For the last 15 years, writer Ben Blacker and his writing partner Ben Acker have crafted memorable comic book arcs for Deadpool and Wolverine, written books expanding the current Star Wars mythology, and even their own IP, the Thrilling Adventure Hour.
But Blacker is going solo for his latest book, Hex Wives (illustrated by Mirka Andolfo and colored by Marissa Louise), which is one of the select titles relaunching the iconic Vertigo imprint.
With Hex Wives, Blacker explores a coven of witches who have been reincarnated throughout time. In every era, they end up battling the ever-present patriarchy, specifically the Architects, who are hell-bent on snuffing them out. Blacker talked with SYFY WIRE about what compelled him to tell a story that's on point with today's #MeToo movement, as well as one that's celebrating the power of witches.
Let's start with how long you've been mulling the story of Hex Wives?
Ben Blacker: It was an idea that had been gnawing at me for three or four years, if not longer. It started after flipping through channels and I saw a little bit of Bewitched, which was a show I loved as a kid when I would stay home sick and watch it in syndication. I got to thinking about when Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) has to get dinner on the table, that's all she's worried about. And Endora (Agnes Moorehead), her mother, comes in and tells her she's married beneath her. Endora's totally right. She did marry beneath her. Witches are superior to humans, and Samantha, who is a rad lady, is stuck being a suburban housewife, which clearly doesn't come naturally to her. And what's worse, is Darrin (Dick York) has this rule about no magic in the house. You married a witch, dude. Don't you want her to be her full self? Apparently not.
And honestly, in that time I saw what was going on with my wife and my female friends who were being a little more vocal about the way they were treated at work, in relationships, stuff like that. There was a growing awareness, at least for me and I think many men, that not all the ways men try to control women are overt, or even purposeful. It's just this built-in patriarchy that has trained men how to behave. And trained women how to take that, very often. That seemed insidious and evil to me. And it was something I wanted to write about, and explain, so when those things started to come together, I realized I had something.
You've written for TV, comics, podcasts and more. Was Hex Wives always meant to be a comic book?
Hex Wives was always a comic, and I'm not sure why. I work in TV. That seems like where the ideas should go, and most of the stuff that Ben and I come up with, that is where they go. But to me, it always felt like a comic. And Hex Wives feels like, to me, the culmination of learning how to write comics. I feel with that first issue, I'm learning all over again. I haven't broken a story by myself in 15-years. So, I had to do that and think about what it means to do it in 22 pages. What it means to have cliffhangers in the comic medium, as opposed to the audio medium, or the TV medium.
And I've been really lucky in that my editors, Molly Mahan and Maggie Howell, are the collaborators that I needed. Very early on in the process, when Mark Doyle [DC Vertigo executive editor] said he wanted to do this book, I said, "It's important to me that this book is honest. That there be as many women's voices as possible on it, because I can be an empathetic writer. But I'm never gonna have the true story."
They helped me find Mirka Andolfo who was the only choice for an artist. They sent me some of her stuff for Shade, the Changing Girl and she was so stunning. And Marissa Louise, who had done colors on that, just knocked me out. I was like, "Oh. This is the team. This is an amazing team." So, as much as I'm now putting into practice all the stuff I learned in six years of writing comics, I'm really leaning heavily on all of my collaborators to make this great. And I'm lucky. For me, they're so much better at it than I am that they are making it great.
I want to ask about Mirka and her work because she doesn't shy away from drawing the female form in all of its glory. And from a male's perspective, were you nervous that people would think you were prompting the book's look, or did you just leave all of that to her sensibility?
When Mirka and I first got in touch, I talked about what's important to me in this book is that the women are real. That they have all different body shapes and you could pick them out if they were standing in silhouette. She got really excited about that because in super hero comics, she kinda draws the same people over, and over again. So, her initial sketches were just unbelievable. She went for it, and I would send her reference material. As an Italian, she has very different frames of reference to me. There was a lot of us passing stuff back and forth, which was really cool in finding who the characters were, and really bringing them to life.
