That’s the high concept in the upcoming limited series Magus, where it’s uncovered that a coven of people who have kept magic sealed away from the world for thousands of years are on the defensive when magic starts to come back. A girl locked away in a mental institution lashes out with literally fiery anger; and a dragon appears in the skies of Manhattan. It’s things like that that set off a mad hunt to find out what happened to the Magic Seal and why it was instigated in the first place.
Magus was conceived by writers Jon Price and David Norton, who turned to one of comics’ fastest-rising stars -- DV8 artist Rebekah Issacs --- to make their words into comics’ magic. The trio, teaming up with Southern-based comics publisher 12 Gauge, are set to bring the Magus brand of magic to comics starting this December. We recently spoke to the creative team about the title…
Newsarama: Jon, how did you and David dream up this idea of magic coming back into the modern world for Magus?
Jon Price: I came up with the idea when I was living in Orlando, wandering around theme parks all the time. I worked on the back-lot of Universal Studios and costumed employees would wander back into the parking lot after their performances. I used to laugh to myself when I'd see a fully costumed Sinbad (the sailor not the comedian, of course) sitting at a table in the concourse eating a sloppy joe. But I liked the idea of putting fantastic things in the real world and seeing how they'd operate, so I started playing with the idea of how magic would actually work in our world. And, more specifically, how people in our world would react if they were suddenly given magic abilities with no knowledge of how it works or that it even existed in the first place. I pulled Dave in to help me when things started getting a little big to tackle on my own - and to create some awesome villains.
Nrama: How would you describe this modern world and the state of magic now when Magus opens up?
Price: When Magus starts, the world is like our world - the overwhelming majority of people are normal, mundane folk and magic is relegated to myth and fantasy. The only difference being: in the world of Magus magic did actually exist at one time thousands of years ago, but it's been "sealed" away and people have forgotten it completely. There are some that are extremely sensitive to it and can perform magic to varying degrees - but since it's not the norm, they tend to hide their power or are found before they can declare it to the world. We call them Wild Magi or "Wilds".
Nrama: There seems to be several big players in Magus, but it seems like they're all after Lena Cullen. What's her story?
Price: Lena has the unfortunate luck of being someone that can use magic even though the Seal is in place and can't control it very well. We first see her at the Bristol County mental hospital where she's been for a few years and hasn't been treated very nicely. Things haven't gone well for Lena for a very long time and she's pretty much at her lowest point. She's been the victim of some awful things - but eventually she does something about it.
Nrama: Comics is well known for its superheroes, and although Magus isn't superheroes, there are powers. How would you describe Lena's powers?
Price: In Magus, who you are - personality, being, "soul" - is intricately tied into what your magic is. Lena's magic is fire-based and sort of jagged and reckless, just as her personality tends to be impulsive. But years of being ignored and then abused definitely have impacted her abilities and her overall state of being.
Nrama: Lena is taken in for a time by a minister named Father Swain. Why does he do it, and what kind of safety could he provide her?
David Norton: Father Swain is also one of these people that are capable of using magic before the Seal breaks. While he isn't as powerful as many of the characters in Magus, he's had a history of working with magic and the people who are trying to protect Wilds from those looking to persecute them. His magical abilities lean to those of healing and taking care of people, so when he sees Lena, he wants to protect her and help her. His assistance to those in need is a sanctuary where they can at least live in peace for a little while.
Nrama: A woman named Danae visits Swain and discovers Lena, forcing her to flee. Whose side is Danae on, and what are her powers?
Norton: Danae is a Guardian, a sect of people whose sole purpose is to protect the Seal that has locked away magic from the world. The Guardians have infiltrated virtually every government in the world in order to quell any news of magic escaping. There are also roaming Guardians, like Danae, who search for Wilds more actively. Danae is a 'Sensor.' She can sense people that can use magic and has a basic idea of how powerful they are. When Lena breaks out of the mental institution, Danae is sent to fetch her and try to prevent any more disturbances.
Nrama: It seems Lena's manifestation of powers isn't a solitary incident – it's popping up all over the U.S. What's going on here?
Price: Spoiler alert: The Seal is breaking! For various reasons that we explore throughout the series, magic is beginning to become more prevalent around the world. And the people that have tried to contain knowledge of it for so long are having a much more difficult time in doing so as we open the story.
