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DF Interview: Brendan Cahill brings family drama and miniseries magic in The Harcourt Legacy
By Byron Brewer
Rich occultist Edward Harcourt lies on his deathbed. After a lifetime of searching for true magic, Edward thinks he's found some answers, and he wants to pass them along to his grandniece, a gloomy teenager named Violet. But that may be a problem for Edward's sister Edwina, who has her own plans for his legacy.
From writer Brendan Cahill and artist Jason Federhenn comes The Harcourt Legacy, published by Action Lab/Danger Zone. DF wanted to know more about this magical mystery tour, so we caught up with scribe Brendan Cahill.
Dynamic Forces: Brendan, what can you tell us about the genesis of this new Action Lab/Danger Zone book?
Brendan Cahill: The very beginning of the idea for the book actually came to me in a dream! The dream was pretty abstract, but it involved an old occultist who was on his deathbed. I took that and layered in other influences—music, family drama, etc.—and turned it into a proper story. When I had the full script, I was happy enough with it that, rather than pitch it around, I decided to just make it, so I got Jason and [colorist] Josh [Burcham] onboard and we put it together.
I printed up a short digital-press run of the first issue to take around with me to cons. At San Francisco ComicCon last year, I gave one to Dave Dwonch at Action Lab, and he liked it enough to take it to the rest of the team there. From there, we got it set up fairly quickly.
DF: So what kind of stories will readers be seeing in Harcourt Legacy?
Brendan Cahill: Actually, The Harcourt Legacy is three issues and then it’s done. And that’s something I’ve actually started advertising, as I think it’s a selling point. In an industry where readers may be a little wary of starting a new monthly commitment, this is simple and self-contained.
DF: So, miniseries. … Who is Edward Harcourt? What can you tell us about his life?
Brendan Cahill: Well, I don’t actually know everything about Edward’s life myself. He’s kind of mysterious that way. He’s always been interested in the occult, and as a young man he traveled the world searching out relics, curiosities and mystical places. His sister Edwina was involved in a lot of this, as they searched for the secrets of magic together. Mostly as partners. Sometimes as friendly (or occasionally not-so-friendly) rivals.
In their adventures, they met other occultist or fringe types, including rock bands, Satanists, pagans, hippies and more. I like to think that as a young man, Edward even met Aleister Crowley once.
Edward and Edwina both settled down in middle age—she in Connecticut and he in the Massachusetts manor house where we meet him. But they never stopped searching for secrets—they just did more of it in books and eventually online. Throughout the search, they’ve found plenty of petty tricks, questionable theories, seeming leads, and tantalizing questions, but nothing truly magical. And as Edward has gotten older and sicker, he’s started to realize that in the short time he has left, he probably never will. He’s still coming to terms with that heavy knowledge when he drops into a coma that the doctors say he’s unlikely to wake from…
…until he does jolt awake—with a sudden understanding of what he’s been missing all along. And that’s where our story starts.
DF: Wow! … And Violet? What is this teenager all about? What is her relationship like with her great-uncle Edward?
Brendan Cahill: I like to think we all have an inner goth girl. Our inner goth girl feels strongly—more strongly than we’re allowed to—and says the wicked, witty things we’re just a bit too slow to come up with in the moment. Our inner goth girl kind of knows that she doesn’t know very much yet, but she wants to learn, and until she does, she’ll fake it as convincingly as she can. Our inner goth girl can spot bullsh*t a mile away, and is fearless in calling it out.
I think (I hope) that Violet is my inner goth girl.
Violet and Edward have always gotten along, as his spooky interests and her spooky interests were pretty compatible. And Edward never had kids, so he’s always really loved getting at least a small taste of a father-daughter relationship with her. Unfortunately, they’ve never spent as much time together as either of them would like, because they live across the country from each other, and that’s what tends to happen. Often with families, it’s hard to make time, and easy to imagine there will always be more time in the future. And now that it looks like time is running out, Violet is starting to regret that she didn’t try harder.
DF: What if anything can you tell us about the series’ big-bad? (C’mon! Some hints?)
Brendan Cahill: Well, sure, without getting too spoilery, you do find out in the first issue that Edward’s sister Edwina has particular thoughts about what should happen to his legacy—in particular the manor and his collection of artifacts—when he’s gone. She’s always shared his interest in magic, and now that she sees that he’s going to run out of time without finding what he’s seeking, she doesn’t want the same to happen to her. She’s ready to double down on her quest. The question is, what if what’s best for her in pursuing it isn’t what’s best for her family?