She also said from the beginning that she likes to draw sexy ladies. These are her words, "I like to draw sexy ladies." (Laughs) I remember having a conversation with Molly afterwards going, "This isn't a sexy book. They shouldn't be idealized. They need to look real, and that can be sexy. But it's all different kinds of sexy." So, early on I kept asking Mirka to dirty up the images and make them not so pretty. And it was clearly not comfortable for her. And what she got absolutely right, was good-looking comes in all different sizes. It took me, and talking to Molly, to realize, "Oh. If you're gonna make a TV show, you're not gonna put ugly people in it. You're gonna get actors, and actors are, because of their profession, they have a baseline of attractiveness."
I think because I was always thinking of this as a horror book, I didn't want anyone to be so pretty. But it took Mirka showing me that these characters are going to be attractive, but not all in the same way. They're gonna be distinct characters. And that really made me love the characters in a way I hadn't before. They weren't just horror tropes anymore. They became real people.
Was it just as difficult writing the sex in the book?
I was afraid to write about sex in this book. Because again, who am I to do that? I'm the straight, white guy writing about this diverse cast, some of who are gay. I can have empathy for days, but I don't have the experience to write about this stuff. Mirka really pushed me out of my comfort zone to do that. And it was basically like, "If you want this to be a horror book, you have to write about what's scary to you." And so, it was scary for me to write about sex between, not the characters who love each other, that part's easy. But the dynamic of sex in this captor/captive relationship. I was like, "How am I meant to tackle that?" And I think tackling it made Issue two and Issue four, where we really lay it out, so much stronger. It made it a stronger book about gender politics. It made it a stronger book for all of the characters, because it made me have to see things really from each of their points of view.
Will the issues primarily be from Isadora and her soulmate, Nadiya's, perspectives?
Yes, the story is always going to be about Izzy and Nadia. To me, it's always a love story at the core of it. And to have these women that don't know they've had centuries between each other, is both a romantic notion, and an incredibly fraught, dramatic notion. So, that's going to be the driving force for all future stories. How do we get them together? How do you make one realize without having the other realize? And what does that do for the relationship? I want to really make them complicated characters, and I hope we get the run where we get to do that. My favorite stories are the ones like Star Man and Fables, where you get to messy-up the soap opera of the character's lives. That's just stuff I love to read.
At the recent San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Cons, you hosted panels with female writers who have written shows about witches, and even some practicing Wiccans. Did those conversations impact how you're writing this series?
Yes, I think what they put into words, which is something I obviously had internalized just from watching this kinda stuff and reading these kinds of books, that magic needs to have limits and consequences. Because magic can't be the answer to everything, right? And then the other thing, and this came out of the New York panel that we did which happened to fall on the day of the Supreme Court hearings, was there was a lot of anger. And getting to really hear it in the immediate and the first-hand from them, I had forgotten that this book had started from a place of anger. It became important to me, again, as I break future stories, to harness that anger that I started with. Because it's an angry book. It's about unfairness. And it's about the terrible things that we sometimes do to each other, but mostly men often do to women. And I don't want to get caught up in the fun of witches to lose that.
Lastly putting your TV writer cap back on, I wanted to ask your thoughts on the industry in light of #MeToo. You've hosted some wonderful talks of late with women writers and how they're feeling about the industry. Do you feel like much has changed in this last year? Has it been a lot of lip-service or are women getting opportunities in a way they really haven't been able to in the past?
I think it's about time that this conversation started happening. And I don't think it's lip-service at all. At least not from the people I know, or the people I've talked to for the Writers' Panel. That said, the people who tend to talk to me are the people who do want a diversity of voices in a writers' room. So, I think the #MeToo conversation, and any conversation about diversity among writers and who gets to make anything, is a positive step forward. It's not happening as quickly as it ought to, but the opportunities are certainly more present for women, and for under-represented voices than they were a year ago. And hopefully six months from now, there'll be even more so. The thing about Hollywood is the bottom line is, "Can you make money off of it?" I think they've finally opened their eyes. Yeah, you can make money off of people telling their own stories. They're telling stories that are personal to them, or to their experience.
Hex Wives #1 is available on October 31.