Comics Newcomer Explores Witch Trial Legacy in Vertigo's COFFIN HILL

Coffin Hill #1
Credit: DC Comics

[Preview pages contain some mature language and images]

Credit: DC Comics

In October, Coffin Hill by novelist and comics newcomer Caitlin Kittredge will utilize the writer's passion for the darker side of New England history and the legacy of the Salem witch trials.

Drawn by Inaki Miranda (Fairest), the story begins in a sleepy Massachusetts town called Coffin Hill, focusing on a rebellious, rich teenage girl named Eve Coffin who comes from a high-society family with a dark connection to the Salem Witch trials. Following a night of sex, drugs and witchcraft in the woods, Eve wakes up naked, covered in blood and unable to remember what happened. One of her friends is missing, one is in a mental ward — and one knows that Eve is responsible.

Eve moves away and becomes a Boston cop, but after a bullet wound and unintended celebrity, she returns to Coffin Hill, only to discover the darkness that she unleashed 10 years ago in the woods never actually went away. It continues to seep through the town, cursing the soul of this sleepy Massachusetts hollow, spilling secrets and enacting its revenge.

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Kittredge is best known as the author dark fantasy novels, including the Nocturne City series, the Black London books, and the Iron Codex series. But she's always said that Neil Gaiman's Sandman was one of her biggest influences, and now she's getting the chance work at Vertigo concurrently with the imprint's release of Gaiman's The Sandman: Overture prequel to his original series.

Newsarama talked to Kittredge to find out more about Coffin Hill, which starts October 9th from Vertigo.

Newsarama: Caitlin, I was surprised to see that the title of the story isn't just about the meaning of the word "coffin," but instead about the main character's name, Eve Coffin. What's her story?

Caitlin Kittredge: First off, I have to say that Coffin is a real New England name. It's an old New England name, from settler times. I had a friend growing up whose last name was Coffin. There was a Coffin Street in my hometown. So it's totally a real name. Nobody believes me, but if you Google, you can see there are real-life Coffins in New England.

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I really wanted to branch out [from what I've written in my novels] and write somebody who was kind of bad, and who didn't have a problem with being bad. And she grew out of that idea.

She's from very old money, this New England family who has a ton of dark secrets and is involved with black magic. And that's who she is. She's not necessarily trying to break away from her legacy when the story starts; in the first issue, she's actually very much involved in it and ends up doing really bad black magic that's out of her league, and it kind of messes everything up for her as the story goes on.

I grew up in Massachusetts, and we always have this shadow of the Kennedy families, you know? So it was natural for me to have her come from one of those old, legendary families. I've always been interested in the dynamics of a family that has so much history pressing down on whoever's at the end of the line, and how that legacy affects you, and what type of person it turns you into.

Nrama: What got you interested in the heritage of the Salem witch trials? Is that also because you came from Massachusetts?

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Kittredge: Yeah, I'm from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. And I grew up about 45 minutes from Salem. And we went there on school field trips all the time. And it kind of deepens everything when you live so close to a place where something like that happened.

When I was playing around with ideas for a supernatural horror story, it felt natural for the main character to have some connection to Salem and to the witch trials, and just more broadly to the legacy of witchcraft and superstition in New England, because it's such a rich background for a writer. I really couldn't have asked for a better place with actual, historical context for a story like this. I would do research, and I kept finding this awesome stuff that just played so nicely into the story I was writing.

It was pretty inevitable, I think, that I would choose Salem.

Nrama: So the comic touches upon the history of the Salem witch trials, within the framework of the modern story?

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Kittredge: Yeah, I'm most focused on Eve's family and their family legacy than I am the actual trials. But it's definitely touched on, and it's definitely hinted that there's a connection to the trials in her family.

One of the big themes is what history and your bloodline means. And it's also really a story about consequences, and the reverberations of actions you take that may not seem like they have terrible consequences at the time — you even think you're doing the right thing — but how they reverberate through generations and through each bloodline. Even the choices she makes in the very beginning, the first issue, kind of cascade in a domino effect all the way along the story.

So you know, history and legacies and the consequences of doing bad things for good reasons — it's all stuff I'm really fascinated by. So that tends to crop up in a lot of my stories, and definitely in Coffin Hill.

Nrama: It's interesting that you find that type of thing so fascinating. Does that mean we should we be digging into your family tree to see if you have some legacy there?

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Kittredge: If you're bored, you can spend an afternoon on No, I can say definitively that there are no witches in my family. There are a lot of millers and doctors and a couple of bootleggers, but that's about as interesting as it gets.

Nrama: You've written dark fantasy stuff before. Why does this genre interest you?

Kittredge: I like dark, spooky fantasy and horror stuff because I have always been really interested in scary stuff. My mom was a teacher and librarian, and she homeschooled me. And she let me read whatever I wanted. She would just let me loose in the library and be like, go pick out whatever you want.

So I started reading Stephen King books when I was 9 or 10. I think that turned me into a horror fan. And a couple years after that, when I was 14 or 15, I started reading comics. And my very favorite comic was Neil Gaiman's Sandman. And there was no turning back after that.

And when I decided to try writing for myself, it just came very naturally that I wanted to explore darker themes.

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Nrama: So would you call Coffin Hill a horror book?

Kittredge: I'd say it's a horror book, but it's supernatural based. It's not shocking, gory horror. But yeah, it's definitely horror.

Nrama: After telling other stories in prose, why did you choose to do Coffin Hill as a comic?

Kittredge: It started out as an idea for a novel, but I could never quite get it to work. And when I got in touch serendipitously with Shelly Bond, the editor I work with at Vertigo, she asked if I had any ideas that are supernatural, like witches or anything like that. And I said, as a matter of fact, I do have this story about this witch in New England.

I think this subject is fascinating, and I've always wanted to write those kind of stories that just tap into the spooky history of a particular place and a particular time. I just felt like this was my thing.

Nrama: And you're working with Inaki Miranda, who we last saw in Fairest. What does he bring to the comic?

Kittredge: I feel so lucky to have been paired up with him. When DC sent me his sketches, I was just blown away, and I was so glad he ended up working with me on this book. He takes the stuff that I script and just takes it to the next level, in the best way possible. I'm totally in love with his art. I'm going to be effusive and fan-girly, because I like his art so much.

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