Denise Mina Interview from Crimespree #9

Denise Mina is a very busy lady right now. With an expanding family, book dead-line and too many other projects to list she took a time out to talk to Crimespree about her newest literary adventure. Denise is writing her first graphic story arc and she’s starting with the crème de la crème. Hellblazer.
Ruth Jordan: Why, of all the figures available in comic fiction did you choose Hellblazer to write?

Denise Mina: What a flattering question! Actually they approached me and asked if I would like to write it. I replied instantly that I would eat my own guts to write for Hellblazer. It’s a great noir story with gothic overtones and Constantine is super cool.

R: How did the opportunity present itself?

D: The editor, Jon Vankin, wrote to my website and asked if I’d be interested. I was so thrilled. Boasting about it before I signed off.

R: You were approached? That’s great. A perfect match with the body of fiction you’ve written, too. How did Vankin find out about you? Is he a reader?

D: Well, apparently he is. Although I never really believe anyone reads my books unless they know me. If he isn’t a reader he’s a very good bluffer.

R: A birdie told me that you already owned all of the Hellblazer comics when you started writing your story arc, are there any other comic heroes you keep in touch with on a regular basis?

D: Not especially. Sorry

R: When did you start reading Hellblazer?

D: My boyfriend made me read it and he’s been a fan since about 1990. I think the first thing I read was Deadly Habits, so when was that? Five, six years ago? (1994)

R: John Constantine is a man who’s cheated both the Devil and death, literally. Do you find him to be more of a heroic or a tragic figure?

D:I think he’s a bad selfish man, a heartbroken idealist and one the those cynics who seem to keep trying to do the right thing even though they don’t think it’s going to make any difference in the long run. I love people like that. Blind faith.

R: “Bad, selfish man” I like that. The first story arc I read was in Rare Cuts. It’s a rough beginning. And I was drawn towards Constantine anyway. Like a great mystery protagonist. A Rebus, a Robicheaux, an O’Donnell…. Flawed individuals who try to do their best and sometimes the only thing it preserves is their own humanity. They are the best protagonists, aren’t they?

D: Definitely. I like protagonists who do the things I’d like to do, punch the baddy, insult the prom queen, dabble in hell and taunt the Devil. It’s a kind of hyper-version of the quandaries we all face every day, like whether to be a loyal friend, or sell our soul to the three lords of hell.

R: What amazes me about Hellblazer is the fact that over and over the story arcs deal very realistically with social issues. Homelessness, alcoholism, rent boys. it’s a fascinating series. Is that what drew you to this particular comic?

D: Well, its why I love Hellblazer, I’m not so keen on hyper fantasy comics unless it’s a clear analogy of something else. Some people love that abstract theology aspect of comics but I just get confused by women in furry bikinis holding the Norbs of Orb.

R: “Women in furry bikinis holding the Norbs of Orb.” I’ve missed that one. But I have Jon’s Christmas present now. Can you give our readers a preview of your story arc, or tease us with the title?

D: The title is “Empathy is the Enemy” and it concerns the truth about near death experiences. I always wondered about that benign white light that draws you in and thought it might be a trap.

R: You’re catholic too, aren’t you? (Recovering, in my case)

D: Yes, I was at convent boarding school. Hard core.

R: Convent Boarding School, that is hard core. So let me ask this question. Is it more important for John Constantine to save his soul, or to try to save his soul?

D: To try. Canon law’s a slippery monkey. In the next world we’re to be judged on our intentions, not our actions. As any failed catholic porn star’ll tell you ( and there are a lot of them) thinking about sex is as bad has having sex. If John tries to save his soul he’d be onto a winner. His problem is that he’s not humble enough to try.

R: Did writing “Empathy is the Enemy” work any of our inbred guilt out for you?

D: I’m so crippled by guilt and shame I hardly notice it anymore. I self medicate with cigarettes and chocolate.

R: I shop, books mostly but shoes too.. On the lighter side, romantic question, can John and Kit ever get together?

