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Witchblade – A Weapon of Justice and a Legacy for All: An Interview with Caitlin Kittredge & Roberta Ingranata

13 min read

WITCHBLADE_Image Cover_Ingranata

A journey may begin with a single step … but arriving at your destination has never been so wondrous.

The Witchblade, a weapon steeped in ethereal mystery for its immense power and the ability to elevate any woman who became partners with it due to the strength to dominate any who stood against them – if their cause was just. After numerous conflicts, battles, twists, and turns, the mystical gauntlet was allowed to rest in October 2015 after an original series run of twenty years and one hundred eighty-five issues. But now the guardian of New York City is needed once again, and on December 6th, we will come to face a new visage for this new bearer due its singular brand of justice has awoken for a deep slumber. With the monumental creative team of writer Caitlin Kittredge, artist Roberta Ingranata and colorist Bryan Valenza we once again leap into the breach, surging forward into indescribable terrors both seen and unseen, never knowing what our hero will be forced to combat with an untested weapon or a relationship not of her own choosing.

This is a tale about Alex Underwood, former prominent photojournalist and now a witness councilor for the District Attorney of Lower Manhattan. And to be quite honest, when I heard they were resurrecting one of the cornerstones for Top Cow and Image Comics, I was a bit skeptical the title would be up to the task. However, now that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed this mammoth tale of personal suffering and conflict, I know this series will be a success, but how much so is all up to the talent behind the words and illustrations, and so we now will discuss that undertaking with writer Caitlin Kittredge and artist Roberta Ingranata. I know I am looking forward to this conversation as much as anyone else, so let’s get started.

(Warning: This interview may contain spoilers from the series, so please proceed with caution.)

It is a pleasure to finally meet you two, Caitlin Kittredge and Roberta Ingranata, but I have kept the readers occupied for far too long, so let’s start with the obvious questions first:

Witchblade began over twenty years ago and only ended recently with the last issue #185 back in 2015. That is quite the legacy for a title to continue consistently, but now with the year ending, we are now introduced to a new bearer of this mystical weapon which we all love. How will this series be different with it being a reboot?

Caitlin Kittredge/CK: As with all good reboots, we strived to keep what was great about the original concept while thoroughly modernizing this new story and giving it appeal to a modern comics reader—many of our core readers probably weren’t even born when the original Witchblade was released and the landscape of the comics world has experienced a paradigm shift in twenty years, and we did our best to respect and reflect that while holding on to the core of the Witchblade’s lore.

Roberta Ingranata/RI: I was a big fan of the series, so yes, I know the series and I’ve read the past issues. When I was contacted by Image Comics, it was difficult for me believe it. It’s was an honor. I’m so glad to be part of this amazing project.

WB_01_01The Darkness, the Angelus, the Curator and a villain like Kenneth Irons, all were integral to the previous incarnations. Will any or none of them or their influences make it into this book?

CK: I’m afraid I must keep mum about that for now, but I can say I would love to re-imagine a few legacy characters from the original series if the powers that be at Image and Top Cow approve.

Did either of you read the original before being approached for the current project? If not, after accepting this opportunity, did it make you curious and what did you like about it? Which characters aside from the lead were your favorite? How will you make it different or will you stay with the basis created with its origins?

CK: I was an old school Witchblade reader, back in the late 90s/early 2000s when I was in high school. Back then there were probably three or four mainstream comics with female leads and Witchblade was one, so as an aspiring lady comics creator myself I read the series pretty obsessively.

The previous series was created by an all-male staff (Marc Silvestri, David Wohl, Brian Haberlin & Michael Turner). Now that this new series has a female writer & artist, how you hope to add to the Witchblade’s mystical flavor and will you tap into your own insights & unique perspective to develop her?

RI: I think that it’s only a different point of view. As a woman and artist, I think that we can do something new in Witchblade’s perspective. Not better, just different. We haven’t [done] an erotic Alex into a cover, maybe a sensuality woman, a beautiful woman, but without excess. She is a simple woman who have a big qualities and a big responsibility, with a lot of emotive problems and past ghosts.

CK: I’m with Roberta—I relish the opportunity to bring a female creative perspective to this reboot. The industry needs diversity if it’s going to continue to be relevant and I’m really just trying to do my part. I’m definitely a feminist and I think in the current climate another comic featuring an empowered heroine with lots of agency and a great, engrossing story couldn’t come soon enough.

