Writer Nchiket Naik sits down with Dustin Luke Nelson, writer of Magda, Skeleton Maker, an upcoming three-issue comic with illustrations by Donna A. Black and lettered by LetterSquids. Magda, Skeleton Maker tells the story of Magda herself, an introvert who also happens to be the only witness of an otherwordly entity intruding into our reality, which she calls The Light Beast. Problem is, The Light Beast knows about her as well.
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Nachiket Naik: What is your favorite sandwich?
Dustin Nelson: Is this where I’m supposed to say hot dog? Cuban. It has to be a Cuban. That’s an A+ sandwich.
Nachiket Naik: You describe Madga seeing some things as if coming off a static-ridden TV. What was the inspiration for this choice?
Dustin Nelson: There were a few things that brought that visual element to the story. The biggest was trying to give visual life to the thematic heart of the story. Part of the struggle for Magda is finding someone who understands her, who believes her. When she sees the Light Beast, she’s faced with the dilemma of explaining the situation and the danger to others. She can see something that no one else can see, something most people would struggle to believe could happen. That’s a hard thing to communicate.
The other big drive for her vision was playing to the strengths of Donna A. Black, the artist on the comic. Donna uses a unique mixed media style with a real haunting tone. I wanted to have a story that played to her strengths and created something with urgency and mystery that was able to showcase what I love about her art.
Nachiket Naik: How did you go about finding collaborators for the project?
Dustin Nelson: Donna and I had been talking about doing a comic together for years, and the seed of this story was already there for me, but getting to work with Donna really brought new elements and life to the story.
The other member of our team is LetterSquids. I’ve had the privilege of working with them on a few short comics over the last couple of years, and it’s always been a pleasure. They have a knack for lettering with an eye on the theme and aesthetic and really elevating the lettering to something special.
Nachiket Naik: Magda sees the world in a visually unique way. How did you describe the scenes to the artist to convey this?
Dustin Nelson: That’s a good question. There were a lot of discussions as the story developed. So, there was never a block of text that said, “This is what these panels must look like.” It’s been a collaboration, especially since there’s an otherworldly quality to Donna’s work already. I’ve explained it before as being a bit similar to how you’d see scrambled channels on TV when that was a thing you’d actually see. There are shapes and the sense of a world, but the details are obscured and complex. There’s a familiar shape to an unfamiliar world in that vision, which I think is psychologically how the world can look for a lot of us.
Nachiket Naik: The central character here, Magda, is an introvert. How does that play into the story, and what themes does an introverted protagonist unlock in the horror genre?
Dustin Nelson: We all, unconsciously or consciously, have little psychological ways of protecting ourselves. The world is complex and messy. (That’s maybe a very kind, optimistic way of saying the world can feel scary and hostile at times.) But I also think we’re unavoidably social creatures. There are a lot of complications that arise from being in the world to feeling like you need the world and others when that isn’t the way you instinctively want to move through the world. For Magda and any introverted character, really, you’re thrown into multiple unfamiliar situations all at once when the shit hits the fan. There are the problems you’re facing in a horror story, and there’s that unexpected, urgent need for community and others. There’s also probably an element of that need for community to be scary as well. Who can you trust? Who can you count on to be there for you?
Nachiket Naik: Who would recommend this book to? What other stories would have common patrons with Magda, Skeleton Maker?
Dustin Nelson: I think “Magda” will scratch an itch for readers who like supernatural horror that doesn’t want to answer all your questions, that are less concerned with “monsters” than the people facing those “monsters.” So, less “Hellboy” and more “The Passageway,” “Infidel,” “Harrow County,” “Night of the Ghoul,” or “The Suicide Forest.” I also think there are some thematic parallels for readers who liked “20 Fists,” “Witchblood,” or “Compass.”
Nachiket Naik: Which parts of the writing and comic-making process do you enjoy the most?
Dustin Nelson: I love that early phase of creation, the inspiration-heavy excitement when you’ve got a character fleshed out to some degree, and you’re putting them through the trials of their world. For me, there’s always this moment when you have to throw away half the story because you realize you’ve come to like this character and their world. That’s where I find I let them off easy. I hit that point, and part of the story reads like, “Then they made all the right decisions with god-like clarity and lived happily ever after.” They have to be their own person and make decisions based on their lived experience. Lived experience means making mistakes. I love that part of the process.
Nachiket Naik: What stages are the remaining two issues at?
Dustin Nelson: We’re lettering and working through art on the first issue. The last two scripts are written, but I’m sure I’ll go back to them a bit as we get through the final phases of art for the first issue. So, they’re in process but quite a ways down the road already. We know where Magda is going, and I’m excited to bring readers along for those final two issues.