After their success with “Journey Into Mystery” and a “The Wicked + The Divine” one shot, Stephanie Hans and Kieron Gillen are reuniting to dive deep into a completely brand new, fictional world. “DIE” is a new ongoing series that can be described as “goth Jumanji” and at this past New York Comic Con, we had the chance to talk to them about the upcoming series, their collaboration and role playing games.
So, let’s talk about “DIE,” what’s the pitch? Is it planned ongoing?
Kieron Gillen: Okay, Die, basically we’ve known each other since “Journey Into Mystery” where Stephanie did all the covers and she drew a formal issue. That was the moment I realized she could do—
Stephanie Hans: I was so young.
KG: We were so young and so naive then. We were working on something else before “DIE”then I had the idea that 2 years ago in San Diego and we were trying to—we were making jokes about the old D&D cartoon. But you know, we were just joking and messing around. In 1991, a group of teenagers playing role playing games disappeared. For 2 years, no one knows where they went to, they you know, then 2 years later, they came back and not been able to talk about like what happened. The story’s actually set in 2018, all these kids are now of course 40 something adults and basically what happened back then comes back and haunts them now so that kind of thing. It’s a book about fantasy and dreams. It’s a little about comparing these adults, teenage fantasies, where their lives ended up. It’s ’s kind of like being on a high-level fancy adventure and it’s also got that really cool emotion core of, you know, where did life go wrong.
So this is your next, big, ongoing after “The Wicked + The Divine” is all said and done. The characters are very different. You mentioned that these characters are going to be in their 40s. Going from writing really young characters who are gods and kind of selfish and adults on this adventure.
KG: Normally, adults are selfish.
SH: Yeah. I think all your life you pretend that you’re going to be an adult someday but you never do.
So has your approach changed with writing those characters compared to these much older characters who aren’t as godlike?
KG:: These are psychologically realistic characters. The psychological realism involving all those people are kind of there. Unlike the gods, if something happens to them as the people become gods and kind of changes how that experience goes. I’m going to give you six people who are more complicated because, you know, the six people, so the cast is smaller which means I can make them all complicated. And put them in this drama, you know, in some ways, the things that’s the same is, each of these characters is about a specific thing, this and that. This is the main issue and this is what they have to deal with. Most of the cast of multiple things is worth more, truly have more desires and conflicts. These are leads to a slightly different thought. That’s kind of the main difference. And the other side of it is like, you know, I never actually I really set out to write teenagers that long. It’s not like I deliberately set out to do it. I got to write people at least as old as I am.
The two of you worked together before. So, but, what made this the project that you two had to do together?
KG: Well I suddenly realized what it’s about. Part of me is there. What if part of me disappeared in a fancy world at the age of 16 and never came out. How has my love of all this stuff behind us [points to the convention center] emotionally stunted us. That, and you know, as a grown up, you can’t have these grown up conversations. That’s kind of me realizing, no, this is really interesting. It’s a mid-life crisis book.
SH: You know, I already had my mid-life crisis.
KG: You did?
SH: It was actually fun to see you do yours as well. It was, you know.Continued below
KG: “Wic +Div” is kind of my midlife crisis as well. But this is kind of me building something else on top of that.
SH: Also, we realized at a point that we both like Final Fantasy. I was hardcore Final Fantasy player. Of course very hard core fan of J.R.R Tolkien, books and actually put this on the side. All the love I have for epic fantasy because I thought it was too easy to—it’s not easy per se, but it’s easy to do sloppy and pretend you did great, and you did fantasy because people will accept it. I wanted to really be good at my job before going back to epic fantasy. And so I talked about it to Kieron and I realized that he had this kind—something the same kind of process.
KG: A lot part of me is like the world needs a fantasy universe created by Stephanie Hans. The idea for the book is very meta critical and it’s about fantasy and what that means. It’s like it’s got a “Planetary” element so this is the things that is D&D. This is where D&D came from and where and how that’s influenced the world. This will remind you of why you fell in love in the first place. It’s Stephanie’s universe. They’re not like classic D&D characters but there are twists to that. The other thing is, the reality of it is real world, it’s fantasy, it’s a lot of different tones in between. Stephanie gets to showcase so much of her art, you know, in lots of different ways. Most issues all set up in a classic Tolkien kind of way. You know, it happens in story like someone’s telling a story about like a classical fantasy and then the other person tells the story that my mom died, you know, it seems like that’s the idea – trying to treat it all the same when we talk about real life and fantasy.
That’s really cool. So given that you two worked together before, has your collaboration process changed in any way with this project compared to other things you’ve done together?
