Helen Mullane on Her Folk Horror Graphic Novel Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen

A teenager walks through a forest painted bloody red

Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen introduces us to a young, jaded London teen living her typical jaded teen life that is not at all pleased about having to spend her summer in the countryside. When Nissy meets a handsome older man named Reggie, she finds herself drawn to him. Exploring the tumultuous emotions of a teenage girl trying to figure out who she is, Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen adds a folk horror twist with a grisly murder and dark magic. It is the debut work of writer Helen Mullane, who is joined by artists Dom Reardon and Matthew Dow Smith, colorist Lee Loughridge, with a cover by Jock.

A teenager walks through a forest painted bloody red

Nicnevin is a name fraught with meaning and lore, making it clear from the start that there’s a lot more to our main character than there might seem. What inspired the name choice?

This book is deeply inspired by its location. Nicnevin is the name of an old goddess of the borderland between Scotland and England, with many tales originating in Northumberland where the story is set, so it seemed a perfect choice to ground this character in a place she otherwise feels little connection to.

We wanted the reader to immediately get a sense of old things, things not entirely comfortable in the modern world bubbling in the background of this story. So when our main character, Nissy goes from London to this creepy house in a small town, you can immediately feel something strange in the air. Nissy doesn’t pay attention, she’s just getting on with her life and looking for entertainment wherever she can find it — preferably in the arms of this hot older guy she meets. But the reader sees what she cannot when myth and magic begins to break through the mundane.

The small-town British setting is very distinctive. Is this setting a place that is personally familiar to you?

I’m sad to say I haven’t been to Yeavering, although I would dearly love to! In writing about the town I drew from a combination of research and my experience spending long summer’s in rural Ireland with my family as a child. Dom Reardon, whose amazing art alongside Matthew Dow-Smith does the most to transport the reader to the village, lives in a beautiful small town in a more southern part of the UK. Where he lives is magical and wild in places so I think that really helped him bring the location to life.

You’ve mentioned that typical teen life isn’t explored in its entirety in mainstream comics. Why do you feel it’s important to do so with your book?

I can only write what feels real and true to me. For many of us being a teenager is complicated, full of drama but also full of fun. I remember it as a time that was very self-centred — and not necessarily in a bad way. There’s so much going on mentally and physically, you can’t really find out who you are without being a bit ego-centric! Having a good time was my main concern. Everything else just got in the way. I feel that’s a familiar experience to many people and that’s why Nissy’s struggle is easy to connect with, even though she’s really being a petulant nightmare a lot of the time.

And yet, Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen goes well beyond normal teen life. What was the inspiration for this story?

This book has such a whirlwind of inspirations! When Dom and I were first talking about this project we knew we wanted to create a folk horror story that harks back to classic ’70s strangeness like The Wicker Man and terrifying children’s shows like Children of the Stones and The Owl Service. So that was the starting point, a mood and an atmosphere of slowly building dread. The next piece to fall into place was Nissy. I wanted to write about a young girl who I would have hung out with back in the day. For us the question was: what would happen if you put a normal London teen into this magical, scary world?

What is your history with horror? What was the first story that truly scared you, and what does horror mean to you now?

I’ve loved horror for as long as I can remember. I remember watching Hammer Horror movies from behind the sofa when they were on TV when I was a kid and being completely entranced. I had some formative experiences where family members let me watch certain movies (namely Childs Play and the original IT) way too young with profound effects on my poor young mind. Yet somehow instead of being repelled, I was fascinated. Those films gave me a taste for the visceral experience of horror that has stayed with me for the rest of my life.

These days, horror appeals to me on a different level. I’m not seeking to be scared, but challenged and unsettled. The sort of horror that appeals to me explores the world we live in in an interesting way, one that shows me something visually or emotionally I haven’t seen before.

Nicniven and the Bloody Queen is available now from Humanoids.

Nissy goes for a drive with Reggie A map showing the path driven and the animals they've passed on the way Nissy and Reggie have a converation Nissy and Reggie discuss the situation

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.

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