D: I’m sorry to say it but I never liked Kit. Kind of in the way it takes a long, long time to get to like the new partner of an old friend, I always felt she was crashing the JC party and slowing things down a lot. What the hell did she illustrate anyway? When did she work? She just seemed to spend a lot of time at home pursing her lips and waiting for him to get home.

R: Not a Kit fan? Should John Constantine have a relationship with anyone? Does he find a friend in “Empathy Is The Enemy”?

D: Yeah, I think he should meet someone but I believed him and Zed a bit more, someone who doesn’t hate the dark side of him but understands and accepts it. Maybe that was the attraction to Kit though, that she was so dull.

R: Tell us what’s different about the writing experience. Novels as opposed to a graphic presentation?

D: Graphic is so much more visual and the prose has to be really tight. It’s very disciplined because each frame has to be still, no one can move across a room or reach into their pocket and take something out. I can actually feel different bits of my brain sparking in to life when I do it.

R: Have you seen the artwork? Was it what you expected?

D: I’ve seen a cover which is stunning and funny at the same time because it shows Glasgow “neds” or thugs and the artist has them down perfectly, from their zip up track suits tops and skip caps to the stance. It’s very classic as well. It’s thrilling to see that,

R: I adhere to the theory that if a writer writes well no two readers are going to imagine any given scenario within a novel in exactly the same way. In a comic where you’re given the visuals and they are so important to the story, it must be a trip to see the artwork as the author. Did it make you visualize your own story differently?

D: It did, I like the slip between a writer and reader, I like to hear what other people made of scenes I’ve written. Because the places in Hellblazer are all real, Glasgow motorways and an area of housing in the city, I made a film of the area and sent a DVD of the sites to the artist. It’s going to be wild to see what they make of them.

R: Do you want to comment on Constantine (the movie)?

D: I liked it as a movie but didn’t think it related to the JC I know very much. I think cannon law is a neglected source of movies stories though and Keanu is a brilliant movie star. He holds a screen like no one else.

R: If Jon Vankin asks you to write another story arc, will you ?

D: I’ve got 13 issues to write and couldn’t imagine doing another arc afterwards which is probably a good thing. I work really hard on commissions the first time because I’m afraid of getting caught out but tend to get sloppy really fast so it’s probably best to keep it short.

R: When can readers find “Empathy” at their corner shop?

D: January 2006.

R: Will you come and visit with Crime Spree again to talk more about the books?

D: Defo.

R: How cool is it…. I mean Hellblazer? I’d be, well, excited to be sure…

D: Hellblazer is fuck-off cool. I’m sure you can’t print that but it is. Ian Rankin sent me a slightly awed email asking how I’d gotten the job. That’s how cool it is.

Fuck-off cool describes being able to interview Denise Mina for me. The author of THE GARNET HILL TRILOGY, SANCTUM and this summer’s THE FIELD OF BLOOD is one of our most gifted scribes. “Empathy is the Enemy”. January. You can’t go wrong.

R: After a challenging and rewarding “day job” what made you pick up the pen, take the first keystroke?

D: Being shit at my day job helped. I was a bad, shy, apologetic academic. I should have done less work and bummed myself up more.

R: “Tartan Noir” Has it been great, I look at the body of writing coming from
Scotland and am truly amazed?

D: It’s brilliant. TN is building up to a body of work that really comments on society as it is now. I’m sure that in the future Scottish crime fiction from this period will be well studied as a perfect snap shot of what was really going at this time. Literary fiction is so pointedly aimed at academic approval now, it hardly seems to relate the rest of us.

R: Paddy Meehan is very young. Was it a risk to pick such a young protagonist for THE FIELD OF BLOOD?

D: Probably. The publishers wanted to know how we could possibly sell such a young woman to the hardened crime fiction reading public but it doesn’t seem to have been a problem in the end up. FOB is the first of five books charting her career.

R: When will we see more of Paddy?

D: I’m editing The DEAD HOUR, the second one, right now. It’s due out here in July next year.