The Glory of "Morning Glories"

A comics interview article by: Nick Hanover

At SDCC this year, we were very fortunate to get the opportunity to speak with the Morning Gloriesteam of Joe Eisma, Rodin Esquejo and Nick Spencer about their collaborative process and what's in store for the year. All three were very excited about the series and their passion for it, making it clear that the book is a work of love rather than "just a paycheck." The trio told us about those fabulous Morning Glory Academy uniforms, the benefits of people watching at Barnes & Noble and why Morning Glories is going to become more like Harry Potter soon...



Nick Hanover: I'm so glad to get the opportunity to meet up with you guys. I've been reviewing Morning Glories and the entire site really loves what you've been doing, going all the way back to the Existence 2.0days. 

Nick Spencer: Yeah!

Hanover: So I wanted to get together with you all as a team and discuss Morning Glories because it is hands down one of my favorite series, everything about it just speaks to me. I'm especially interested in the way that you've tied together influential shows like Lost and The Prisoner and also kept it very comic book-y. A lot of people use those same references but they rip them off rather than using them more as homages. Did you pool those references together beforehand? I know, Nick, that you and Joe have worked together quite a bit before, did you find yourselves bonding over that material? Or is it something that you've been recommending to Joe and vice versa?

Spencer: Well, we're both big Lost fans, and Morning Glories is a book that wears its influences on its sleeve very happily. It's a book that's meant for an audience that will appreciate those things. We try to be a little tongue-in-cheek about it sometimes and have some fun with it without taking you out of the story. We try to get away with what we can. I think the Hurley cameo, if we can call it that...

Hanover: I loved that!

Joe Eisma: It was blatant, wasn't it?

Spencer: ...is probably about as close to Lost as we could ever get. It's meant, again, to be sort of a loving homage to that, to The Prisoner certainly, sort of '90s teen horror films...

Hanover: Like The Faculty?

Spencer: The Faculty is the biggest of the bunch but, you know, Disturbing BehaviorScreamI Know What You Did Last Summer...

Hanover: Teaching Mrs. Tingle...

Spencer: [laughs] Yeah, really, all of the Kevin Williamson films [screenwriter of the latter three films-ed.]. I'm a huge fan of his. It's fun to draw from that stuff and hopefully make it into something that's unique and something that's referential and still its own entity. And it pays off sometimes. Both of the creators ofLost are fans of the book.

Hanover: Yeah, I saw Damon Lindelof talked about it on Twitter...

Spencer: He's very vocal about his enjoyment of the book. So, you know, it's nice... turns out when you put producers' names in books they notice! [laughs]

Eisma: [laughs]

Spencer: They have assistants who keep track of that kind of thing, it's incredible. 

Hanover: Just put hashtags in the comics to make the process easier for them...

Eisma and Spencer: [laugh]


Hanover: The design of the book is incredible as well. I've spoken in my reviews about the minimalism of it, especially the way you use expressions, Joe. I believe we've called you a "master of expressions," and that's something that I think really can't be pulled off the same way in any other medium. What's your approach to that technique? How did that strength develop?

Eisma: Well, I'm actually a pretty big fan of caricature art. And the thing about caricature art is exaggeration of significant features and expressions, basically. I've had side gigs before where I've done caricatures at weddings and it's fun to exaggerate those things. You can apply that to comics, especially with this cast. You've got so many spectrums of emotion, especially in someone like Jade, for example, who is our resident emo. Drawing her expressions alone is just so much fun. She's so emotional, she's all over the place. Just to play with that and exaggerate it, I think it's an important part of comic book storytelling. I think it really helps you... at least, I think it really helps you drive home what the writer, what Nick, wants in a particular scene. You've got to really pay attention because otherwise what you're left with is the comic book equivalent of wooden acting. You don't want that.

Hanover: The pacing in the book is really excellent, too. A lot of people would make a comic like this overly wordy and I appreciate that you guys just let the art speak for itself. 

Eisma: Yeah, I appreciate that, too. [laughs]

Spencer: [laughs] Joe's the best storyteller that I've ever seen. He's got a really, really unique gift for it. It's sad, I think, how under appreciated in the medium that is and how undervalued it can be. This book couldn't work if it weren't for his ability to capture the thoughts behind the characters' faces and we've gotten to the point now where we have extreme shorthand in the scripts where a panel description will very often be "Character, Feeling" or "Character, What They're Thinking." You can do that with a lot of artists and it will be beautiful work but you'll look at the face that they'll come back to you with and it's incomprehensible. I've actually had editors elsewhere tell me "You can't do that, you can't do that face." And I've literally told them "My Morning Glories artist can do it!" [laughs]

Eisma: [laughs]

Spencer: It's a unique gift and it's a big part of what makes the book special. 

