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Pushing Boundaries - Paul Cornell & Emma Vieceli Talk The Modern Frankenstein

Interview conducted by James Ferguson

Mary Shelley's classic tale gets new life in The Modern Frankenstein, a series debuting later this month from Heavy Metal's Magma Comix imprint. Written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Emma Vieceli, colored by Pippa Bowland, and lettered by Simon Bowland, the comic mixes horror and romance as Elizabeth Cleve finds herself drawn to the enigmatic James Frankenstein, despite of and because of the advancements he's making in the field, even with the horrifying costs. I had a chance to speak with Paul and Emma about the book.

Discover the next thing in horror from award-winning writer of television and comics Paul Cornell (Doctor Who, Wolverine) and acclaimed artist/writer Emma Vieceli (Doctor Who, Life is Strange), along with color artist Pippa Bowland and letterer Simon Bowland! Elizabeth Kleve is a brilliant young medical student, attracted to the waspish, charismatic surgeon James Frankenstein. He wants to further medical science... by all means necessary. So how far is Elizabeth prepared to go? A twisted horror/romance that walks a fine line between attraction and fear.

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James Ferguson: The Modern Frankenstein offers a new take on this iconic tale. What sets this story apart from the other adaptations we've seen before?

Paul Cornell: I think it’s the hospital setting, and how exactly the character of Frankenstein (when one goes beyond the associations of the name) maps onto modern ethical debates in medicine. He’s genuinely seeking the greater good and makes a rational decision to go beyond the ethics of his time in order to achieve it. I suspect that the character of Frankenstein, because of the debate he encapsulates, may always be relevant.

Emma Vieceli: This story plays with Mary Shelley's themes, for sure, but brings an old debate into a modern and sterile setting. For all our advances and understanding, the same moral and ethical lines remain. The way Paul has brought the debate into so real and present a setting makes it more frightening. He weaves the story brilliantly!

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JF: What can you tell me about Elizabeth Cleve and her relationship with Dr. James Frankenstein?

PC: She’s attracted to the man, but she’s also attracted to his aims because she’s dealing with enormous pain in her own life that can only be solved by some sort of miracle. He can, unambiguously and directly, provide that miracle. She makes a rational decision to work with him, and she’s our viewpoint over his shoulder, and in his arms, asking how far we would go.

EV: It's...complex. Elizabeth is someone who knows what she wants and will go after what she wants. I think a lot of her admiration for James stems out of his similarities to her. They share a fierce, stubborn ambition. He's willing to go the distance, to take risks for the sake of advancement, and the greater good. It doesn't hurt that she's also wanting a lot more of him than just his mind. She's drawn strongly to him and his world and makes a clear decision to commit to it. Whether that's a good choice...we'll see.

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JF: How did you decide on the design for Elizabeth and James?

PC: That’s a question for Emma, but I wanted a little Peter Cushing DNA in there, because his version of Frankenstein is an extraordinarily interesting take.

EV: As Paul mentioned, for James, he wanted a young Cushing vibe. I wanted James to be something cool and calm on the surface, never giving away too much, but with enough of a hint of what's beneath to draw Elizabeth in. I wanted him to almost seem a blank page that the reader could imprint emotions onto depending on how they read him as a character.

Elizabeth was much more of an open book and I was free to play. Quite wonderfully, she sort of sprang fully formed onto my first sketch draft. I didn't even need to think about her because she was just...there. I love when a character does that. After all, Elizabeth Kleve knows what she wants...as if she's going to let someone ELSE decide what she looks like. She just appeared on the page and said 'hi'.

JF: Emma, what was the process like for drawing the comic? What was it like to collaborate with Pippa and Simon Bowland on colors and lettering?

EV: This was a comic that started in the midst of a pandemic, which is sort of fitting in a dark and twisted way. But, on a practical level, it meant that we didn't really get to have that coming together as a new team that you'd normally want. Thankfully, I already knew Pippa and Simon, who are just amazingly sweet, and of course Paul, who's a bit of a star. So I knew this was going to be a team who could talk to each other and play and really come up with something special. We've had some great dialog as we've gone on, and it's just been a fantastically communicative gang to be a part of, even going through the year we all have.

JF: How did The Modern Frankenstein land at Magma Comix?

PC: I’d pitched it to Denton Tipton while he was still at IDW, but he left shortly after, and took it with him to Magma.

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JF: Do you think James' boundary-pushing methods could happen in the real world? That's certainly part of the scares with this comic.

PC: I think something similar will happen soon, as climate change, the underlining motor that powers almost all world events right now, starts to bite harder. During the pandemic we’ve seen medics pushed to the edge of making impossible choices.

EV: I think we're already pushing boundaries as a species. But risks also come with gains, and when we can see the gains more clearly than we see the ethical questions, it's easy to forget we passed a line. James is frightening because there are big benefits to his method. And that raging, human debate in ourselves about where we put the line by our own moral standards is pretty terrifying.

Horror DNA would like to thank Paul Cornell and Emma Vieceli for speaking with us. The Modern Frankenstein #1 is set for release on April 28th, 2021 from Heavy Metal. 

About The Author
James Ferguson
Lord of the Funny Books
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.
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