GO TO HELL! An extensive interview with 'Lucifer's' Mike Carey

Fri, April 26th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

[Mike Carey]
Mike Carey
While the name Mike Carey may not be a household name yet among comic book fans, chances are that it is a name that fans will be seeing quite often in the future. The writer of DC Comics' (under the mature-readers "Vertigo" imprint) "Lucifer" has recently been signed to an exclusive contract by DC and more reviewers are beginning to discover Carey's writing each month, with some hailing "Lucifer" as one of the industry's most under-rated series. In addition to the prestigious Eisner nominations lauded upon Carey last year, the British scribe will also be tackling the popular "Hellblazer" series at Vertigo and the upcoming "Furies" hardback graphic novel. Somehow finding some free time in his busy schedule, Carey sat down with CBR News to discuss all aspects of "Lucifer" and reveal a little bit more about his career.

While Carey has always been a fan of comic books, his professional career hasn't always been centered on that life long hobby. "I worked for fifteen years as a teacher - mostly at what we call FE level in England, which means post-16," reveals Carey. "My degree subject at University was English Lit, and that's mainly what I taught at first, but then I got drawn in to Media and Communications which I enjoyed more. I was always writing stuff as well, and I always fantasized about doing it for a living, but for most of the time it was purely a hobby and didn't bring any money in at all."

But as much as Carey enjoyed the rigors of teaching, he couldn't deny the imprint that comic books had left on his psyche at an early age. "I grew up with comics. I even learned to read from comics - specifically, from a comic called 'Wham,' which was largely written and drawn by British legend Leo Baxendale," says Carey, relating the story of how comic books ensnared him at a young age. "Then I progressed to superhero books, and they were a big part of my childhood. At any given time, my brothers and me would have a couple of hundred American comics piled up around the place. It was a big thing back then to swap them with your friends, because distribution of US comics in England was very patchy and you could always guarantee that the kid next door had some stuff you'd never seen, and vice versa. So it was a natural progression, in some ways, to write comics. Only, having said that, I spent a lot of years writing abortive novels and it was my wife, Lin, who first pointed out that an abortive comic script would take a lot less time to write - so I could abort more efficiently, sort of thing. Seriously, I do love comics as a medium. I don't know whether it's because of all the games you can play when words and pictures strike off each other - dramatically, humorously, ironically, and so on - or because they've developed genres that don't really exist in any other medium, or what. Comics matter a lot to me. But I do also write film and TV screenplays, and I'm thinking of getting back on the abortive novel circuit again at some point. When people ask me what I do for a living, I say (with considerable pride) that I'm a writer, rather than a comic writer or a screenwriter or whatever. I used to say, 'I'm a teacher, but I also write.' The changeover was a very big deal for me."

"As a child I devoured fantasy in all its forms. The first writer I can remember getting hooked on - when I was five years old - was Enid Blyton. Not the 'Famous Five' or the school stories, but the fantasies: 'The Faraway Tree' and 'The Wishing Chair.' Simple fantasy concepts, but mind-blowing for me at that age. A tree that led up into different lands, which came and went every few days so that if you went through at the wrong time you'd end up stuck there forever. A chair that would fly you to anywhere you wanted to go if you sat in it and made a wish. Then I found the 'Moonintroll' books, 'The Tree that Sat Down,' the 'Narnia' cycle and so on, and overdosed on all of them. In terms of comic books I wavered in my loyalties between DC and Marvel. At first I scorned Marvel because of the [insert expletive] continued storylines. As I said, newsstand distribution was totally unreliable, so if you got the first part of a two- or three-part story, you'd very rarely be able to find the conclusion. So I read DC because the DC books of the sixties usually resolved in one issue. Then I started to make an exception for the 'Fantastic Four,' because I got hold of an annual where Reed was stuck in the Negative Zone fighting Annihilus, and it just rocked. Before long I was trudging the roads of Walton, going from newsagent to newsagent, trying to pick up sequential issues of 'FF' - and then of 'Spider-Man' and 'Daredevil.' I can remember buying all of the Jack Kirby 'Fourth World' books when they first came out, and being completely knocked out by them. One of the few comics that ever scared me was the New Gods issue where one of the Deep Six - I think it was Slig - grabbed hold of an innocent bystander's head and erased his face. The whole Fourth World project was unlike anything else that was around at the time, and I loved it."

