ECCC 2019: The Vertigo Panel With Marissa Louise, Zoe Quinn & Rob Sheridan

by Hannah Means Shannon

The Vertigo Panel on Friday morning at Emerald City Comic Con was hosted by Alex Lu of The Comics Beat, and featured Marissa Louise (Hex Wives), Zoe Quinn (Goddess Mode), and Rob Sheridan (High Level).

Lu spoke about the role of Sandman in getting him into comics, as with many other readers, and reminded the audience that the new Sandman Universe titles are underway, showing a video of Neil Gaiman introducing the line. Trades for these new titles will be hitting shops in June and July.

Talking about Hex Wives, colorist Marissa Louise reminded folks that the series is about a group of witches competing with a group known as the Architects to control the world. And at the onset of the series, the Architects have found a way to control the women. It doesn’t go well, she laughed. Louise feels that working for Vertigo gives her a chance to have a strong voice in comics. She explores things like using a very rendered approach to reality and cell-shading for “unreality” in the comic.

Marissa Louise explained that she tries to think about elements to define and emphasize in each book and concerning certain characters. In some books, character focus is particularly important, in others less so. In Hex Wives, the “emotional battle for control” was the focus, and she needed to define two realities and two types of control struggling against one another, she said. She took the palettes developed around the female characters and would extend them outward from the characters when showing the extension of their control over the world.

She explained her choice of green to suggest the power force of the male architects by a process of elimination regarding which colors could suggest force and not be too saturated or too soothing. Once she’d chosen green, purple and yellow became the colors to show the powers of the female witches underway.

Goddess Mode, a book described as “witches and cyberpunk” was up next for discussion. It also contains “magical girl” ideas, Quinn said. Toward the end of the 3rd issue, more friction is forming in the group, Quinn explained. Moving towards the end of the first arc, backstory and relationships are a big focus. In 5 and 6, once all the “pieces are on the board”, things will be more smashed together.

In the book, anyone who does some good in the world is a person who has been pushed into it and not really given a choice, Quinn explained, and she explores that further as the series goes on. It relates to her experience of American life, she said, where people trying to do good are “so tired” right now. She also commented on the networking of identity and lives common on the internet and social media and the way that it affects our perception of reality. She tries to “unpack” some of the “metaphors” of that in Goddess Mode to make it more accessible to people.

Quinn said that the internet has been incredibly important to her, as a teen and in her current life, to find an online community of like-minded people, and sees it as a kind of “magic”, really, alongside the drawbacks mentioned previously. Goddess Mode is a “dark story with a lot of levity at the end of the day”, Quinn said.

High Level, which debuted recently, had a long planning and development phase, Sheridan says, and it’s a great feeling to finally see it on shelves. It’s a series that’s a “post-post apocalyptic adventure” and looks ahead to the distant future. They wanted to tell the story of “what happens next” and not “what happened”, Sheridan said. The apocalypse happened in the past, and a lot has become “myth” in the world of the comic, and though much is unknown to the people, the comic is about “systems of control” and how people respond to them. And especially what happens when the “blinders” are “pulled off” about control.

Sheridan is interested in the ways in which mythology continues to affect the modern world, even though its systems are “supposedly myth-free”, like government. He’s also interested in removing the systems of control that are still in place, which we don’t notice, deconstructing that mythology.

Sheridan said he was living in an RV in a forest “disconnected” from his previous life in LA, and exploring how people build societies. “False ideas of what you need to gain a higher level” was a key concept for him at the time and influenced his creation of the book. Expect car chases, robots, and more “fun stuff”, though. The book is not a “dystopian downer” but “an adventure”, Sheridan said.

Asked about whether their stories were “dark” and what that said about the time we’re living in, all the panelists felt that was necessary, and perhaps the only kind of stories that can tell right now, though humor is also a big way of reflecting “broken” aspects of life.

Cynicism isn’t “cool” anymore, Sheridan said, but looking “beyond you” at things that you “share” with others is important, and is a big part of his story, too.

Talking about what they love about the comics medium, Marissa Louise said, first up, the fact that you can have one person create the entire thing is awesome. But also the “plasticity” and use of time on the page or pages and create reality is “unlike any other medium”. It’s not purely “linear” so you can do multi-level time experiences for the reader.

Quinn agreed, but observed that the “wiggle room of the gutter” is a huge deal that differs from her other work in gaming. The moment to moment experience creates “opt in” and “following” opportunities that are more fluid than gaming. The use of frames and panels vs using a fixed screen is particularly appealing to Quinn.

The “infinite ability of the imagination” and the “accessibility” of the medium are the big draws for Sheridan to work in comics, the fact that anyone can make them with limited technology.

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