Hanover: That's in the covers as well, where Rodin gets these great images and they're not your traditional comic book covers. They're not gaudy, action-packed things, you actually allow the white space to speak for itself. I'm interested in the process of the collaboration there, since it's not the kind of aesthetic most titles have. 

Rodin Esquejo: Normally I get a really short description, I get a lot of freedom to just come up with whatever I want. That's really great. I also get really great characters to work with, because I love character visual details, the distinct personalities. I take from what Joe is drawing on the inside, try to work in my own spin on that. Tim [Daniel, Morning Glories designer] is really great, because he just gives me the freedom to do whatever with the composition, he just works with me on that...


Spencer: Rodin hardly ever gets more than one or two lines from me in terms of the cover. I do that really purposefully because I just find that he's going to have a better idea than I will. They've never disappointed -- each cover is just so striking in its own way. It's funny, a lot of times you work on covers so far out from the scripts and I've been amazed at how well they sync up. I think it's just, again, a testament to the fact that nobody on this book is phoning it in, nobody on this book is doing it for a paycheck. It's a book that everybody is really passionate about and it's a book everybody likes telling the story of and I think that's when the magic happens. One of my favorite things about this book is what a complete package it is, the entire team works very closely. Rodin just mentioned Tim Daniel, who does all of our production design, does the logo and dress placement on the covers and is always coming up with fun little takes on the covers, like in #2 when it's the water in the classroom and it's rising and he's got the logo tilting. Nobody's just coming in and just slopping their stuff on top, everybody's really committed to making it the best book it can be. 

Hanover: Right, and it seems like part of that is because this is a story that isn't being told elsewhere. There are aspects, like you guys mentioned, that are references or homages...

Spencer: Right, right, the influence stuff is fun for us but I feel like as we go on it becomes less and less of that kind of story and becomes its own thing. I think it's important in a story early on to give people something that they feel is familiar, to compare it to other things, and then to take them from that to something else. I'm getting excited as we get deeper into the story and deeper into the arcs. I think what makes the story different is going to start to emerge more and more.

Hanover: Right, and while it has sci-fi and fantasy elements to it, at its heart Morning Glories is in its own way a very realistic "teen" story... the characters actually behave like teenagers, they actually dress like teenagers... they have all the foibles, and the flaws, and everything that goes along with that. I think, at least from a fan standpoint, that really resonates. When you were creating it, how difficult was it to get that aspect right?

Spencer: I write a lot of young characters. I don't always entirely know why, I think it's a fascinating time in life, because it's so full of discovery and it's so full of trial and error. Kids are meaner and mean is fun to write. These characters are very much alive for me -- this is my easiest book to write in a given month, always. Once I can get to it on the schedule, which is not always the easiest part, usually once I can it becomes a very quick flood of a lot of pages which is a different from my work process on a lot of other books. That's because it is not hard for me to see what these characters are going to do in a given situation or what they're going to say because they just kind of rent space in my head all the time. They're characters that all have very unique and strong voices, I like to think. I'm really pleased with how the second arc played out, in that now I think people have a slightly more realized understanding of these kids and where they come from and who they are. There's certainly a lot more to discover in that regard but it was really nice after the sort of hectic pace of the first arc and the sort of "big event" story to get to look at these characters individually and really get to know them. 

Hanover: Even from a visual sense they feel very lifelike. It's not like your art is photorealistic and lifeless, it just feels alive. In terms of getting that feel right, and getting down the visual sense of these teenagers, what was the process like for you, Joe?



Eisma: One of the first jobs before I kind of quit everything and worked comics full time was at Barnes & Noble. I worked all the weekends. Fridays and Saturday nights was when the teenagers came. This was well before I even met Nick but I just noticed the way these kids acted and just their demeanor, which was a lot different from even when I was a teenager. It was a lot of people watching. Going out, like when I go shopping with my wife, I just watch and see how kids react and act these days and apply that to how they appear visually in the book. Not to toot our own horn or anything but I think that is one thing we do really well in the book, the fact that we do portray these kids in a pretty realistic fashion for their age...