"I came back to comics in my first year at University, after a trial separation of maybe five years. It was Chris Claremont's 'X-Men' that brought me back: I picked up one of the issues with the Starjammers in, just because the cover intrigued me and I didn't recognize any of the characters as X-Men. It was the one where they're trying to stop Lilandra's mad brother from destroying the whole universe with the M'Kraan crystal. Great fun. I carried on reading 'X-Men' until I totally lost the plot, and in the meantime I graduated to some of the far more radical and interesting stuff that DC was putting out at that time - that time being early to mid eighties. My holy trinity is still Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. I love Moore's 'Swamp Thing' - more than most of the things he's done since. 'Sandman,' obviously. Doom Patrol (the greatest superhero book ever, in my opinion). 'Animal Man.' 'Miracleman,' and so on. I'm sure that these three writers are the biggest influence on my work, although I don't want to analyze too closely and find out how much I steal from them."

[Lucifer #28]
Cover to "Lucifer #28" coming this July.
If you're even vaguely familiar with the "Lucifer" comic book series, it should come as no surprise that Carey is a "Sandman" aficionado- the title character of Carey's series was a principle member of "Sandman's" supporting cast. When asked how Carey was able to take one of his favorite comic book characters from one of his favorite comic book series and launch that character's own series, Carey credits, "A combination of persistence and dumb luck" as the determining factors in getting the job." With a sly grin, Carey continues to explain the situation surrounding his eventual arrival at Vertigo. "I was working for Caliber at that time, doing a book called 'Inferno,' and I sent each issue to Vertigo editor Alisa Kwitney as it came out, along with a letter that said, basically 'Gee, I'd like to work for you,'" explains the acclaimed author. "She thought Inferno was okay, and she invited me to submit story ideas for 'The Dreaming,' but none of them ever came to anything. Then when 'Sandman Presents' started up, they wanted to start with Lucifer. They got a strong proposal from a more established writer, and they accepted it. But for whatever reason, the proposal didn't turn into a script that they could use. I think the feeling was that Lucifer was too passive, and this persisted through several rewrites until they felt that the writer's take on the character was wrong. They decided to start again from scratch, but they were feeling under time pressure and no other names immediately suggested themselves. And just then, as luck would have it, Alisa's eye fell on the slush pile, and on my latest offering - not 'Inferno' this time, but a one-off graphic novella, 'Doctor Faustus.' She called me up and asked me if I was interested in submitting a pitch for the Lucifer mini-series. I said yes. Yes I was interested. Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes. And I hit on the idea of the 'Voiceless Gods,' and she liked it, and the rest is very recent history."

But Carey wasn't interested in the character of Lucifer simply because he represented a way for him to break into Vertigo or deal with a "Sandman" character - Carey has a genuine affection for Lucifer. "I guess I was attracted to him in the first place because he represents an extreme - and an extreme that's a long way away from my own personality. He's the ultimate solipsist - the guy who'd burn the world down to light his cigarette. He's not cruel, particularly - although he's capable of cruelty - he's just so focused on his own goals and his own needs that nobody else exists for him. It's fascinating to see how that plays out, and how he affects the people who cross his path. But increasingly I've been seeing him as a tragic figure. What he wants is freedom, and he can never have it - not in the absolute sense that he wants it. There's a divine plan of which he's a part, and he can't get off that particular hook no matter what he does. It lends a kind of poignancy to the Paradiso/Purgatorio/Inferno storylines to know that he's trying to do something that's inherently impossible."

It is this understanding of Lucifer's intricate personality around which Carey has molded the "Lucifer" series and the scribe explains that Lucifer's quest for freedom is a central aspect of the series. "The series as it's developed so far is about Lucifer's quest to escape divine predestination and become the unchallenged author of his own actions," explains Carey. "But it's also about the lives and struggles of other beings caught up in the colossal movements and machinations that Lucifer triggers. Initially he was aiming to step outside God's Creation and go wandering on his own, but when God seemed to be trying to betray him by making sure that he could never return, he chose instead to assemble the necessary materials and create his own cosmos. Now that cosmos is under siege by gods and other beings who have combined their power to remove Lucifer and if possible to kill him. The overall tone of the series is hard to define. We try to alternate big, mythic and epic storylines with one-off horror stories on a very human scale. The two elements play off each other to give (I hope) both the usual horror story sense of an unfriendly and unfathomable universe and something different - maybe a sense of the meaning that we add to that universe by living in it."

