A Girl Who Embodies Stories – Exclusive Interview With Max Bemis On Lucy Dreaming
by Hannah Means Shannon
Next month, on March 21st, 2018, the first issue of a five part series detailing the out of body experiences of a young girl is going to explore the tropes and nuances of storytelling, but more than that, it’s going to remind us the deep value of story in affecting our identities. Actually, we should probably refer to the kinds of experiences that Lucy has in Lucy Dreaming from Boom! Studios as “in-body experiences”, since each night she seems to inhabit the body of a different female hero from various types of stories, but these aren’t just dreams. They are “real”, dangerous, and enlightening for Lucy.
Musician and writer Max Bemis, whose work in comics you might know from Oh, Killstrike and Evil Empire at Boom, and currently, Moon Knight at Marvel, teams up with Michael Dialynas, who has recently completed his longrunning adventure series The Woods, to tell a very humorous story with a lot of meaningful ideas.
Bemis joins us today in this exclusive interview about the ideas behind Lucy Dreaming and why it’s both an adventure and a comedy.
Hannah Means-Shannon: In the context of your work in comics so far, Lucy Dreaming is quite surprising in terms of what you’re writing about. Is this the first time you’ve worked with a younger character or a female character in the lead?
Max Bemis: Evil Empire has a female lead who, in a way is what Lucy wants to be: just a very empowered, confident female lead, though that may be a contrived way of putting it. But Lucy might be closer to what I’m like as a person, so I can relate more strongly to Lucy despite her being a 13 year old girl. I feel like she’s a reflection of my soul in terms of the things I worry about. Of course, she has stuff to worry about that I never have to worry about, like the crazy, cosmic stuff that is happening to her, and all the things that come with being a young woman.
HMS: Can you tell us anything further about Lucy that made you want to write about her?
MB: I’m always one for the classic kind of “Luke Skywalker arc” of the unlikely hero. But I’d never written about a kid before. And even now, some of my favorite works of pop art feature kids, like ET and Harry Potter. In these stories, it’s a kid who gets pulled into stuff that is so large and cosmic, and yet they still end up kicking ass. I always thought that kind of story was cool, especially as a kid. Lucy’s about as jaded as someone could get for someone her age, but she still has a lot to learn about the world, and these stories imprint on her very strongly because she doesn’t have as much experience to draw on. Everything crazy that happens to her just compounds with the fact that things are already a new experience to her because she’s a teenager.
HMS: And we’re going through a real pop culture boom in the popularity of stories that feature kids on wacky adventures that all ages of people are finding appealing. Like Stranger Things. The 80’s had a lot of great stuff, but we’re turning the corner on those kind of stories again.
MB: Yes. Like Stand by Me and IT. Essentially, Lucy Dreaming is a parody comic. What’s that term that everyone uses for Warren Ellis comics? Deconstruction? Basically taking apart a genre. It’s a deconstruction of these types of stories, but a lot of those stories are ones that I loved when I was younger. From the 80’s. Star Wars is the first, obvious one that we parody in the comic. Then there is more recent stuff, which I don’t relate to as closely, but I really liked, for instance, the first Hunger Games book. This is no slight to the people who create in that world, but I feel like over time, stuff of that ilk started to become run of the mill and cookie cutter following on from books like Twilight.
We’re trying to take the piss out of that a little bit in the comic. Lucy is put in the bodies of all these “strong female lead characters” from [similar] stories, and as much as it’s amazing that stories have been released that have strong female leads, in a way it seems like some people are taking advantage of that shift in the cultural landscape to sometimes make shitty stuff. There is a certain contrivance to a lot of young adult stuff. I wish I could still like it.
I remember that when I was younger, there was more stuff that my parents could also like. For instance, ET, Star Wars, etc.. I don’t know if some of the stuff that came along after Hunger Games would fit that category. Hopefully, as you said, the quality is coming up again.
But Lucy, as a person, gets it. She gets that this shit’s corny. She’s into stuff that’s too cool for people her own age. Maybe that reflects who I think will relate to the book—kids who feel a little out of place.
HMS: There were books released, like Hunger Games and even Twilight, that made such a big impact on the landscape of young adult literature and movies, that afterwards a lot narratives tried to mimic that. So, like bad Xeroxes of Xeroxes, they got less and less good.
MB: Exactly. Lucy is basically an inter-dimensional traveler when she goes to sleep. She wakes up in the bodies of people who are older than her, all women, who are in some kind of cool position that makes them people she would want to be. But the idea is that the worlds that she is going into are actually the inspiration behind everything we’ve seen in stories. She’s actually being transported into the core, living idea of what a Star Wars-type movie should be. It’s almost an internal, subconscious world. Essentially, living, breathing stories. She’s affecting change in those worlds, and that’s why some of those worlds are archetypal and almost contrived in the story, because this is where it all comes from. Lucy is trying to find her place in all that, and the meaning behind all of it.
HMS: I didn’t know about that deeper premise, since I’ve just read the first issue. That’s really fascinating. So is this place she’s going to kind of like the ideal of “Story” with a capital “S”?
MB: Yes, sure. To be honest, that’s a little bit of a spoiler, but not so much of one that I feel uncomfortable talking about it. I feel like it’s the idea of our book. We have a five issue series, and in the first issue we wanted to establish that she’s going somewhere when she’s asleep, it’s not a dream, and it’s scary as shit. We wanted to introduce what Lucy’s like. I also want people to form their own interpretation and the story is really based on Lucy, rather than this idea of “the core of story”. What does that really mean?