DF: Tell us about the change in mindset, if any, for an artist AND graphic designer when he takes over the writer’s chair on a book like Harcourt Legacy.
Brendan Cahill: I’ve actually always written and drawn. When I was a kid, starting to make my own comics, I’d write and draw them because that’s what you did, and I found that I enjoyed both and wanted to keep doing both. I like having books that I’m writing and not drawing because it’s less time-consuming and that way I can tell more stories at once. Drawing a comic—especially in my fairly detailed and precise style—takes a long time, and I can only produce so much so fast.
I do think it’s an asset in my scripts that I’m also an artist, because it makes me really careful about stuff like panel counts, speaking order, quantity of stuff per page, etc. I know how an artist is going to have to break down the script, and I try to give them the best tools to do that.
DF: Brendan, if memory serves, you created Outside the Box, which was published on ModernTales, the first professional webcomics site. What was it like to be among the pioneers of this area of our industry?
Brendan Cahill: That was a really fun and creative time. No one was really sure what webcomics would end up being, so we just tried stuff. John Barber and I were using Flash to make semi-animated comics—and you’d better believe we had long conversations about what type and amount of animation was appropriate for it to still be comics and not verge into trying to be a cartoon or something. Other people were doing infinite canvas stuff, or vertical scrolling stuff, and all of it was cool and new.
A bunch of people still in the industry came out of ModernTales, including John and I, and Jim Zub and Steve Bryant, and probably lots of people I’m forgetting! I think for a lot of us, it was our first professional work. And that was another really exciting thing about it: ModernTales paid us! It was never a lot, but dammit, we were making comics for money, and that was just thrilling.
DF: As an artist yourself, how is it working on this series with Jason Federhenn? What does he bring to the table?
Brendan Cahill: Jason is just great. When you start working with a new artist, you never know what you’re going to get, so you have to take some of it on faith. I mean, you know what their work looks like—and of course Jason’s work is absolutely fantastic—but you don’t know how fast or professional they are, or how well they’ll be able to interpret the type of script you’ve written.
With Jason, it was all positive surprises. First, he nailed the character designs. I had almost no notes—they were quite simply the characters I created, now magically alive on the page. Then, when I started getting layouts, I realized the guy was a rock-solid storyteller. I later found out he was a storyboard artist, so that makes sense. That’s one of the biggest things he brought to the book. In a lot of ways, it’s a book about people in a house having conversations, which is tough material for an artist to make dynamic, but Jason really delivers.
I also have to give a shout-out to Josh Burcham, who did such a great job on the colors. I’ve known Josh for a while, as we both work on Hasbro books at IDW, and had wanted to collaborate with him on something creator-owned, and this was the perfect opportunity. We talked going in about keeping the color simple and relatively flat, and using the palette to really set a tone, and he just nailed it.
DF: What other projects current or near-future can you tell readers about?
Brendan Cahill: For IDW, I’m doing a series of variant covers for Visionaries vs. Transformers, which is super fun because I was a Visionaries fan when I was a kid. (One of few, apparently.) And the first volume of Darkness Visible, written by Mike Carey and Arvind Ethan David, with art by me, Joana Lafuente, and Livio Ramondelli, is coming out soon. Volume 1 collects the first six issues, and I’m really happy with how it all came together.
As far as creator-owned stuff, I’ve got a bunch of things that I’m developing, but nothing that’s ready to announce yet. Some things should be happening pretty soon, though, and of course I’ll make noise about them when they do.
To that end, visit me at brendancahill.com and follow me on Twitter @bpcahill.
DF: Brendan, anything else to say before we sign off here?
Brendan Cahill: I would like to say a huge thanks to everyone reading this and who will check out The Harcourt Legacy. This is a small industry with a lot of great stuff coming out every week, and it can be hard to get a book the attention it deserves. So far, people have seemed interested in Harcourt, and have been saying nice things to me about it, and boy do I appreciate it. So, yeah, thank you all!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Brendan Cahill for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. The Harcourt Legacy #1 from Action Labs/Danger Zone hits stores Nov. 8th!
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