We sat down with the literary mastermind, Pat Shand, behind our newest badass hero of the Grimm Universe: Angelica Blackstone, aka Hellchild. Learn about his writing style, the upcoming series, and get a sneak preview of the script in this inside scoop!
ZENESCOPE: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
PAT SHAND: From reading. As long as I can remember, I wanted to write. I was six years old, banging out one-page stories on my mom’s typewriter. Most of those were sequels to Goosebumps books that I loved. I never wanted to be anything else.
Z: What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
PS: It all comes down to emotional truth. You can have an intricately plotted, superbly structured story that doesn’t connect to anyone because it’s hollow. For me, personally, plot and structure is completely secondary to character exploration. If the story hinges around a dynamic character fully explored, chances are it’ll work.
I used to teach screenwriting at Five Towns College, two of the biggest struggles new writers face are crafting believable dialogue and elevating a script from “stuff happens” to a story.
Z: How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula? / Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
PS: It’s different every time. Most often, I’ll have the first few issues outlined pretty heavily with the rest left for me to figure out. I have an end in sight, almost always, though. It also depends on the assignment. With the Charmed: Season Ten comics, I have to submit an outline for approval to CBS, so the story for those has to be fully figured out. On something like Robyn Hood, which I was writing every month, I had my ending hashed out, but the way I got there was different than I envisioned. Sometimes, the actual scripting takes you in a different direction.
Z: What do you think most characterizes your writing?
PS: A core idea behind the work I’ve been doing recently is examining how far society has progressed and how far we still have to come. I want to ask myself hard questions and explore them with characters I love. I think that gets me closer to the truth.
Z: How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
PS: I think the writing I’m doing now is the most me. I write for fun, so there was a time when I would take on any project, and sometimes I still take on a project just to have a good time on it—like Grimm Fairy Tales: Steampunk. But right now, my focus is to craft stories that reflect who I am and the things I care about most deeply.
Z: What projects are you working on at the present?
PS: I finished writing Robyn Hood, but as the pages come in, I’m tweaking the scripts to make sure the end is a strong as it could possibly be. I’m nearing the end of my long runs on Grimm Fairy Tales and Charmed: Season Ten, in about the middle of scripting Hellchild, plotting two more miniseries coming out later this year, and a great deal of non-comics work as well.
Z: Speaking of, what were the inspirations behind Angelica Blackstone and Hellchild?
PS: I first had the idea for Angelica in 2012. I was writing the first issue of Grimm Universe, which was a sort of anthology title that Zenescope was doing. This was a standalone story about the Greek gods, mostly Neptune. Neptune was all noble and tortured and serious, so I brought in Hades, who I’d written a few months back in the GFT: Annual 2012 as this sort of Russell Brand meets Eric Northman type devil-may-care badass who doesn’t think very highly of the other gods. The issue ends with Hades manipulating Neptune into giving him Pandora’s Box—and that ending, that wasn’t plotted. Came completely out of nowhere. It just felt right.
That, though, led me to ask what Hades, who doesn’t care about anything, values so much that he’d get involved in his family’s bullshit. The answer I came up with then was that he had a daughter who was killed thousands of years ago, because of him…so he’s got this tragic backstory. I always wanted to bring her back, and spent years thinking about when the right time to do it was. I thought about it being part of the Robyn Hood ongoing series, but decided that it took too much attention away from Robyn herself…and then I thought about doing it in Van Helsing vs. Dracula, but it felt like it was the wrong story. I finally just pitched Hellchild as its own story rather than using another title as a vehicle for Angelica. The idea was originally to set this up as a Hades story and subvert that to pull the rug out from readers and introduce them to our new star: Angelica. The way it ended up though, a straight-forward story about Hellchild, is about the best way it could’ve gone. This way, we’ve got four years of build-up for a story that is…well, essentially completely new reader friendly.
Z: Tell us a little about the series itself?
PS: Angelica, our Hellchild, is the daughter of Hades. She died millennia ago, and now she’s been resurrected in a world that is absolutely nothing like hers. She blames her father for her death, so ends up getting in with the ultimate version of the wrong crowd: a gang of junkie Viking vampires. I mean, that’s the thing to do, yeah?
Z: That being said, what does she do that is so special?
PS: Angelica has a unique view of the world around her, and a debt to settle with a father whose love for her has spanned centuries and continents. In some ways, it’s an epic Greek tragedy playing out in New York City counterculture.
Z: Most people know that artists use references to develop covers and interiors, but as a writer do you do this as well? If so, what are some of the references that you used while writing this series?
PS: Not really exact references, but all writers take inspiration from other sources. A lot of it is building on the world around the central characters—for instance, the villains of this story are the vampire junkies. I wanted the villains to reflect an internal struggle for Angelica, of course, that’s basic stuff, but I also wanted them to be characters we can feel. Every character, no matter how small the role, should feel like a real person, and that’s what I’m trying to do here, even though we’re dealing with gods and monsters.
Z: Were there any challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing this title to life?
PS: Yeah for sure, each title I write brings a new challenge, and if it doesn’t then I don’t think I should be writing it. My girlfriend and I recently moved back from San Diego to New York to be closer to my parents—and now, here I am writing this story that examines (hopefully with nuance, tenderness, and an absolutely ridiculous excess of blood) the inherent strangeness of the parent/child relationship. Hades has given everything to Angelica, yes, but he’s also cursed her in some ways. She has grown to hate him, but how much of him does she see in herself? This series, as fun as it is, is an emotional struggle, which I think means I’m hitting the right notes and asking the right questions.
Z: Were there alternate story arcs you considered?
PS: Once I realized that the storyline would be its own thing rather than a subplot in Robyn Hood, no. Everything is pretty much going down as envisioned. One thing that was going to happen in Robyn Hood was that Hades was going to, in the last minute, join the Cabal in exchange for their help resurrecting his daughter. It was going to be this big betrayal moment that didn’t at all feel right for where Helsing and Hades had progressed to—which is a place of honesty. Hellchild will strain that trust they’ve built, but for entirely different reasons.
Z: What got left out in the final draft?
PS: The first issue originally had a brawl with werewolf bikers, but that got moved to #2. Can’t miss out on something like that!
Z: Speaking of final drafts, the following is a sneak preview of Issue #1’s script and preliminary interiors (click each page to enlarge)!
Z: So outside of Hellchild, what do your plans for future projects include?
PS: The three ongoings I’ve been writing are all ending around the same time, so I’m reallllly looking forward to giving those the endings I’ve been planning for the past few years. Also, to write some new stories.
Z: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say? How can they reach you?
PS: Yeah, every single day on Twitter and Tumblr. I get asked about Charmed a lot, and probably Robyn Hood second most. It’s all mostly fun stuff—people showing their appreciation. Very rarely does it get negative. Even when folks are critical, I don’t usually mind that if it’s respectful. I’m @PatShand on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.