For our first set of five questions in 2020 – in the decade – we are excited to have a chameleon of creative mediums. Maura McHugh is a master of short stories, long-form prose, comics, and radio plays.
Maura’s most recent work Judges: Psyche, a novella set in the 2000 AD universe of the Judges, was published last week by Rebellion Publishing.
How do you approach working with a well established and iconic franchise? What did you want to bring to it that hadn’t been done before?
As a given, I do a lot of research about the setting, background and characters that I’ll be working with. This often requires that I read a lot of comics, and that’s the fun part of the work! I usually take copious notes while I ponder what’s been done with the characters and where there are spaces for new stories to be told.
My primary aim is to tell an entertaining story that works with the existing world and honours its history, and if possible, expands on it in some fashion. I’m always considering subtext, story threads, and opening up narrative conversations. When writing comics I try to pack as much story as possible into the pages without overloading the artist, so that requires quite a bit of thinking about what to use and what to omit. I like to inject humour into stories, even dark ones, which is why working with Judge Anderson is always a joy.
While many will know Judge Dredd over many of the female characters that appear in the franchise, the Judges’ world has been relatively good at gender representation. Why do you think this comic world finds more opportunity for women than many others?
My guess is that from its inception there was an acceptance that the Judges universe was far enough in ‘our’ future that better gender representation was the logical outcome (both for the judges and the villains). There are complex and interesting women judges in the 2000 AD universe, who are held to the same high standards as every other judge. No one gets through the system unless they are street-ready, so the reader knows that each judge has earned his or her place.
You write for all sorts of mediums. In particular, what do you find the main differences and difficulties are for writing long-form prose versus comics? Does your idea generation differ depending on the medium?
Writing for comics requires fitting your story into your designated page count and that affects the narrative on a fundamental level. There’s only so much you can do as a result. I’m always battling with this constraint because you must allow room for the artist to enjoy expressing the story visually. That can prompt innovation too, which is the best result.
Writing long-form prose allows you room to be creative, expand upon the characters’ motivations and add extra plotlines. I love inventing environmental details, throwing in off-the-cuff comments, and adding extra world-building. It tends to be a more freeing experience since these flourishes are impossible in shorter comic book runs. Yet I still favour efficiency in storytelling and a smart pace, especially in a world like 2000 AD.
We would love to have you geek out on Irish Gothic literature a bit… so please tell us a little about it and why you love it. What delineates it from other Gothic traditions?
Long ago I did an MA in Irish 19th-century supernatural fiction, and during that period Ireland was still part of the British empire. What happened was a fusing of Romantic/Gothic literary trends with a distinctly Irish sensibility. One that was conflicted about identity and embued with its own vibrant mythology. Ireland went through several social and political convulsions, including the great famine, in the 19th century and this resulted in a rich pot of anxiety from which many horrors arose.
I love the drama and the darkness of these fictions. People are faced with urgent fears and strange desires. The settings are often familiar but otherworldly. Like much horror, people battle their internal demons as exterior forces, which are often at odds with their society’s expectations. This means that many of those stories still resonate today.
Pitch us Judges: Psyche! Why should we pick up a copy?
If you like the 2000 AD Psi-Division and you fancy an exploration of its genesis then this will be to your tastes. It’s set in 2044, features two Psi-Judges from different timelines with a strange connection, and a nascent Psi-Division focused on a trio of young talents no one can officially acknowledge, who uncover a threat to the emerging Judges system only they can thwart.
Maura McHugh lives in the West of Ireland, and her latest collection – The Boughs Withered (When I Told Them My Dreams) – was published by NewCon Press in 2019. Her recent comic book Judge Anderson story ‘The Dead Run’ (drawn by Patrick Goddard) was published in Judge Dredd Megazine from July-Nov 2019. She also writes non-fiction, screenplays and theatre/radio plays, and appears regularly on Irish radio discussing pop culture. Her web site is http://splinister.com and she tweets as @splinister.