Writer Helen Mullane is no stranger to stories about girlhood, tragedy, challenging the patriarchy, and a little bit of magic, as we learned with Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen. Here she paints a similar picture with its own unique twists in Painted, a graphic novel from Humanoids under their Life Drawn imprint. Mullane joins with Painted co-writer and creator Kev Sherry, who’s also a member of the indie rock group Attic Lights, and artist Katia Vecchio, to tell the story of Selene and Sophie, typical high school girls who discover the pain of school-wide humiliation when Selene’s period makes her a target. Calling upon the Celtic painted warriors of her past, Selene and her friends are ready for a revolution. These girls aren’t going to take this humiliation lying down.
But painted faces can only take them so far when reality hits, shattering their identities and leaving them to pick up the pieces. “Painted deals unapologetically with bullying, violence, language, drug use, death, the bonds of sisterhood, and—above all—the power of friendship.”
Read on for the creative team’s thoughts on their new book as well as an exclusive excerpt.
Helen, your previous work has touched on coming-of-age stories of young women and connections with Celtic and old magic. What draws you into telling these stories?
Mullane: I think it’s a theme that I’m always going to be drawn to! For me coming of age is one of the most primal and universal types of stories. Our experiences can be so different across cultures, at different points on the spectrum of gender, sexuality, or class, but everybody knows the feeling of seismic interior change. The protagonists of Painted are so relatable because we all know how it feels to be hurt by the truth of how the world works, and we’ve all at some point had to adapt our worldview to accommodate that disappointment.
Magic feels like the perfect conduit for these ideas. Our teenage years are full of magical thinking. We’re just beginning to figure the world out and anything is possible. I think as we’re both from the UK, Kev and I share an affinity for the folk imagery and ancient magics of the British isles. A deep well of stories and symbols which were often themselves born out of our need to make sense of the seeming chaos of our lives!
Painted touches on many significant topics that are an integral part of growing up. Why is it important to each of you to tell these stories and what do you hope your reads will take away from the experiences?
Sherry: It’s what great art does to us, isn’t it? Those songs or books you read as a young person, they have such an impact, they open up the wider world and let you see existence in whole new ways. Comics and music made me the person I am today. I think it’s natural then from a creative point of view, to reach back to those pivotal moments in your youth, when the world turns on a new idea, and to try and strive to do for others what was done for you. In Painted, the ideas that Selene plays with are so strong, so potent, that they are almost overpowering at times. While I hope readers will react to the emotional context of the story, the friendships, the fight against patriarchal violence and the will to try and build a better world, I also hope the book leads them to consider the sheer power of ideas, and how we need to respect them, analyse them and always keep open minds.
Mullane: Kev’s nailed it here, Selene is almost ahead of her time, certainly ahead of her peers in the things she says and the courage she has in her convictions. I really hope that readers will come away inspired by her, and will relate to the struggles of her and her friends. We can’t all be Selene’s all the time, but we can look at those around us with compassion, and step up when our time comes.
Kev, your website indicates that Painted is part of a triptych that also includes your debut solo album, “Foxy Orthodoxy” and debut novel “Here Be Apples.” Tell us about this shared universe and why you’ve taken a multimedia approach to introducing us to it.
Sherry: Ultimately I don’t see any distinctions in the creative processes of writing fiction or writing songs. It’s all about putting the brain in a state of play, wandering around ideas and hopefully landing on something meaningful and relatable. I love shared universes, which are a big part of the world of comics. As a lifelong comics reader, it felt like a natural thing to do, to try and parse out a shared universe between the different media that I love. Also, from a purely practical standpoint, I discovered that jumping between different media is a great way of getting rid of or avoiding writer’s block. I think this means I have a low attention span and a wandering mind. (At least, that’s what my teachers at school used to say!) And I can’t seem to stop. My new dance-pop side project, ‘Disco Mary’ is releasing a single on Oct 6th called ‘Kids Games’ inspired by Painted and those weird moments between childhood and adulthood.
Kat, how did you come up with the designs for these characters and their world? Were these shared universe media part of the design process and ideas?
Vecchio: Kev had given me brief descriptions of the characters, especially Selene, Sophie and Forsey, but also gave me the freedom to add some features. Based on the feelings that some characters’ names gave me, I thought about their faces and characteristics (I don’t know why the name ‘Geoff’ made me think of a guy with an emo style). Kev also had a brilliant idea with the shared universe. I listened to his song and talked to him so that I could create an overall mood that my art could describe.
How did the three of you come together to work on this project and what has the collaborative process been like?
Sherry: When I had the initial idea for the comic, I had no idea how to connect with an artist. Luckily, a friend of mine was working as Mark Millar’s PA and had developed extensive connections in the comics industry. She kindly put the word out on her social media, and when Katia got in touch and I saw her art it immediately felt like a perfect fit. By the time we took the book to Humanoids, Katia and I realised that we could benefit from an experienced comic writer coming on board and helping tidy up parts of the book and bringing another female perspective to it. I had loved Helen’s book (Nicnevin and The Bloody Queen) and when I also heard she had been involved in making a documentary about my favourite comic (2000AD) I was ready to bow at her feet shouting “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”
Vecchio: It all started when a friend of Kev’s wrote a tweet saying that Kev was looking for an artist for a comic story. I was interested in the project and I contacted Kev sending him my art portfolio. He liked my style and we started to work on Painted. And, when Humanoids accepted our submission, Helen joined us as a partner to help us with script changes and have a strong female perspective on the project. The working process that I had with Kev and Helen is one I would wish for any comic artist. Kev was very understanding during the creative process and left me a lot of freedom in the pages. Helen was really kind to us, she immediately empathized with the story and added what was missing. I really hope to work with them both again in the future!
Mullane: Collaborating with Kev and Katia was a joy! We had some really great conversations that got into the meat of the story, what we were trying to say with each character’s journey, and that’s the sort of collaboration that really gets me invested and excited. They’re both such talented creators, it felt really special to be part of the team.
Painted will be available in bookstores on October 12 and comic shops on the following day. In the meantime, enjoy this exclusive preview: