Vertigo is often at its strongest when it takes something familiar and reinvents it in an exciting new way, bringing freshness and relevance to a type of story that had gotten stale. Bill Willingham did it with FABLES. Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque managed to make one of the world’s oldest monsters feel new in AMERICAN VAMPIRE. IZOMBIE brought some much-needed quirk and humor to the ultra-bleak realm of the undead. And today, Ben Blacker and Mirka Andolfo’s HEX WIVES looks to become the latest DC Vertigo series in this grand tradition.
A surprisingly heady mix of horror and satire, Hex Wives takes place among the mown lawns and white picket fences of an unknown suburb where housewives gather to gossip after seeing their husbands off to work. But this 1950s-inspired scene (which is actually set in the modern day) hides a dark secret—all of the housewives are extremely powerful witches who have been robbed of this awareness by their husbands.
If it wasn’t obvious, Hex Wives puts the war of the sexes front and center, and it’s pretty clear which side the creative team views as the more underhanded. However, it’s also clear which side is more powerful…even if they don’t yet realize it. We recently spoke to both Blacker and Andolfo about their provocative new series, which is one of the initial titles in the current DC Vertigo relaunch. They not only discussed the inspiration behind it, but also how Andolfo finds drawing witches more freeing than drawing superheroes, whether it’s possible for a man to write such a female-centric story and how they both feel about being part of a major publishing relaunch.
So, tell us a little bit about Hex Wives. What’s this new series about?
Ben Blacker: It’s two-pronged. There’s the pitch, and there’s what it’s actually about. The pitch is actually very simple: Hex Wives is about a bunch of women who are suburban housewives and who don’t know that they are, in fact, powerful witches.
I was watching Bewitched one afternoon, which was a show I loved as a kid. This was around when Mad Men was also on, and looking at the gender dynamics in these shows that are both set around the same time, I thought, what if Samantha didn’t know that she was this powerful witch, and was being held as a suburban housewife against her will? So, the first arc is our main character discovering what she actually is. It is literally an empowerment story.
What the book is actually about, though, is the insidious ways that men control women. Oftentimes, it’s things that men don’t even realize that they’re doing, so much of it is built into our society. Writing about that’s been both eye-opening and enlightening.
As a man, you’re coming at that from the side of control. How do you write about it in a way that will ring true to women?
BB: It’s a number of things. First and foremost, it was important to me that there be a lot of female voices on this book. I have a lot of empathy. I can put myself into other characters’ shoes—it’s what I do as a writer. But to get the real honesty of the experience, I needed to be surrounded by women with great ideas, and luckily, I was. We brought in Mirka very early and she has brought so much to this book. The editors, Molly Mahan and Maggie Howell, are just unbelievable collaborators. Our colorist, Marisa Louise, just elevates everything.
The other piece of it… Well, it was a few things. Around the time of the 2016 election, I saw the way that people were reacting to Hillary Clinton, who is a person and a politician that I love. I think she is incredibly capable. I think she is incredibly smart. I think she gets shit done. That people were responding to her in personal attacks showed me where we were as a culture, and it was a place I thought we were past.
The other part of it was personal. My wife is a consultant, so she works for many different companies at one time, and she would come home and tell me about some of these men she was working for who would diminish women’s work. They had sort of failed upward and didn’t recognize the privilege that they had, yet they would always act out of the privilege. She would come home and would say things like, “I don’t know if I can work with men anymore. This is horrible!”
That’s obviously an exaggeration, but seeing that kind of stuff—and it was always pretty insidious stuff where she or another female employee would be giving a presentation and the male director would just sort of smile in this condescending way. A lot of the ways that these gender politics are unbalanced are loud and upfront, but they’re also very small and insidious in a lot of ways, and it was that version of it that I was interested in exploring.
Mirka, you got involved with Hex Wives very early on. Where was the book at that time? Were there any existing character designs, or was that all you?
Mirka Andolfo: I worked on the designs pretty early on, from the first versions of the characters. Some of the characters have changed a little [since then], but some are the same. Especially Isadora, our main character.
Ben Blacker: She got Izzy right off the bat. She was even better than I thought she would be, especially her clothing. It’s amazing.
MA: Thank you! I think they’re all beautiful. It was fun to draw all of the characters, but I like Izzy in particular because she’s different from the girls I usually draw. Her lines are very strong. She’s not a common beauty. She’s beautiful in her own unique way.
You’ve drawn superheroes for us in the past, but this is pretty different. How is it going from drawing Harley Quinn and the DC Bombshells to this?
MA: It’s super cool in either case! It’s fun because characters like Wonder Woman and the Bombshells need to have a strong physique, but the girls in Hex Wives are very different. There’s one who’s more curvy, one who’s more of a teen… They’re all different, which is very interesting for an artist. It’s fun. It’s also hard sometimes, but it’s part of the work and I enjoy it a lot.
Ben, you’re known for Thrilling Adventure Hour. How do you go from doing that to doing a Vertigo series?
BB: My writing partner Ben Acker and I wrote Thrilling Adventure Hour comics, and we’ve written for Marvel—Deadpool, Thunderbolts, Star Wars. So, we’ve written a bunch of comics. The reason this project is so enormous and intimidating for me is that it’s the first thing I’ve written without a partner in fifteen years. So, having these amazing collaborators—Mirka, the editors and our colorist—gives me some people to lean on, the way I do with Acker.
But as far as why this particular project, we had done a lot of superhero stuff and a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor stuff. We’d written for kids for a couple of years on a TV show. I wanted to do something that was for grown-ups. I wanted to do something that was about something.
Also, I love ensemble pieces. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the biggest influence on me. So, getting to do a version of that ensemble story, but for grown-ups and with something actual to say all sort of came together in Hex Wives.
With this series, you’re also part of the Vertigo relaunch. How does that feel?
BB: I think if I had known that when they said they wanted to fast-track the book, I would have been too intimidated to do it. I didn’t know anything about it being relaunched! Because I live in LA, I would go to the DC office to get notes and have little sessions with the editors, and they showed me all the other books. BORDER TOWN was pretty far along, as was AMERICAN CARNAGE, but they had covers for everything and some interior art. They’re all so stunning. I was so intimidated to be part of this group. All of these books are just top of their game. The writers they’ve got have these incredible concepts. They’re executing at a high level. The artists are unbelievable.
Mirka, did you know that Vertigo was being relaunched when you signed on?
MA: No, I didn’t know! Like you, I discovered that after. I’m really excited, but also really worried!
BB: It’s a lot of pressure! Have you gotten to look at the other books?
MA: Just a little, but I’ve seen some amazing things.
BB: They’re all pretty stunning.
What [Executive Editor] Mark Doyle and the other editors are doing with this line is in many ways bringing Vertigo back to its roots. They’re doing strong storytelling with stories that have great hooks and beautiful artwork, but they’re also moving it forward. We’re in an era where you can’t just tell a story about nothing anymore. Your story has to be about something important to you. I think that’s the thing that struck me when they were telling me about all the books—all the writers are passionate about telling these stories.
And we’re the same! We love this. We believe in this book.
What are you plans for Hex Wives? Does it have an end in sight, or do you see it running for a while?
BB: I keep saying—and Mirka’s going to hate this, her hands will fall off—but I have 100 issues in mind for this book.
MA: I’d love to draw infinite issues!
BB: I’d love to write 100 issues. I’ve fallen in love with all of the characters, good guys and bad guys. I want to keep telling their stories. That’s up to the readers, obviously, but I hope they help us get there!