Joshua Spiller is no stranger to having is work featured in the David Lloyd-edited Aces Weekly. Spiller’s third and latest story to be featured in the ongoing digital anthology is a world away from the psychologically-themed Symbolism Rewired and the lighthearted mecha-flavoured Time Fracture!. The Ogxcun Myth pits two clashing timelines against each other, one a Nordic-esque, pre-historic world and the other a technologically-enhanced future, and explores the deeply-rooted connections between the two universes.
The comic has recently launched in Aces Weekly, and will run for seven weeks alongside the other wildly diverse content in the anthology. We caught up with Joshua to discover more about this delightfully complex-sounding comic.
A Place To Hang Your Cape: Why did you want to tell this story?
Joshua Spiller: To end the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, various delays in the publishing schedule have scuppered that dream. But I suppose, on a more subconscious level, it was simply because I thought its main ideas would make a good story, or at least, the sort of story I would enjoy reading.
“What were these main ideas?!” you don’t cry. Well, to spite you, I’ll answer anyway.
The first was the idea of a universe where divine punishment was meted out by three beings who were akin to the Furies/The Kindly Ones from Greek mythology (if you’re familiar with those). However, the twist was that, in my story, the cosmic mechanism that determined who was deserving of punishment was based on guilt: if you felt severe guilt, then clearly – at least to the deity – you’d done something severely wrong, and so that guilt would act as a scent to the Furies-esque buildings, bringing their wrath down upon you; but if you didn’t feel that level of self-flagellating guilt, then you were presumed to be basically A-ok, and left alone. I felt this could be an interesting way to storify* (my made-up verb, but one I like) the sense I sometimes have that, in life, good, guilt-prone people tend to get dealt an unfair amount of bad luck, whereas bad people who don’t give a “flying scooter” about others – I’m guessing I’m allowed to use that kind of language here – never really seem to have anything go wrong for them.
The second, and subordinate, main idea was about having two completely different, historically grounded cultures encounter each other – the kind of culture fusion/clash so extreme, as the two societies are separated by such a vast distance, that it could probably never have happened in actuality. Initially, I liked the idea of having a representative of a Viking-esque culture, because I’d been watching footage from God of War 4, and not only am I thus clearly very impressionable, but I also thought their rugged, powerful, and fairly stark and minimalist aesthetic was very cool. But, culturally, Vikings do seem to be having something of a moment (see, for instance, the TV show Vikings). So I needed a fresher and stranger ingredient to add to the mix, to give the story a life of its own. Then last November, I, very luckily, was able to go to New Zealand, and while I was there, I spent a bit of time reading about the Maori. Their culture seemed fascinating and compelling in its own right, and like it would offer a strong contrast to the Viking aesthetic. Plus, the idea of a meeting between a Viking-esque culture and a Maori-esque culture immediately felt novel, engaging, and likely to yield some strong dramatic scenarios.
And the rest, as they say, is a footnote of a footnote in history.
*Storify = to take a sense or impression, and turn it into a story that captures that feeling.
AP2HYC: Where did the inspiration come from to tell a story that weaves two conflicting timelines together?
Spiller: Well, this actually relates to the third-most-important, key idea that I wanted to weave into the story, which was to have a setting that resembled the Villa d’Este, which is a baroque palace built in the 1500s near Rome, and which still stands today. An Italian colleague showed it to me months ago: it’s a fabulous, intricate, and classically imaginative setting, and well worth looking up on that pinnacle of internet shared-knowledge sites, Wikipedia. (It’s also faithfully recreated in Issue #1 of The Ogxcun Myth, although I’m not saying me and artist Kishore Mohan won’t take a fair bit of artistic license with it further down the line. After all, it’s always good to keep some shield against the charge of glaring historical inaccuracy.)
Having seen that palace, I thought, with Hitchcockian perspicacity: “Wow – that would make a great visual in a story.”
