Confronting & Overcoming The Reality Of Loss: Visaggio & Robles Discuss Doctor Mirage

by Gary Catig

Last month, we learned that Doctor Mirage would be receiving a new series in August with the creative team of writer Magdalene Visaggio, artist Nick Robles, colorist Jordie Bellaire, and letterer Dave Sharpe. even spoke with editor, Lysa Hawkins to tease the upcoming comic shortly after the announcement. Now we have Mags and Nick onsite to talk more about the Valiant Entertainment title.
Gary Catig: Hey Mags and Nick. I am very thankful that both of you can speak with today about your upcoming Valiant series, Doctor Mirage. It’s due out August 18th. What about Shan Fong drew you to work on a comic book with her?
Magdalene Visaggio: Well, I was campaigning really hard for Doctor Mirage. By campaigning really hard I mean that I made it known to Valiant when we were initially talking, that I was very interested in this character. I wanted it because I’m really fascinated by death and I wanted an opportunity to explore that from a different angle. Like, I did Eternity Girl, which is about suicide and Sex Death Revolution, which is about Ego death, but this is coming from a very, very different angle where death is a lot less final and it seems like a really interesting place to go, considering where my interests have been lying lately.
GC: Ok. And yourself Nick?
Nick Robles: Coming off my last project, Euthanauts, I had a lot of interest leftover with death too, so it made sense. This came right after it finished, so I needed a bridge to get over. I wasn’t familiar with Shan before. Before I signed on or anything, I went and got the first trade and it was amazing. I was instantly interested and I felt like it was a good choice for me. With Mags’ new take on it, it really allowed me to bring my own stuff, and I didn’t have to worry too much about carrying on the torch one hundred percent. I could kind of bring my own little angle into it. That’s something I worried about a little, just because I wasn’t familiar with the work. That was no problem because we’re doing our own thing here and that’s great.
MV: What really attracted me to the character was when Valiant was first saying, “Are you interested in Doctor Mirage?”, they also said that the key thing they wanted was to do was a Doctor Mirage book where Hwen wasn’t there. Her ghost husband was going to be gone and that was all going to be tied into it. I just thought to myself, “Okay, this is actually a real left turn for the character”. With the first two trades, the motivation is very much about Hwen. The first one is all about locating Hwen’s ghost and the second one is all about bringing Hwen back to life. This was going to be a really wild interaction with the character. She doesn’t have the safety net she’s always had. You can really do something really different here because of the initial conditions that they had sent over to us.

GC: It’s been mentioned that she’s had a couple of miniseries previously and has appeared in other titles such as Faith: Dreamside and Incursion. How much research did the two of you do into the character to prepare for the series? How are each of you trying to put your own influence on Shan to distinguish her from these previous runs?
MV: I read the previous trades. I read them before, that’s how I knew the character. To a degree, it would be an element to try to let her move beyond this. They’re good stories but like I was saying, they’re so centered on her wanting to accomplish something for her husband. I really wanted to give Shan a bit more of a personal spotlight on where she is, having not be something she can externalize as much. I also wanted to delve more into the mystical side of things than the initial run. There’s a really compelling idea behind Doctor Mirage. She’s a former television personality turned paranormal investigator with a ghost husband who knows magic. Without the ghost husband, Shan suddenly doesn’t have all the tools she’s used to working with. It was really addition by subtraction. I started with, if I remove Hwen from this equation, what does she want? It was less clear for me. In the first book, she’s in a real funk. I have to get her on a new path that doesn’t depend on her association with Hwen.
Then I eventually draw into my own influence and my own areas I’m interested in: mythology, European magic traditions, shifted perception and hallucinogenic and psychedelic visuals. How can I make this book a new thing? The first one is, without knocking the book, kind of a grim book. It has a very monotone color palette. The pages are dominated by browns and blues and grays. I thought: If we’re going to send this off into another direction, let’s make this a big, bright, colorful, crazy, adventure and then see where that takes us. I’m going to throw in everything I’m interested in and with all the eccentricities of my brain, and turn it into a story. That’s how I put myself into it, by filling this book with the kinds of setting and world that fascinates me.
NR: I love that you got her away from Hwen and on her own path. I love everything introduced. It’s her own path now. I don’t know if she has her own goals right now. She’s kind of finding them still. Just the world building that we’re doing now, it’s so chaotic but we have very strong points here and there. I love that the mythology is becoming so heavily introduced and Shan has to dive into using more, I guess “spells” for a lack of a better term. She’s working more for herself and her own situation and finding her path again because we find her in a really dark spot. We find her in this funk and then we shove her straight into this prismatic, colorful, horribly beautiful world.
MV: The whole point has been how do we make her reason bigger than the Deadside. If her schtick is just a paranormal investigator who talks to ghosts, that means there’s only a limited number of avenues that can go down. If you know, there’s more to magic and the paranormal in the Valiant Universe. We’ve got Master Dark. We’ve got Shadowman. There’s the Dreamside. There’s so much going on, how can we get her out into a bigger world. How do we make her world bigger? What we’re doing in this book is in terms of her psychology, because we start with her in a really dark place. It’s all about breaking her world open and letting things pour into it that she’s never let pour in before. The narrow scope of her focus has to widen dramatically.

