What happens when you mix rebellious teens, punk rock and magic? Whatever it is, the result is going to be explosive. Constantine: Distorted Illusions is the latest young adult graphic novel from Kami Garcia, the imaginative writer behind DC’s bestselling series of YA Teen Titans books. Illustrated by Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale’s Isaac Goodhart, Constantine: Distorted Illusions follows a teenage John Constantine, who isn’t quite the sordid sorcerer that we know today. Like most teens, John is prone to making questionable decisions, which go on to create a pretty big mess for him and his Mucous Membrane bandmates. We recently had a chance to chat with author Kami Garcia, who broke down young John’s trials and tribulations.
Let's talk about Constantine. Obviously, we're dealing with a younger version of the character who is outside of mainstream continuity. Where is John at the beginning of the story?
Constantine is amazing. Isaac Goodhart has crafted this super sexy 17-year-old Constantine. He starts out in the UK, but his mother and stepfather want him to go and train with a very prestigious magician in the United States. He's not interested because he's 17 and therefore, he knows everything like every 17-year-old thinks they do. What he is interested in doing is fronting for his best friend Veronica's punk band Mucous Membrane—they’ve lost their lead singer for their summer small venue tour. He tells his parents he will go and meet with Lady Marguerite, but he plans to stay with Veronica. Basically, this is all a ruse to be able to go on tour with her and Slaughter, her best friend who is the bassist.
For a moment, I thought you meant he was going to slaughter her best friend! This story is taking a turn!
(laughs) There are some demons and there is some danger, but from the demons, not from Constantine. They go on a tour and they play a lot of punk clubs. All the interiors are based on real punk clubs. All of them are interiors from the ’70s and ’80s clubs in the United States—ones I've been to personally. It's really fun. And then he dabbles in a little occult magic that's above his pay grade at 17. He gets himself and his friends in a lot of trouble, which is where a lot of the demonology comes in. Most of act three is about him trying to clean up that mess, mostly unsuccessfully.
What can you tell me about his bandmates?
Slaughter is kind of an epic fail. He's a sexy, androgynous bassist, but he's a little smooth-brained. He's not a genius and he's a little self-centered, a little narcissistic. Veronica is amazing. She is Constantine's ride or die. She kind of encapsulates the feel of the punk female musicians of the ’80s who had to play with the boys and can totally hang. She's the one who’s not afraid to give Constantine a hard time. She tells it like it is with him and she also has his number, she knows what he's about.
Writing a 17-year-old Constantine for an audience where he is not smoking and drinking and having much bad behavior is challenging. I kind of had to reverse engineer him. So instead of making bad substance decisions, he's making bad magical decisions.
Teenagers experimenting with things like the occult…
Yes, absolutely! There's plenty of occult experimentation. There's lots of dark magic, which from my history and prose is one of my favorite things to write.
I'm excited about more Isaac Goodhart art because I've loved his previous stuff.
He just leveled up in such an incredible way. The layouts, the unconstrained figures have an old feel of the Frank Miller or Nick Fury stuff from way back when. I learned the trick as the writer for Isaac—I give him four panels and then Isaac somehow transforms that into eight panels. My favorite spread is this double-page spread and the frame of the spread is a butterfly, and inside the shape of the butterfly wings are the tiny insects of the panels. I definitely did not say this should be shaped like a butterfly. His inks are so gorgeous.
Ruth Redmond is the colorist who knocked it out of the park. Steve Wands is the letterer. Everyone on this project really brought their A-game. The pages were so gorgeous. I was like, "Do we really need to color this?" And Kristy Quinn the editor was like, "Yes, we do." And Courtney Jordan, who is also the editor, said, "It's going to look even better colored." They were so incredible.
The other thing I have to mention that Isaac did was Lady Margaret's house. It's a brownstone, but you go in and it's expansive inside and has these parquet floors and this incredibly ornate dome ceiling. And the layouts change every time you're in her house, so they’re totally different from the whole rest of the book because he wanted them to have that magical feel. She has this octopus chair that she sits in that is kind of like the Iron Throne and all of the frames on those pages are the octopus arms. It's gorgeous!
This is a great team and the book looks great.
I’ll tell you something. Even if I tell Isaac that someone is moderately attractive in the script, they will still be hot. He draws the sexiest, most androgynous, gorgeous people. And also, Constantine is true to his roots. We have this new character named Luna, who is Latinx but even though Constantine is dating her in the story, there are a lot of references that make it very clear that he is bi and he is not your typical straight white guy. And that was also very rewarding because there are always moments where you wonder if you're going to be allowed to slip those things in and DC was very amazing. They were amazing about making sure that we could keep him as the beacon that he is for the LGBTQ community, which is important.
You're at a high school book fair and you’ve got teenagers who have never read a comic book and don't know who Constantine is. How do you pitch the book to them?
My job is always to kind of seduce people to try out comics and graphic novels who might be intimidated by them. My quick pitch is always hot guys and girls, punk rock music, playing clubs and getting in trouble with magic. Teens love that.
Constantine: Distorted Illusions by Kami Garcia and Isaac Goodhart is now available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and as a digital graphic novel.