Bleeding Cool Talks To Matt Wagner About Mage: The Hero Denied, The Final Chapter, Announced By Image Comics At ECCC 2017

Posted by March 2, 2017 12 Comments


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Announced by Image Comics at ECCC 2017… Mage: The Hero Denied by Matt Wagner. Thirty-four years after the first Mage chapter comes the conclusion. Or does it?

Matt Wagner returns with the long-awaited conclusion to his epic fantasy trilogy. MAGE follows the adventures of the reluctant everyman hero Kevin Matchstick who, after encountering a shaggy and beguiling wizard, discovers he is the reincarnation of the legendary Pendragon and able to wield the power of the mystical weapon, Excalibur.

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I talked to Matt Wagner earlier today in an embargoed interview arranged with Image Comics PR.

The gap between the last issue of the first Mage volume and the second has long been painted as an interminable, but checking dates it was about eleven years. The gap between the end of the second volume and the beginning of the final book will be eighteen years. How much did you hate your fans not only to put them through the first gap but now through the second? And why wait so long anyway?

Despite the long intervals between volumes, I feel like MAGE is one of my purest and, well…most magical narratives.   I have a fondness for saying that I don’t decide when I’m going to work on MAGE, MAGE decides when it’s going to work on me.  And while, sure, that sounds a bit glib…it’s also pretty much true.  I started the first MAGE series, THE HERO DISCOVERED, in my artistic infancy and basically developed and honed my creative skills even as my fledgling hero was discovering his own fantastic powers and purpose.  For anyone who doesn’t realize it, MAGE is what I like to describe as an allegorical autobiography, with the character of Kevin Matchstick very obviously standing in as my literary alter-ego.  All the other characters he encounters and situations he endures are metaphors from my own life…told through the lens of a fantasy adventure.  And yeah, it’s taken me a while to work my way through the various stages of my life and how to describe and depict them.  THE HERO DISCOVERED was authored while I was actually experiencing that particular stage of my life.  And then progressing maturity meant that I needed a bit of distance in regards to  the next stage…I was five years or so past certain life events when I did THE HERO DEFINED.  Now, for THE HERO DENIED, I found that I really needed a bit more time to see how other aspects of my life were gonna fully play out before being able to translate them into MAGE.  I know it can be frustrating from a reader’s end of things…but that’s just the way it had to work out.  I couldn’t really rush the process and still keep it true to the ideals that made MAGE special in the first place.  But, c’mon…hate my fans?  I fucking LOVE that my readers have stuck with me for this long.  I owe it to them to make sure this final part of the trilogy is both genuine and unexpected.

But it’s back! Mage: Hero Denied. So first, basics, for the number-crunchers. Mage: The Hero Denied. When does it start, how many issues to you envisage it being – still 15? How often will it be published?

Yes, it’ll follow the same template as both of the previous series.   It begins with a half-sized “Interlude” story that will be published as THE HERO DENIED #0 and which bridges the gap between the new series and it’s predecessor, THE HERO DEFINED.  And then the regular-sized series follows immediately after that—fifteen issues with the grand finale (#15) again being a double-sized extravaganza.  THE HERO DENIED #0 will premier in July—just in time for the San Diego Con.  Like the previous series, the narrative unfolds in four-issue story arcs and that’s how we’ll be publishing as well—blocks of four monthly issues followed by a skip-month during which the collected trade of that arc is released.  During the entire run of THE HERO DENIED, we’ll also be releasing new TPB editions of the previous two series as well…with all-new covers!

And this is it, right? The actual end? Image is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, but this is Mage’s thirty-fourth – and it will be at least its thirty-fifth anniversary when it ends? Or can we look forward to in 2040, Mage: The Hero Returns?

Ha!  Or how about MAGE: THE HERO STRIKES AGAIN?!  No…from the beginning, I had planned this as a trilogy and, at first, that was simply due to the fact that all classic fantasy epics I loved just always seemed to be trilogies!  But then I realized and/or learned that this story structure represented the three stages of the archetypical Hero’s Journey, as examined and defined by famed mythologist Joseph Campbell.  This is indeed the final stage for Kevin Matchstick’s epic adventures as the reborn Pendragon and master of the mystic weapon, Excalibur.

The first book’s chapters were titled from Hamlet, the second from Macbeth, will the third books take titles from another of Shakespeare’s works?

Ahh…good of you to notice that.  Yes…THE HERO DENIED also features chapter titles from one of Shakespeare’s plays, generally considered to be his final one—THE TEMPEST.

On that basis, with Miracleman: The Silver Age delayed yet again, how does it feel to, at least, have beaten Miracleman to the final punch?