But even with such enthusiasm for the title character of "Lucifer," Carey is still faced with a daunting task- how do you make the devil into a sympathetic protagonist? While some may see Lucifer as an entirely unappealing character based on stigma attached to the name, Carey believes that the appeal of Lucifer lies in his true character. "I don't see Lucifer as evil, really: I see him as amoral," explains Carey regarding his perspective on the lead character of "Lucifer." "He makes his decisions purely by his own criteria, and he doesn't care one way or the other how other people are hurt or helped by his actions. We've almost never seen him deliberately set out to harm anyone, and way back in 'Season of Mists' [a 'Sandman' story] he pointed out how little interest he has in human souls. But he won't go out of his way to help anyone either: in fact, someone on the Lucifer message board said that that was his defining characteristic - that he won't go out of his way. Ever. He just follows his own path. For example in issue 9, when Erishad begged him to end her life, he could have done it with a gesture - but there was nothing in it for him, and so he didn't bother. That solipsism makes him appallingly dangerous, but he's not evil in the sense of wanting destruction or harm for others. All of which is really just casuistry, because I think total self-absorption is probably the root of most evil that we meet in the world - and so Lucifer can stand quite well as the embodiment of whatever it is that makes us see someone else's life as less important than our immediate comfort. There's no religious problem for me in dealing with issues like this. I'm an atheist, but even if I wasn't I think I'd only ever be comfortable in a faith that encouraged self-examination. Lucifer as the dark side of the human psyche *needs* to be looked at."

It is also interesting to note that Carey has no religious problems with "Lucifer" for the simple fact that he doesn't have any religious beliefs. "I honestly don't have any, unless you use the word religious in a very wide sense," explains Carey of his stance. "My Dad was Catholic and my Mum was Protestant, and this was in Liverpool - where sectarian differences matter almost as much as they do in Northern Ireland. I grew up equating religion with trouble, and I've managed to avoid it ever since. I have spiritual beliefs. I read Henri Bergson when I was at University and was really impressed by some of his ideas. Matter unmakes itself and falls apart. Mind integrates and improves itself, tending towards greater complexity. So mind and matter are fundamentally different, and what we call life originates at the point where they intersect. So I sort of believe in a survival after death, but not a personal one: it's like, when we die the batteries can be reused. Which means that the Judaeo-Christian framework in 'Lucifer' is a myth to me, in the same way that the tales of the Japanese and Navajo gods are myths. I incorporate elements from all these rich and powerful mythologies, and I hope I do so respectfully, but I don't believe in any of them except as flashlights that have been used by different peoples at different times to illuminate the scary darkness around us."

It would be reasonable for a series with such a "controversial" lead character to attract a lot of violent and ugly responses from some corners of the comic book fan base, but Carey says that he hasn't been inundated with hate mail just quite yet. "No, it's never been that much of a problem. We did get some people posting on the DC message boards early on and saying intemperate things like 'you're writing about the devil, so you must be a devil-worshipper and you deserve to have your head squeezed like a zit.' But it was a tiny number and it died out quickly. I think some of it was intended as a joke in any case. More recently there was a longer and more circumstantial attack from someone who was pretty serious about his religion but had never read the book and so was arguing in the dark. I've never had any serious problems."

Artwork by Scott Hampton from the original "Lucifer" mini-series.
The initial year or so of "Lucifer" stories were mostly character vignettes that, while connected through sub-plots, moved at a slower pace than one might have expected from a brand-new series in such a tough market. "The Six-Card Spread storyline was a mistake, and I'd do it differently if I were doing it now," explains Carey of his approach to opening the series. "I was imitating Neil [Gaiman], I think, and doing it fairly badly. It was only with issue four, 'Born With the Dead,' that I started to find my own voice. But after that I think we were pretty much on course -' The House of Windowless Rooms' and 'Children and Monsters' storylines came out very much as I wanted them to, and they moved the big story onwards quite a long way. It's only 'Six-Card Spread' that I regret. I don't know whether we lost readers at the start. We've done okay, stabilizing quite early on and then staying at a comfortable mid-point in terms of Vertigo sales. We're not challenging 'Hellblazer' or 'Transmet,' but we're looking reasonably strong all the same. The current storyline, which brings in Death [the popular character from 'Sandman' and two of her own solo series], has led to a spike in sales, and it would be nice if some of the new readers stuck around. The trades are also doing extremely well - 'Devil in the Gateway' just went to a reprint."