Hanover: Especially since you see so many books where kids are always wearing those bare midriff shirts and those ridiculously short skirts...

Eisma: Oh, yeah. [laughs]

Hanover: It's kind of nice to see something that's a bit more realistic...

Eisma: Yeah, I mean, okay, granted... we do have some short skirts in there. [laughs] But I try not to have every character in the same slinky, short skirt. Every character is going to have their own personality and that's important to me because every teenager views their self as unique. And everybody is, they're individuals and they express themselves through how they look. That was something I felt I needed to express in the story.

Hanover: Was it challenging to do that since they're all wearing uniforms? They all wear their uniforms differently, and it's impressive because you can tell their personality through that... I mean, Zoe and Casey couldn't look more different even though they're basically wearing the same thing...


Eisma: I have to give a lot of credit to Rodin here because he really brought to life a lot of their looks because he came in and streamlined the design. Hunter's look is a lot different than Ike's, which is different from Jun's... and that's so important because from at least the storytelling standpoint, you want to be able to tell these characters apart. He really succeeded in setting the bar and how they all look and what their personalities reflect.

Spencer: Yeah, Rodin did the most amazing job in taking what's a very difficult thing of uniforms and wearing the same thing and just really, down to the smallest details, transferring these kids' personalities into their looks. I still look back at those original designs and it's really incredible just how much attention was paid to "This person would cuff this" or "This person would roll up this sleeve, these are the shoes they would wear with this." It's just masterful.

Esquejo: Nick gave me really specific personality traits and I just... I love clothes, so I really thought about how each person would wear their uniforms, even down to casual uniform clothes. They're just really great characters and I let it flow from there. 

Hanover: From a fashion sense, were there any magazines you were pulling from? Or did you do it all mentally?

Esquejo: It was just from my mind. Teenagers now, they're pretty sophisticated, they're not really wearing what other artists are drawing them in, not just in plain T-shirts and plain jeans and all that. I thought of what I would wear.

Spencer: Then I went and made him do gym uniforms. [laughs]

Esquejo: [laughs] Yeah, Nick just upped the ante. I had a specific uniform for each character, like Jun had the cut off sleeves and Zoe had the shorter shorts.

Hanover: So where is Morning Glories going next? I know you probably can't give away too many details but...

Spencer: The third arc is called "P.E." It is the most nightmarish time for many high school students, so it's a pretty harrowing arc. They're going to go through a lot. The intensity level is going to be like what you saw at the end of the first arc. It owes a great deal to The Prisoner. I know a lot of people have been talking about the Lost influence on the second arc...

Hanover: Right, but a lot of people don't realize how much Lost was influenced by...

Spencer: The Prisoner, right! This arc I actually hatched a lot of it when I took a trip up to Portmeirion, which is where The Prisoner was filmed.

Hanover: I've heard that's an extremely weird place...

Spencer: Oh, it is just surreal, it's incredible, and if you're a huge fan of that show you feel trapped as soon as you're there even though it's a tourist destination. It's really amazing, it's like a Dali painting. If this past arc was all about getting to know these kids, the third arc is really about the school and the grounds and where it is and how long it's been there and its purpose. It's about place. It's about location. A lot of new questions are going to get raised, we're going to see a lot of new faces. That really starts in #12. We like to tease the next arc usually in the last issue of our previous arc.

Hanover: You guys did leave off on a pretty big cliffhanger in the last issue...

Spencer: Yeah, yeah, exactly. This one is a little bit more stage setting for what's going to happen in the next arc. Casey's scored a big victory against the Academy -- in rescuing Jade -- and we haven't quite seen the fallout of that yet. Casey's riding a little high right now...

Hanover: Are we going to get a better since of the history of the Academy? Because you sort of hinted at that with the interactions with Jade and the staff...

Spencer: Yeah, this is very much about where they are and there's going to be a lot of surprises there.

Hanover: Joe, did you enjoy getting the change of scenery in the last few issues?

Eisma: Oh yeah. That's one thing that I always talk about, because I'm never bored from issue to issue because he writes so many different locations. It'd be one thing if every issue was in a classroom, you'd get bored. But we go all over the place. In issue 3 we were in 1500-era Spain. It's ridiculous sometimes the locations we go to, but it's just so much fun. I'm always, always game for new challenges, new scenery, new places to explore.

Spencer: He's going to be drawing a lot of trees this time. [laughs]

Hanover: So they're going to Hogwarts, basically?

Eisma: [laughs] Yeah, exactly!

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