[DISPATCH] Meet Molly Mahan
The new Editrix behind 3W/3M speaks about her role, THE VALLARS, and much more.
Welcome back to a brand new installment of the [DISPATCH], a weekly direct report from us to you, with news, recaps, exclusive content and more.
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We recently made some announcements about the State of the Universe, including where we are, where we’re going, and some new additions to 3W/3M.
Today we’re going to hear from the first new member of the team, Molly Mahan. We sat down with the “Editrix Maxima” for a wide-ranging conversation about joining 3W/3M, her philosophy as a storyteller, working with the team, and a whole lot more.
3W/3M: Molly, you’ve been here working behind-the-scenes for a minute, but this is one of the first opportunities you’ve had to address the community. Let’s start with the most obvious question, why join 3 Worlds / 3 Moons?
Molly Mahan: I am thrilled to be here, because it’s exactly what I love doing – working with creative talent who inspire me daily on serious, intentional world-building, while releasing consistent, quality visual stories. I have been lucky enough to do a lot of this throughout my career, but it’s a rare opportunity to be able to do them simultaneously, let alone transparently before the readership as you’re going.
You’re taking over from former 3W/3M Editor-In-Chief Stephen Wacker. Was there any advice he gave you that’s proved invaluable to settling in?
“Embrace the change of pace and absorb everything.”
We are always actively creating here, but there is definitely a difference between a 3,000+ organization and a tight knit group of about 10 in terms of the amount of work I am expected to review or am responsible for on a daily basis. To be honest, it gave me a bit of anxiety the first few weeks, and Stephen was kind enough to recognize it and offer this advice, which definitely calmed my nerves. Things have definitely ramped up since I started, but I am beyond grateful to know I actually have the time to review and crosscheck everything to make sure we’ve got it right, rather than rushing to make sure I’ve put eyeballs on everything before it goes live.
And what live grenades / ticking time bombs did he leave for you – just so we know what to properly blame him for?
I’ll just say, he was very impressed it took this long before placing THE VALLARS on hiatus.
Your career has spanned some pretty huge franchises, from Detective Comics to The Sandman Universe to League of Legends, but you’ve also worked on originals at Vertigo like The Sheriff of Babylon and Imaginary Fiends. Is your approach at 3W/3M similar to either set of titles, or is it different because you’re building a concept universe in front and with the community?
Yes, and yes.
From a day-to-day perspective, it is perhaps most similar to when I worked on The Sandman Universe, in that there are a lot of stories in-flight, but I don’t (yet) collaborate or corroborate narrative threads with other editors, like I did when working in the DCU or Runeterra (the League of Legends universe). However, unlike those previous experiences, I don’t have a junior editorial team assisting me with the paperwork, proofing, or offering their perspectives. It’s my responsibility to fact and continuity check our active and upcoming stories against not only our previously released material, but those developing stories as well. I may be the editor-in-chief, but I am also the developing editor, line editor, assistant editor, and proofreader. This is why I’ve half-jokingly coined the term “Editrix Maxima” as an all-inclusive title, because who knows which editorial “hat” I may be wearing at any given moment.
To your second point, the importance and impact of the community here cannot be overstated and very much makes this experience its own in the best of ways.
Even when I was at Riot (which prides itself on being a “player first” gaming company, with plenty of focus on interacting with and serving the community), we would do /Dev blogs and /Dev updates on the various projects we were working on, but it was just that: an explanation or an update for how we got to where we are, and it was difficult for the audience to impact the work we were doing, in part because the production timeline is so long, but also because of the sheer size of the company. Although we’ve expanded a bit this year, 3W/3M is still a pretty tight little crew, so if you interact with one of us, it’s likely we’ll all know about it by the end of the day. A quick (albeit comparatively small) example of this is last week, after the PERO-PUZ story launched, a reader pointed out a typo in the comments. Rob alerted me, and we were able to fix it within minutes. At any other publisher, it’d take hours, if not days to adjust – assuming it’d be addressed at all.
Nevermind that I shouldn’t have let that typo slip through in the first place, let alone on my credited debut! Let’s just say it’s a sign of good luck, like rain on a wedding day. Or I can just blame Stephen.
We are always looking to blame him for things, so no argument here. Speaking of Riot, while you did some comics work there, you largely spent the last few years in the world of video games. Did that experience change how you approach story or world building?
