A Hell Of A Tale
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden gives us his latest in a regular series about comic series that never were. Today it’s the turn of JayJay Jackson’s The Hell I Am…
Jay Jay Jackson’s The Hell I Am…
JayJay Jackson is an acclaimed comic book veteran of Marvel Comics, Valiant, Defiant, and Broadway Comics. While at the latter, she proved that the devil was in the details with her lost tale, The Hell I Am.
“I’m a big fan of noir and horror books and films,” said Jackson, “and I’m fascinated by the merging of science and legend. The idea that genetic memory, the ways in which we may know things we never learned, seems to blend the two is interesting to me. That figured heavily into the concept (of The Hell I Am). I find the film (and the book) The Sentinel unforgettable and the myth of Atlas and Hercules also came into it. The idea that struggle and pain is essential to how we reach our ultimate potential and even happiness is something that I wanted to explore in the story arc as well.”
When she brought The Hell I Am to Broadway Comics, it was originally entitled The Gatesman. Why the name change?
“I never liked the name The Gatesman,” Jackson admitted. “It came about as a placeholder because while the inspiration for the character was a combination of several things, one was a movie called The Sentinel, where a young woman becomes the guardian of the gate to Hell. The name stood until we were going to have to start presenting the concept to outside entities and I protested. Jim and I discussed alternatives, perhaps in a heated fashion, and he eventually popped out with The Hell I Am. It took me a bit to get my head around it, it seemed a bit jokey for such a dark story at first, but I came to love it. I think it’s clever.”
According to Jackson’s premise, the main character, Malachy Reilly, has the infernal realm of Hell inside him. How did he become the gateway to Hell itself?
Jackson explained, “We had the concept that Malachy was something of a wastrel who was tricked into assuming the burden of becoming the vessel of Hell much as Atlas tricked Hercules into taking the world onto his shoulders. The man who tricks Malachy is desperate to escape the infinite misery of his role. But Malachy refuses to pass it on and cause another person the kind of grief that is destroying his own life. He chooses to fight Hell itself instead. That was the idea, though it was never developed into specifics.”
Within this lost tale, Jackson had quite an army of supernatural creatures sheltering within him. Were these fantastical creatures – like the Long Lankin and Allison Gross – of her creation or the stuff of legend?
“Malachy Reilly is an Irishman,” said Jackson, “and my idea was that he holds the history of the Celtic people within his DNA. With him as the vessel Hell’s demons are transformed into creatures of his culture’s legends, the historical nightmares of the Celtic people. I love the folk music (The song Long Lankin is a favorite) and legends of the British Isles and Ireland and wanted to incorporate them. My intent was to use the inspiration of the songs and legends to build the basic characters of the demons, who have been transformed many times by their vessels and no doubt remember all of their incarnations and have opinions about them. The idea was that if the vessel of Hell were to be Chinese or Indian the incarnations of the demons would reflect that legendary heritage and so on. It would have been interesting to eventually explore how a person with a very mixed lineage might have influenced the incarnation of Hell. That could have meant exploring more modern-day horrors, perhaps.”
The Hell I Am reminds one of a book that comic book maestro Alan Moore himself might have dreamt up. And, as Jackson explains, she is a fan herself of sophisticated suspense and horror, among other things.
“I love horror and suspense,” Jackson said, “but I think my influences tend to be literature and film. My favourite comics are much different. I love Elfquest and Love and Rockets and still reread them to this day. The exploration of character personalities and the way they transform over the course of the stories is what I get caught up in no matter the genre.
“I find horror and suspense in books and films that might not be thought of as belonging to those genres. I find I’m most inspired by character and concept. A Clockwork Orange is one of my favourite books because it’s so complex and works on so many levels. They aren’t classified as suspense, but I find all of Donna Tartt’s books to very suspenseful, my favourite being The Goldfinch, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin is by far the most horrific book I’ve ever read. Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot are both great stories of tragedy. I just about cried myself sick reading the endings of both. I find that great and lasting stories move me and inspire me. They stick in my mind and don’t let go. And then other times a strange little film like The Sentinel will catch on my brain and make me think about it way too much.”
Speaking of horror, Jackson also wanted to introduce the series’ villain, the evil Antagonist, within the book. What exactly was his devious plan to bring Hell on Earth?!
“The Antagonist was a Satan character,” Jackson explained, “not Satan as most think of him perhaps, but the King of Hell in any case. Just as the richest men on Earth seek to make even more money, just as Kings and Kaisers seek to conquer new lands, The Antagonist sought to expand his realm.
“He is a force for evil in one sense, but a necessary one in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately there’s a balance between good and evil, and The Antagonist plays his role in the universe. We wouldn’t know what happiness was if we didn’t feel sorrow, we couldn’t appreciate joy or health if we didn’t know pain and sickness. We grow and progress by overcoming adversity. This is the endless struggle The Antagonist sought to further. Malachy was only the most recent focal point in the endless strife. The struggle and triumph over The Antagonist and the denizens of Hell would have the effect of making him, and others in the world, realize their ultimate potential and attain their greatest accomplishments. Without a great ‘villain’ there would be no heroes, and the greater the fight the more the heroes have to gain. So The Antagonist, by being relentlessly evil, is the greatest force for good in the world.”
This series would have introduced a horror element to Broadway Comics. Was the idea to expand on that or just use The Hell I Am to bring real horror to the line?
“This speaks to Jim Shooter as a mentor,” said Jackson. “He has always encouraged and even possibly indulged me. For many years he gave me the opportunity and support to explore my own ideas while working with him creatively At Broadway Comics Jim wanted to incorporate disparate visions and ideas into a universe. My ideas of legendary horror and modern technology, Joe James’ vision of heroic modern-day knights, as well as others. He was the driving creative force, but also acted much like a symphony conductor in our group writing sessions, taking in all our ideas, adding his own and coming up with a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. It was one of the most demanding jobs I’ve ever had, but I learned a lot.
According to Jackson, The Hell I Am would eventually see the character and his world cross over with other heroes in the Broadway Universe.
“The Hell I Am was the least developed of all of the properties, unfortunately,” admitted Jackson. “We focused on more mainstream stories in the beginning. But since The Antagonist would figure heavily in expanding the realm of Hell onto our plane of existence, The Hell I Am would ultimately have been central to all of the other characters and books. The Antagonist would have been a major ‘villain’ and that would have put Malachy at the center of the fight against him. Ultimately, The Antagonist’s purpose was to cause as many people as possible fulfill their ultimate potential as heroes in a great struggle.
Although the series never came to be, that hasn’t stopped Jackson from successfully pursuing other projects.
“For several years I’ve been self-publishing my work on Amazon under JayJay Jackson,” said the veteran creator. “Currently, I’m writing a horror novel called Forsaken Spaces and write a blog as the protagonist at forsakenspaces.com. I have a few more projects in the works – a YA novel and a graphic novel that are progressing more slowly. I also self-publish erotica as Victoria Kinkade.”
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