KG: We’ve had to build from scratch.
SH: I have this kind of thing I call the “the one man thinking man.”
KG: Stephanie should talk about this more. This is kind of her first ongoing, so this is all kind of new. I’ve worked with many artists before and built stuff. Like this is the first time Stephanie’s really done that. Her thing’s interesting. It’s like the first time she’s joined the band.
This is an ongoing series and this—you’re going to be doing the interiors, you’re helping design everything. This is a lot.
SH: It still is.
Have you change anything about your process or about how you work, working on something like this compared to your cover work?
SH: The first thing I changed is basically choose the place to live because I was basically living like in my luggage. I had a big luggage and I was jumping from country to country when we were staring to work together. And I quickly realized that I didn’t have enough time for this. So I need to find an apartment. That’s the main thing that’s changing in my life. I’m still kind of processing it because each time I freak out, I’m like, Oh, I’m going to go to Singapore and that’s not a good idea. It is but I need to tone it down and stay in a place just do the thing.
Did traveling around the world influence your art in different ways especially when you’re dealing with fantasy elements?
SH: Yeah a lot!
Did you see things that just were like, “That’s something that’s going to appear in the book in some way”?
SH: There are a lot of things in my travels that are in the book. It’s funny that I hear Kieron talking about how the book is. It is as much biographical for me as it is for him but just in a different way, you know. I put in it all the art, the influences that I grab while working for Marvel, DC and everybody. And in just being on the road for a while, meeting a lot of people. All this is in the book.Continued below
KG: She’s also more impactful on the actual story side than I usually have. Like with Stephanie… Several of the characters have changed significantly. Like there’s one that has certain style for example. You know, that’s like what Stephanie talked about in her own kind of like teenage stuff. That kind of—we bought that kind of stuff and worked in, you know. It’s very collaborative in a way which I don’t think I’ve quite experienced before.
From your standpoint drawing the book, are there any characters that have stood out so far? I mean, you can’t talk too much about bit and pieces of the story, but have you already kind of fallen in love with like a specific character?
SH: Basically, I love all of them. You know, before being an illustrator, I was also an author. So basically I would be each character, you know and it’s just the same in this job. Only one of them that I am not—and that I don’t really like—I like not being able to like it.
I think role playing games have made a really big resurgence, at least in mainstream pop culture. They’ve never gone away, but you know, something like Stranger Things, kind of brought it back up. I know the two of you have a background of fantasy and role playing games, so for the two of you when you’re creating the story, have any of your original characters from your sessions kind of popped up in any way?
KG: I wouldn’t put it past me. That’s the sort of stuff that’s happening. What do I say? Not yet. Have you drawn any of your old characters?
SH: No, I don’t think so. No.
I know in these sessions,when you play them for so long, these characters kind of stay with you, you don’t really get rid of them, you know. They’re always in your mind.
SH: I had this character that I’ve been playing for two years when I was young. She died. I was devastated. And so she died because my group killed it. She was too powerful; she was ruining the party for everybody.
KG: That’s okay. That’s funny. You see powerful women and have to kill them down. [we all laughed]
SH: I’ve been fridged by my friends!
KG: I like a lot of contemporary games and like a lot of old games and I try to unpack what works and what doesn’t. Because one of the things I’m doing in fact, Stephanie and I have plans. I’ve made a complete RPG.
KG: We’ll be releasing it as a PDF when the first strike.
Lastly, the teasers for “DIE” kind of reminded me of the teasers we got for “Wic + Div” where it just gives you just a little bit, but not everything. Because now when I think back on those teasers, I’m like, WOW. We did not know what we’re getting ourselves into. What can readers come to expect from this first issue?
KG: It will be very beautiful. A bit of tone, a bit of mood, things that make people go, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I mean what we have in the teaser, that’s like page 11. Go to page 11 or so and that’s where all the information come quickly and then 2018. And it’s 34 pages and—
SH: It’s 35 pages. I had to draw them. [we all laugh]
KG: We’ve got a lot in that issue kind. We’ve tried to make the first issue an aggressive explanation of what the comic is. It’s really tightly packed. But it still has that elegance. And I’m giving too much here. By the of the first issue, you’re like, okay, I know how this book works. I know what the story is. I kind of know the direction and how it’s called “DIE.” There’s a magic door you go into. And of course books are magic doors. You know, we open this book, you enter another world. And that’s kind of what I want from the first issue of “DIE.” When people come through it, they’ll open it and that tease and we’ll take them into this world we made. And that’s kind of what I’m waiting for – the people to go, “Fuckin hell, this is really interesting.”