Friday, June 17, 2011

Interview with Micah Harris of Heaven's War

Shortly after I finished my review for Heaven's War in 2004, Micah Harris contacted my to thank me for the review, which I had also posted over at Amazon.com. I asked if he would be interested in doing an interview with Gotthammer and he was gracious enough to do one via email.  The following image is my "fan art" version of one frame from the book. Since it's in black and white, I've long thought it would be fun to colour it, just to see how it changes the dynamic.



What was the inspiration for Heaven's War, and why choose the Inklings as the protagonists?
 
The roots of "Heaven's War" go back to a prose novel I wrote, which was a conspiracy thing, and towards the end of it, one character made reference to the Inklings as being one "front" for this secret society which was combating the demonic forces of the kingdom of the air. That was a seed for a follow-up prose novel, which I actually began, but I mentioned the idea to my friend Nathan Massengill. He encouraged me to develop it into comics form, because he thought he could sell that idea to Caliber (an independent publisher from the '80s and '90s) where he had some contacts. (Nathan has written for Caliber himself, but he has mostly done a lot of inking, most notably for Marvel's Deadpool and Harris's Vengeance of Vampirella).   
So I went back and started turning the story into a comics script (only a fragment had been written in prose). Nathan would edit it, and he also got me in touch with Michael Gaydos to draw it (this is all back in the mid 90s, by the way). It took years for it to finally come to fruition, and in the interim, Caliber went out of business!
    
We jumpstarted the project with a presentation booklet that consisted primarily of the first chapter drawn and lettered. Michael, by this time, was working on "Alias" for Marvel. He took the booklet around to publishers at the San Diego Con and soon I had an e-mail from Jim Valentino of Image saying they liked Heaven's War and would like to publish it. Needless to say, Image's response was VERY appreciated by everyone on the creative team.    
I chose Charles Williams as the protagonist instead of Lewis and Tolkien because Williams had a more "colorful" background that connected him (though very slightly) with the occult society in England around the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries. I personally enjoy Lewis and Tolkien as writers more than Williams, but he was the more interesting guy, whose backstory -- as well as his theories of the nature of time -- loaned themselves more to the kind of story I wanted to tell.  

Have you gotten any feedback from the readers? 

Reader feedback, I'm happy to say, has been mostly positive on "Heaven's War," judging by the internet postings. It CAN be a challenging read and I can understand if some folks lose patience with it. A couple of reviewers have found it "dry" or just boring or too talky in places. But the conflict here is between scholarly intellectuals, not Thor and the Hulk. I think the scene where Lewis and Tolkien tackle Crowley is a pretty funny one because the physical heroics are obviously NOT really their thing. Those who've stuck out "Heaven's War" tend to find it well worth the effort. Of course, I always intended "Heaven's War" to require some pondering, as I tend to enjoy that kind of entertainment myself, things like "2001: A Space Odyssey," the last episode of "The Prisoner" and the films of David Lynch, or the short fiction of Jorge Luis Borges. And, of course, none of those examples are to everyone's tastes, either.  
:Tell me about the endnotes. 
Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's "From Hell" was my model there, as indeed that graphic novel influenced the approach to certain themes in my own about the nature of time. Such philosophical musings about Time were in the air at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century and Charles Williams' called his particular version "Under the Arch of Eternity." 

"Heaven's War" seems to be a synthesis of religious and magical points of view - the Inklings are obviously Christians, but the cosmology of the story assumes that while God is God in His heaven, there are certain magical correspondences that still work. This prompts several  questions: do you see the universe as having magical correspondences, even though as a Christian you would still believe in the sovereignty of God, or were you just allowing Williams to inhabit the secondary world of his novels to some extent?

 I don't think the book promotes any kind of harmony between the Biblically Christian cosmology and occult or "magical" elements also in Heaven's War. Note that the "occult elements" the references to use of, in this case, "sex magick" combined with astrology (the pattern of the planet Venus etched over the Rennes-le-Chateau landscape) -- are not presented as being effectual as a means of conjuring. Consider this: we are told, in the text of Heaven's War, that both Father Sauniere and Aleister Crowley have performed these sex astrological rites, but if you look at it, these actions ultimately served no "magical" purpose. There would have been physical gratification, and, for Sauniere, something of a "show" to impress his clients, but none of that effort opened the portal to the Kingdom of the Air. It made not one whit of difference. After all, Williams passes through the extra-dimensional portal without going through Crowley or Sauniere's "exercise" in magic. Of course, that brings us to the "sacred geometry" of Solomon's inner temple creating the portal into the heavenly realms. Please don't think I'm endorsing Feng Shui. The Scriptures only indicate that the literal presence of God was in the most holy place of the temple, not that there was a doorway opened up to heaven by its geometric cube shape. But I took imaginative license there, to say, okay, heaven met earth in that spot, in a manner of speaking, so what if it would become a translation point? So "magic," I don't think, is particularly operating in the universe of "Heaven's War," though God and the supernatural are. It's interesting that you bring this up. I'm currently writing a mini-series I hope to pitch called "Strange Passages," which I'm plotting with the artist, Loston Wallace, and one of the characters that we've worked up in that is closer to a "Christian mystic," certainly more so than Williams or any of the other Inklings in "Heaven's War". This character is only referred to by his title as "the Duke," which is homage to Dennis Wheatley's Duc De Richleau character of his occult novels. However, I hesitate to say that OUR Duke is a "mystic" of any kind, including "Christian" (in contrast to Wheatley's character, as portrayed by Christopher Lee in "The Devil Rides Out" -- aka "The Devil's Bride" -- whom our character is NOT. He has his own back story as part of a medieval monastic warrior order of sorts which I'm not aware has any parallel with Wheatley's character). I'm really not comfortable with the actual practice of "Christian Mysticism" -- calling up angels for protection, for example, seems like blending Christianity with New Age ideas -- and one thing I was keen on was that the Duke in "Strange Passages" NOT be casting spells and mystic bolts of energy or force, like Dr. Strange or even exhibiting the kind of powers a Jedi knight might employ. You can say he has his "talismans" in "Strange Passages," but it's more like what an exorcist would employ, not a wizard. And by the way -- I don't condemn the Harry Potter stuff, or there being good witches in The Wizard of Oz books. I don't think they're promoting devil worship. They're fantasy, in their own secondary worlds, and of course there is plenty of "magic" in Tolkien and Lewis, good and bad. Although, I DID read an interesting essay contrasting the concepts of "power" in The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter universes.  