Uhhh…lucky?  Seriously though, I just don’t think in those sort of terms.  I don’t see myself as being in a race or a competition with anyone but myself.  Especially when it comes to MAGE!  It’s a journey of self-awareness for me and, in fact, that’s how I came to develop MAGE in the first place.  Way back when I was just an artistic puppy, I originally had some ideas about doing a story on the return of King Arthur…and then DC Comics announced they were going to do CAMELOT 3000.  Oh well, screw that, I thought.  Because, y’know, that Brian Bolland fella draws just a wee bit better than I do!  But then the series came out and, while well-crafted and beautiful to look at…it just didn’t speak to me.  It didn’t reflect my world.  I didn’t know anyone in contemporary times who wore shiny, colorful armor and wielded swords.  The crew I ran with were all young and a bit cynical, roaming the city in t-shirts and jeans, defiantly eager for anything life had to throw at us.  And a few of us always had a handy baseball bat stashed under the front car seat…just in case.  So I found that the most resonant way I could approach these mythic motifs was to personalize them.  I had to tell the story of my own Hero’s Journey as filtered through my own experiences.  And that ideal certainly continues in THE HERO DENIED.

You initially envisioned three volumes I believe, are you following your chosen path all the way to the end, or has it diverted wildly over the decades? Dave Sim’s plan changed but he brought it all together for his intended Cerebus ending. What about Kevin? And given how the world has changed over these thirty-five years, does that change your story?

Yes, of course…how could my perceptions and insights not change after so much time?  But I feel like that changing perspective actually adds to the strength of my narrative.  The thing is, so far as my “chosen path” and such…I actually try to not preplan MAGE very much.  As I said, it’s a journey of self-discovery and so I don’t really know where that will lead me.  As a result, I try to not overthink MAGE or how it will all play out.  In fact, I have no idea where and how this series will end.  During production of the second series, THE HERO DEFINED, I even tossed out the process of doing layouts or thumbnails.  I don’t write anything down for MAGE, don’t take any notes.  I do character sketches and creature designs, but that’s about it.  I sit down with blank pages and I start to draw…and I let the story take me where it wants to go.  If you’re in touch with not only the nature of stories but also your own creative instincts, it usually works out quite sublime.  If you’ve ever read Steven King’s ON WRITING, he describes a very similar process.  He creates characters and situations…and then just follows those characters as they progress through the story that they are, in effect, creating together.  In those interim years, when I’m not working on MAGE, I barely think about it at all…try not to think about it, in fact.  But then, suddenly—boom—I reach a point where I find I can’t think about anything else.  And I know it’s time to do MAGE again.

The Hero Defined was a major artistic break from The Hero Discovered. Will The Hero Denied take a similar jump?

Sure, it’s gotta do that…right?  But, truthfully, when I look at the previous two MAGE series and what I’ve already got completed on this newest installment…it all basically looks the same to me.   And by that I mean, yeah, there’s some stylistic differences…but it still looks like the same guy wrote and drew the entire epic tale.  It’s the same kind of story and the same tone of story-telling.   It’s just that the author drew/wrote THE HERO DISCOVERED at one certain stage of his life, THE HERO DEFINED at another leg of his artistic journey…and THE HERO DENIED at still a later level of development.  One of the biggest changes this time around is the fact that my son, Brennan, is coloring this series!  Brennan’s been a professional colorist for some time now and he’s really developed a lush and beautiful approach to his craft.  He’s colored some my previous efforts, but this feels like our most intimate collaboration yet.  Needless to say, I couldn’t be happier or prouder of being able to see the trilogy finished in such a manner…and with such a creative partner.   This is also a good moment to mention my letterer on the series as well—Dave Lanphear of A Large World Studios.  Dave and I have previously worked on several projects together and he always brings such a unique style, personality and attention to story-telling to the often-stale world of comic book lettering.  I was thrilled when he agreed to come on board for THE HERO DENIED.   So, while there are some different elements this time around, not the least of which being my own artistic instincts and skills this many years down the line…it’s still 100% MAGE.

By denying Wally as the second Mage, Kevin doomed himself and destroyed Excalibur. This seems to be where the “Denied” in the headline comes from. Our expectations might be to see The Hero Denied as Kevin trying to reclaim what was once his destiny, one that fell by his own pride and incompetence. Is that where we’re going? And will the Third Mage be more clearly… defined?

Well, Kevin was certainly guilty of arrogance, but I wouldn’t say he doomed himself…and he definitely didn’t destroy Excalibur.  He only destroyed the blunt, limited form it had taken in its most recent incarnation.   As Wally Ut  tells him, a weapon is only a tool and a true hero should be the master of many tools…the form is irrelevant.  And, in losing the instrument that he saw as the symbolic definition of his heroic role, he also discovered a different way of looking at himself…a whole secondary mythic persona.   Kevin learns that he is not only the Pendragon but that he also embodies aspects of the original Sumerian hero, Gilgamesh.  He realizes that he not only held a limited view of his weapon and his power but also the possibilities of his own identity.  Kevin also failed by trying to fulfill a destiny that he thought was prescribed to him…by trying to be “King” among the ranks of his heroic colleagues.  That didn’t work out so well and so he was left with a feeling of abandonment.  Add to that the return of his arch-nemesis, the Umbra Sprite, and our Hero feels like he’s maybe not so hot as he once believed he was.  In the years since we last saw him, Kevin has been living a different sort of life.  But he’s always vigilant for that mystical voice to provide him the guidance he feels he needs to understand if being the hero really is his destiny.  And, yes…he’s haunted by the question that has so far remained unanswered;  Who is the third Mage?

So, whattaya say?  Let’s find out…

Mage: The Hero Denied by Matt Wagner is published by Image Comics this summer. Honest.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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