SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers for "Mind The Gape" #5 lay ahead.
When the starting point of your story involves out of body experiences, comas, amnesiacs and conspiracies, mysterious twists are built into a comic's DNA. But with his Image Comics series "Mind The Gap," writer Jim McCann is pushing that idea as far as he can.
The monthly comic drawn by Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback started out with a not so simple mystery surrounding 20-something New Yorker Elle. When she's attacked in the subway, Elle fins herself in a coma that places her mind in an otherworldly realm called "The Garden" where she and other coma patients can see into real life but make no contact. The story gets more complicated with the additional twist that Elle has forgotten who she is as she also discovers that she has the power to possess the bodies of her fellow coma victims shortly before they go brain dead.
If that wasn't enough, the series also follows nearly a dozen players back in the real world from Elle's best friend Jo to a concerned doctor looking out for her body to a network of mysterious forces that may have been experimenting on Elle for years and whose agent is a as-yet faceless troublemaker in a hoodie. With each issue, the connections between this group has grown deeper and deeper all the while new hints as to what put Elle in the hospital and gave her these powers bubble up across the story.
This week, "Mind The Gap" #5 wrapped the first arc with the major revelation that Elle's domineering mother Min is pulling the strings on Hoodie as well as framing Elle's boyfriend Dane for the crime of attacking her. Will these complications get worse or better now that Elle has taken over the body of a young coma girl named Katie who seems to have some problems of her own? To find the answers to all these questions, CBR News spoke with McCann about his overarching plans for the series, how issue #5 and future flashback issues will make more revelations come to light, what Min's involvement means for who exactly the hoodie-wearing foe is and what classic mysteries from literature, TV and film have impacted the shape of the series to date.
CBR News: Well, Jim, I've got some questions for you on where "Mind The Gap" is headed after issue #5, but I think that there are a lot of people at this point with questions for you.
Jim McCann: Well, I told people there would be answers! [Laughter] And with answers come even more questions.
Every month in the book, we don't just get a chapter of the story, but we also often get a little bit of detail on the many moving pieces in the book that you're keeping coordinated. What is it like when you're writing a book with upwards of 13 recurring cast members, multiple mysteries to be solved and all sorts of other little "What time does this clock say?" details besides? Are you mapping out all these bits and pieces from the start of each arc, or do you work it out issue-by-issue?
I've always known the end of the story and all the major beats leading up to it as well as the fates of pretty much all the characters. So I do outline the overall arc, but as I start to write – as I am with the second arc "Wish You Were Here" right now – I have the entire story outlined mainly in terms of character journeys. It's not an outline of "This has to happen on page 22, panel 3." There are definitely places where I know there need to be reveal because that will help propel the next issue or the next arc forward. That was really, really true at the end of the first arc, "Intimate Strangers." The two major reveals at the end of that will obviously play a very large role going forward.
Min's being a puppet master behind the man called "Hoodie" and also getting Dane out of the way brings her into the forefront. She can be operating less in the shadows now. We can peek a bit more behind the curtain, and we'll start to get a glimpse of the greater conspiracy going on.
The other revelation that Elle has woken up in Katie's body – our little comatose girl – is going to propel a lot of the next arc in ways that actually surprised me when I sat down to write it. She was initially only going to be in Katie's body for one issue, but when Rodin turned in the revelation page, I realized there could be more story in this. I was like, "Nope, this girl has to stick around for awhile." All of the sudden, there was this emotional and mental choice being set up, and it just adds more for us to mine story from.
So I guess writing the book is a bit of everything you're asking about. I do fly by the seat of my pants a little bit, but everything that goes into the book is stuff where I go back and check the previous issues, and then I go forward in my notes to make sure everything lines up. Yes, there are a lot of hidden clues in this book for us to let you in on. In issue #5, Adrian Alphona's flashback lets you in on Dane's history as well as how and why he was arrested. But you also see the other side of conversations he's been having for the past three or four issues. Every time those scenes would pop up, I knew who he was talking to AND how what he was saying would be used against him eventually. So there were very conscious choices made there. On the other hand, some choices get made simply because I'd re-read a line of dialogue in a new way.