Oh, yes! In addition to working on games, comics, and short stories at Riot, I was also on the IP Strategy team, where I spent a lot of time talking about which mediums work best for the various kinds of stories we wanted and needed to tell. While League of Legends and Legends of Runeterra express character and deliver lore in meaningful ways to the audience, it’s hard to tell an epic narrative through 1.5 second dialogue barks or twenty-some words of flavor text on a piece of card art.
Given the compact nature, you need to be incredibly considerate and deliberate with your word choice and economy. You can’t have a line of dialogue that feels out of place for the fantasy you’re trying to create with a given champion or play style. Consistency is key, especially when working across mediums and in such a vast, transmedia world.
With that in mind, you’re working with an array of artists across the Sourcebook, ACADEMY with Steve Epting, THE VALLARS with Jason Howard, and of course Mike del Mundo and Mike Huddleston. All of them have their own styles and approaches, so how do you manage to maintain that consistency?
When I say “consistency,” I don’t necessarily mean we need to maintain a particular house style for storytelling or visual execution, per se. The real world isn’t limited to one aesthetic, so why should our fictional universe be? That said, Mike and Mike provide phenomenal source material from which to draw (literally!), as readers already know from the [PROCESS] posts they do after stories release. And as much as I delight in their styles, and especially seeing new pieces from them on a regular basis, I can’t imagine hiring an artist like Steve Epting or Jason Howard – or anyone we’ve worked with in the past or future – and saying, “I’ve hired you because I love your work, now change everything about it to match our house style.”
Can you imagine? Of course not! That’d be insane. So, here’s what happens instead:
After we settle on what story we are going to tell, one of the first things we have to decide is if there are any design concepts that Mike and Mike need to put together, or do we have enough of an idea based on previous examples to make sure we can move forward and still feel confident we are setting everyone up for success. Even with just a few years of short comics and visual designs, we have a ton of reference to share with artists depending on the world or moon they are playing in to make sure Akva feels like Akva, Heir looks like Heir, and so on. The guys have done so much great work making sure each of the worlds and moons looks and feels different, so it’s important to maintain the identities of each one, especially while we’re still exploring and learning in these foundational years.
So, if we have a story set on Fayrii, but for whatever reason – be it the shape language or narrative themes or something other reason – it reads like it’s set on Ordo, we have a problem! And while casting is incredibly important, it’s unlikely to be the case that the reason it feels “off” is because of an artist’s style.
On a slightly related note, the stories and concepts are all from the minds of Jonathan Hickman, Mike, and Mike, but other collaborators have been involved in the shaping of this universe, from Ram V with Economics to Al Ewing with Religion to Tini Howard with Magic. Knowing that everything is being created from whole cloth, what’s the north star for you to make sure that you’re not only getting something cool and exciting, but also something that leads to more and more storytelling possibilities as you continue?
First and foremost, I want to make sure we are still building and not deconstructing, or otherwise misrepresenting, what we’ve said the past two years. There are a ton of concepts in [SYSTEMS] and the data pages that we have yet to actualize in narrative beyond subtext and background information. So, when reviewing a new story, I do spend time going back to what we have said previously, whether it’s in explanatory text or another story, before approving it to the next stage.
Even in our continuing stories like ACADEMY and THE VALLARS, there are a ton of ideas that we are surfacing but don’t quite have time to explore in those comics specifically. So, I make notes on who or what we could or should give space to and explore further elsewhere.
Some quick examples: We know from FABLE, RUINS, and ACADEMY that Tajo went to Kaoso and Phin claims he never returns home. Do we think Phin, Opal, Helena, and the rest of this generation of Vallars just stayed at home and moved on? Surely not! In the data pages on the vojoganto, we’ve explained a bit about how they work and there being a breadth of cultures, and even set the mystery of the 81st that disappeared in 142 LC/8150 KC! So, there are dozens of stories from those few pages alone! Not to mention the ticking time bomb set up in stories like MINING, or the many adversarial dynamics we’ve seen in THE JOB, SISTERHOOD, DUELS, and elsewhere that are just fuel for the great story engine.
Honestly, the beauty of a new universe like this, especially with such thoughtful and brilliant creators as these, is that there is going to be plenty of story to mine for years to come. It’s an embarrassment of riches, really, and I feel beyond lucky to be included in it.
Let’s drill down into some specifics. THE VALLARS returns soon after a brief hiatus. What can you tell us about where things are headed when Episode 10 arrives, as well as where the story’s going in general?
Things are about to heat up for young Tajo in a very real way! I hate to spoil anything, so let’s just say he’s got the attention of some very important people, and Ethina’s not the only one he’s agitated lately.
