KICKSTART DAY: Burn Notice Writer Gives The Gods a HEADACHE
KICKSTART DAY: Get a HEADACHE
This is the first of four interviews about Kickstart Publishing for today, so stay tuned for more features, plus an interview with the big cheeses, Jimmy Palmiotti and Larry Young tomorrow!Although it’s super-heroes who dominate the American comics landscape, they owe a lot to another group of super-powered people – the mythological gods of Greece. And on several occasions, Greek gods have made their appearance in comics but never quite in the way a new graphic novel from Kickstart are.
In the upcoming graphic novel Headache, the Greek Gods are living among us as the rich and the powerful. In many ways they do the same things they did in ancient times, just in a modern context. But although the times have changed, their struggles and squabbles are fresh as a new day. In this book, an eighteen year old girl named Sarah finds out that the father she’s never met in life is a god – Zeus, in fact – and by extension she is a god herself. Embodying the spirit of the goddess Athena, Sarah must navigate through this treacherous world and secret society of gods and goddesses while trying to escape the murderous gaze of her stepmother Hera and set things right with her philandering father Zeus. As one of the few humans with insight into the secret society of these supernatural beings, it’s up to her to take up for mankind in stopping her father’s family’s dangerous games.
Newsarama: From the preview, I can see that Headache opens with a young girl in a mental institution who thinks she could be a god. What can you tell us about her and the book, Lisa?
Lisa Joy: Sarah, the hero of the book, is a 19 year old amnesiac locked up in a mental asylum in modern-day New York. She thinks she’s the Greek Goddess Athena. But the doctors and nurses assure her she’s just a paranoid schizophrenic with a delusional God complex.
In fact, Sarah is Athena, the Greek Goddess of war and wisdom. (Technically, she’s a demi-God – born of an illicit affair Zeus had with a mortal woman.) The other Olympians have a plan to destroy mankind and reassert their power. Because Athena is half-human and sympathetic to mankind, they worry she’ll try to stop them. So they erased her memories with Lethe, drugged her to weaken her, and locked her in a mental asylum so she’d doubt her own sanity.
What follows is a journey of (or more like a battle for) self-discovery where Sarah must learn to trust herself and her instincts in order to take on the other gods and save the world from a serious smiting.
Nrama: And those gods after Sarah – aka Athena – are led by Hera. Why is Hera out to get her?
Joy: Ostensibly, the answer is that Hera is in favor of Armageddon and doesn’t want Sarah standing in her way. Hera’s also not very pleased with Sarah – because she was born of an affair Zeus had with a mortal woman.
But the relationship between Hera and Sarah is more complicated than that. I wanted to play with the notion that women are each other’s worst enemy and maybe subvert it a little. So as Sarah discovers more and more about her past, she begins to see Hera in a somewhat different light. It’s a scarring (sometimes literally so) process where Sarah has to grow up and gain a little emotional maturity in order to see Hera not just as a “wicked stepmother” but as a complete and complex person in her own right.
Nrama: So gods do exist – when people think of Greek Gods they think white robes and Greek columns. What’s the life like for these Grecian immortals in modern times?
Joy: The Gods have changed and evolved along with the times. They’ve swapped togas, acolytes, and temples for designer suits, personal assistants, and mansions.
Instead of ruling as they used to in Ancient Greece, they’ve found they’re able to exert more power and meet less resistance when they blend into society and control civilization from the sidelines.
Headache posits a world where the Greek Gods are the socio/economic/political “invisible hand” that has been guiding the course of human history for the last couple thousand years. But, some of the Gods are getting tired of being “invisible” and they want to give the smack down to humanity so they can return to ruling in the open.
Nrama: In the world of comics, more often than not people have powers. Does Sarah have anything here as the god Athena – even if she isn’t quite sure of it?
Joy: When we first meet Sarah, she’s weak, drugged up, frightened and insecure. But once she frees herself from the mental asylum, she discovers a strength (physical and otherwise) that she never knew she had.
As a half-God Sarah is much stronger than all humans. But she’s still physically weaker than the other Gods. Fortunately, as in the Greek myths, her real super-power doesn’t lie in brute strength – it lies in strategic thinking and warfare. So she’s able to make up for her inferior strength with her superior smarts.
Another important asset she has is a few unlikely allies she picks up along the way including Hades, who may or may not be the sinister figure she thinks he is; and the weapons forger Hephaestus, who despite his crippled leg and gentle nature – can be a force to be reckoned with.
Nrama: Can you explain the title, “Headache”, as it refers to the story?
Joy: The title refers to Athena’s birth. According to Greek Mythology, she sprang fully-grown and armed to the hilt from Zeus’ head. To me, it was a perfect jumping off point for a bit of reinterpretation. The idea that a “bastard child” emerged from Zeus’ skull seemed like the kind of far-fetched lie a philandering god might tell his suspicious and vengeful goddess wife. The truth, in Headache, is far more banal – Zeus cheated on his wife with a mortal woman, then tried to cover up his transgression by making up the whole spontaneous birth-via-skull yarn. On another level, the title refers to the mental anguish Sarah feels as she’s locked in the asylum, and to the “headache” she causes her parents when she decides to rebel against them and the other gods.
Nrama: What other familiar Greek gods can we look forward to seeing in this book?
Joy: Sarah interacts with a bunch of Greek Gods and we get to see them all in their modern-day guises and lifestyles. Aphrodite owns a matchmaking service for high net-worth individuals. Neptune is a professional surfer. Ares is a hitman. Apollo is a movie star. Hades runs a seedy nightclub called “The Styx”. The debauched Dionysus is CEO a pharmaceutical company. Hera is a Stepford wife who lives in the suburbs with her ever-philandering husband, Zeus – who, like many powerful men with money to burn, is basically a man of leisure.
Nrama: Although Zeus is a man of leisure, you’re a woman of work. Although your name is new to comics, Samantha at Kickstart says you’ve been a busy writer. Can you tell us what you’ve written?
Joy: I got my first break straight out of law school as a writer on Bryan Fuller’s show Pushing Daisies. After a magical two years, I went to work at Matt Nix’s show Burn Notice where I continue to live out my Bond girl fantasies in Final Draft form.
I’m currently developing a pilot called Mind Fields with Bryan Fuller for the USA network. And what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t add that I’m working on my first feature too?
Nrama: We’ll give you that – even though Headache sounds like it’d be a good comic and a good movie. How’d the idea for Headache come about?
Joy: I’ve always had a girl-crush on Athena. She’s wise, strong, feminine and beautiful. She’s a great strategic thinker and brilliant at warfare – but she prefers compassion to violence and diplomacy to battle. In every sense, she’s a modern and liberated heroine – and that says a lot given her birthdate was sometime in the B.C.s – waaay before women’s lib.
By setting Athena in contemporary times, with a human alter ego, “Sarah” – I wanted to explore the girl behind the goddess. I imagine her struggling with a lot of really relatable, human issues: falling in love a guy who might be bad for her, fighting with imperfect parents, dealing with insecurity and self-doubt, and struggling to find a place where she belongs in the world.
I told Samantha Olsson at Kickstart about the idea and with her fantastic support, Jimmy Palmiotti’s fabulous editing, and Jim Fern’s amazing art – we were able to bring it to life.Stay tuned for more Kickstart later today!