Let's talk about each of those big reveals from issue #5 and how we got there. I think everybody reading the book will finish this chapter and think of a detail from earlier in the series it lines up with. For me, it was the moment in issue #1 where Dane is juggling two phones back and forth, which at the time made me do a bit of a double take. Overall, the story of #5 is all about Dane and his journey even as it gives some bigger mystery hints. Will you continue to have character-specific flashback issues like this, and will they also be unpacking details from that first arc we haven't noticed yet?
Oh yeah. I knew when I wrote the second page why Dane had two phones and how that would eventually come back and bite him in the ass. But yes, part of the plan is that I want to be able to delve into these characters time to time and give you more of who they are. Because the reader is thrown right into the thick of the action in issue #1, they hit the ground running. They have to learn things right along with Elle. But there are certain characters and moments where we're going to flash back and get the bigger picture of it.
That way, I think the readers will learn more about the characters and the choices they've been making, and also you'll see for each what has been a red herring, what's been a real clue and what's been a secret they've been keeping. There will also be times – like issue #9 which is coming up and I'm very excited for – where the moment in that issue is something I've had in mind for a very, very long time. And it flashes back only an hour or an hour and a half from the start of the story , but it reveals something that's really, really big and changes a lot of people's lives. So the story structure for that is something where I wanted to give an entire issue to it, and it's going to be done as a flashback with a guest artist.
That will happen for most of our flashbacks, so as we had Adrian drawing Dane's story in #5, this issue will be drawn by Dan McDaid who CBR fans will recognize him from Comic Book Idol back in the day. I'm really looking forward to him drawing and coloring that issue, and it's very Hitchcockian and noirish. It's a challenge I'm looking forward to taking on.
The reveal about Min, like you said, answers some questions but asks a lot more. And to be honest, it was not the reveal I was expecting. Throughout the series we've seen not only "Hoodie" but plenty of other people wearing hoodies like Dane and Miles...
And we've seen Dr. Geller wearing a hoodie in the first issue too.
There you go! Every time I see someone dressed like that, I make them a suspect for being "Hoodie," so I was sure that our final page reveal was going to involve the true identity of this mysterious figure. Instead we got that zag that Elle's mother Min is the power behind the power. At this point, how serious should we take your hoodie clues, though? Is this still unseen figure one of our core cast?
The identity behind Elle's attacker was either seen or named in the first issue, and Hoodie will have a major answer revealed about them in the second book. It's been really fun and interesting to play with a character whose face is completely in shadow because in comics, you have no idea what their voice is like. Is it male? Is it female? Is it always the same person? That's been a lot of fun to play with, but obviously, there is some connection to Min in some way. But whether she has something to blackmail them with or whether they're doing it of their own accord is another question to ask.
Also: Min is pulling Hoodie's strings, but you'll find out more about Min's involvement in issue #6 and right away. Once the reveal of Min happened, it opened up a lot of doors in the story for me. We can now unveil a little bit more about how she fits into the greater conspiracy. Though after only the fifth issue, I don't know what I'm going to reveal everything about the grand scheme and the person behind the curtain. [Laughs] there are a lot more reveals to come. And as it says in the book in every issue, "Everyone is a suspect. No one is innocent."
I was just going to ask about that tagline. We know there are a few factions at play, but for sure we know two sides: there are the people who set Elle up not only to be attacked but also who set up whatever things have been done to her to give her body-jumping powers in coma world. And there is also a more benevolent side of things where Jo, Dr. Geller and her wife and a few others seem to have a more altruistic agenda. They're not getting involved for any reason than to help this more comatose girl. Should we trust that? Or is there a possibility that even the people we consider heroes may turn on us somewhere?
You've got my answer right there in the question. [Laughter] I can say that the tagline is important because it plays into the overall mystery. There's a reason why it shows up in EVERY issue at the end. It could have just been a marketing tagline that was thrown out after the first issue. God knows I know about marketing taglines. [Laughs] But it's also a running theme throughout the entire book, and by the end of the book, no one is innocent.
One of the big questions still driving the story forward is what has caused Elle's abilities in the coma world as well as her amnesia. What's interesting about that question is that we still don't know if it's answer is more sci-fi or metaphysical or just a straight mystery or what. That puts "Mind The Gap" into the same wheelhouse with a bunch of other modern popular fiction from "Lost" to "Morning Glories" where the audience is playing along in a big way as the story happens. What kinds of lessons have you learned from those other examples of this style that you're taking into your series so fans want to keep reading?