When asked if Carey has planned "Lucifer" to be a finite series, in the tradition of classic DC series like "Sandman" or "Starman," he replies with an answer that'll no doubt surprise many: "No. I'd be lying if I said I knew where I was going. I only know some of the places I've got to visit along the way."

But this lack of a destination isn't really a problem for Carey, but there are other factors that seem to complicate things for him. "I worry a lot about point of view - about whether we should have a narrator, and if so then who, first person or third person and so on. Stories change fundamentally according to who's telling them, and I have to feel my way around the story a bit to try to find the best perspective on it. I've made some odd decisions in the past - using David Easterman as the narrator in 'Children and Monsters' in spite of him being dead, and using Meleos for so long in 'Paradiso' without even revealing who was speaking. In both cases I just thought they provided the best voice for the story to be told in - but often I've tried more than one way before deciding. The easiest part is the dialogue. Especially Lucifer's dialogue. I never get a chance to be that big a bastard in real life."

In addition to establishing a point of view for "Lucifer" stories, Carey has to deal with the fact that writing a "Sandman" spin-off series means living in the shadow of almost universally acclaimed writer Neil Gaiman. "Yeah, Neil is a terrifying act to follow," admits Carey. "I mean, really. The problem is not that you know you can't look good next to him - it's that you've got to persuade readers that when his characters speak in your stories it's still for real. It still counts. I can remember lots of times when a comic I loved has changed creative teams, and the new writer hasn't got the voices right, or whatever. And I'd just completely lose faith, and so lose interest too. You know when you're writing Death or Dream that they exist as part of this completed masterpiece, and you've got to keep an unbroken line with that. You've got to make them behave and talk in a way that will feel right: and they've been so fully and so solidly imagined in the first place that it gives you pause. But it's the job I yearned to do. I've said this before: if someone had asked me ten years ago what I wanted to do more than anything else in the world, I'd have said 'Work for DC writing a sequel to The Sandman.' When something ricochets around inside your imagination for as long and as loudly as that, you don't want to disengage. You want more - even if you've got to write it yourself. The foreword to 'Devil in the Gateway' was an amazing gesture on Neil's part. Shelly (Bond) just asked him if he'd be willing to provide a quote for the front cover and he said, 'I'll write a foreword.' It meant a hell of a lot to me - even before I got to read what he'd written. We haven't spoken much in a while, but he's always said he was happy with what I was doing with the characters. Recently Shelly asked him if it was okay for me to do something fairly radical with Mazikeen. He just said 'Mazikeen is Mike's baby these days, and I trust him implicitly.'"

Reading through "Lucifer," it becomes easy to see why the series has evoked such spirited comparisons to "Sandman": the series is full of thematic layers and appealing character studies. The stories thus far have focused very heavily on the idea of fighting temptation, establishing one's identity and taking responsibility for one's actions. When asked why he chose to focus on these themes and his own perspective on the thematic content of "Lucifer," Carey says, "I sort of belong to the school that says the writer is the last person you should ask. But for me, one of the big issues in Lucifer is freedom and how far you can ever have it. Lucifer knows that he's a creation of someone else, a contingent being, and he wants to escape from that position - to slip out of the chains of God's foreknowledge and God's plan. For us the chains are different: we're set on certain courses by our genes and by our upbringing. We all reach a point where we want to be our own authors, and we can't, any more than Lucifer can. I don't know whether that's a tragedy or a farce, but it's a fundamental part of being a human being. Lucifer isn't a human being, of course, but in this he's Everyman."

But this self-styled "everyman" has been through a lot recently, with the creation of his own universe, being assaulted by angels and seemingly bested by his foes. Does Carey ever worry that the stories will get so grand that any follow-ups will feel like they don't pack enough punch? "No," answers Cary succinctly. "There are bigger stories being set up. We've never addressed the question of God's agenda, but we're going to. And there's something that happens in 'Purgatorio,' which is going to have huge repercussions later. I like epic. I think epic is something that comics do well."

