Note: This is Part 2 of our interview. You can read Part 1 here!

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Jen Van Meter about her upcoming Valiant series, THE DEATH-DEFYING DR. MIRAGE: SECOND LIVES. It’s the eagerly anticipated sequel to 2014’s hit series THE DEATH-DEFYING DR. MIRAGE, which stands as one of my favorite Valiant comics. In the first part of this interview, we discussed the reinvention of Dr. Mirage, working with Valiant, and Roberto De La Torre’s sensational art. The conversation continued with our deeper exploration of the upcoming SECOND LIVES series.

MIRAGE-SEC_001_003After the trials and ordeals that they went through in the first volume, [Shan and Hwen, the Doctors Mirage] are together again at the beginning of SECOND LIVES. I’m really excited to see how that turns out!

I think you’ll have fun! The big conflict for them in this new series is that they’re back together, but Hwen’s a ghost. So he can’t do magic, he can’t help repair the house that’s been destroyed. He can’t put his arms around Shen and kiss her. He’s there, but he’s a ghost. Inasmuch as they would like to be satisfied and content to be back together, it’s not quite enough, and they want to see if they can find a way to give him some kind of material force so he can move objects and put his arms around his wife. Their pursuit of that is going to open a can of worms that then they need to put back together. Over the course of it, they have to figure out what actually does make them content. Are they people who are ever likely to be content?

That’s something I’ve always been interested in: the development of relationships between people in these extraordinary circumstances. It’s something you don’t see in a lot of comic books, and it’s really refreshing to see that in DR. MIRAGE.

MIRAGE-SEC_001_004Thank you! I am kind of a sentimentalist, but more than that I think I have maybe what you might call a fairly grounded or earthy sense of what makes drama. I am thoroughly dissatisfied with big blanket statements that people make, like “a happy relationship is never interesting.” Most of us in our own lives know that there are plenty of ups and downs in the best and worst relationships in our lives, and I think it really diminishes the qualities that make us human to not say that there’s plenty of drama and worthwhile story even in healthy relationships. I think that we need to tell stories about small things. People seeking fairly basic satisfactions. It doesn’t all have to be exploding planets.

I think to that point, it’s not necessarily fair to character to suggest that to be powerful or dramatic they all have to be messed up people who can’t sustain healthy relationships. It’s too much of that old idea that for great artists to be great they have to be broken people or that celebrities must all be a wreck. We tell ourselves those stories in weird ways that actually punish or diminish people who keep it together and do their jobs and create stability. It suggests that stability isn’t worthwhile as a goal. Shan and Hwen have a different problem from a “will they/won’t they” relationship. In their case, “they will,” but how can they with Hwen as a ghost?

How much research did you do in the occult prior to writing this series?

MIRAGE-SEC_001_005Not as much as you might think! The afterlife is sort of created by our imaginative energy in some way. Another way to put it is that everything we see when Shan goes to the other side is metaphorical; a visitor to the afterlife in the Valiant universe is going to interpret what’s there based on their own cultural absorption. It’s all metaphor. One of the things I did more research on for the second series was about real people who have, at different points in history, presented themselves as occultists, or wizards, or mediums. I did some reading on Crowley, and Jack Parsons and people like that who to varying degrees had followers and people who saw them as some sort of figurehead. That’s as much for look and feel as it is for any facts I need. This is a very easy book to says “I’m going to make it up, and it’s true in my book.” There are some interesting touchstone plots that have influenced it.

READ: Tom’s review of the excellent Valiant series BOOK OF DEATH!

I did a lot of reading about Egyptian concepts of the afterlife and the soul. I don’t know how much of it made its way to the page, but it influenced my way of thinking a lot. I had always understood the ancient Egyptians to have a very unified, singular idea that ‘your body has a soul in it, and we’re putting all of this furniture and cats and mummies and all of this stuff in your tomb so that this unified soul can get up and get into a little spirit boat and go to its afterlife with all of its stuff with it.’ That was how it was always been presented to me and that was sort of the limit of my understanding. I was doing some reading and I went down one of those research rabbit holes and discovered that the Egyptians understood the soul to have multiple parts all with different names. You have the part of the soul that makes you you, the piece of your soul that moves your body around and keeps your blood going, the piece of your soul that can talk to the gods. Those are different pieces, and different pieces can be cursed or corrupted separately. It’s a very complicated system!

MIRAGE-SEC_001_VARIANT_SKELLYWhen I hit on that, I thought it was very interesting. One of the things I came across in that reading was this plaque, in the British Museum or something that was recovered or stolen from one of the Egyptian tombs. After much study and translation, it’s been determined that what this was meant to do was to protect the people who were buried there from somebody else coming in and murdering their souls before they could make the trip. Which is not something that I had ever encountered! That wound up being a huge influence on this second series, because what Shan and Hwen are essentially doing is tracking a ghost killer. There are ghosts that stay and inhabit our plane of existence, they don’t cross over, they stay here bcause they are part of the psychic ecosystem of our experience of the world. They keep demons out; they keep gardens healthy. They do all kinds of things. Somebody’s going to be trying to kill ghosts, and that’s something that [Shan and Hwen Mirage] need to put a stop to. I like the idea of them being the only two detectives in the entire world equipped to solve this particular crime. It’s all spurred by this little sidebar of research.