Nrama: Can you tell us more about this secret organization protecting the seal, the Guardians?
Price: I can tell you that they are a very, very old group of people that are dedicated to the study of magic in all of its forms. They're responsible for creating the Seal and removing magic from people long ago when they deemed humanity "not ready" for it. But like all groups with power, they're maybe a little too presumptuous sometimes and act on their own wishes rather than the good of everyone else.
Nrama: Rebekah let’s get you in on this. For people that know you from DV8, the world of Magus is more grounded in modern times and setting – even though there's magic. How'd you go about drawing the setting while still making room for magical instances?
Rebekah Isaacs: It was certainly different from creating the environments in DV8, especially in that I had to start using a straightedge again! But it was pretty simple in the end. The goal was to make the world feel exactly like ours, with the same level of mundane realism and utilitarian detail, so that when magic shows up it looks that much more extraordinary. It does create some interesting dilemmas though... like, what kind of damage would a mid-size Western European dragon cause in a small-town grocery store? (Read issue 3 to find out!)
Nrama: Speaking of dragons, in the preview copy 12-Gauge lent me, one of the panels that stuck out to me is your depiction of magic popping up with people all over the globe – especially the one where a dragon comes up from the ground in NYC. You chose instead of obviously depicting the dragon to show its shadow from the sky covering up people on the ground – a very arresting image. What does your mind go through in trying to pick the right way to depict the standalone moments that make up panels in a comic, specifically with this?
Isaacs: I think that, consciously or subconsciously, I choose angles that emphasize emotion and reaction, and not so much showing every little detail of exactly what is going on in a literal sense. The major theme of the series is not just how rad magic is, or how bad-a** a dragon would look flying through Times Square, but how the presence of those things effects the lives of the people in the story. So it made a lot more sense to show it from an angle in which the main focus is the reactions of the people on the ground (which I think would generally be skepticism -- the average person would happily accept a cover-up explanation that it was an elaborate prop or optical illusion in conjunction with some crazy marketing campaign).
Nrama: From what I've read, this is a really intriguing concept Jon and David came up with. How were you approached, and what made you sign up to illustrate the series?
Isaacs: When I moved to NY, I was looking to make friends with similarly nerdy interests, and I responded to Jon's ad in the Strictly Platonic section of Craigslist (it was in quiz format -- I guess I passed). We met up at an afternoon concert and he soon mentioned that he was working on a pitch for a TV series about zombies. I liked his idea so much that I agreed to do a mini-comic for the pitch packet, and we started working on it over lunch a few days later. We shelved that pitch when The Walking Dead series was announced, but we started dating soon after and when Jon mentioned this idea he'd been tinkering on for years about modern-day magic, I knew we had to get it out there. I did the first five pages of issue 1 and we started pitching from there.
Nrama: Magus is coming out right when DV8 is wrapping up, but your first issue of Magus has been done for some time. How are you balancing doing this series while also doing DV8 for DC?
Isaacs: It's worked out perfectly, actually. We started DV8 REALLY far in advance, so I had lots of time to do Magus work while taking my time to finish the last couple DV8 issues. Now I'm doing two issues of a miniseries for Marvel, but the timing of the scripts meant that I could alternate between that and Magus while still only doing a page per day.
Nrama: And what would you do if magic came back in our world and you started seeing these reports on TV?
Price: Oh man, it would be great! But, I'd be nervous of course. One of the things we've tried to do with this series is think, as realistically as possible, what would actually happen if magic came to our world. It's been fun to think about how people would act. Ultimately, I think there would be a huge upheaval in our way of life for a bit, but things would calm down.
Norton: We believe that human beings are very adaptable. Obviously, with something like this, people would expect mass chaos and confusion, but what about a few months or even weeks down the line? We think that people would adapt to magic quicker than would be expected. After all, this isn't going to be just a select group of people with magic, but everyone in the entire world. So, even if the bad guys can use magic, it'd be counter acted by the fact that the good guys are just as powerful as them, putting ourselves back into the same balance that we live in now.
Isaacs: Start up the world's first magic-related-accident insurance provider.