Artwork from
Artwork from "Lucifer: Nirvana" coming this August.
It is the inclusion of these epic story elements that may also make some new readers wary of "Lucifer," as some people may worry that the inclusion of the fantastic aspects of the story- angels, ghosts and monsters- may come at the expense of any human grounding in "Lucifer." "Well, the presence of the human characters does help to scale things down to their perceptions - that's something that Neil did effortlessly, and that I try to do too," explains Carey of keeping the stories on a level that "mere mortals" can understand. "The infinite and the eternal are only awesome if you're looking at them from a human point of view. To a god they're banal. But even my gods and angels are human in some respects. If you leave aside the question of who the characters are, the relationships and the motivations are all too human. Mazikeen's screwed up love for Lucifer, Amenadiel's jealousy and resentment, Remiel's massive insecurity, are feelings that we can recognize and identify with. Plato made a sour comment somewhere to the effect that 'we are invited to worship as gods beings whose behavior would earn them contempt and opprobrium as men and women.' I think I always show the Achilles' heels of all the immortal characters - the things that unite them with us rather than the things that separate them from us. Even God, when we finally meet him, has an agenda which is less transcendent than you'd think."

All the hard work and long nights that Carey puts into writing "Lucifer" also seem to be paying off. Sales are gradually increasing, the trade paperback collections are selling excellently and the series is receiving critical acclaim for nearly all of the online community, something that is indeed a rare occurrence. "It feels great," says Carey of all the praise he's received for writing "Lucifer." "I don't know about universal acclaim, but it's been very well received, and it seems to have a very dedicated core readership. That's really what writing is all about - there's no greater feeling than knowing that people are enjoying what you've done and coming back for more. And the converse of that is also true. I feel criticism very personally and take it to heart. I have no intellectual distance from my work whatsoever. I'm driving an inch above the road surface."

And while this support from fans is an inspiration, Carey admits there are many things that inspire the "Carey-Flavor" of "Lucifer" stories. "There are a whole bunch of other Careys lurking in the background. My wife did a doctoral thesis on medieval fabliaux and romances, my brother Dave is a historian and my brother Chris teaches classics at Royal Holloway (that's the college, not the prison). They're all resources to be plundered as far as Lucifer is concerned, and I haven't been shy about exploiting their knowledge. Oh, and my daughter Louise is a large part of the inspiration for Elaine Belloc [an important supporting cast member]. Books also influence, yes. There's a character who'll be turning up in Lucifer shortly - Elokim Shaer - who's a none-too-subtle homage to the 'Dark Materials' books of Philip Pullman. Pullman has some little dragonfly riders in 'The Amber Spyglass' and I just loved the idea of them. Their ferocity and their stiff pride, contrasting with their tiny size, and their insane sense of honour. They were a lovely creation. So I slipped in a tiny warrior of the Lilim who acts as Mazikeen's scout. I think generally, though, what I said above stands. I try not to think too hard about where my ideas come from. You're always influenced by everything you read and see and listen to, and what seems original is always an amalgam of stuff that was already there in slightly different forms. It would be depressing to tease out all the threads from what I write that I borrowed from other people."

Another important component of Carey's success on "Lucifer" has been the stellar art team of Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly, who have brought a unique visual atmosphere to the series. "Peter and Ryan came on-board with issue 5, the start of 'The House of Windowless Rooms,' and I knew right then and there that they were the right guys in the right place," explains Carey. "That issue has a lot of weird geography in it - the realms of pain, and Izanami's house, and the seven-throated chamber. And they were all beautifully, hauntingly realized. It doesn't matter what I ask Peter to draw - how outrageous or ambitious - he just rolls up his sleeves and delivers. In the 'Children and Monsters' storyline he was choreographing fight scenes with a hundred or so angels in shot, and then pulling back by a couple of orders of magnitude to show them being swallowed by Erishad's unborn baby. Not everyone could pull that off! Also, having Peter and Ryan as the art team means that when I need to have a twenty-five panel page I can just go ahead and write it. They have such total control of the picture plane - give them space and they'll use it to stupendous effect, but cramp them up in little tiny grids and they don't bat an eyelid. But probably the greatest thing about having Peter on the book is how committed he is to the stories. He always has loads of ideas about pacing, about how certain scenes should be played, and so on. And we'll talk those things through, and usually his insights are right on the nail. He's a writer as well as an artist, and he brings both sets of skills to the book."

