Waaaayyyy back in February, I spoke with Mariah McCourt, editor extradonaire and extremely talented writer, about her upcoming book, Ash & Thorn, published by rising star publisher AHOY! Comics. The book was set for an April 1st, 2020 release date but like so many things in this freak show of a year, the book was delayed. But as with many projects, the team persevered and finally, the book saw the light of day, releasing the full first five issue arc. A stunningly gorgeous book with a sharp twist on old “Chosen One” tropes, Ash & Thorn was exceptionally impressive. Today, 10/14, sees the release of the trade paperback and I played a little catch-up with Mariah. Get to your LCS and grab a copy today and scroll past the interview for a short preview of a story you have to read to believe!
Comic Watch: Mariah, it seems like a lifetime ago when we talked about the upcoming April 1st release of Ash & Thorn #1. Then came 2020, with a pandemic, a nationwide movement for major social reform, and the comics shutdown. In a way, a book about an apocalypse never seemed more fitting. Can you tell me if the delays had any effect on the storytelling process or if things simply played out the way they were meant to for the book?
MM: You know, it didn’t. All of the scripts were already in place and with Soo when the pandemic hit and frankly it didn’t occur to me to change anything. In a lot of ways it seemed important not to, to let the story play out as intended and not try to adjust anything which might have seemed tacked on. And the book is weirdly timely, probably because I used perennial themes that are, for better or worse, very obvious right now.
CW: We previously discussed mentorship in both the book and in the comics industry but the path that mentorship takes in this series was certainly unexpected, as we see Sarah actually take on a mentor role for Lottie by the end, rather than vice versa. Can you talk about the narrative function of that and where we might see that go in (hopefully) future volumes?
MM: Since the book subverts a lot of tropes, I wanted Sarah’s character to step out of the assumed “side-kick” role by the end, deliberately taking on a more assertive, proactive, position. Partly this is because of Peruvia’s turn, she completely abdicates her responsibility and Sarah takes it upon herself to do what’s right. I wanted it to be obvious that what Peruvia did was a choice you don’t have to make and that Sarah, both as a person and as mentored by Lottie, understands that better than a woman many times older than herself. That will continue to be the case in any future stories we get to tell, Sarah still has a lot of learning and growing to do.
CW: I’m in the middle of a much needed diet thanks to stay at home orders but the recipes from Pickle’s Pantry are all on my list of things to try out at home eventually. Initially they seemed random and unrelated but eventually they become an integral part of the story. But I have to ask: who’s pantry did they actually come from? Are these yours? Family recipes? The world is dying to know!
MM: They’re mine! Some of them are family recipes, like the pie crust and gingerbread (though I add a LOT more ginger than the original). And others are ones I’ve kind of randomly come up with while baking with my kiddo. She loves to bake and we watch GBBO together so quite a few of the recipes are things we just kind of tried and worked out.
Narratively, there is a purpose to baking and other home based arts and things. There really isn’t very much that’s truly random in this series.
As for diets, every diet needs a treat sometimes.
CW: Sarah Litt (editor) mentions in the Editor’s notes from the final issue that one of the goals at Ahoy is to take established tropes and twist them, which this series very successfully did (Demons & Apocalypse, The Chosen One, etc.). But there are additional tropes about aging that often go unsaid that seem to be explored here as well, particularly in issue #3 and the dreaming sequences. The perception of lack of power, isolation, the sacrifice of youth… could you tell us a bit more about your thoughts on that particular sequence of explorations?
MM: So, issue #3 is probably my favorite and I use dream sequences a lot in my work because the subconscious is so weird and rich and rife with things to explore for a character. You also see them used a lot in supernatural fiction, so there’s a little bit of a trope exploration there as well. One of the things about “chosen one” stories that feature young characters is the expectation put on youth to sacrifice, to solve problems, to be “the one true hero”, while having very little experience to do so. It’s not that young people aren’t smart or capable, but there’s a sacrificial element to those stories, especially for young women. Buffy obviously explores that a bit and I wanted to go further with that because older women are, by contrast, often portrayed as no longer useful, even invisible, as if you stop existing after the age of 25. And yet most of our lives are spent getting older, accruing experiences, knowledge, expertise, wisdom.
With the dream sequences I could get at the core of Lottie and Peruvia is a way that’s deeply psychological, and intensely ugly in Peruvia’s case, in a way that’s visceral and meaningful while still being weird and supernatural horror focused. Psychology of characters is important to me, why they make the choices they make, who they are when they’re stripped back and can’t hide.
CW: The entire team seemed to work incredibly well together, from covers to editorial and everything in between. Given the strangeness of this year as well as the growing distance between creators as the old Bullpen era of comics continue to fade away, do you have any remarks on the creative process and the wonderful creators you worked with on this book?
MM: Honestly, I just feel incredibly lucky. Everyone was so supportive, so creative and fun, and I think the book helped keep us a bit more hopeful than we might otherwise have been. At least for myself, that is. Having such wonderful collaborators made the experience special and getting to see Soo’s art, Pippa’s colors, Jill’s covers, brightened any otherwise difficult day. Sometimes you get really lucky and everything just clicks without much effort and this is one of those projects. It reminds you of why you do comics; that creative alchemy.
CW: And of course, do we have any hints on what the future holds for Ash & Thorn?
MM: I can’t say much other than there’s LOT more to tell. We aren’t even close to done with these characters.
Golden Girls: An Interview with Mariah McCourt, Writer of Ahoy! Comics’ Ash & Thorn
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