Behind the Scenes with Jacob Murrary: Author of Shadows of the Underworld
The recently released Shadows of the Underworld, a Court of the Dead original graphic novel, has taken the Mortal Realm by storm. With warfare, intrigue and narrowly foiled corruption, this stand-alone novel has been painstakingly crafted by Underworld zealots Tom Gilliland, creator of the Court, Anna van Slee, Ricky Lovas, Ivan Koritarev, and Jacob Murray.
The story dives head first into Illverness, notably focusing in on characters Kier and Exraille, and giving fans their first true chance to battle power-hungry, dreadsgripped rakers in the name of the Alltaker.
We sat down with author Jacob Murray, the voice behind this action-packed Underworld adventure, to find out more about his place in the Court and the process he undertook to compose this story.
How did you come aboard the COTD team?
I was writing articles for the Sideshow blog when I went to comic con in 2014 (?) and saw the first big CotD statue reveal. I was blown away and hassled Gracie Bifulco, who ran the blog at that time, to introduce me to whoever was in charge of CotD. I had a great meeting with Tom Gilliland and began working on anything he was willing to throw at me. Besides writing “Shadows of the Underworld,” I’ve written quizzes, various copy, helped world build, flesh out characters and written some other exciting content I’m not at liberty to discuss just yet.
What is it like to write into this world that Tom Gilliland created?
It’s like storming the beaches of Normandy in your underwear and a nerf gun by your side. The world is so vast and complex that it at once excites the imagination with all the possibilities that lay before you, while riddling you with mind bullets (that’s telekinesis, Kyle).
The Underworld is the ultimate fantasy sandbox. You can tell any story you want to in this world, so narrowing things down to a digestible size is the biggest challenge and biggest pleasure in writing in it. Whenever you dive in, Tom’s passion for this world becomes infectious, and I frequently feel a sense of duty to elevate and do Death’s realm justice..
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
As a career, not at all. I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve never been able to stop myself from writing in some form, but I still couldn’t tell you if I want to be a writer. I fell in love with it as a mopey teenager looking for a place to divulge my incessant pining over a girl I couldn’t have. I was too lazy to play sports and too much of a wuss to be a cutter, so I wrote. It didn’t take long for me to realize writing about monsters, real and imagined, was not only cathartic, but fun.
Though I didn’t consider it as a career back then, I always assumed one day I would involuntarily vomit up a book. I went to college to study filmmaking and while I tried writing screenplays, I struggled to find my voice in that medium. I made a career in TV production out of college and wrote mostly to amuse myself. I helped start a moderately popular hockey blog. I wrote stand-up material for a version of myself that didn’t have stage fright. I padded USB sticks with scripts I refused to share with anyone. Then, about four years ago I attempted to write a comic, because I had an idea I couldn’t fathom as a screenplay, and it immediately clicked for me. In comics I saw a real path forward to writing professionally. It took everything I enjoyed about prose, stripped it of the terror of writing a proper novel, and combined it with my interest in filmmaking. Writing comics is a relatively new venture for me. Along with “Shadows of the Underworld,” my first published comic, I’ve written three other comic series that I’m currently developing with some talented artists.
What is your most interesting quirk as a writer?
Many people like to think in the shower. I do as well, but my best conceptualizing is done wandering around a hot tub muttering to myself. That, or the fact that it’s hardwired into my brain to always write “it’s” with an apostrophe, and then I have to go back and delete the ones that don’t belong.
Have you been a comic book fan for long?
Yes, with an asterix. I’ve been a fan of comic book characters for decades. I grew up with comics and began pestering nearby adults to take me to the comic book store when I was about seven. But I hated to read as a kid. It’s often touted that comic books are a wonderful gateway for getting kids to read, but they certainly were never that for me. As far as I was concerned, comics were just a way to ruin pictures. Nevertheless, I had a fondness for Spawn, and would occasionally buy an X-Men book before quickly remembering the animated series was all the fun without it feeling like a chore. It wasn’t until I was well into my twenties that I decided to start reading comics again, and my pull list has been swollen ever since.
What are your favorite comics?
Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” is my favorite comic of all time and is what inspired me to try my hand at writing comics. Though I didn’t read it until 15 years after it was first published, it shattered my preconceived notions about what could be done in a comic. I go through binge and purge phases with Marvel books, and I’ve always been partial to the Silver Surfer and Thanos. Currently I’m loving Rick Remender’s “Seven to Eternity”, Brian K. Vaughn’s “Saga”, and Jeff Lemire’s “Black Hammer.”
Who is your favorite COTD character and why?
Oof. I always fear this question. It changes. As a fan, I’m partial to Gallevarbe largely because she’s my favorite statue. I love her backstory and aesthetic. Kier is my favorite to write, because as someone who is struggling to find her own identity, she’s somewhat of a blank canvas. I feel the most freedom when writing her, as her destiny is up in the air. She battles against her past and the passion that drives her is often diametrically opposed to what she knows is best for the Underworld and more importantly, what will bring her some semblance of peace and purpose. That’s endlessly interesting to me and I connect with the vacillating nature of her ego.
What is your faction and why?
I wrote that faction quiz so you’d think I’d know, but I don’t remember what I got when I took it! I want to say Spirit, because they acknowledge that there is a uniting undercurrent to all things and wrestle with consciousness, which I feel is the only thing any of us are truly ever doing, but I’m far too fickle and too often the slave of my senses. So I’m Flesh Faction in denial.
Would you have a pet in the Underworld? If so, what would it be and why?
This question is a trap and I refuse to incriminate myself by answering it.
What was the process of writing this COTD graphic novel like?
Writing Shadows was the most fun I’ve had collaborating in any medium I’ve worked with. Tom and I would discuss some general ideas, starting with some points he wanted to highlight in the Underworld, then I’d go off and come up with a narrative. From there we’d hash out every aspect of the story in these long, totally free and open creative meetings that went down so many bizarre paths that I started recording them to review. Brand Manager and editor Anna van Slee did her best to keep us focused and set goals for the project to keep it moving. We went back and forth like this over and over until Anna reminded us the book actually needed to get published at some point.
What were your greatest challenges in writing Shadows?
The same problem I’m having with this interview: brevity.
There’s a lot more that we wanted to do in this book than we were able to add in. Fighting against making it overly dense was ever present. We had to cut whole sections of the book and lose entire story threads. The good news is that we have plenty of material for subsequent stories!
What were your most rewarding moments in writing this graphic novel?
This was my first big project with Sideshow and the CotD. Up until Shadows, I’d only done small things, so I think there was a mutual tension in the beginning, just as we all wondered if this relationship was going to work out. This world is incredibly near and dear to Tom, so there’s a level of trust that we needed to establish before we could really hit the ground running. They know I’m a big hockey fan, so I believe it was the 3rd draft of the script where instead of a long list of notes, I got an email that said “He shoots, he scores!” Working with Sideshow is a dream, and that email made me stop worrying that I was about to wake up.
Without giving too much away, what are your favorite story lines in Shadows and why?
Kier and Exraile are both former angels who would do anything for the Underworld, but for very different reasons. Unraveling the strings of their relationships with their pasts is really the heart of Shadows. However, I am also partial to the main antagonist, Ghetis Avancor, and the vignette of his origin stands out as my favorite story within the story.
Jacob Murray worked relentlessly on Shadows of the Underworld, diving headfirst into the depths of Illverness to hunt down a story for fans that is both haunting and heroic. Purchase your copy of this original Court of the Dead graphic novel here.