Artwork from
More artwork from "Lucifer: Nirvana" coming this August.
For those who have skimmed through random issues of "Lucifer" and been perhaps turned off by the gore, Carey assures you that the violence is not gratuitous. "It usually comes from the script rather than the artist's interpretation," admits Carey. "I know there's a lot of fairly graphic violence in the book - it's there for a reason, and it's usually a reason that arises out of the situation. When you get a scene like the fight between Mazikeen and Saul in 'Windowless Rooms,' the almost ludicrous extremes that they go to in order to kill each other are sort of required by what kind of beings they are. It can't just be Pow! Wham! He's down! And the grotesque tortures that are going on in the background in 'Dalliance With the Damned' are part of the way we're defining Hell - or at least Effrul. A place where pain is harvested by efficient and mechanical means to serve the needs of the ruling class. But the worst horrors in Lucifer are the things that aren't graphically depicted - things like Erishad's endlessly repeated miscarriage. Violence that's seen and defined and clear is domesticated: it's what you leave people to imagine for themselves that will have the greatest power to disturb. Conceptual horror is what I'm into."

While both the visual and scripted content may sound a bit risqué for a relatively "mainstream" comic book, Carey is pleased to say that DC has afforded him a great deal of creative latitude. Hearing him speak about the support of the Vertigo offices makes one understand why that place feels like a home for him. "I've only ever been vetoed once, and that was on a particular word that I wanted to use. Content has never been toned down or censored - at least, never as a fiat from above. A couple of times Shelly has asked 'well is that appropriate?' For example, in 'Born With the Dead' there was going to be a sub-plot concerning Mona's abusive relationship with her father. But Shelly's view was that it was wrong precisely because it *was* a sub-plot: it wasn't being given enough emotional weight, and it's better not to handle a topic like that if you're not going to handle it properly. She was right, and I made the changes. To look at a contrasting example, when we did 'Dalliance With the Damned,' we had some very explicit sexual content, mostly centering on the character of Lys - a sexually voracious demon with a penchant for sado-masochism. It was called for by the story, and Shelly backed me up all along the line. One panel was altered slightly, and that was by mutual consent. Everything else stood."

And Carey is quick to admit that this support from Vertigo has played a key role in him signing an exclusive contract with DC Comics, where he'll be working hard for at least the next two years. "The biggest appeal is job security," says Carey of why he signed the contract. "Once you've signed an exclusivity deal, the company wants to keep you busy and make the best use of you they can - so that's two years when you've got a guaranteed minimum level of work and income, and you don't have to divert so much of your time and energy into hustling up the next contract. That's a particularly big deal for someone with a family, like me. As to 'why DC,' the answer is just that it *feels* right. I've often described Vertigo as my spiritual home: most of the books I've enjoyed most over the past fifteen years have been Vertigo books, and a lot of the rest have been DC books that would have been Vertigo books if Vertigo had been around when they started. The Vertigo line occupies a unique place in the industry, and without any bullshit I'm very proud to be part of it. The exclusive deal has also given me a calling card

[2000AD]
Carver Hale from "2000AD."
with the DCU editors, who I've wanted to approach for some time. The only down side is not being able to write for '2000AD' any more, which is something I've enjoyed and learned from. Andy Diggle once said to me that writing 'Future Shocks' is the best training any comics writer can get. If you can tell a story in 30 panels, so that it makes sense, moves fast and has a satisfying ending, then having twenty-two pages to play with seems like a canvas as big as a house."

Looking back at this work on "Lucifer," Carey is quite excited about the work he's done. "Well, I mentioned 'Six-Card Spread' earlier. I think that's my only real regret - that we started the monthly slightly on the wrong foot. It was a triumph when we got five Eisner nominations last year, and I'm still pretty chuffed about that. Okay, we didn't get any actual awards, but that's because the people I hired to bump off Alan Moore and Brian Azzarello were rank amateurs."

But Carey's excitement about his past work can't compare to the sound of anticipation in his voice as he describes the future of "Lucifer." "Purgatorio leads into Inferno - centering on the duel in Effrul which Lucifer promised to Amenadiel a year ago," reveals Carey. "The way that duel is fought and the way its outcome is determined should come as a bit of a surprise to people. After that, Lucifer is left in a very invidious position - with unpaid debts and unkept promises. He doesn't have the sort of personality that can easily live with that situation. We have a quest story where Lucifer has to work through proxies because he can't go himself, and this will bring together a very unlikely bunch of characters from past stories. And we have a revelation of what God has been up to since he made the universe - a revelation which leaves Lucifer and Michael in a very different status and relationship to what they have now. All this plus gore. Don't miss it."