The problem was, for narrative reasons, I knew the bulk of The Ogxcun Myth had to take place in an Icelandic setting. So how would a location like the Ville d’Este, situated in the Mediterranean, fit in? Without giving away any spoilers here, it actually ended up helping me solve a critical plot problem. So, essentially, the two timelines became necessary not only because they allowed me to fashion an engaging and rounded story, but also because they allowed me to incorporate into the narrative all the coolest idea pieces I’d already assembled. Kind of like a kid with a disparate array of action figures from different series, trying to think of a plot framework – They’ve all been zapped to the same dimension! They’ve always lived near each other, it’s just never mentioned on the TV shows! – that will allow them to coherently exist in the same tale. (Or, in their case – let’s face it – low-budget punch-up.)
So if you do read The Ogxcun Myth, that’s a kind of Easter Egg to bear in mind: the Icelandic setting and the Ogxcun were the fundamental ideas, with the Villa d’Este-esque setting grafted on to them secondarily, in the hope that this could provide a workable narrative.
As an aside to what I’m sure is already a tediously long answer, it wasn’t just the Villa d’Este’s architecture that initially caught my fancy: the online info also stated that old automata used to reside there. I thought the notion of primitive robots had an appeal, and that made me think of the Greek god Hephaestus, and how, if I remembered correctly, he built automata. From that, the notion of a story that combined robots and ancient gods seemed interesting, as you don’t often see the two together. Then, through some research (a.k.a. idle googling) I found this webpage:
It was either on there, or elsewhere, that someone crystallised what felt like the underlying, unconscious source of my intrigue with this robot/god combination: these stories meant that presumably pre-mechanical societies had mechanical myths. Which sounds amazing, bonkers, and unexplored. So ideas that span off that became absolutely crucial elements in the fabric of The Ogxcun Myth as well.
AP2HYC: What challenges does that present to you as a writer?
Spiller: Not to sound like some tough and insouciant writer-cum-hero (and the hyphens are important there) but not much. I had to think through the logic of the story, but you’d have to do that with pretty much any scenario anyway. Also, the timelines don’t delicately interweave and impact upon each other, so that keeps things straightforward.
What relates to the timelines, and was much more challenging, was the historical research. This is the first of my stories that I wanted to feel – not historically accurate, because it’s not a story about any real past cultures – but historically grounded.
To do that, I studied two books: one was the DK Eyewitness Guide to New Zealand 2018, which gave me info on the Maori; the second was Usborne Starting Point History: Who Were the Vikings? (Yes, that is a book aimed at small children. No shame here. In fact, I’d recommend children’s books for research: they get to the point quickly, and the copious and detailed illustrations they provide mean that, for comic books in particular, they’re great references. Think about it: a prose non-fiction book might tell you certain details about a Viking longhouse. But when you, as a comic artist, come to draw it, you’ve still got plenty of major gaps in your knowledge: how big were Viking longhouses really, in a way you can accurately visualise? Yes, there was a fireplace in the middle of the building, but did there tend to be any furniture laid out along the room’s perimeter, or was this bare space? Were there any windows, and if so, how many, and what shape were they? One illustration in a kids’ book answers all these questions.)
Anyway, I didn’t have many sources, but I think they gave me everything I needed. I then listed various historical details that felt like they could be smoothly incorporated into the plot; then, I worked out which issue each detail would go in. For instance, in issue 1, the protagonist wears a Viking-style outfit; has a cloak pin made of reindeer antler, a material Vikings would often use in their crafts; and the issue’s final panel alludes to an outlandish but, as far as I understand, genuine Maori ship design.
Such history-influenced touches are more dense in Issue 2, but I always wanted them to feel natural within the context of The Ogxcun Myth and, whether such details are background material and beyond conscious notice of the reader (such as the cloak pin being made of reindeer antler, which you wouldn’t be able to work out from the visual alone) or more explicit, I hope cumulatively they’ll give this mythic story some sense of grounded authenticity.
AP2HYC: What’s it like working with artist Kishore Mohan?
Spiller: Great. We actually met through a mutual friend who backed a Kickstarter I ran (for a speculative-fiction novel entitled The 8th Emotion). That friend lives in America. He gave me Kishore’s email, who lives in India. So it’s a truly modern, international collaboration. And although Kishore and I have never met, email and Whatsapp get the job done at no cost. (I’ve also tried to contact him on Chatroulette, but alas, no joy.)
Of course, due to currency-exchange shenanigans, I will be screwing him out of the royalties he’s due. Incidentally, what is the internet, and how private will this interview be?
