INTERVIEW: Paul Cornell and Emma Vieceli talk ‘The Modern Frankenstein’

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Modern Frankenstein #1 - But Why Tho?

The Modern Frankenstein is published by the Magma Comix imprint of Heavy Metal Magazine. One of our contributors followed and reviewed the 5 issue series upon release. Contributor Will Tucker interviewed writer Paul Cornell and artist Amma Vieceli to discuss the series. Topics discuss how the comic came to be, the challenges of horror comics, and the dangers of complicity. The Modern Frankenstein is available now, and the trade is available in stores from September 28th.

BUT WHY THO:  Please describe how this series first came to fruition?

PAUL CORNELL: I pitched The Modern Frankenstein to Denton J. Tipton (Publisher of Magma Comix) just before his move from another publisher, so he took it with him to Magma Comix. I’d always thought that the Frankenstein story became more relevant with every passing day, in that the bicameral nature of social media demands we take one side of just two. So I wanted a Frankenstein who had the best ethics in mind but show how his extremism ignores a lot of what human beings actually need to exist. I believe this type of personality can often be seen in people like CEOs of major companies—all brain, no empathy. So I wanted James to be persuasive, just like how Peter Cushing’s Frankenstein in the Hammer movies is portrayed as an antihero who genuinely wants the best for the world. I’d always wanted to work with Emma Vieceli, who’s an old friend, and I could see her style—erotic, horrific, poetic—being perfect to make this a proper horror romance.

EMMA VIECELI: I came on board when Paul reached out and pitched the series to me. We’ve been friends for many years now, and we’d wanted to work together for a long time, and here was a project that was really the right fit! I loved the twisted, human story and leapt at the chance to work with him and the team, and with an exciting new imprint!

BUT WHY THO:  How well does the medical sub-genre fit a horror series?

EMMA VIECELI: Better than a lot of us would probably want to admit! We are blessed to live in a time of progress and medical science wonders. But, the road to discoveries that we take for granted, now and in the future, offer so much scope for twisted storytelling. Somehow the clinical and healing face of medicine makes the notion of its dark side scarier by contrast.

PAUL CORNELL: I had gall bladder problems a couple of years ago. Write what you know, they say (wrongly)! But many of us are now experiencing first-hand how real the medical horror genre can be.

BUT WHY THO: A word that reoccurs throughout the series is “complicity.” Was this a theme you wanted to explore from the start? Why did you land on this theme?

PAUL CORNELL: The idea of complicity applies to all of us, all the time, these days because we can decide how much we know about the most terrible things, or we can settle on entirely the wrong things to be angry about.

EMMA VIECELI: True horror, for me, is what we might see in ourselves. How far we can be twisted or influenced and what we can do in those circumstances. In that way, Elizabeth in this story is living a true horror by my standards. Not just surrounded by horror but partaking in it, living it, choosing it. And while James could always have justified his actions because his goal and his boundaries never moved, Elizabeth not so much. She’ll always know what she did. That complicity is what intrigued me about the story when we started and what still fascinates me now.

BUT WHY THO: What was the creative process like? Were the script and visuals created in tandem, or was there a back and forth?

PAUL CORNELL: It took an issue of the comic or so for me to anticipate and write for Emma’s re-panelling of scripts, but that’s a part of the comics process I always enjoy. I imagine my beats going in certain places, but I love to see an artist put them elsewhere, because the artist is always right, and Emma was very right, and made the song of the comic a real duet.

EMMA VIECELI: Well, for issue one, we had to find our footing. I assumed I was working from a final script, and I hadn’t realized that Paul was still looking to adjust the scripts to what I made. So, he was making the script really fit the interpretation on the page! As such, issue one was a real ‘oh’ moment, but from that point on, the system worked great. So Paul would script, and I would comic that onto the page, adding in any tweaks or panels that I felt could best show his story. And then he’d take another look at the script and see what could be tweaked to best fit the layouts I had gone for. And then of course Pippa and Simon sprinkled magic over the pages to get them coloured and lettered.

BUT WHY THO: What are the unique challenges of creating a horror story in a comic medium?

EMMA VIECELI: I’ve never worked in horror before, so for me, it was a challenge. But, for me, it was about bringing out the under-the-surface horror and showing it on the page. Especially when you have characters who are largely unaffected on the surface by the actions they’re taking…and the toll is paid later. I used tone work and texture a lot as I inked to try and convey subtext. When it came to the on-the-page horror, for me it was the challenge of ‘but how WOULD a torso look if it had been torn in two?’ I tend to work in clean lines and not use lots of solid shadows and blacks, so I was left trying to work out how to make line art convey the horror elements, knowing that Pippa’s colour work would complement it.

PAUL CORNELL: Well, the challenge is showing the horror in the right places, not telling, and not relying on bloodletting, because that always falls flat in comics and it’s much better to disturb. This is a comic I’m very proud of, and I’m so pleased to have worked with this team.

The Modern Frankenstein is available in trade format from September 28th.