However, when asked about what kind of reader would enjoy "Lucifer," Carey opts to be a little ambiguous and promote his boss's Web site. "Go read the 'Lucifer' message board at www.dccomics.com: especially the thread called 'Teabags.' If you're still rational at the end of that, then this is the comic book for you."

Carey also has some dream projects, one of which is very superhero-centric and perhaps not what you'd expect from the writer of "Lucifer." "Hmm. Well ultimately I'd like to create a comic book world that's as rich and as resonant as the one that Neil Gaiman created in Sandman. I don't mean like Sandman, I just mean an achievement on that scale, a perfect integration of the imagination. In the short term, I'm hankering to write the JLA. I love the subtleties, the atrocities, the artistic freedom that you get in the Vertigo universe, but I also love the totally Technicolor, big canvas craziness of superhero books. The JLA is the best superhero team around - great characters, great concepts, and lots of rich back-story to mine. I think I could have a lot of fun with that. How can you not love a team that has both Superman and Plastic Man in it?"

As most people reading this article are undoubtedly aware, the comic book industry has seen better days and while it is showing signs of recovery, Carey believes that better distribution may be the answer. "Well, I'm no economic analyst, but I think a lot of sane and sensible things have already been said. The big issue has to be distribution. The swing away from the newsstand to specialist comic shops, although anyone can see why it happened, has been a damaging thing in the long term. I think I read that the big publishers are now making deals with Wal-Mart and other chain stores to get comics back into the high streets: that's got to go further, taking us back to a point where kids encounter comics in everyday life. By contrast, the increasing emphasis on trade paperbacks and graphic novels has obviously been a very good thing. I don't remember the last time I went into a bookshop and didn't see a rack of graphic novels there. Bookshop distribution gives comics a legitimacy that they never had before, and although that shouldn't matter it does make it harder for people to dismiss them as junk media without any artistic value or anything to say about the world."

"I'm pretty sanguine on the whole future of the industry. I've spoken to a lot of retailers who are seeing an upturn after years of tightening their belts. Even when it seemed that sales figures were imploding endlessly, I was more inclined to think that comics would mutate into a new form than that they would actually die. When I say "a new form", I don't mean web-based comics - there's no substitute for the physical object held in the hands, in my opinion - but new ways of organizing the industry, new kinds of comic packaged and sold in different ways. I know media can die, but they tend only to die when they've already fossilized, become irrelevant and stale and pointless, and comics are a long way from that point. I'm rotten at trend spotting. I predict that men will continue to wear tights, but that's as far as I'll go. Upcoming creators? Keep an eye on Sonny Liew, who's doing the art on a mini-series I'm writing for Vertigo. He's, like, by Sam Kieth out of Moebius - an extraordinary and unique talent. Frazer Irving, a Brit whose work has mainly appeared in 2000AD so far, is also a very talented artist who I think will soon earn a huge rep for himself in the US. And Andy Diggle, who's currently writing a Lady Johanna Constantine mini-series, is a very impressive writer with a great ear for dialogue."

Even with the emerging popularity of non-superhero comic books like "100 Bullets" and "Preacher," Carey believes that there is still life left in the superhero concept, it just relies on the perspective with which you approach it. "I remember Alan Moore saying in an interview that he was mildly surprised, after 'Watchmen' and 'Dark Knight' and 'Marshall Law,' that superhero comics continued to be published," explains Carey. "He felt at the time that these projects had deconstructed the superhero genre, and there was nothing more to say. But twenty years on, superhero comics are still out there - they've been through some weird changes, but their hold on the popular imagination is still very, very strong. For myself, I love superhero books. They're inherently ridiculous, but so what? A lot of the conventions of horror are inherently ridiculous, but people love to be scared and so they carry on watching horror movies and reading horror books and comics. It's the same with superheroes - they're an offshoot of epic, like Malory's stories of King Arthur and Homer's 'Odyssey,' and there's no reason to believe that people will suddenly stop responding to them. Having said that, it's great that imprints like Vertigo are encouraging creators to branch out into new areas and to push the envelope. If you want proof of the vitality and health of comics as a medium, look at the amazing variety of material that's out there right now - Frank Miller's '300,' 'Jimmy Corrigan,' 'Bone,' '100 Bullets,' 'Promethea,' 'Finder,' and on and on. The superhero genre is one strand among many. It dominates in terms of number of titles, obviously, but even within that there are hugely different approaches and explorations and statements of the superhero. 'Doom Patrol' and 'Animal Man' were superhero books. So was the 'Maxx,' to some extent. It's a big and varied field for a creator."

