For those that read last week’s Morning Glories #28, you might think this is the beginning of the end…. But perhaps it’s the end of the beginning? Morning Glories is the kind of series whose murky depths leave you at the end of each issue with more questions than answers, and the answers you do get only lead to more questions. And that’s just the way series creators Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma intend it.
Since it’s launch in August of 2010, Morning Glories has built up mystery and intrigue inside a prestigious prep school that is more than what it seems. Murder, torture and subterfuge are rampant between the students, faculty and other interlopers into the Morning Glory Academy. This week’s #28 was the end of the “premiere” of the second season of Morning Glories, further entrenching the series as the comics equivalent of a TV supernatural murder mystery.
Today Newsarama brought together Spencer and Eisma to talk about the series so far, and to get some hints as to what comes next. For those that haven’t made it to their comic shop this week yet, no worries—there’s no spoilers to what happened with this week’s issue… but there sure are some cryptic clues to the future of the book.
Newsarama: Morning Glories #28 came out on June 26th, and you, Nick, have said on Twitter that it’s both “Crazy” and “nuts”. Which is it, and what is it about?
Nick Spencer: Can’t it be both? On the weirdness scale, this one is definitely up there with #10 and #23, at least to my eyes. That’s part of the fun of this book still, I think-- we can have fun and let it get a little trippy because the mythology allows for it. And it all happens to one of the fan-favorite characters, so I expect the response will be great.
Nrama: Joe, what’s it like from your perspective, being the one drawing it and being, essentially, the first person to read it after Nick writes it?
Joe Eisma: I'm just as much a fan of the book as anyone. I always tear through scripts when Nick sends them because I'm really into the story. After that, my first thought is usually 'how am I going to draw this?' There are often moments that leave me speechless, because Nick always surprises me.
Nrama: That final page to #27, geez. It showed the opposite viewpoint of our first meeting with Future Jade from #6’s cover. How long have you been planning that poetic turn, and what does it mean?
Spencer: Yeah, the mirroring was entirely intentional, and it’s been in my head to do it that way for a long time. Rodin’s covers are so instantly iconic, that you know when you bring in a familiar image like that it’ll resonate. Which is nice.
Eisma: I always liked that cover--a lot of Rodin's early covers are my favorites. There's just something so mysterious about that image that I wanted to bring to the page. It's the kind of storytelling I really enjoy--the kind of callback storytelling with repeated images and motifs. In that sense, there was pressure to make sure my page fit in that theme, but in the end, I think it all worked out pretty good!
Nrama: Speaking of Jade, I see her as a kind of x-factor to this series with Casey, Irina, Hunter, the Headmaster and the others. How would you describe Jade’s part in this story?
Spencer: I think that’s a good assessment. I think (Future, adult) Jade and Lara Hodge are the two characters who are the most interesting at this point in terms of their motivations. You never really know how they’re going to come at something, so it keeps you on your toes. And the connection between our Jade and future Jade is a key part of the story-- especially in the sense that it’s fun to see where the differences are and then how they start to disappear. When we see Jade stand up to Irina, given her usual ‘constant victim’ positioning, I think it clicks because we see a glimmer of who she’ll become in that. That’s a big moment.
Eisma: It's funny to me--Jade was always kind of the underdog of the original six. I get why she put off a lot of people--she cried a lot and had some obvious emotional issues. Still, I always had a soft spot for her. I think as readers have seen, her arc has seen her grow as a character so that she's more than just the 'emo girl.' I'm really pleased how she's evolved into kind of a vital character. She's one of my favorites to draw, so I'm all too glad how she's evolved over the series.
Nrama: I’m still trying to parse the idea that Casey becomes Miss Clarkson down the road, but that’s part of a larger idea of time travel you’ve developed with the series. It reminds me of Lost but in a way that seems more confident – can you tell us about your thoughts on time travel and how, as a writer, you’re trying to deal with hit?
Spencer: Time travel is tricky stuff, obviously. It’s juggling. I don’t know if we always pulled it off perfectly in terms of keeping the reader with us, but I am really proud that you can do the timeline and it all matches up, it all makes sense. The dates work. It’s such a huge part of this book, so much of the story hinges on it, that we needed to make sure of that. Beyond that, I think it gives you so much freedom in terms of how you tell your tale-- we’re able to touch moments we couldn’t reach at this point in things otherwise, it gives you that extra bit of heft and hopefully helps show the expansive nature of it all.
I should say we owe so much to Lost and their big time-travel epic. That’s kind of the luxury we have here, that I get to work with the education that show-- and others, like The Prisoner, Battlestar Galactica, Carnivale and Twin Peaks-- gave me.
Nrama: Joe, time travel is a big part of this series – and you as the artist are working to draw these different timelines to be understood without being too blatant about what’s going on and spoiling the surprise. What’s it like drawing these scenes that bounce around to different timelines like you’ve done in the past without giving away too much in the art?
Eisma: Time travel is a dicey subject in many regards. I think the key lies in consistency. Of major locations, I keep 3d models that I've made or found on Sketchup. With the school, for example, it's easier to be more fluid since we haven't revealed a campus map or anything like that. So the ruined classroom in issue 18 doesn't necessarily have to be one we've seen before--it just has to look like it belongs in the same place.
An aspect with time that has really challenged me with that is seeing characters at various points in their lives. It's almost like reverse engineering--what would this character look like at age 12 or age 7 or whatever? Since we have such a large cast, in order to keep the characters recognizable to their present day versions, I'll often have them have similar hairstyles in their youth. Not entirely accurate--I know my hairstyles changed throughout the years--but I think it's important for the readers to be able to who everyone is at any given point.
