Ferguson’s 7 Questions With… Maura McHugh
Next up is the writer of one of my favourite Irish comics, Jennifer Wilde: Maura McHugh.
What was the first comic work you did that was published?
The first comic I wrote was part of a monthly workshop group back in the 1990s in Dublin called the Artists and Writers Workshop, which was run by Paul Sheridan. It was part of an anthology comic book produced by the group, and my piece (a post-apocalyptic story) was drawn by Pete McCanney. Then life intervened, and I didn’t do a lot of writing for a while. When I returned I concentrated primarily on prose. The first full-length comic book story I wrote was Róisín Dubh, for Robert Curley at Atomic Diner.
What is the biggest thing you have learned since that book?
To trust my instincts. Sometimes writing feels like flying a plane through a thick fog while being guided by a taciturn co-pilot. Every now and again you break free from the clouds and your story is bright, sparkling, and spread out beneath you. Those moments of clarity are often the best part of writing. The co-pilot knows its job. Trusting it and not second-guessing it is not always easy, however.
What’s your process for writing a comic book?
It depends. Generally I outline, because almost no one is going to trust you to write a project without some kind of pitch document or treatment. Then it’s a case of doing the research, and getting down to writing the script. The story comes alive properly for me at this stage, and this is where elements change and move due to the way the narrative shifts. After that you wait for feedback, and progress into the editing stage. With Atomic Diner I usually do a final edit on dialogue after I see the art and the text is laid down. Sometimes there are practical reasons for changes – there’s just just not enough room for the text – or there are aesthetic reasons for changes: for instance an expression on a character’s face suggests a shift in emphasis.
What is the biggest influence on your work?
Pretty much everything is an influence. I’m a big fan of mythology, and I’ve written two prose collections based on fairy tales and myths. Those kinds of cultural bedrock stories are important and pulsing with the lifeblood of storytelling. I watch a lot of documentaries, and read quite a bit of non-fiction. Stories about people’s real lives and how they perceive the world feed into my writing all the time. I’m always trying to puzzle out why the world is the way it is and how people think.
When I was a teen I was a big fan of fantasy – especially Tolkien – but I adore science fiction, and of course horror. Genre media is my favourite: TV, film, video games, novels, and comics. I love it all. Direct influences on my work are difficult to pin down, but in comics writers like Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Gail Simone would be important (I will namecheck Alan Moore as well, mainly for his Ballad of Halo Jones). I love horror stories, and weird fiction, so in those cases people like Sheridan LeFanu, Shirley Jackson, Gemma Files, Richard Matheson, and Joe Hill (to name a small sample) would be people whose writing I admire. Various TV shows and films I love would be too many to list, but Buffy, Farscape, the Aliens franchise, Pitch Black, Session 9, Pan’s Labyrinth, and currently I love the TV series Hannibal. I’m playing the latest Tomb Raider game at the moment and enjoying it, so a hat tip to Rhianna Pratchett for writing that.
What are you working on right now?
I’m co-writing a mini-series for an America publisher, and that’s about 60% complete at this point. I’ve a creator-owned project in development with a British comic book publisher as well, but it’s in early stages. I’m also working on another Jennifer Wilde arc for Atomic Diner. Plus, I’ve always got ideas for other projects brewing at various stages of development – comic books, short stories, novels, and films. It all depends on timing and opportunity as to which one will come to the fore as a viable option.
What do you out now or coming out next?
Issue 3 of Jennifer Wilde came out this summer, and issue 3 of Róisín Dubh should be appearing soon. On the prose side of things my next collection Twisted Myths will be published on 1 October in the USA. The trade editions of both Róisín Dubh and Jennifer Wilde are scheduled to be out by the end of this year I believe.
What is your favourite Irish comic?
I’ll rule out recommending any of the Atomic Diner titles in case I’m accused of favouritism. I’m a big fan of Leeann Hamiliton’s Finn & Fish cycle, which is great fun and beautifully drawn. I’d also like to give a shout-out to Jason Connor & Phil Roe for The Wren series, which is entertaining and well put together.
Maura McHugh’s Blog http://splinister.com/blog
Maura McHugh on the Irish Comic Wiki http://irishcomics.wikia.