“It’s not about a lesbian werewolf going to war,” comics writer Si Spurrier told me when describing his latest project. “Except it kind of is.”
That eye-grabbing pitch for Spurrier's new series Cry Havoc is accurate, in a sense, but it’s definitely not the whole story. Spurrier is a rising star in the comics world, having worked on a number of beloved series, like X-Men: Legacy (with Tan Eng Huat) for Marvel, along with Six-Gun Gorilla and The Spire (both with Jeff Stokely) for Boom! Studios. The guy just doesn’t give a crap about genre, and seems constitutionally incapable of coming up with an elevator pitch without cringeing a bit at the oversimplification involved.
“My curse is that I’m not good at writing things that are easily defined,” he said. “I don't feel the need to say, 'This is a fantasy story,' or 'This is a postapocalyptic story,' because those two things don't really mean the same thing. If you look at the terms we use for genre descriptors, they describe different stuff. Horror is an emotion, comedy is a result, Western is a period and a place. You describe something as a Western, but it could also be a comedy, or horror, or sci-fi. Everything I've ever written, if I'm going to be honest about genre, it's always been like ten of them.”
Sure enough, Cry Havoc — co-created by artist Ryan Kelly, and featuring an innovative approach to coloring done by three colorists, Lee Loughridge, Matt Wilson, and Nick Filardi — delivers the weird, boundary-defying goods. You can see for yourself in the exclusive preview pages you’ll find below, courtesy of the book’s publisher, Image Comics. The series debuts on January 27, and I caught up with Spurrier to talk about strange coloring, strange warfare, and strange mythology.
Cry Havoc has a nonlinear structure, with each colorist rendering a different period of time in the story. Why’d you decide to play with the timeline that way?
Things I write are always at risk of becoming overly dense and complicated. And because I'm me, I will always lean in to that because I think comics should be challenging. But when we were first putting the book together, Ryan and I were aware of the need to help the readers out, to differentiate between the three different threads. We thought, Well, fuck it, let's get three colorists, and define these different time zones by a different style of rendering, rather than a different style of inking or penciling.
Cry Havoc is, on its face, about a woman who becomes a werewolf. But the context grounds the book in an interesting way — part of this story, for example, has a spec-ops monster squad in Afghanistan! How do you take the abstractions these creatures represent and attach them to things that matter in 2016?
That's sort of at the core of Cry Havoc: The idea that if you found yourself in the position of being that myth, if you found yourself in the position of watching your own relevance, your own passion being taken less and less seriously, how would you try to make yourself relevant again? How would you try to bring you and your people back into the spotlight? How quickly would you be called a terrorist, and who would try to stop you?
It's about a woman trying to live a normal life, but she's not. She's infected by a sliver of chaos, an idea, something which kicks her out of her nice, neat, domestic little life. Over time it digs up all this stuff that, if she would admit it to herself, has been bubbling away under there all along. And then, of course, we take this absolute batshit twist and send her off to Afghanistan.
Because in the quest to make the idea of "wonder" relevant again, you have to confront what is relevant, which is the conflict of two groups taking everything literally. The self-appointed arbiters of Western civilization, with their databases and numbers and ridiculous amounts of money spent on weapons and soldiers who have their identities stripped away from them because it makes them better at what they do, versus the radicalized, fundamentalized religious leftovers of once-peaceful religions that are no longer useful to the world. I wanted to tell a story where we were introducing a little bit of that old madness to something that is so stripped-down and so fucking loveless. That meant taking somebody into the heart of Afghanistan.
That’s just one of Cry Havoc’s three distinct time periods. There are also flashbacks to the protagonist in London, and flash-forwards to her at “the end,” where she finds herself in a mysterious predicament. What ties all this together?
I'm not going to spell out exactly what it is, but it has a lot to do with chaos and control. In the case of Cry Havoc, that continuum — and it is a continuum, it is not a binary setup — defines all of the different ideas and conflicts and struggles and metaphors and allegories. It manifests in my understanding of myth and folklore — stories that cross the divide between fact and fiction. They are fictions that have accrued, at some point in their lifetimes, some semblance of legitimacy.
There are periods in the life of every myth where they were regarded as almost a fact by people. And yet, these things are dying out of our world. I suspect that the world is lurching in two opposite directions, though the destinations end up being almost exactly the same. I would say, culturally, we're drifting towards this anodyne empiricism. At the other end of the scale is a very radical, fundamentalist religious view. What happens when you go down either of those routes is that you end up taking everything very, very literally.
And that's fine — that's how an awful lot of people live, and I get it, but I think it's a great shame, because we are slowly forgetting the skill of responding to that which is not real as if it were. We are forgetting the importance of fiction, and the importance of passion and whimsy and chaos, and all the things that are manifest in myth and story and idea. All these things which become very nice metaphors in a story like Cry Havoc for a whole bunch of other stuff.