Mummy saga which just happens to be appearing in comics form rather than film?
David Girvan – Yes, exactly. We are looking at The Mummy: Palimpsest as a completely new story rather than a reboot. For us it was never really about trying to re-imagine or re-create any of the original four stories from Hammer’s Mummy films of yesteryear. They hold a special place in many people’s hearts but they were a product of their time, and what scared an audience in 1959, or even 1971, is very different to what scares an audience today. So our ambition was to take the essence of those original stories, and see how we could twist it to make it relevant – and hopefully unsettling – for people today. We wanted to find a new way into the mythology, without resorting to an antagonist covered in bandages who would stand up and chase our heroes around the place, which, frankly, seems a bit cheesy. Having discussed various ideas with screenwriters over the years we’d never quite found our way in, and eventually thought a comic writer might be able to think outside the box – approach the challenge with a different perspective. We really wanted our story to be rooted in the present, and we were very excited when Peter came to us with his fresh and timely spin. We were particularly excited by our strong female heroine and placing her in today’s London, albeit an alternative London with a very ancient and very secret subculture!
Peter Milligan – When I first spoke to the people at Hammer I wasn’t asked to rehash the existing Mummy stories or even write a sequel to any of them: instead they were interested to see if I could approach the “Mummy Mythos” from a different angle. I spent some days watching the Hammer Mummy films. A few things stuck out about them. Guys prancing around wrapped in bandages wasn’t scary any more, and women tended to be there to be saved – usually by the plucky British Egyptologist. This wouldn’t do anymore. I really liked the world of the Mummy (Egypt, etc.) and knew that the myth was still valid and could still be relevant to our world – and be scary. I really like the rather eccentrically British quality Hammer instilled in those early Mummy movies, so while making this story more timely I wanted to retain some of that. For example, one of the secret societies – The Pyramid Club – has its headquarters behind a secret door in the Egyptian Gallery of the British Museum. So, while The Mummy: Palimpsest isn’t a re-imagining of an earlier Mummy film, I really do see it as an evolution, the next stage in Hammer’s exploration of the Mummy mythos.
CT – You’ve written both film and comic scripts before, Peter – whereas HAMMER until now have been more film and television-oriented. What do you see as the major similarities and differences between comic and film scripts? And how easy is it to flip between those two formats in your head?
DG – The formatting is different, but the two don’t feel a million miles away from one another. Films and comics are both stories told using images, and largely follow the same rules regarding cause-and-effect plotting. But of course a comic’s images are always going to be static, and there’s a stricter limit to the number of words you can get in a speech bubble, and of pages you can fill to tell the entire story … A lot needs to be conveyed through a single picture, and therefore the words in a comic script are at times more expositional or direct than they might be in the script for a motion picture. Subtext and nuance is more difficult, especially without the benefit of an actor’s performance, and where words on a page can be interpreted in a number of ways, it forces you to try to convey tone through other means, such as the artwork. There’s also a difference in structure between film and comics. Although it isn’t a hard and fast rule, films traditionally come in three acts, with big plot turns at each act change. With an episodic comic series, you really want a major plot point at the end of each issue to keep readers excited. Which is of course more like episodic TV.
PM – The major difference is the pictures don’t move in comics! Then there’s the whole issue of word count, and the technical issue in comic scripts of when a page turns, which can be vital for creating maximum effect and which you obviously don’t get in films. One of the editors on The Mummy: Palimpsest comes from the film world, and had never seen a comic book script before, so it was very interesting when I started to work with Hammer to show her a comic script and the corresponding book (The Names, by Milligan and Fernandez). I think her opinion was that the comic script contained more information than the average film script – more like a shooting script, maybe. Beyond all that we’re still dealing with story. Working out the internal logic of this story – who our hero is, what’s happening to her, the “ghost logic” of the weird or horrific stuff that goes on – to me that’s the same whether we’re talking about prose, comics or films. When it comes to plotting out the story, differences between comics and films do obviously occur. In the case of a series, you want the drama to build towards the end of each comic, leaving with some kind of plot point or “cliffhanger” – in this way comics probably more closely resemble a serialised story or novel.
CT – The old HAMMER films are very much a product and symbol of their time. How are you trying to reshape that concept, while still placing The Mummy in the context of now?
DG – With The Mummy: Palimpsest, as with all our upcoming comics – and indeed all our upcoming films and television programmes – we’re focusing on the same things the best Hammer films have always had in their DNA: strong, engaging central characters who make us want to go on a journey with them, even when it gets terrifying. And great monsters, both supernatural and human, to hold up a mirror to the darkest sides of ourselves. You’ll need to read the comic and tell us if we’ve been successful!
PM – The thing I worked hardest on was making this a story that was – besides horrific – relevant to today, with a central character who was recognisable and current. I think the Mummy concept or mythos is a great one and can be refashioned or evolved to tell a tale that has real traction with what’s happening at the moment, as well as carrying a high degree of horror.
CT – What level of responsibility do you feel when dealing with such iconic characters and brands? Is it possible to separate the work from the legacy?
DG – There would always be pressure involved when you’re dealing with such a big brand with as rich a history as The Mummy, but the simple goal we’re trying to achieve is to tell a great, original story. If we do that, we think Palimpsest will be able to proudly stand alongside HAMMER’s classic Mummy stories.
PM – I’m not sure if responsibility is exactly the right word, but I am aware that the Hammer Mummy films mean a lot to a lot of people. I guess the plan and idea has been to try to make The Mummy: Palimpsest – though very different from the Hammer Mummy stories that have gone before – to be seen and accepted as part of Hammer’s Mummy legacy.
CT – What does Ronilson’s involvement bring to the project? How does he manage to realise the script in a way that cameras and film can’t quite capture?
DG – We spent a long time looking at artists for The Mummy, but eventually decided that Ronilson would be the best fit for the story. His traditional, old-school style provides a great link to the original Hammer films in what is an otherwise very modern story. We’ve also been particularly impressed with his visuals for the Egyptian Land of the Dead, which are really vivid and terrifying!
PM – There is a kind of old school quality to Ronilson’s aesthetic which perfectly provides some connective tissue to the previous Mummy stories and perfectly fits with the story, part of which deals with the subject of immortality. And as Hammer said, he does a great job of imagining the Egyptian land of the Dead.
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