HMS: Well, it’s abstract.
MB: Yes, it’s abstract. You got it pretty quickly, but at the same time, if a kid was reading it and thinking, “Oh, she’s traveling through space and time and waking up in different, cool, women’s bodies, that’s cool enough”. You know what I mean? It’s kind of like looking back at Harry Potter and all these complex things are obvious as an adult that weren’t then.
HMS: Oh, of course. I was also thinking more along the lines of psychology being important to the story, as well. Young people are trying to construct their identities, and even older people are doing that, even though they may pretend they are not. We construct our own personas, and we change them, and swap them out over time. But Lucy literally gets to experience swapping them out. Is this a way for her to kind of be in the driver’s seat of deciding who she is?
MB: Yeah! Exactly. And since [these characters she inhabits] are integral to all of existence, they were already kind of a part of her. It’s like she’s getting to look at them: this is the part of her that is a brave space princess. Since those are the things that are intrinsically attached to reality, as much as they are to stories. My whole personal spiritual bullshit revolves around ideas and stories [in a similar way]. Lucy’s learning who she is, and maybe she’s discovering things that were already a part of her. Whether that’s in the fabric of all things human, or her own potential.
HMS: Avoiding spoilers here, something that I was surprised by is that you indicated that this is a bigger phenomenon than just Lucy, and that other people might know about this. In a five issue series, this is a big story to tell.
MB: Yeah, it is. One of my big inspirations is Mark Millar, and I’ve been reading his comics since I was much younger. One of the things I love that he does, is that he has these high concept ideas that could be done in a mini-series, but then they could also be some kind of crazy film franchise. Kick-Ass, Nemesis: any of those books could have been a 72 issue Vertigo or Image ongoing. It’s just a matter of what you’re trying to say with a story and asking, “How can we get this out quickly?” Because movies are short, too: an hour to two hours. To answer your question, yes, it’s all going to come to a head and be laid out in a movie-like way, where there can be a lot of mythology, but it’s all out there in the story.
HMS: Something I can tell from the first issue is that there is some comedy and comedic thinking in the story, and this seems like something that you often include in your work, especially in dialog.
MB: It’s very silly.
HMS: So, what would you say is the proportion of comedy to serious stakes in Lucy Dreaming?
MB: It’s hard to percentage it. I would say it’s a similar ratio to good action adventure films. Maybe it’s a bit funnier than Indiana Jones; that is kind of serious, but goofy. I’d like to think that the comedy is a little more intense in our book, where there’s actually some thought put into the comedy rather than just being gags. When I write a book like this, especially, where I consider it more “light-hearted”, I try to write stuff that would make me smile or chuckle. I have a dark sense of humor, and I feel like kids are smarter than we give them credit for.
For instance, one of the big inspirations for this book, was my niece who I watched grow up. I first met her when she was 8 or 9, and so I first saw her in this period like in Lucy Dreaming. She was so smart. She laughed at all of our jokes. She was really wise. Better to err on the side of Curb Your Enthusiasm type humor than just fart jokes. Though there probably is a fart joke.
HMS: I could see in the first issue that comedy was being used to deliver a lot of important context, too. The whole idea of storytelling as something to be commented on and critiqued came up in that way.
HMS: Can you tell us a little bit about working with Michael Dialynas on this book?
MB: Oh, I am honored that he chose to follow up The Woods with this book. It’s crazy. I think he is the most committed to this project of any of the artists I’ve worked with, and I’ve worked with some amazing artists. I’m working with Jacen Burrows on Moon Knight, and he’s one of the best artists ever, who just hammers out his work. But I feel like in the process of working together to conceptualizing things, since he’s the co-creator of the book, I can see how this is Michael’s thing. Many of the ideas came about from him sketching the worlds that I knew I would be writing about, before I even wrote the script. Maybe this is because it’s my first experience co-creating a book, but it really seems like Michael’s personally taken it on, besides being an amazing artist.
As a writer, I try not to over-think things because I am over-thinking as a person, so I will do straight up compulsive shit as a writer. I prefer to keep it interesting for myself and for the reader. I don’t want the reader to think I’m sitting there hating my life, just drinking old coffee and eating pizza, thinking, “I hate writing!”
HMS: You don’t want them to know the truth?
MB: Exactly! [Laughs] But with Michael, that is his job. He can do nothing else but draw this comic, essentially, for long periods of time. He’s talented enough to take on other projects, but he takes so much time and effort to draw this book, and also comes up with so much of the story. His passion is clearly in it. And that’s inspiring.
HMS: And he has to create a style that can essentially work for multiple genres within the same story, based on the structure of Lucy Dreaming.
MB: Absolutely, which he has done. And it all flows very nicely. I was also inspired by knowing he was going to be the artist. I knew his art style, and I knew he could take this on, and that it was right up his alley.
Massive thanks to Max Bemis for this very wide-ranging interview and for sharing his thoughts with us.
Look out for Lucy Dreaming #1 (of 5) from Boom! Studios, Max Bemis, and Michael Dialynas in comic shops on Wednesday, March 21st, 2018.
It reaches Final Order Cut-Off (FOC) on Monday, February 26th, 2018, so get your orders in with your local comic shop!