Because THE VALLARS is set a generation earlier than what we’ve seen in [FOUNDATIONS] and ACADEMY, how much mental gymnastics do you have to do to keep the different timelines and relationships straight in your head?
The balance beam and the uneven bars were my favorite events to watch as a kid during the Olympics, so I like to think that’s helped me prepare for this very moment! Seriously though, I keep a long running list of dramatis personae and a timeline of major events. So far it helps, but we’ll see how I am doing in six months.
We like to drop some teases and exclusive first looks at things in [DISPATCH] whenever we can. Is there anything you can tease or reveal for us today?
One of my favorite artists is returning to do more stories in the 3W/3M universe! I just sent out the script today, so no art to show yet, but keep your eyes peeled.
Across your career to date, what are some of the projects you’re most proud? Is there anything that you feel best captures your sensibilities as a storyteller?
I chose comics editorial as a career path because I wanted to find the next Neil Gaiman and capture the magic of The Sandman for the next generation of readers, so when I was tapped to be the editor of The Sandman Universe and work with the man himself, it was (pardon the pun) a dream come true. I learned so much those two years, and I am honored that the line has continued to grow long since my departure from DC Comics.
Each of those first four books speaks to what I care about as a storyteller, which is building great characters who explore the human condition through compelling character arcs, while honoring the legacy of the stories we are drawing on by giving cool and interesting takes and twists, without needing to break, destroy, or unnecessarily deconstruct what came before.
I read a lot of folklore, legendarium, and ancient religious and mythological stories for inspiration and consideration. In my view, the things that concern us as humans now haven’t really changed much in the past thousands of years, so it’s useful to know how previous generations and societies have handled things to inform how our characters and worlds might respond to similar situations.
Either recent or recently experienced, can you give us a book, a comic, a TV show, a movie that you’d recommend?
I just finished watching The Bear on Hulu. For the sake of my blood pressure and sanity, I couldn’t binge watch it, but the writing and performances are absolutely exceptional. If you can handle high-pressure situations and people yelling at each other, I’d definitely recommend it.
I’ve also been doing a deep dive into the Trojan War, especially modern retellings, and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls perfectly captures the realities of the role and place of women during ancient times of war while showcasing the power and resiliency of the human spirit. Related to this, I am very excited to read Emily Wilson’s translation of The Iliad, which comes out later this year in September. I’ve read her translation of The Odyssey three or four times since its release in 2017.
If you could tell the 3W/3M community one thing about yourself, what it would it be?
My degree is in ancient philosophy and rhetoric – I apologize in advance.
And finally, what’s the best Rocky film and why?
Saved the toughest question for last, huh? OK. This took some serious contemplation, because I love so many different things about five of those six films. At the end of the day, I am going to have to go with the original Rocky, because when the formula got completely broken after he became a superhero in IV and nearly killed in V, the franchise had to return to its roots and remember the thing that makes Rocky noble isn’t his ability to win a fight, have the “Eye of the Tiger,” or even a training montage that flashes back to an earlier montage. Rather, what makes Rocky noble and elevates him beyond being just another “bum” from the neighborhood is his love for Adrian Pennino.
Also, it’s the only one that consistently makes me cry.
Thanks to Molly Mahan for taking the time to chat with us. She’s got a ton on her plate, but we’ll be hearing from her again very soon.
And now, let’s check out the week that was…
[Q&A] We spoke with [MAPS] artist Ming Doyle about her career, her work on PERO-PUZ, and a lot more. It was great talking about her various projects, her approach to the story, and her latest project, Two Graves.
[COMICS] The latest story from the [MAPS] Graphic Novel Sourcebook is PERO-PUZ, with art by Ming Doyle and colors by Marissa Louise. Pero-Puz is a game with winners and losers, but not everything on Ordo happens the way you would expect.
[LIVE DRAW] Special guest Juni Ba, the artist behind REGA CASKAMPO, the upcoming The Unlikely Story of Felix and Macabber, and the cartoonist behind Djeliya and Monkey Meat was our guest for the latest Live Draw with del Mundo and Huddleston, along with Jonathan who shared a peek at his [MAPS] story. Paid subscribers can watch it right now, and you can also check out the finished drawings over on Chat.
We’ve got a very fun [PROCESS] post tomorrow, followed by a killer killer new art reveal from del Mundo and something really fun that we know you’ve been waiting for.
And while we won’t be in attendance at SDCC, if you’re there and rocking 3W/3M gear, we want to see it. Drop those photos in chat or send our way via email at email@example.com. We’d love to share those with everyone in the next couple weeks.