Do you actually believe in the supernatural? 

Yes, I do believe in the reality of the supernatural. I've experienced the numinous -- an awareness of the presence of God -- at certain times in my life, and there was no doubt while that was happening about whom I was sensing. It was apparent. Also, my brother was healed divinely of an incurable, fatal kidney disease, what was then known as "Bright's Disease". And -- my father was a minister -- there have been other manifestations of God in my family. My mom is NOT a fanatical fundamentalist, the kind Hollywood likes to make representative of Christianity as a whole; she is, in fact, very sensible, and embarrassed when Christian people act "unseemly" -- she would NEVER endorse "snake handlin'" for instance. And she tells me that once, during one of my father's revival services, during the altar service; she witnessed a ball of fire fly in through the church window and scatter over the altar. Now, I think my mom's response to that adds to her credence as a witness. She thought, "I didn't see that." And THEN -- it happened again! Others witnessed it as well. Some sinners in the back of the church who weren't praying got up and left. So, yes, I do believe in the supernatural.  

Do you see the supernatural as primarily religious or magical? 

 I might need you to clarify the terms there for me. "Religion" to me indicates ritual and practice and can be completely devoid of the supernatural (Paul spoke of people having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof) and magic, to my thinking, is an attempt to harness the supernatural, not the supernatural itself. 

Do you share the Christian worldview of Williams, Tolkien and Lewis? 

Yes, I hold to many of the Christian beliefs of my story's real-life protagonists. Lewis in particular has been an influence on my way of thinking, probably more influential on me in my personal life than any other writer. (Although I hold Tolkien to be the superior fantasist of the group). "Heaven's War" is a very personal statement.  

Has there been any response to "Heaven's War" from Christian communities? 

As far as Christian response to Heaven's War goes, what I'm aware of so far has been very good. The book was a first for one Christian fiction review web site that had covered only prose before. The critic gave us an "A." Also, a couple guys at "Cornerstone" and "Jesus People" up in Chicago tell me they enjoyed it a lot. In fact, they've invited me this year to their annual international convention to do a couple seminars, one of which will be on Heaven's War.

Heaven's War is certainly not a stereotypical look at occult or Christian concepts for that matter. Have you found that other Christians are uncomfortable with what appears to be a "comfortability" with occult concepts?

Thanks for the comment that "Heaven's War" broke away from the stereotypical view of Christian concepts. That's what I was hoping for, something largely alien to the usual imagery. Not that I was suggesting what I necessarily think the Kingdom of the Air is really like, but I wanted, primarily, to convey a sense of strangeness and otherworldliness, even eerieness. And, as C.S. Lewis noted, and followed this idea through with his chronicles of Narnia as well as his "Ransom" space trilogy, Christian imagery that has become overly familiar no longer carries the power of evocation it was meant to or once did.     To that end, a lot of my Kingdom of the Air iconography was inspired by extra-Christian sources such as the "room" at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the recursive "red rooms" of David Lynch's Twin Peaks. And, of course, that type of strangeness was perfectly in line with Charles Williams' off beat creative vision, which was Christian but odd in relation to traditional Christian concepts. So, yeah, as you noted, my goal was indeed "to allow Williams to inhabit the secondary world he himself created."    As for other Christians being uncomfortable with the occult elements of "Heaven's War . . ." I haven't heard from any! I'm assuming that people who would choke on that are not the kind of Christians who are actually going to pick up the book to start with.  

Is this your first foray into comics, and what other projects are you working on now?

This was my first graphic novel, but I've been wanting to break into comics for something like 20 years now, starting back in the mid-80s. I've worked on several projects that unfortunately never were accepted by a publisher.      I'm very excited about my next comics project, a mini-series that I JUST the other day finished the rough draft of the final issue. I'm working with Loston Wallace, who is drawing and co-plotting the story with me. Loston has done merchandising art for DC comics featuring their animated style Superman and Batman. He's also done a fill-in for the Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip and some sequential comics for a couple independent publishers as well. He's a wonderful artist, very versatile (our project will be more along the artistic lines of the work of Steve Rude, Dave Stevens, and Mark Schultz than the animation style he employed for the animated merchandizing). For both of us, this is a dream collaboration and we're having a lot of fun.

Loston has done character designs and we'll soon be ready to begin developing our "pitch" package. The book is called "Strange Passages," and it's a 1930s style pulp adventure, a genre Loston and I both love. It's a lot more action oriented than "Heaven's War," though I think you'll find the same philosophical, metaphysical type underpinnings as those of my and Michael's graphic novel.  

When Lost Passages was finally released, it was titled The Eldritch New Adventures of Becky Sharp: I just ordered my copy via Amazon, and will be writing about it at Steampunk Scholar at some point. When that happens, I'll let you know! Micah and Loston have a new one-shot comic book out, called Lorna: Relic Wrangler. Check out info and sample pages HERE.

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