A struggling 1970s filmmaker stars in Harkham’s Blood of the Virgin (Pantheon, May), an expansive tale of ambition and the immigrant experience.
When did you realize Blood of the Virgin would be a much bigger work than your short comics?
I started thinking about a handful of ideas, and didn’t see a connection between them, but I could feel a connection. Film preproduction was a structural coat hanger I could hang ideas on. I thought, if the characters start revealing more of themselves, we’ll go into production and postproduction. Because the story was first serialized, I tried to make every chapter work on its own terms. That helps keep you from thinking about the macro, but leads to a lot of painting yourself into corners. But if you’re true to the characters, they’ll keep leading the way.
Did you draw on any personal history for this story?
The initial spark was thinking about my parents and their strange and disparate backgrounds—my mother coming from New Zealand, my father coming out of Iraq and being a refugee in Israel, and how they somehow ended up together in Los Angeles. My father didn’t work in film, and no character is inherently based on anyone real, but thinking about that history, about Los Angeles, and about art-making in an industry of commerce, all had enough mystery for me to dig in.
The story follows an ambitious filmmaker, Seymour. Are his struggles similar to those of a comics creator?
I think we can all relate to feeling hemmed in by the world, and our expectations of ourselves. It’s very much a young man’s way of thinking, and I think it’s universal. That cinematic setting was a really good pressure cooker.
What sort of research did you do?
I got in touch with [Gremlins director] Joe Dante, who was a film editor for Roger Corman. It was so nice of him to sit with me on the phone while I asked questions like “How many people had a key to the editing room?” Capsule reviews Dante wrote for a distribution catalog for drive-ins, with all the terminology for exhibitors, were another doorway to thinking about the industry. And then talking to filmmaker friends, trying to get to the point where you can smell the set on some lot off a side street in the Valley, in a decade you’ve never lived in.
The scope widens beyond 1970s Los Angeles. How did those threads enter your story?
Exploitation cinema of the early ’70s is a setting that leads us to a lot of other places. It was a little scary. Comics being such a slow process, you know where you’re possibly going to go, but that it’s going to be years from now. This is a relationship drama at its core, but in this Trojan horse of horror movies and the Holocaust and cowboys and husbands and wives.