I think there are examples of this storytelling that have influenced me going back to early childhood. You can look at the original "Star Wars" trilogy and see an overarching mythology and a sprawling cast of characters that were all brought together for one reason at the end of the day. There's "The X-Files" and "Twin Peaks" as well as a lot of examples from novels like Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians." In that, everybody had a motive and had something that they were guilty of. That's kind of also like the movie "Clue," but less funny. [Laughs] When I started working on this book, this TV show hadn't aired, but "Revenge" on ABC has a similar vibe to it as well. And you can look at "Kill Bill" and see a bunch of pieces that all fit into one greater conspiracy or whatever you want to call it.
But when I set out to do this series, I really wanted to do a long-form story that was also a mystery. Following one person's story and how everything ties into that is something I hadn't really seen in comics. We've seen it on TV and in movies, but I wanted to do that in a comic book as I'm a huge fan of the genre and of comics. I wanted to take my love of all this stuff and put it in one place. Just like how a season of "Buffy" has a Big Bad and a definite arc where you look back at the end and see how the whole season was revealing different bits that tied in. That's what I'm writing towards in "Mind The Gap."
I know this is kind of different for comic readers, and I know it's very different for me compared to what I've done in the past from superhero stories to "Dapper Men." But that's just me. Each one of the comics I've written is a different part of me – a different itch I'm getting to scratch. There's sort of a wish fulfillment for me in that, and I'm hopefully bringing something to people that they haven't seen in the comics medium before and maybe opening doors for more stories like this.
I know there are people out there that have gotten frustrated in the first arc because I didn't answer what happened to Elle right away, but that would make it a mini, and this is an ongoing series. This is all about the journey – how the pieces meet up to form a puzzle. And everybody plays their own role in it. There was a lot of groundwork to be laid in the first arc, and with each reveal, we'll lay the basis of the next level. And eventually, that will lead us all to the top of the pyramid – the apex of the story.
Let's wrap by talking about that center of the story: Elle. So far, we want to see her learn more about her own past as she's still an amnesiac, and we want to know more about her abilities and things like her wolf visions. Still, I get the sense that the next major step for our lead is a kind of "Quantum Leap" twist where she's going to be helping out this little girl Katie as much as she will be investigating her own attack. Can she get both those jobs done?
Well, at the end of issue #4, Katie did ask Elle for her help. She said her parents were going to pull the plug, which generally means someone isn't going to wake from a coma. They're basically brain dead. But before Katie moves on, there's something she needs Elle to get out there so that people know. Of course, the first time Elle jumped into a body, it was a very quick, very strange experience. She had a hard time differentiating herself from Estaban. She stated speaking Spanish and having a hard time remembering who she was in all this.
So Elle will not have an easy time with these things, but in difficulties like that, you'll see a lot of character revealed. There's a lot of story potential for Elle, and there is a reason why she wasn't in issue #5 all that much. It's kind of built up to this moment for her. She's been learning, getting info, trying to get more memories out...and she knows that the one person she can trust through it all is Jo. Now she's at a point where she's frustrated and needs to fight for her mind and her body and her life.
There's a time stamp at the end of every issue, and if you've noticed, the first arc took place over only 48 hours. But who knows how time works in "The Garden" where Elle's mind is. It could operate very, very differently. People are still in shock in our world about Elle being in a coma or being attacked just as there are still people trying to cover all this up. With Elle being in Katie's body, that is going to shake things to the book's core. Just about every character will be affected by this in one way or another. Beliefs will be challenged. Alliances will be formed and others broken. And this will have dire consequences. Coming up in the next arc, not everybody makes it out. There will be at least one less face on the cast page by the end.
Well, I'm sure a tease like that will have people asking a few more questions between now and #6.
Honestly, my favorite thing about the book is that being a long form mystery allows people to put on their own Sherlock hat with their magnifying glass and play detective. They develop their own theories. People have written in via Twitter or via firstname.lastname@example.org or via our Tumblr at http://mindthegap-theseries.tumblr.com. At all of those place, people have been sending in their theories, and I love it. Every Wednesday when a new issue comes out, I love seeing people guess things and reading their theories. It's a very interactive book. That's what I wanted it to be, and I'm so glad it has been. I want people to ask questions. I want them to read this book and re-read it and re-read it. Comics can be expensive, and I want you to get your $2.99 worth from mine.
"Mind The Gap" #5 is on sale now from Image Comics.