Emilia Clarke’s played a lot of big roles in her career. Obviously, she’s best known as Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s Game of Thrones, something for which she’ll never live down. But she’s also been Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisis, Qi’ra in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and even Holly Golightly in an adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. More recently, she’s picked up another credit: comics writer.
Clarke, alongside writer Marguerite Bennett (Josie and the Pussycats, Angela) and artist Leila Leiz (Horde), have created M.O.M.: Mother of Madness. The Image Comics series, due out July 21, had a unique origin, having been birthed during a conversation on the way to a gig. In turn, it was further inspired by her relationship with her own mom.
“We were talking about how mums are like superheroes, women have this incredible ability to have so much going on and managed to achieve all of those things,” Clarke said in an interview held over Zoom for select press. “It’s almost superpowered.”
The three-issue miniseries follows Maya, an “under-the-weather scientist by day, over-the-top superhero by night” using “freakish superpowers” to battle human traffickers. The series is described as the collision of “Deadpool action and Fleabag comedy.” It’s no suprise, then, that it was an extension of Clarke’s love of comic book storytelling.
“I love superheroes. I love comics, I love the freedom that you have,” Clarke said. She added that she enjoys how comics “allow people who maybe don’t feel like they, talk about myself as a kid now, fit into the right group at the right time with the right thing. You don’t look the right way you don’t feel the right way. And comic books are your private world.”
It’s a world filled with superhero stories, which makes it a fine time as any for Clarke to launch this new outing. Clarke said the popularity of superheroes is certainly a factor in taking this project on, but ultimately there’s so much more involved.
“The sole reason really was that this is the space where you can do anything.” That doesn’t, though, mean this project is in any way a test drive for a television show or movie as Clarke made it clear this project isn’t that at all.
“This really has been a very, frankly, selfish exercise because I wanted to create this, I wanted to see what it was like. And if it failed spectacularly, then I’d be on my deathbed being like ‘I made a comic. That’s really cool.'”
Clarke’s love of comics also extends to comic book movies, as she revealed the reason the comic breaks the fourth wall is because Deadpool is her favorite movie.
“It’s just so good,” she said. “Like, I want to be Ryan Reynolds so badly. And that worked so well.”
Breaking the fourth wall is an effective way to draw readers in, too, as Clarke gave examples of Fleabag and House of Cards doing it effectively.
“You get an emotional connection to it,” she said. “So I wanted to just like, hone in on that as much as possible by having Maya actually talk to the reader, which I think is quite fun when you get to speak to the person in the moment that they’re reading it, it kind of then lives outside of time, which I really like.”
Clarke obviously hasn’t been alone during this project, as we learned Bennett was Clarke’s first choice to join her on the book and even taught her how to write comics.
“Marguerite has been my guru in this because whilst I am a consumer of comics and of the comic book world, I never made one before, so there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t know.”
Thankfully, Clarke said she connected with Bennett from the start and stopped her search for a collaborator fairly early on. Then it was all about learning how to make comics.
“She was kind of talking me through what a splash page was because obviously,” she said. “I know what it looks like, but [not] the actual correct terminology and all that kind of stuff.” Clarke said they took their approach further than what you’d typically see at other comics publishers and threw that out the window, “because we weren’t there. The world’s your oyster. So we found Leila, I fell in love with her artwork. And then it kind of was just giving her the freedom to try and do what she does best.”
Its creation started by developing a 40-page Bible starting with a story, then fleshing out backstories and details about each character. As the process went on writing with Bennett, Clarke said she’d go back to the Bible and add to it.
“And once Marguerite, bless her cotton socks, had that she’d like say, ‘Okay, write!'”
While writing, Clarke said her roots in acting certainly factored in, especially when it came to monologues.
“Every actor wants the monologue, they want the thing where they get to go, well, it all began when I was two. And this terrible thing happened.”
Speaking of Maya’s origins, Clarke said it was important to get those details right as they are so impactful to the character.
“That’s what made her unique and beautiful and special and wonderful, is the fact that she has the power, emotionally, physically, spiritually to overcome all of those things.”
M.O.M.: Mother of Madness isn’t just a superhero comic, though, as Clarke detailed it’s also about educating and inspiring both girls and boys.
“So this book is about a woman whose powers come from her menstrual cycle, her periods, right,” she said. “Like, lads, if you weren’t taught about this, we weren’t either. I do not remember the conversation where someone was like, here’s actually what’s going on in your body. These are some of the things that you’re probably gonna feel, and this is the way it’s gonna make you feel.”
From that perspective, Clarke said it’s about educating women, girls, and boys about what happens in a female body not only because it’s frowned upon to talk about it, but how that makes you feel.
“The things that happen when you have your period make you hate yourself and hate your body,” she said. “You don’t need to have a period to do that. And so many young people do it.”
By using a fun, bright, and positive story, Clarke aims to help remind young women and men that “it’s good to be individual, it’s good to have feelings, there are ways in which you can live with them and not feel like you’re doing the wrong thing all the time. And your feelings aren’t bad or wrong. They’re actually superpowered because that’s what makes you, you. That’s what makes you an individual. How we make things. It’s how we make better people.” Clarke fully admits that’s a big goal for the book that she may not attain, but it’s the goal nonetheless.
When asked about Maya’s superhero costume, Clarke didn’t sugarcoat it. The decisions have a lot to do with the book’s larger themes.
“The female superheroes that you have, how do they pee?,” she said. “How do they like… Do you know what I mean? Where is the button to undo when you ate too much? I realize it should be, you know, idealized and you want to try and be like, oh, there’s some other person but why?”
Ultimately the costume came down to two things: Clarke’s interest in fashion and simply making sense.
“Let’s give this character an opportunity to have something that actually makes you feel like yourself,” she said. Clarke then name-dropped a few inspirations and looks that inspired the costume for Maya, including Missy Elliott’s ’90s costume in “The Rain” and Rihanna’s various looks to boot.
Subtextually speaking, there’s another story at work in M.O.M.: Mother of Madness that blends political aspects into a quasi-realistic future where the wrong people have power. The first issue mentions water shortages, holes in the ozone, and other horrid failings of society.
“As you probably have read, I’m pretty left-leaning,” she said. “And so I used any chance I got to put a few little things in and you’ll see it littered throughout the whole thing,” Clarke said adding, “I want this to be a world that feels like today.” Further, it was important to Clarke to add these elements because of how dire things are, adding, “We’re a hairs breath away from that still being a possibility, which is too frightening for words.”
With a month or so till the release of #1 (again, July 21), Clarke said it’s going to be an amazing thing once it’s printed and shipped.
“To have something that is yes, solely mine feels just incredible,” Clarke said, adding, “if it’s not successful, that’s okay.”
Being able to hold the comic in her hands that she created is especially gratifying, Clarke said, especially when compared to her other career as an actor.
“You get to a certain point as an actor where you’re like, all I do is learn my lines and stand where they would like me to stand,” she said. “And sometimes that can feel really unfulfilling.”
When pressed if we could see more than the planned three-issue run of M.O.M., Clarke admitted it’s a matter of whether fans want more. She revealed she has an idea of where the story will go from here, but it’ll take a very specific person to make her truly feel like it was a success.
“So like someone who I don’t know, someone who, who isn’t blood-related, or my dog, or like, I’ve met many times before, if they say that they like it, then that’s amazing,” she said. “That would be a lot of success.”
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