(By the way, the mutual friend is a great comic-book writer called Phil Maira, and you can read some of his stuff for free)
AP2HYC: What kind of visual style would you say he brings to the comic?
Spiller: There’s a lot of energy to Kishore’s drawings, so I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how he realises the (artfully choreographed, if I do say so myself) extended action sequence in Issue #3. Plus, he evokes a great moody ambience – as I’m sure you can tell by the attached art – and his attention to detail is excellent. Oh, and he does dope monster designs. That’s very important too.
Also, it’s worth mentioning we’ve got Bolt-01 providing the lettering for this comic, and he’s also doing an outstanding job. On top of that, his wealth of experience in comic books, including comic-book production, really helps the collaboration process to tick along smoothly.
AP2HYC: Visually and narratively, how might you say The Ogxcun Myth operates within Aces Weekly‘s rectangular, serialised instalments? Was the comic written/drawn to accommodate the anthology’s format?
Spiller: It certainly was. For Kishore, that meant knowing the unusual art specifications of Aces Weekly before he began work upon the project, and tailoring everything to that.
For myself, it meant breaking the 21-page story down into seven 3-page units, and making sure each one – apart from the finale – ended on an organic cliffhanger. Which is a bit fiddly, but nonetheless doable, and very satisfying once accomplished.
AP2HYC: How does The Ogxcun Myth compare/contrast with your past contributions to Aces Weekly?
Spiller: The editor of Aces Weekly, David Lloyd (he of V for Vendetta fame), really encourages unconventional comic-book stories. Which is wonderful. I mean, how many creators kvetch and moan that they’re restricted to creating what’s already popular and, from a marketing standpoint (although I think this is moronic thinking), safe? Which, in comics, refers to, eternally, superheroes. Nothing wrong with ’em. But the human imagination is much vaster than that, and so the content of the comic-book medium should be too.
So if you can avoid superheroes (and gore – it’s an all-ages publication), then Aces Weekly will probably be open to what you’re offering; and if they accept your pitch, you’re basically given complete creative control to do what you think best. Which is why I’ve tried to make the most of the platform, and keep my stories as varied as possible.
Thus, my first Aces Weekly title was Symbolism Rewired, and was a cerebral and thoughtful piece of sci-fi, set in a recognisable and roughly contemporary London, about how symbolism is the root of human consciousness, and what may happen to a person if that symbolism were rewired. It also operates as a kind of low-key biography of a fictional future person.
And the second – entitled Time Fracture!, with art and colouring by the astonishing Dave Thompson – was a zippy and zany space-opera adventure piece, with lots of humour, a megalomaniacal robot, and a device that will shunt every planet in the universe either forwards or backwards in time. Imagine the chaos that would cause. Well, now, you don’t have to.
The Ogxcun Myth, a quietly epic and legendary narrative grounded in the historical past, is me attempting to change tack again. Say what you like, I never make the same failure twice.
AP2HYC: How did you join Aces Weekly initially?
Spiller: Do you know what? I don’t remember. Maybe Bolt-01 recommended it to me. Maybe I stumbled across it online, or got one of their leaflets at a comic convention. Whatever the case, them being an anthology, I thought there might be a chance I could get a story featured there. So I emailed them, they got back pretty promptly (if memory serves me right), and things then flowed from there.
(I was tempted to stop the above paragraph after the first two sentences, and just go hell for leather for The Worst Answer Of All Time Award.)
AP2HYC: What’s it been like to be part of the anthology?
Spiller: Fantastic. It’s an amazing and pioneering platform, with great, creator-oriented ethics (the creators retain ownership of their work, and Aces Weekly is a not-for-profit publication, instead distributing all its profits among its contributors through a royalties system), and a very efficient and supportive editor.
Plus, it’s nice to be part of a rich range of serialised stories. Partly, this encourages you to up your own game; and partly, it feels like it gets back to the childhood spirit of what comics should be: all about freedom of the imagination, fun, and the excitement of new ideas. Nevertheless, although there have been innovative gems already, I hope the general content in Aces Weekly only improves in quality and grows in ambition, until one day, the publication can stand up with the finest comics in history. But that’s up to the creators. Because the publishing infrastructure’s been put in place to create something timeless and wonderful; something that gets at the heart of why we fell in love with comics in the first place.