Nrama: In this new season you introduced a new character, Tom Reed. We’ve seen glimpses to some of the things he does, but what can you tell us about him and how he factors into the series – and into Casey/Clarkson’s life?
Spencer: Tom is very much the flesh and blood embodiment of Casey’s new life as Clarkson-- after 12 years of a life that seems, from the glimpses we’ve gotten, a very violent and solitary one, she’s put down roots. She’s a teacher. She’s in love. She lives in her old hometown (even if no one there knows that). She’s getting to see herself grow up, which could only be described as odd. And in it all, Tom is the emotional tether, the person that allows her to be a human being again. So he’s a big deal to her, certainly.
Eisma: Tom is very much a Nick character--in that he had a specific vision for him and sent me reference. His appearance is based on Scott Porter, from Friday Night Lights. The funny thing is I looked at the pics and initially figured he was a student, which gave an entirely different context to his relationship with Clarkson/Casey in issue 27.
Nrama: With time seemingly sorted and the students back at the regular Morning Glories Academy, are they happy to be back – even despite the demonic and deadly things they’ve been through there?
Spencer: Well, we showed that for a lot of students, there’s a bit of Stockholm syndrome in effect, so things going back to the way they were certainly seems welcome to them. For our cast, though, it’s significantly more complicated than that. But right now, Irina’s play is the more immediate, pressing concern. So-- for everyone besides Casey, at least-- escape or beating the faculty has sort of been forced aside for the moment.
Nrama: Re-reading the series for this interview, and I was struck by some moments in the story where characters try to make sense of what’s going on, which seems like a way of pulling the reader in and answering their own questions. Is that intentional?
Spencer: Oh yeah. I mean, we know what kind of story we’re telling here. It’s a dense, long-form mystery with a huge cast and a lot of moving parts. People get confused, they get lost, they get frustrated. So of course it’s fun to do a little wink and nod to that, particularly from characters like Hunter, are very much stand-ins for the audience.
Nrama: This series constantly leaves readers asking questions – but how about you, Joe? As the first person reading Nick's scripts and the person ultimately drawing it, what are your conversations with Nick like about the direction of the series, and the various mysteries? Do you know beforehand, or do you try not to know?
Eisma: Nick tells me bits and bobs here and there, but he keeps much close to the vest. If there's something or someone we'll be revisiting, we'll have a talk about it. There is an aspect of me that likes to be surprised, but for the most part, I enjoy being at least a few steps ahead of the readers!
Nrama: I interviewed you way back when this series was first launching, and catching up with you two now and see how much you’ve accomplished is astounding. Did you know you’d be going strong this far in, and have built up such a layered and engrossing story with multiple timelines and the like?
Spencer: It’s just overwhelming, really. It’s a rare honor to have a book of your own take hold like this and connect with the audience the way this has. We’re so grateful to the readership of this book-- because of them, we’re getting to do this the way we dreamed of doing it. You have no idea when you send out that first issue if you’re going to last 6, or 12 issues. Even if you start strong, there’s always that chance of fizzling-- so to be sitting here now, feeling reasonably confident (knock on wood) that we’ll be around for many years and issues and arcs to come, and that we can really tell the story exactly the way we’d like to without compromises-- I couldn’t be more pleased, and thankful.
Eisma: Thank you! It's hard to believe Nick and I started this four years ago. I've often said that the book's success took me by surprise, and it's continued success still amazes me. I'm grateful every day for the opportunity to do this and to tell a story like this. It's not easy--we've had our share of angry readers and people saying that we're making it all up as we go along, but you eventually just come to terms with it. The sheer density of the story and size of the cast was not something I was expecting when I initially signed on for this years ago, but I feel I'm starting to get comfortable drawing all of it. Of course, I'm sure I've just jinxed myself, and Nick will introduce a whole new batch of characters replete with their own multilayered storylines!
Nrama: The second season of Morning Glories launched last month with #26 and #27, and #28 is described as the conclusion to that premiere. And this one’s double-sized like #27! How has this story grown to you and been so layered?
Spencer: It just gets bigger and bigger, yeah. And so much of the credit for that goes to Joe, who is one of the most prolific and hardest-working artists in comics. Every issue of this book has been oversized. A lot of them have been over 30 pages or double-sized. I said this on Twitter, but it bears repeating: the best decision I ever made in my career is working with Joe. He’s my creative soulmate. What he allows is for the issue to be what it’s supposed to be-- to be the number of pages the story needs, rather than something arbitrary.
Beyond that, we wanted this story arc to feel as big as humanly possible-- this is basically our event story. The extra pages, the multiple covers by all these great artists, it’s all to reinforce that this is a big deal moment for the book.
Nrama: Nick, last question's for you -- looking at the scope of your work right now, Morning Glories seems like the constant in-between your Marvel work and other creator-owned endeavors. What’s it like having this to come back to each month, and building such a massive enterprise – going on its 28th issue this month?
Spencer: It really is. I’ve done a lot of work proud of, both in terms of creator-owned and work for hire, but I don’t know that I’ll ever be as synonymous with any other book in the way that I am with this. This is the one that made the rest of my career from there possible, and you’re right, it’s the constant even as other assignments and projects change. And I love that. The book is like coming home to me, I have a particular love for these characters and their stories that I just never get tired of. And the community that’s built up around us-- the analysis, and the fandom-- that just makes it all that much better. And we’ve got a long way to go from here is the best part. We’re just getting started.