Sara was a cop, Danielle was a ballerina and now we have Alex Underwood who councils witnesses for the Manhattan District Attorney … what makes her different or similar to previous wielders, both as how you narratively address her own problems & stylistically showing her vulnerabilities?

CK: Alex is a caretaker—it shows in everything from her choice of job (which is a victim’s services counselor for the Manhattan DA) to her approach to becoming the Witchblade’s host. She’s maybe not traditionally “badass” in the same way Sara was, but that’s kind of our point here—there’s a lot of different types of women, and they’re all equally interesting as protagonists. Alex, while maybe not a gun-toting hero cop, has a core of steel that makes her extremely resilient in the face of some unimaginable horrors. I tend to write flawed, human characters who may struggle, stumble and fall on their way to becoming heroic, and Alex is no different.

Previously all of the wielders were thrown into the partnership with the gauntlet due to a near death occurrence, I assume Alex will be no different, but with her not having any outward experience in physically fighting injustice or being exposed to it (with Sara and Danielle being children of cops), how will she approach this partnership?

CK: Let me just say this, without spoiling the first issue—Alex is no stranger to near death experiences, long before she becomes host to the Witchblade. She’s a very, very pragmatic survivor, so when she realizes what’s happening to her she accepts it, within reason—she’s terrified and unsure at first, of course, but her attitude toward the Witchblade is, it is what it is. Monsters exist, evil is walking the streets of New York, and it’s her job to keep on doing what she was doing before she became a host—protect vulnerable, innocent people from harm.

Related to that inexperience, Alex was a front line photographer during the Afghanistan conflict and it did not end well for her, causing her to leave and have the strain of PTSD lingering over her life. Now currently with her new job, she has to calm and persuade witnesses as a victim’s advocate. Will any of these factors from either life have an influence on how she approaches this new decision or is she someone who will leap into it headlong and deal with the consequences afterward?

CK: Absolutely. (Just to clarify, Alex was actually a TV correspondent for a news network, covering the war in Afghanistan.) The idea for the new Witchblade really sprung out of my own desire to write about recovering from trauma, how you rebuild your life after the worst has happened. It’ll never look the same, but it can turn into something worthwhile. That’s Alex’s journey during these first six issues, and an idea that will recur throughout the series.

WB_01_03The Witchblade has only been wielded successfully by women who will influence history – will you change this perspective or slowly build up Alex to reflect that legacy?

CK: We don’t touch on it during the first few issues, but yes, Alex has been called at a time where a nexus of darkness is enveloping the world—essentially a point where things are as bad as they’ve ever been, and the world needs a heroine who can face that without flinching.

And now some speciality questions, first for Caitlin:

Your background is from dark fantasy novels with influences from the supernatural, Witchblade is a sentient mystical weapon which bonds with its wielder to fight otherworldly beings – it seems this series fits well within your speciality. What do you hope to bring to the character and story based upon your own unique influences? Which books &/or authors do you credit for your writing style?

CK: You know writers hate that question about influences, right? Kidding, I will do my best here—I grew up very isolated, without a TV or a lot of other kids around, so books were pretty much it as far as entertainment went, and I gravitated to stuff like fantasy and horror early on. I enjoyed the stuff grounded in a world familiar to our own the most—think early to mid period Stephen King, Patricia Highsmith, that sort of thing—and those are the types of stories I enjoy writing, and I feel like Witchblade slots in very well with my sensibilities. I tried to write this comic so readers feel like if they went down the right alley in Manhattan they could run into some of the stuff lurking in the shadows of Alex’s world.

Since your first escapades into comic book writing with DC’s Vertigo line, how differently do you approach a monthly periodical as opposed to a novel which essentially encloses the narrative within one book? In other words, how do you determine where each issue will start and stop to give the reader a sense of satisfaction without overburdening them with too much causing them to question what motivated a plot sequence? Storyboards?

CK: I have story arcs for each set of issues that will encompass a trade paperback, essentially I plan out each arc like a season or half-season of a TV show, with each issue as an episode. I love serialized storytelling—I feel like it’s the most natural fit for me as a creator. I keep detailed notes and outlines, but I leave the actual page-level detail for the drafting process because I feel like being locked into a rigid outcome ends up doing a lot of series a disservice as things evolve from issue 1 onwards.

WITCHBLADE_Image+Cover_Ingranata (1)The Witchblade has such an established fan base, influenced by the stories and sadly, that infamously skimpy outfit. How will you, or will you, shift the focus from the costume to a narrative which is driven both emotionally and mystically without straying from the roots to make this a series your own … something which readers can look forward to without not anticipating how much more flesh we will see next month?