Carey's tastes in comic books are also quite diverse and looking at his current reading list, the man makes sure to read comic books from all different genres. "I love 'Bone,' which I discovered very late. I'm currently working my way through the collections. It's a tremendous comic - deceptively simple, but with rich and convincing characters and a totally enthralling storyline. I can read a whole 'Bone' trade paperback in a single sitting: it's very hard to stop. I've been following Alan Moore's 'Top Ten' and Sam Kieth's 'Four Women' - both limited series, so I had no right to get aggrieved when they ended, but both masterpieces in their different ways. Kieth is an amazing writer - completely impossible to categorize or predict. Sometimes his stuff leaves me cold, but when it works (as it does in 'Four Women') it packs an emotional power that leaves you feeling sucker punched. I'm also trying to fill the gaps in my 'Philemon' collection. These are French books, written and drawn by a guy called Fred (just Fred): they're whimsical and surreal and very, very beautiful, like the work of a latter-day Winsor MacKay. The main character is a ratty little guy called Barthelemy, who was once cast away on the letter A of ATLANTIC OCEAN: you can see it there on all the maps, and that's where he lived for forty years. Now he's trying to find his way back there, but the snag is that "the world of the letters" is different from our world. There are lots of ways to get there, but you can only use each method once. You just have to read it - it's impossible to describe."

As mentioned earlier, Carey will be all over the map in the second half of 2002 and even the acclaimed scribe has to take a moment to catch his breath in-between listing his upcoming work. "Well there's a lot of stuff coming out this Summer. I've got a 'Lucifer' special called 'Nirvana' hitting the stands (there's a metaphor that's showing its age) in August, with full painted art by Jon J Muth. It has a maverick angel putting out a contract on Lucifer's life, and the contract being taken up by an incredibly ancient being called the Silk Man. It's set in modern China, and all I can say is that J's realization of the characters and settings went beyond all my expectations. It's a beautiful book."

[The Furies]
Artwork from "The Sandman Presents: The Furies."
"The 'Sandman Presents: The Furies' is also coming out later this year. That's a hardcover 96-page story with art by John Bolton, and it focuses on what happens to Lyta Hall after the events of 'The Kindly Ones' and 'The Wake.' It has Dream playing a very significant role, and I'm really pleased with the way the story came out. The setting here is Athens, because Lyta joins a theatre group that are performing the Greek tragedy of The Furies in a Greek amphitheatre. She gets to meet Cronus, who is the only being ever to escape the Furies' vengeance, and she is drawn into a scheme he has to achieve a kind of immortality that Gods can only dream of."

"Then there's 'My Faith in Frankie,' a Vertigo miniseries which is a kind of romance, but with some odd aspects to it. The main character is a young girl called Frankie Moxon, who's just about to start college. She has two boyfriends - a dead man and a god - and they're both pressuring her to choose."

"I'm talking to some DCU editors, because there are some superhero projects that I'd really like to try my hand at - but since they're not confirmed I can't say too much about those. I'm also talking to a film director, Andrea Vecchiato, who's a keen reader of 'Lucifer' and wants to collaborate on a movie with me. Very early days there, but we're on the same wavelength and he's already managed to fund and produce one film of his own so it could happen."

[Hellblazer #176]
Cover to July's "Hellbazer #176" with story by Carey and cover art by Tim Bradstreet.
"The animated series 'Meadowlands,' on which Lin and I were lead writers, should be coming out next year, but I don't know what channels are going to be picking it up. It's co-produced by Greenlight, Oniria and Cosgrove Hall, and it's a fantasy about elves, fairies and trolls all living in the same small area of countryside. The elves are expansionist and aggressive, the fairies are gentle and peace-loving, and the trolls are obsessed with technology. When the elves try to take over the whole meadow, you get a Romeo and Juliet style love affair starting up between the leader of the elf armies, Daiman, and a young fairy called Thalia. It's kind of fun, because you get all these huge sweeping battles and torrid romance scenes, but it's all happening within a piece of ground as small as a suburban garden."

Maybe it's the effort required in keeping track of all his upcoming work, but Carey isn't quite sure what to say to any of the fans of his writing who are reading this interview. "Either 'thanks, guys' or 'don't stop now!' But that's a tough choice. Can't I send two messages?'"

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