by Jarrod Jones. For those of you tucked quite snugly in your homes and looking for a proper mystery with which to exercise your beleaguered mind, John Allison and Max Sarin have a corker of a whodunit ready for you to crack.
It’s Wicked Things, which reunites Allison & Sarin after their tremendously well-done run on Giant Days, also published by BOOM! Studios’ BOOM! Box imprint. Their latest comic mini-series is very much tied to Allison’s Bobbinsverse, which includes the webcomics Bobbins, Bad Machinery and Scary Go Round, and features one of its most dynamic characters yet conceived: Charlotte Grote, teen detective.
The debut issue, which you can and should buy now, sees Charlotte pack a monstrous bag of Haribo gummies and travel to London with her very own Watson, Claire Little, to attend the National Solver Magazine‘s “18 Under 18!” awards ceremony. As a nominee, Charlotte only barely qualifies (university is but weeks away), so this trip is treated as a chance to enjoy each other’s company before Charlotte and Claire leave Charlotte’s moldy top-secret mystery files behind and go off on their own separate journeys towards adulthood.
Naturally, scandal arrives to completely disrupt Charlotte’s weekend, leaving her adrift in a conspiracy of murder that… well, that’d be telling. Suffice to say, the game—as it’s often been said in moments such as these—is afoot.
Ahead of the release of Wicked Things #2, I spoke with writer John Allison about the intrigue surrounding Charlotte Grote and what it’s like to be working with Max Sarin once more—and, yes, I asked him about clues, because I stink at figuring out mysteries.
1. At the risk of sounding flip about the murder of fictional characters, there’s something so dang cozy about a proper murder mystery. But it can be a labyrinthine business, putting together a mystery that gets the readers invested. How does John Allison construct a mystery? Are there grim conspiracy charts all over your house, stuff like that?
John Allison: All my stories are character-led, so I try to work out the character motivations first. Then I try to build in misdirection and twists. Ideally the motivations and the twists will support each other in a way that makes the story satisfying rather than procedural. If you have proper character development, you can’t afford to be too procedural with 22 pages per issue.
2. Charlotte Grote is what would happen had Nancy Drew swallowed Esther de Groot whole. As the character has grown in the Bobbinsverse, did you consciously steer her and her burgeoning career towards ‘Wicked Things’, where she’d be thrown in the midst of conspiracy, seemingly in over her head? If so, how?
Over the course of Bad Machinery, Charlotte pulled against the mystery-solving team dynamic. She had solo side adventures, would renounce mystery solving altogether for a time before swiftly being pulled back in—she wasn’t like the other kids. I always saw this as her calling, rather than her hobby. I also liked the idea that she would miss the other mystery solvers in her team when they were gone.
3. Tell me about Claire Little, if you would. She feels like the heart of the story. As essential to Charlotte’s life as Watson was to Holmes, sure, if we want to make it easy, but you add in a line—to the effect of “this is our last chance to enjoy ourselves before university splits our destinies in twain”—at the beginning of issue #1. Young adult angst in an adult murder mystery. How does Claire’s friendship with Charlotte center ‘Wicked Things’, do you think?
Claire Little (or as she was, “Little Claire”) has been friends with Lottie since they were 12. Initially she was seen as a barely-tolerated irritant, but she proved her worth. Although she seems very sweet, Claire has a small problem with pyromania. She has a very dark side, deeply buried. This gives her an edge, I think! I like to think that she and Lottie had a lot of classes together in the final years of high school and she rose through the ranks, unexpectedly, to best friend.
4. When you’re reading, or watching television or a film, do you gravitate towards detective stories? What are the strict components you feel are necessary to tell this particular brand of story?
I do like detective stories—I loved Knives Out, recently, but they’re not my go-to. I watched a lot of crime drama in my twenties, but I wore myself out on it. I’m pretty exhausted by murder as a driver of popular entertainment, so I only dip into crime drama when it’s something really good. Or when I’m staying with my parents, who are in their seventies and therefore watch about 21 hours of murder TV a week.
5. If Charlotte—Lottie—ends up with a lucrative career in the investigatory arts, do you feel she’d become a world-weary Sam Spade, a mercurial Sherlock Holmes, a chill-as-you-like Jessica Fletcher? A combination of the three, or something new we haven’t seen applied to this particular genre before?
I think she wants to be Sherlock Holmes, and she could never be world weary—I think she needs to find a way to merge her mystery-solving lifestyle with something approaching a healthy existence. A new form!
6. I want to talk a bit about working with Max Sarin. Yours is a wonderful collaboration, though there is tremendous potential to dive into darker material in ‘Wicked Things’ than what we’ve seen previously. Instead of the pre-adulting malaise found in ‘Giant Days’, there’s a bonafide nemesis lurking in the periphery of your new story. Potential harm to these characters is implied. When you write ‘Wicked Things’ scripts for Max, is there a feeling that the two of you are experimenting with genre, pushing new limits? If so, how does that feel for you?
I cannot speak for Max. I’m not sure if it’s new territory for me. I did so many different kinds of stories in my webcomics, trying things out, that often I find myself reaching for something I experimented with for a week in 2006 but didn’t really understand at the time. There was genuine peril in Scary Go Round—people died! But I am pushing a level of per-issue complexity here that is mentally taxing. It takes work to see the wood for the trees sometimes. The most important thing is just that people care—that’s the one thing not to lose sight of.
7. Would you be so kind as to describe how Max interprets your work?
When I have drawn my own comics, the thing I am always trying to get over is the emotion of the scene, a connection between the characters. I have never been a great technical artist but somehow I could convey that feeling. The artist I liked the best as a kid was Bret Blevins on New Mutants in the mid-80s. Max is a modern Bret Blevins, but maybe even better, the best character acting in the business. I need that “sell” on the characters and Max can do it 100x better than me. Plus, they can draw anything—great dynamism, environments, outfits… I designed Wicked Things to be a showcase for Max.
8. Now that issue #1 is out, I wanted to delve into spoilers a bit. It’s clear Lottie has been set up for a crime she did not commit, and you’ve populated this debut issue with an impressive murderer’s row of monstrous teen-detective influencers. Either Lottie’s frame-up is a vast conspiracy or it isn’t. So how do you position your red herrings so that they don’t confuse the mystery to a distressing degree?
The series is balanced a little differently to that. It’s about Lottie trying to make her way after the accusation, trying to make a new space and negotiate her new reality. She finds herself in a world where she can’t do the one thing she wants to do—clear her name—because people keep giving her other things to do. With the exception of one or two (maybe) McGuffins, everything in Wicked Things has relevance—both materially and thematically.
9. Now that Lottie is in police custody, how does her investigations evolve? Are there new characters coming our way—will we be introduced to the ‘Wicked Things’ version of Inspector Lestrade, for instance?
Yes, the police characters are all introduced in issue 2—the true co-stars of Wicked Things. I liked the idea of a full cast fake-out in issue 1—you think the other teen detectives are the series regulars!
10. Is there a specific clue in issue #1 that you would brazenly point out for me—er, for our readers—that blows this case wide open?
Everything that happens in the six-issue miniseries is in some way referential to Charlotte parsing the central crime. The things she is interested in, subconsciously, are part of the process. If you stare hard enough at what is going on, along with the clues in the first issue, maybe you’ll solve it before she does.
‘Wicked Things’ #1 is available now. ‘Wicked Things’ #2 is presently slated for an April 29 release. This date may change.
Check out this cover preview of ‘Wicked Things’ #2, courtesy of BOOM! Box, an imprint of BOOM! Studios!
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