CK: I actually don’t have an issue with skimpy outfits, if they serve a purpose and aren’t solely to entice the male gaze—that being said, you don’t even see the full Witchblade armor in all its glory for several issues of this reboot, and we did redesign it in the name of not alienating current comics readers, especially women. However, I think focusing on the fact we went in a different direction is sort of doing the new book the same disservice a certain segment of readers did the old book—making it all about this one element of the character that happened to be heavily sexualized, and ignoring the fact it’s only one aspect of a multi-faceted storyline, reducing a heroine to whether or not you can see her butt and boobs, which is just as degrading. In it’s initial incarnation, the original Witchblade was a very good story with great world building and a really interesting central character. Making it all about the clothes or lack thereof is its own kind of sexism and while yes, Roberta and I designed an armor with less exposed skin, we don’t mean it as a rebuke to the character of Sara and her design. We’re not finger wagging and saying only women who cover up are worthwhile heroines—we’re simply saying that context and intent are important when it comes to content that could be considered sexualized, and our intent is to front and center the actual character of Alex, whether her breasts are covered or not—she’s a fully fleshed person and I trust our readers are smart enough to appreciate that.

And now Roberta:

Looks like we once again have New York City as the backdrop for the series, just like the previous title. In the former incarnation, the city itself was as much a part of the cast as the human/inhuman characters, and yet you live in Italy. I know you used photographs as reference for your work from Zenescope, but will you use the same approach for this publisher? Does Caitlin’s writing cause your techniques to evolve or will your same base to train yourself to broaden your artistic horizons?

WITCHBLADE01_600_ingranataRI: I think I can work better on Witchblade the Robyn, because I’ve visited NY! In 2015 I was at the NYCC so I’ve seen this beautiful city for the first time. Now is very simple, for me, understand better the city.  I can use photos to work, of course, but seeing it has helped!

I was enamored by your work ever since I first saw your illustrations from Zenescope, and I know I am not the only one to compliment you on the emotional resonance which you put into each panel and yet present the audience with a seriousness which does not undercut those feelings. Will you use that same drawing style/technique or will it change to magnify what is most important in the series – seeking justice?

RI: Thank you, Richard! I want to do better. Robyn (from Zenescope) was my first love, my first series, and I liked Pat’s (Shand) point of view, but I was so young (OMG, two years ago!) We’ve worked so well together, we had a great affinity I guess that was perceptible into Robyn’s series. Witchblade is the same, I’ve felt a great intensity with Caitlin (and not because she’s a woman, but because she’s sensitive and a great writer, she has very emotional point of view and I like it!) so we have a great complicity. I think this is the secret ingredient for a good job!

Having read the preview copy from Image, I saw the impact and it looks phenomenal! Have you made any changes to the basic design of the character (i.e. her infamously skimpy costume) or will she stay true to the origins? How important will colorist Bryan Valenza’s talents be to those wonderful images?

RI: Thanks again! About her costume, I can’t do any spoilers! I’m sorry! Bryan Valenza is a very talented guy, I love his amazing colors, I don’t want to exaggerate but I think (indeed, I’m pretty sure) his colors improve my pages!

And finally:

WITCHBLADE02_600_ingranataWhat do you look forward to most with this new series, both in writing and drawing a new world for a character which was one of the foundations for Top Cow?

CK: I just want to do such an iconic title justice, as its new caretaker for however long Top Cow cares to have me write it. Witchblade was really important, when it originally started—I feel like it was one of the first titles to take baby steps away from the set paradigm of “superpowered hero/heroine” comics that was pretty much set in stone in the 80s and 90s—it wasn’t huge and over the top in terms of stories, it had emotional resonance, and you actually got to see a woman who kicked a lot of ass and didn’t apologize for being the center of attention. It reworked the mystical stuff in a very fresh way, too—really updated it and integrated it into a reality-based world. So short answer—I want to respect the source material, and I want to do justice to readers of the new book, offer them something that’s relevant, exciting, respectful of their experiences and POV, and reflects the world we live in right now. Which is a super tall order, but I’m giving it my best shot!

RI: So many new things, a new way of seeing witchblade. I hope the fan like Alex, because I love her!

And now that this conversation over, let us all get ready for what will surely be a successful resurrection to the flagship of Top Cow and Image Comics – Witchblade. With such a driven creative team, how else could this new series become any else than a newly fletched feather in this publisher’s hat?

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