All of the books in the Sandman Universe have been hitting it out of the park lately, and it looks like HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6 is continuing that trend. And in this issue, the characters start to intertwine with another book in the imprint: THE DREAMING.

A First Look at HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6

In the first few pages of HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6, we see find Ezrulie conflicted, all of her sister-selves tired and semi-sleeping. As she is trapped in her feelings, Uncle Monday ventures to the Dreaming, looking for a book in the library. It’s a seemingly impossible task.

As he looks for the book containing the counterspell he needs, he’s thwarted by residents of The Dreaming. As he flees the scene, memories flood his mind. He remembers coming to America on a slave ship. And even though we have heard this kind of story many times, it is an extremely real, visceral, emotional moment. Its impact is undeniable, and the creators — co-writers Nalo Hopkinson and Dan Watters and line artist Domo Stanton should be proud of that.

ComicsVerse spoke to Hopkinson, Watters, and Stanton about HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6, and about the series in general. Find the exclusive pages along with that interview below.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

ComicsVerse (CV): Can you talk about using setting in HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6? You shift from real-world to the world of the fantastic, and in this issue, we even go further into The Dreaming. How do you ground yourself in each place as you write?

Nalo Hopkinson (NH): I’m never sure my answer to this kind of question makes sense. I ground myself in sensation, language, history. Each place has a different sensorium. The French Quarter of New Orleans doesn’t look or smell or taste or sound like the Dreaming. Or, for that matter, like the waters surrounding a fishing village off the coast of Japan. Language is used differently in each location, although there’s often overlap. And culture and history affect the look and feel of a place. The Dreaming has an established history that it’s possible to reference by re-reading the stories that came before. You start using the words that reflect all those qualities, and your senses kick in to create kind of a mental holodeck of the setting in which you’re writing. Once that’s going, you don’t much need to think about it anymore.

Dan Watters (DW): In books like these, where we can journey to realms of the fantastic where gods slumber and abstract concepts are personified, I usually find that the “normal” world grounds the entire thing. Having the NOLA-set side of the story keeps the stakes real. Even when they’re not always acting as our point-of-view, our human characters remind us of the grand scope of the gods and monsters looming above them. They are the lens through which these other worlds are fractured and filtered, so I find keeping them in mind the whole time keeps those places feeling real too. You have to find the kernel of the human in all things and places, no matter how strange or alien. Or else what’s the point?

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6
HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6 page 1. Courtesy of DC Entertainment

CV: The character designs in HOUSE OF WHISPERS are very intricate. The detail in characters like Uncle Monday and Erzulie is particularly impressive. Can you speak to their design a little, and maybe what aspects of their personalities you wanted to bring out in their image?

Domo Stanton (DS):  Thank you! Though as far as initial designs, both of these particular characters were actually fleshed out before I was brought onto the project. For Uncle Monday, Nalo enlisted the help of artist John Jennings, and Erzulie (Freda)’s look started with artist Maika Sozo and was finalized by Bilquis Evely. I will say though when I took these characters over and made them my own, shapes played a huge role in conveying mood and personality with both characters.

Take Uncle Monday for example, the 7ft tall Alligator man with the heart of gold. Despite being such a polite and generous character, the nature of him being a giant half-gator half-man gives him somewhat of a scary, dominating presence, so I wanted to show that by giving him lots of hard, angular edges and dark lighting. It plays a lot on the idea of not judging a book by its cover. When readers pick up the book they are forced to make a judgment on what they see, but as they get to know Uncle Monday, I think it’s cool to see that readers are more accepting of his gentle nature, despite what he looks like on the outside.

Lady Erzulie (Freda) on the other hand, although she is strong, stern, and to the point, she is mostly loving, welcoming and free, plus she is a Goddess. I wanted her to have mixture of hard and soft edges while also accentuating her curves as a plus size black woman, but also give her a feeling of someone who could be loved and feared. Her face, shoulders, and hips are round-ish, playing off of the welcoming vibe but then her breastplate, boots, nails, and belt veve have those angular sharp edges to show that at the same time she could throw hands if she needed to. You’ll notice as she becomes more uncomfortable with her surroundings, causing her to transition into her sister selves Erzulie Dantor and Erzulie redeye (those I designed myself), her shapes also transition into more angular and volatile squares and triangles, and less soft circles.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6
HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6 page 2. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

CV: I’m always interested to hear about how a team collaborates. What is your workflow like? How do you bounce ideas off each other?

DW: When it comes to issue-by-issue, Nalo and I have definitely worked out that Google Docs is our friend. We tend to have a master sheet in which we jot down vignettes and ideas and notes for each other, which goes back and forth until the shape of the issue begins to make itself known. Then one of us will take it away and work out a page-by-page breakdown which we’ll then turn into a script together.

DS: Haha, for the most part, staying on schedule has probably been the most pressing part of this journey. At this point, we’re moving like a well-oiled machine. After I receive the fully finished script, I start with layouts. Depending on what the story needs, I may make changes in terms of adding or subtracting panels or even moving panels around to serve better for the story.