That’s sometimes how research goes! It’s happened to me a number of times. I like how these ideas can organically grow from something you weren’t expecting.

Oh sure! It’s one of the pleasures of research I think: when you get the answer that you didn’t know you had to ask the question for.

CHECK OUT Chris’s review of THE BOWERY BOYS #1, a gritty look at 1800s Manhattan!

Are you going to be working on anything else with Valiant after this second volume?

Well, I hope they’ll want me to do more DR. MIRAGE! I have a couple other projects that I’m working on. Ideally, I’d love to keep working on DR. MIRAGE as long as they’ll have me.

I’m hoping for more as well! I’m really excited for that second volume. Are there any comics that you’re reading now that you think everyone should be reading?

MIRAGE-SEC_001_VARIANT_COOVERI will say—and it’s totally self-serving because Greg [Rucka, Van Meter’s husband] is here in my house and his work is coming out of my household—but if people like DR. MIRAGE because they like magic and occult things, Greg’s BLACK MAGICK starts next week. It’s super awesome and a completely different take than DR. MIRAGE on similar things like the real world with magic. Our house has soooo many books about magic and witches in it. I will say that it saves some money on the research budget when you’re touching on similar things.

READ Tom’s review of BLACK MAGICK! It’s great!

I am over the moon excited about the FAITH miniseries coming out of Valiant. When that comes, everyone SHOULD read it because she is one of my favorite Valiant characters. I think it’s going to be phenomenal.

I’m loving BITCH PLANET, I’m loving THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE. I just read a really fun Oni book called ODD SCHNOZZ AND THE ODD SQUAD that’s this sort of funky rock ‘n roll comic and it’s delightful. Chris Sebela is doing a book called WELCOME BACK. It’s digital only, and it’s excellent. The first two issues are just stunning. If people kind of like the spooky, paranormal elements of DR. MIRAGE, they might find this appealing. It’s one of those books where I look at it and say “ah, I wish I thought of that!” over and over!

Awesome, I’ll put those on my list. Some of them already were, and now I have a couple more suggestions.

Oh, and Fraction’s ODY-C! Everyone’s talking about SEX CRIMINALS, but I think everybody should also see ODY-C. It’s gorgeous. The piece of me that’s been researching old stuff has nothing but respect for what he’s doing in that book.

I love what they’re doing in that book. I remember reading The Odyssey back in high school, and I was opposed to reading it at first. As I got into it, I realized that it was where a lot of stories came from and I loved it.

It’s the beginning of everything! There’s so much there. One of my favorite things about adaptations is that what you’re really getting is somebody else’s thoughtful interpretation. Matt’s super smart, and he has a heart the size of a house, so his thoughtful interpretation of something that ginormous is going to be worth anyone’s time, and the art’s gorgeous

I agree about adaptation. My Master’s Thesis was actually about adaptation. It’s one of the most interesting types of fiction to me: making something new out of something.

MIRAGE-SEC_001_VARIANT_EVANSThe first time I ever encountered it and said “Oh my gosh!” was with a novel called The Wide Sargasso Sea (by Jean Rhys), which is Jane Eyre from Bertha’s point of view. It is in some ways the best piece of critical scholarship of Jane Eyre that I’ve ever read. It’s fiction, and through the form of the fiction it uncovers an examination of what having a mad wife in the attic means, and assessing the way that the character gets set aside as the mystery of somebody else’ story. Inverting it and telling the story form her perspective winds up becoming a really great critique and reading of what’s going on in Jane Eyre. I went “Oh my gosh, I didn’t think anyone could do this!” I’m fascinated by adaptation and translation; what happens when you try to take something from one genre to another, one medium to another. You’re not making the same thing again, youre making a new thing.

And now you’re doing that with DR. MIRAGE!

Absolutely! The stuff I’m writing is an interpretation of the brief appearances in SHADOWMAN, of what Bernard Chang and others did in the 90s. its also on some levels an interpretation of Nick and Nora Charles, the Curies, or any other real or imagined couple that I’ve encountered and that has affected me. The other thing about collaboration in comics, and one of the delights, is that I write a scripts and then what you see is Roberto [De La Torre]’s interpretation, and [Colorist] Dave Baron’s interpretation, and [Letterer Dave Lanphear’s] interpretation. It’s layers and layers of people reflecting on what others have already done. It’s like a weird time travel conversation!

I’ll have to go into reading that second volume with that mindset! I think that covers everything. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you!

It was wonderful to talk to you as well!

Well, that concludes our interview! I hope you enjoyed reading about Jen Van Meter’s work on and off of DR. MIRAGE, and I encourage you to pick up the first series now (if you haven’t already read it) and get ready for volume 2 in December! Check back at ComicsVerse for regular Valiant coverage, and all of your other comic book analysis needs!

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