GC: Mags, this question is for you. From the start, we find Shan in a dark place. Not only has she lost her powers but she’s lost the love of her life. She’s become a recluse and is trying ways to restore things back to normal. In this point of her life, are there aspects of her struggle that you can relate with? Did you draw upon your own experiences to help convey Shan’s emotional state and also her approach to overcome her problems?
MV: Well, I’ve been very upfront about my experience with depression. Eternity Girl was in a large part, me wrestling with and meditating on that experience. It can be a natural place to take Shan. At the risk of repeating myself, it started with the fact that she’s just lost Hwen. I’m like “okay, obviously I’m dealing with grief here.” I haven’t had to grieve in that way myself. I haven’t lost any family members that I was intimately close with, like my mom or anything. I had to sort of put in in the context of depression. I’ve experienced loss about other things, so what did that do to me and how do I get out of it?
What was so critical for me about Shan was recognizing that she hasn’t really had to deal with loss in a tangible way before. She lives in a world where she’s surrounded by the dead. Even when Hwen was gone, she got him back. She’s never had to accept that it’s ever really over. Her whole world has been fundamentally rocked. She’s basically locked herself in her home and she’s used whatever magic she can figure out to make it as impossible to find as she can. Then someone shows up and basically drags her out of it and it’s all about having to confront the reality of what it means to lose something.
GC: In the first issue, you’ve mentioned she’s a reality TV star. There is a theme running as if Shan’s life is a television show and there’s direction on how to film certain scenes. Is this just a cool way to incorporate a narrator considering her previous reality star life or is there deeper meaning behind it, and it’s all part of this mystery?
MV: It’s not part of the mystery. There is a deeper meaning, but it’s not like a secret that I try to hide. It’s just an association. I wanted to find a way to bring her television experience into it. Actually, I was just trying to script it. I started scripting the first page and I came up with this idea of this really dramatic announcer voice. Oh cool, if I had this announcer voice then I’m already approaching this additional lens of her own television show. It was a way to let her detach from her existence. She is her thoughts. She is constantly framing things like her perception as a performance. This isn’t real for her. Of course, you get further elements of unreality working with that. It’s ultimately in Shan’s head.

GC: These next couple questions are for Nick. You had mentioned Euthanauts, so this isn’t your first comic dealing with death and exploring parts of the afterlife. How would you say your approach for Doctor Mirage differed from Euthanauts?
NR: I’m like Mags, I haven’t lost anyone so I didn’t have the grief to go to for Shan’s own grief that she is experiencing. Her isolation kind of rang true with me in the way how she put up walls and pushed everything away or had the walls brought down around her. That was something I could relate to. I think Shan has a more superhero kind of vibe and like Mags said, it was never over. When people are gone, she knows she can still see them when they were gone.
With Euthanauts, there’s no afterlife. That was part of Euthanauts, discovering that there was no place you can see somebody maybe. With Doctor Mirage it’s more common to see people in her past moving around and have conversations with them because Shan is that link. She knows they’re there. She doesn’t have to worry about or to deal with grief with other people. She can be a healing factor for people. Shan is more a hero that can help people. Euthanauts had someone who is more about helping herself. Sometimes you need that outside source to drag you out of a low place.
GC: You touched upon how Doctor Mirage has a more a superhero vibe. You explore areas of hell that even the devil is scared of. Did this make for opportunities to create demons and beasts she has to fight? If so, how much fun did you have with developing their aesthetics and being able to draw these scenes with her using her magic powers?
NR: Yeah it seemed really interesting with the designs of demon aberrations, monster things here and there. They don’t really have names but Mags has given me some odd combos to make up things and we’re mixing in mythology.
MV: What odd combos?
NR: Oh, you know, like dogs and crows that might breathe something fiery. You know, normal things.
MV: I think you make them beautifully horrifying.
NR: Thank you. They’re my favorite pets now. With the mythology, I can dive into more drawn aesthetics and kind of play around with makeups and designs. It’s been a lot of fun. I enjoy doing the full-page spreads and just going nuts trying to find a way to make things interesting and at least not perfect and not so positive.
With Shan’s magic I try not to go in that typical superhero magic direction. I’m going to fall into that trap a little bit but I want to make Shan try to reach for it. She’s not super schooled on it. She’s drawing upon what she’s learned from her husband and things she hasn’t used all the time. She has to learn some things. I wanted the magic effects to kind of not have the same look throughout. Every spell kind of like has its own feel. I wanted to express her uncertainty. She knows of this spell but she doesn’t know it a hundred percent. I was just trying to have her where she’s drawing upon the things she remembers.
MV: If I can just jump in for a second. One of my primary touchstones when I was working with on the book and I was thinking about what I wanted the visuals to feel like. How can I really shove it off in a new direction? When we were still talking about our teams and we were talking about what we thought this was going to look like, was Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange; the eccentricness of the physical spaces we constructed and I think that Nick is giving Ditko a run for his money in environments. He’s drawn some beautifully impossible landscapes that I want to buy those things. I think people are really going to be impressed by the strangeness that he packed in.
NR: That’s definitely what I wanted to do. Impossible. It definitely makes sense but it doesn’t want to.
MV: Exactly! Exactly! There’s a line from Keiron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie’s Phonogram: Immaterial Girl that I should have made my personal motto; “It only has to make sense to you.”
NR: Perfect, because that’s what I’m doing.
MV: Yeah that’s all it has to be. That’s what’s so forgiving with the comics medium is the freedom to do shit like that.
NR: Yeah, it’s so funny. I’ve been around comics and I finally got to a point where there are no rules really. There are, but you can do anything in comics. You don’t have to do this one thing this particular way. You can do what you want. That can lead to something fresh and new.