Then I’ll send my layouts off to my Editors and Nalo with notes and explanations on why I chose to add, subtract, move panels around, or explaining a particular idea I had for a crazy layout specifically when dealing with the scenes taking place in the Dreaming. The Shakpana scene toward the end of issue 5 for example, because it’s in no way shaped in the traditional comic page format I made sure to even add a suggested word balloon placement in the layout to make sure it worked along with the dialogue and had the biggest impact on what’s taking place on the page. Aside from one idea I had in issue 3 I think, they’ve let me run wild everything, and I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate their trust in me.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6
HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6 page 3. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

CV: Representation is huge in this book. Can you speak to that, in terms of both characters of color and LQBTQI+ characters (and even the intersectionality at play)?

NH: For me, that’s a large part of the fun of writing HOUSE OF WHISPERS; putting a multiplicity of people onto the page, and focusing heavily on African diasporic representation — Erzulie is, after all, like me, a being of African descent, and the belief system she and her kin represent originates in Sub-Saharan Africa — and being inclusive of many types of experience, including gender, age, ability, sexuality, class. Those things don’t exist in bodies by themselves. People have lots of different identities and experiences.

It feels natural and glorious to be able to write that and to sit back and see what amazing artists such as Domo, Deron, John, Sean, and Aneke do with it. I spend a lot of time chortling with glee when I see what they’ve done. There’s a panel in issue 6 in which 9-year-old Habibi needs to ask Alter Boi’s advice about something; not being certain what Alter Boi’s gender identity is, Habibi quite unselfconsciously creates her own coinage; she uses three different terms of respect referencing two different genders. That way, she figures she’s covered her bases. She creates a verbal ball of “I see you. I see your age and your wisdom and your complexity. I’m a child; can you help me?” And sure, I wrote that, but there’s something about the way Domo drew it that brought tears to my eyes.

DW: Stretching out beyond what’s been explored before — seeing and bringing in an entire textured world with all kinds of people and their worldviews and experiences — has been one of the most rewarding parts of working in the Sandman Universe.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6
HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6 page 4. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

CV: What is one moment in the series so far that you’re particularly proud of? There are so many jaw-dropping pages to talk about. (One of my personal favorites is of Uncle Monday screaming towards the end of HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6. The emotion displayed is truly stunning.)

DS: Wow thank you so much, you’re so kind! Man, answering this question though is almost like a parent answering which is their favorite kid haha. It’s tough to pick out just one particular page or moment because I feel like I’ve had a few wins in every issue in different aspects, whether it was a particular face or expression, pose or crazy angled shot or interesting layout. I’m huge on facial expression and body language to really help sell the storytelling in a scene, so when I feel like I really nailed an expression I consider it a win.

CV: I’m a particular fan of the color scheme in this book. How do you work with John Rauch? Did you have a palette in mind while developing the look of the book, or was that something he brought to the table?

DS: I passed on a few references here and there in the early parts of issue 1, but really that’s definitely something John 100% brought to the table. We worked together before on a Deadpool book for Marvel in 2010 and ever since I’ve been a huge fan because of his palette and rendering style and did not hesitate to ask for him when I was solidified on this series.

 

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HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6 page 5. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

CV: How do you incorporate your original ideas into the vast Sandman Universe? What is it like to play in that sandbox? And how often do you connect with the other creators working on books in the imprint?

NH: For me, there’s no one way to do it. I figure it out as I go along, and once Dan joined me as co-writer, we talk it through for each issue. Cain and Abel were in Neil’s notes for the opening premise of HOUSE OF WHISPERS, so they appear in the first issue. I have certain characters from the original Sandman Universe of whom I’m fond. When I conceive of a place where they might come in handy, I first check with Neil about whether he’s okay with me using them. Then, if they’re likely to be appearing in one of the other three stories, I check with those authors and with the editors. Cain, Abel, Goldie, and Gregory had business in their main storyline by Si Spurrier, so I agreed with him that I’d send them off so our stories wouldn’t clash.

But that needn’t be the only way to do it. We — Neil, the editors, the authors — have all talked about the fact that these stories are mythic. It’s quite common for Coyote or Baba Yaga or B’rer Rabbit to be alive in one person’s story and be dead in another’s. The stories are what we make them. I could see us handling the Dreaming the same way, too, and continuity be damned. As to how often I connect with the other creators, I pretty much have to buy their issues or ask the editors for copies in order to know what’s going on in their stories. I’m frankly quite behind on all three. The four of us talked a lot at the beginning, but not very much now, I don’t think.

 

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6
HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6 Cover. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

DW: I’m working on two books in the Sandman Universe between this and LUCIFER, which is an absolute joy. Neil has said himself that the reason he created Sandman in the way he did was that it allowed him to tell any kind of story he liked from month to month, and this still essentially applies. This is probably one of the most malleable universes in fiction, which has a rich mythology of its own at this point but also contains all the rich mythologies that have ever existed beyond it. So long story long, the Sandman Universe is extremely accommodating to folding in our own stories and letting us talk about what we want to talk about.

I talk to Si pretty regularly to keep abreast of things happening in the Dreaming, since his book is the one most likely to have knock-on effects into the others, being based in the place that links all our titles; but beyond that, my approach is definitely to bear in mind that the title of the imprint is the Sandman “Universe,” and to act accordingly. This isn’t a tightly woven crossover, but an entire span of worlds and their histories, and sometimes their futures. So while things will inevitably convene or bounce off each other at times, there is so much space for each of the titles to explore on their own.

Check out HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6 from DC’s Vertigo Comics on Feb. 13th.

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