As we head towards the December launch of AfterShock Comics, we're starting to learn more about a line up that appears to feature some of the weirdest and most surprising new comics of the year. If it's weird you love, then you're likely going to be interested in "InSeXts," a new series from the team of Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristantina.
Billed as an erotic horror story about a pair of Victorian lovers who use their knowledge of the occult to transform themselves into terrifying monsters intent on creating a vengeful massacre, it's probably safe to assume there's nothing else like it in comics today.
It's also the perfect material for Bennett to mine as she starts in on what she hopes is a lengthy run on her first ongoing creator-owned book, in fact. With that in mind, CBR News has the exclusive first interview with the writer, where we find out exactly where the inspiration came for the series, and where she plans to take readers as its story unfolds.
CBR News: What kind of story is "InSeXts?" Should we expect horror, fantasy, romance…?
Marguerite Bennett: "InSeXts" is an erotic horror story about a pair of Victorian era lovers who go on a vengeful killing spree. There are tender, romantic moments, moments of intense dread, and moments of wit and charm -- and, of course, some absolutely insane body horror.
You say vengeful -- what motivates and drives the pair, especially as the story begins?
Of our two lovers, one is a lady, anxious and self-loathing, so smothered by the constraints of her society and the pains of her marriage that she feels upon the brink of collapse. The other is her lady's maid, determined, loving and calculating, who is willing to do anything in her power to protect the one she adores.
Together, they discover a form of body horror that allows them to escape and transcend the confines of their lives, and punish those who harmed them and others like them all these years.
Are you looking for something pulpy, lurid, a bit of occult dark fantasy, or is your intent to play this with a sense of hard realism?
Oh, definitely pulpy and lurid -- high, penny dreadful, Victorian melodrama, though with some airs and graces of modern horror and modern love. There is genuine tenderness between the lovers -- I'm not out to write pornography (not yet, anyway). It's shocking, but satisfying, in some places unusually light, and in some places unusually and atrociously dark. Folk who like horror movies will like this book, is my hope.
You're clearly interested in exploring human sexuality within the series, which is especially interesting for a comic set in the prudish Victorian times. Why did you decide to set the story in that specific point in time?
It's an unabashedly sensual and sexual story. As far as the period, I've had a preoccupation with the Victorian era in terms of how its obsessions and repressions created the modern era. I have no rose-colored glasses for it, and the romanticization of it has annoyed me before, but it fascinates me all the same.
You had contemptuous, murderous, destructive imperialism that ushered in a modern global society; you had gender roles that claimed to venerate women as "angels of the house" by crushing them into increasingly rigid domestic spheres; you had absurd prudish public values underscored by one of the highest percentages of sex workers in recorded history -- 1 for every 12 adult males in London. The dualities and hypocrisies -- social, sexual and psychological -- have always compelled me, in and of themselves, and then in what they created and left lingering through the 20th Century.
It also was a developing time for women in society -- is that something you're keen to develop on in the book? That the characters have to try and find some independence in a world which is still very keen on repressing them?
Oh, absolutely. Though this is less "a plucky heroine finds employment outside the house!" and "Furiosa and the Brides put smoking holes through some warlords while Tom Hardy sails overhead and grunts."
Also, there is kissing.
What has it been like working with artist Ariela Kristantina on the project? What about her artistic style makes her the best fit for the story, for you?
Ariela is a delight. Her style is so graceful and airy, and it brings such an elegant counterpoint to the ghastly material. Ariela and Bryan Valenza, our colorist, have created something so tasteful and delicate -- like a watercolor fairy story. Ariela's inks are swift and spritely, and Bryan's colors are warm and textured, then sliced by these sudden cuts in the color palette to neons and hypersaturations.
An art team that relished in the horror of the story would have ultimately created something repulsive; Ariela and Bryan instead exalted the love, sincerity and tenderness in the characters, which stresses the horror of the story through contrast. The beauty of their art intensifies the beastliness of our plot.
To put it another way, "InSeXts" is what would happen if Arthur Rackman and Alphonse Mucha created a nightmare about murder, love, sex and revenge.
What kind of leeway are you getting from AfterShock in terms of sex, violence, language and so on? Are you able to just go full-on with whatever type of story you want?
I would say wholeheartedly that this is the most unfiltered I've ever been in my career. It's an angry book, it's a fun book. It enjoys its anger and its freedom. The entire team at AfterShock has been nothing but supportive and encouraging from the very, very first.
Are you planning for "InSeXts" to continue on for a while, or do you have a set, contained story you want to tell -- at least for the moment?
I have multiple arcs planned, yes -- the first outline that I ever turned in to Marts actually tied to story up rather neatly, because I was convinced it was too out-there an idea to sell. But he slowed me down, told me, "This is good, this is so good. You can make it even bigger, expand, slow down. There is so much story here."
We're going to some scary, sexy, cunning, and horrifying places. And quite frankly, I hope you'll come with us.
How did you get involved with AfterShock? Was it through working with Mike Marts at DC and Marvel?
Mike Marts was the one to give me my first job back in 2013, when I was Scott Snyder's student. He was the one to review my scripts and green light me in joining up in the Bat Group, and also the one first to invite me across the aisle to Marvel, which has made great use of me since then!
This is your first ongoing creator-owned comic -- what made "InSeXts" the project you wanted to kick things off with?
I think because it was so unfiltered, and so unlike anything that could be duplicated at another company.
The original short comic on which "InSeXts" is based was featured in Rachel Deering's brilliant "In The Dark" horror anthology. I always had more to the story, but I was exceptionally cautious about where to bring the larger plot. "Historical," "erotic horror" and "lesbian lovers go on a killing spree" are generally red flags, you may have noticed, and I was unwilling to have the story turned into something else to accord it publication.
AfterShock took a look at it, among my other pitches, and placed it above all the others. As Ariela and Bryan's delicate, elegant artwork is a counterpoint to my vicious plot, I think "InSeXts" operates in counterpoint to the superheroism of my career. This is not about justice. This is about revenge.
How important is it to you that you to mix further creator-owned comics with your for-hire work at places like Marvel, DC or Boom!?
I think quite imperative at this point. It's something I've wanted for ages, but my personal aesthetic is very different from my superhero aesthetic, and I wanted to at least be established in my career before I went off into the land of sex, violence and historical drama with same-sex lovers who turn into insect monsters.