GC: You two are the writer and artist for the series, but you also have other collaborators including colorist, Jordie Bellaire and letterer, Dave Sharpe. How do you feel their contributions help add to the story you all are trying to tell?
MV: I think Jordie has done some strictly just funky and eccentric work. The coloring is really right on this and it’s really impressive.
NR: I keep going on about how she’s doing weird and different ways to shade. I love them. It’s something you can’t project with line art so it’s a wonderful surprise. It brings a whole new world to the comic. Her colors just have been filled with love and poise. This was nowhere near where I was thinking, but thank god this is what she did.
MV: She really did. The lettering has been pretty spot on. I was really impressed with the sound effects. I think he’s done it very creatively. I’ve had exactly one place that I had changed and that’s rare for me.
GC: Also, in the first issue, you introduce a character that can be described as a sidekick or guide to Shan. How was it developing this new character? Will she have other roles in the Valiant Universe afterwards or is her main purpose to help Shan’s personal journey in this series?
MV: That all remains to be seen what her future role is. I know what I want to do with her and I’m hoping that I get the opportunity to. I wrote her as a very timid person originally. She felt really too polite. I had her in too much awe of Shan and she didn’t really make sense as a guide for Shan. She seemed to be in her shadow in a way. She didn’t break out. When my editor pointed that out to me, I was like, “Yeah, you’re right.”
How bout we just make her a billion times shittier. Make her a garbage teenager. I love writing garbage teenagers. I wouldn’t write garbage people but garbage teenagers are so certain they know everything. Are so certain they got it figured out. You can’t possibly understand. I wanted to give her that snide kind of attitude. The superiority teenagers always seem to have. She ended up being an absolute blast to write. Pretty much if I ever get to do more with her, I’m envisioning her taking on a kind of apprentice role for Shan. Since neither one of them really knows magic, it would be more of a learning partnership. I think there’s a lot of potential in that relationship and I think, frankly, she just plays off Shan really well because Shan is very serious.

GC: How did you go about doing her character design Nick?
NR: Mags is very good at writing teenagers. I wanted to reflect that. It only took me a few tries. I wanted to try a few different hair colors and wanted her to ring true as a teenager if I could. Sometimes in comics you don’t get that vibe much. I went back and forth a couple times with Mags, I think. How many designs did I send you?
MV: How many designs did you send me? One.
NR: Oh Really?
MV: Yeah, it was so ridiculous. It was so good. You nailed it
NR: I had a couple more but they didn’t come off as snide, know-it-all enough. This one just felt right.
GC: This one just captured her attitude the best.
NR: Yes. Thank you.
MV: It was superb. It really brought the character to life for me. It’s weird that I have to write as many issues I have before I see her. I think I had written the first two issues before getting art back. I always find that really difficult because character design tells me about the character. The way I like to approach character development is that I just write a paragraph or two about what kind of person this is but very little about physical descriptions unless I think they’re important for the character. Then I get those out to my artist on the book and see how they can interpret it into something and them bringing what they think this person means. Man, just being able to look at her design really opened up her character for me. I understood her better in that way. If I can see choices she’s making in life herself just by how she dresses, how she presents, her body language, her posture. She has so much of this cockiness and it’s so infectious.
NR: I can’t believe you wrote her as a timid character at first.
MV: Yeah, but I didn’t know who she was yet. I should send you that first draft. She’s unrecognizable. She called Shan, ma’am.
NR: Oh yeah? I still can’t picture her timid.
MV: It wouldn’t have worked. It wouldn’t have worked for the story.

GC: Finally, I know that you two may not have the answer to this, but Doctor Mirage hasn’t had her own series since 2016 and I know Valiant rotates characters in and out from their roster all the time. There was chatter last winter that the CW was developing a TV series based off the character. Transmedia synergy is a big thing in the industry. Will your series later this summer serve as a primer for news or an announcement about the television show? 
MV: I have no idea. I have no involvement outside of Valiant. I just make comics.
NR: Same.
We would like to express our gratitude to both Mags and Nick for speaking with us and Valiant for help coordinating the interview. You can pick up the first issue of Doctor Mirage at your local comic book shop on August 28, 2019.

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