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Peter Milligan Dissects “Human Remains”

By | September 2nd, 2021
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

One of the biggest universal questions we ask ourselves as humans is did we fail “Sub-Mariner: The Depths,” did we not appreciate its brilliance? The second most asked question might be what makes us human. We are capable of feelings but is it the expression of those feelings or the sharing of those feelings that put us on another level.

In the new Vault Comic series, “Human Remains” creators Peter Milligan, Sally Cantirino, and Dearbhla Kelly explore what if one of the most important aspect of being a human being, expressing emotion, was the thing that could get you killed, and what then would remain?

“Dax and Bisa love each other. But in this new and terrifying world, love is dangerous. Feeling anything is dangerous. Earth has a new and terrible invader—monsters that deprive us of the very feelings that make us human. A shocking tale of pent-up emotions, perilously loud sex, and forced composure in the face of unspeakable horror”

We were able to speak to creator, Peter Milligan about this new series, the ideas behind it, bringing the horror, and creature design. A big thanks to Peter for taking the time to answer our questions which you can find below. If you want even more questions answered or to experience the horror your self be sure to look for “Human Remains” in stores and online this Sep 22nd.

You have said previously this is not a story about COVID but influenced by the precautions, standard of life changes and feelings/ideas of the pandemic. As you approached bringing this story and these characters to life was it any different for you diving into that process? Was there anything you discovered about how you approached the pandemic while you wrote about these characters’ experiences?

Peter Milligan:  More than just precautions.  I noticed how quickly we’d started to change, to interact differently.  Hugging, touching, just being close together.  For a social animal like us to lose that so alien. And yet here we were, changed.  Like most people during this time when I saw a pre-covid movie where people were acting normally – gathering in crowds, touching, hugging, kissing – my reaction was:  that looks wrong.  They shouldn’t be doing that!   Writing this book and letting the characters grow as the monsters appear all around the world brought home another fact about pandemic:  the whole world was feeling it.  Across cultures and borders people were essentially going through the same thing,  talking about the same thing, watching similar news items on TV.  At a time when we all had to keep our distance from each other—the population of the world had never been so close together. 

Again, while not a comic about COVID, it’s a series you thought up, created and wrote during the pandemic. Was this a different writing and production process for you than previous series?

PM:   I have to say, not really.  I’m working from my house in London, and emailing scripts to the USA,  and communicating with both editor Adrian Wessel and artist Sally Cantrino via email and occasionally Skype—this is how it would have been pre-covid.   Obviously there was – and still is – a pandemic going on and this has to have an effect on us personally but it felt as though the process was relatively unchanged. 

You have a good bit of experience with horror and horror adjacent concepts in comics. What was your approach to the horror in this series and as a team how do you try to pull it off?

PM:   The horror should pervade this story.  The fear that these hideous creatures could form out of the ether with a spine-chilling Skreeeee  informs most of the story and the characters’ actions.  For this to work,  the monster has to be convincing and horrible.  And, for me, the “monster attacks” have to sometimes be personal.  It’s all well and good seeing general shots of monster mayhem – and I wanted that, I wanted this to look like a ‘monster/horror book’ – but sometimes to get maximum effect you really need the monster attack to be personal, which means it has to involve characters who you’ve got a bit of emotional investment in.  You don’t  necessarily have to like them, or even care about them—just be emotionally and intellectually involved in their story.  

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In this series, you collaborate up with the amazing artist Sally Cantrino. What did she bring to the story and creation process that you felt really put her stamp on the series?  

PM:  It’s always weird when you first start seeing the artwork for something you’ve written.  When I think about the characters I’m writing, I don’t think about them as drawings or artwork.  I think about them as real flesh and blood people, which to me they are.  So it’s always a bit of a shock when you  see them reduced to – or maybe elevated to – drawings.   Like all good artists Sally brings her own attitude and ideas to the characters—so they’re no longer entirely my characters.  That too can take a little while to get used to but when the art and the visualisation is as good as Sally’s you do quickly get used to it.  Are these characters exactly the way I imagined them?  Probably not.  Are they better for it?  Almost definitely.  That’s how characters come alive.  And these characters really do seem to live—until, that is, they’re horribly killed.   Another thing that’s great about Sally and this series is her style.  It sometimes almost cartoony, which is such a great, jarring, uncomfortable counterpoint to the horror that’s going on.  This really helps create the uncomfortable atmosphere that is so central to Human Remains. 

With a creature/alien antagonist-centered story, I think horror fans look for a lot of check boxes to be met or avoid like creature design, origin, weakness and more. What can readers expect from creatures of “Human Remains?”

PM:  They really are very horrible. We spent some time getting the design right.  I think what we’ve ended up with is both weirdly familiar yet horribly other.  These guys are incredibly dangerous and violent. They seem to have some kind of intelligence but it’s unclear what.  As for weaknesses, they at first seem to have none.  Some of our characters will try to find that weakness.  Whether they succeed will only gradually be revealed.

In some announcements of the series, there were “A Quiet Place” comparisons used, but for me there is a big difference in the nuances of emotion versus sound. How did you set out to build the rules and world of the series, especially tackling something as difficult as emotions?

PM:   Yes, I saw why people made the comparison.  But the differences are greater than the similarities.  For one, I think that deadly creatures that hunt by human emotions seems to get more to the heart of what it is to be us, to be human.  When I write any story I’m interested in the emotions.  With “Human Remains” those emotions really are fore-grounded. 

As for the world, I wanted to create a number of characters who are all somehow linked, albeit very tangentially and occasionally, and to make all of these characters have rich emotional lives – for better or worse.  In other words, full of the very stuff that will put them at risk when the life-forms arrive and start hunting. 

This is your first release with Vault Comics and as a creator who has worked with many different publishers, why was Vault the place for Human Remains?

PM:  I had some very good initial talks Adrian Wassel at Vault and I really liked what he was saying.  When I ran the idea for “Human Remains” by him he was really positive and enthusiastic and things went from there. 

What do you hope readers take away from this series in the end and do you think there is something to be learned from this series and maybe comics in general as we try to get our lives back together? 

PM:   I’d like readers to come away moved and excited and satisfied.  And maybe to think anew about some of things we take so much for granted.  Maybe this will be more important than ever as the pandemic starts to ease off – with luck and the help of science and a degree of indefatigability – and we begin be able to do those humans things we’ve been unable to do. 

Kyle Welch