Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Illyria #3 Micro Interview with Mariah Huehner

Buffyfest: We get to see lots of new and unique creatures and demons in this issue.  What was the inspiration for them?

Mariah Huehner: I think the first thing we wanted was to open up the world a bit. When you revisit something like The Deeper Well you can't just rehash what's come before. Even though it's a place with a very painful history, it had to offer something new or it would look like a cop-out. So it was really important that we give it a new dimension, a new atmosphere in certain ways, which included new creatures.

Characters like the Cephaladogs (that's what I call them, anyway) were mostly inspired by my ridiculous love of octopi and squid, Henson creatures from shows like Farscape, and a whole bunch of deep sea doc's I'd been watching. I figured making creatures that would be connected to Illyria and allow her new dimensions was a fun way to blend my absurd admiration for squidly octopi and a very necessary character arc. Plus, since Illyria's Old One form had tentacles, it made for a nice call back and a way to make them distantly "related".

Buffyfest: The new Keeper of the Deeper Well is not what Illyria (or the audience) might expect.  Would you tell us a little bit about her, who she is and where the idea for her came from?

MH: She's kind of a blend of Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (one of my all-time favorite characters), my grandmothers, and Miss Marple (the knitting, spectacles, and tea are all a nod to her). I wanted to have the new Keeper be something completely and entirely different than The Drogyn, with a unique attitude and style. Physically, I wanted her to be the polar opposite of Sally from issue #2 and be exactly the sort of creature Illyria would underestimate along with the audience. We never tell you what she is, or even who she is (she's never named). She's mysterious on purpose, to keep you wondering. Especially about how it is she knows the things she does. What was really incredible, though, was how perfectly Elena drew her. It was like she read my mind, although obviously I did describe her in the script. But I'd done a sketch of her myself that I never showed Elena, of the characters face, and it's a dead ringer. Getting those pages in was a delight.

The other thing I wanted to avoid was being obvious with the new Keeper. Which would have been to make it some kind of warrior Illyria had to fight. I think that's really easy with Illyria and gets in the way of her development sometimes. As much fun as it is to see her break things, I'd rather she do it with some kind of purpose. And since this series is about her needing to address her place in the world, it seemed important to me that she interact with different personalities without always punching things. Between Sally and the new Keeper we get two very distinct female characters, too. And they both help Illyria in their own ways.

Buffyfest: Let's talk feminist subtext.  The only speaking characters in this issue are two women (for lack of a better term).  Was that intentional?

MH: Yes, it definitely was. I wanted to have an issue that would pass The Bechdel test, where there are two main female characters who talk about something besides men. Usually that's in film, but I thought it would make for a good challenge here. We've very rarely seen Illyria in a context that doesn't involve one of the male characters, and usually her story revolves around them in some way. Which makes sense in the main series since everyone revolves around Angel to some degree, but, I wanted this to really be -her- story. And while I know she's this kind of amorphous, not really gendered character, she appears in a female body to the world. So some of how she's perceived has to do with the shell she's in, and it influences how other characters treat her. Which then influences how she views them.

This feeling of otherness is one of the main themes I wanted to explore in the series, from a feminist perspective. Feeling out of place in the world, alien in your own body, somehow inherently wrong. Illyria commented in the series about feeling like the wrong size, for instance, and being cut off from the world she understood. Those always felt like metaphors to me, while also being literally true for the character. Obviously not just women feel that way, but it's one of the ways I identify with the character and one of the core issues she's been dealing with since the beginning. So it felt right to make it a major element of her arc.

Buffyfest: Illyria speaks in another language here.  Was this language derived from anything that already exists?

MH: Yes! The big influence is Elvish, although phonetically, I didn't attempt to spell anything like Tolkien did. I love the lyric quality of that language so I based a number of words loosely on how certain Elvish ones sound. There are also a lot of anagrams, such as Tirmek! That's Kermit with the letters rearranged. Because he's my favorite muppet and I love him dearly.

Buffyfest: There's a huge shift in Illyria's character that's expressed mostly in half thoughts and Elena's art, would you elaborate on what's happening to Illyria during this sequence?

MH: It's really two things. 1. A profound realization of who she's been, who she could be, and who she actually is. What it cost, why it matters, and what's to come. It's a moment of sort of excruciating insight, of bringing everything together that she's been feeling, dreaming, and questioning. 2. A reclamation, but you won't know of precisely what until #4.

When she reaches out to touch the stone she's mirroring what Fred did in A Hole in the World (which has been a theme throughout) and the curiosity that partly led to her death. I wanted to show Illyria having some of that same curiosity, being drawn to something beyond herself, and experiencing an emotional shift and a certain kind of "ending". It's deliberately abstract and vaguely poetic, since I don't think you can describe something like that in any kind of linear, clear way. Illyria is a bit of a self-important character, which makes her perfect for expressing your own existential dread. Not to mention the subtle physical alterations that indicate the inner changes visually.

What I hope the scene accomplishes is the idea that Illyria's awareness has shifted, or is at least starting to. She sees herself and the world in a different way, which culminates in issue #4. And it's these moments combined that shape her arc.

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