The Demon King, Chapter 8

This illustration of Ceres is by Sali (@salisillustrations on Instagram and @saliechelon255 on Tumblr), who creates beautiful digital paintings based on books and anime, including Studio Ghibli movies and the Harry Potter novels, alongside her original work. Her characters are fashionable and expressive, and they always fit perfectly into their richly detailed environments. Sali has a talent for drawing fancy wizards, and it was a pleasure to be able to work with her on this illustration for The Demon King.

The eighth chapter of The Demon King is the culmination of Ceres’s first character arc. It echoes her introduction, in which she glibly treats murder as the only viable option to a tricky political problem, but now the reader is able to see the deliberation that leads to her decisions.

I’m interested in female political leadership, especially at high levels, when an executive’s position is just as symbolic as it is practical. It’s my impression that, whether it’s Hillary Clinton or Kamala Harris or Tsai Ing-wen or Angela Merkel, there’s an expectation that a woman needs to be perfectly competent and capable while still being both “rational” and having all the charm and charisma of a male politician. This is impossible in real life, of course, but it’s fun to exaggerate these pressures and expectations in fiction to see where they lead.

In any case, the prompt I gave the artist was “a beautiful fairytale princess quietly plotting murder.”

Although it’s still rough around the edges, I’m posting the first draft of The Demon King on AO3, and you can find it (here).

The Demon King, Chapter 7

This illustration is by the brilliant Yura Krokodil (@KrokodilYura on Twitter and @krokodilov on Tumblr). She also posts original comics on DeviantArt (here). This artist is a genius when it comes to environmental painting, and she’s magnificently talented at creature and costume design.

This is a scene from the seventh chapter of The Demon King, in which Balthazar ventures into a creepy mushroom forest and has a meandering conversation with a giant spider named Uniagoliantia. You can read the chapter on AO3 starting (here).

In Return of the King, Frodo and Sam cross through Cirith Ungol (“the pass of the spider”) on their way to Mordor, and along the way they encounter a giant spider named Shelob. The Silmarilion mentions that Shelob’s mother was Ungoliant (“dark spider”), a primordial spirit who took the form of an even larger spider. I think “Ungoliant” is a cool name, but it’s a shame it doesn’t have eight syllables, so I expanded it while making it sound more feminine.

Although there are definitely weird and creepy spiders in the world – just as there are weird and creepy fish and weird and creepy mammals – most spiders are just minding their own business, and I think their big bright eyes and round fuzzy bodies and short little legs are kind of cute.

When it comes to creepy things, I tend to think that mushrooms are much creepier than spiders. Still, they’re very cool-looking. I was talking with the artist about this, and about how the “evil forest” area that always seems to be one of the first dungeons in a lot of RPGs inevitably looks really interesting and beautiful, and she told me that she was inspired by the opening dungeon of Final Fantasy IX, which is called, appropriately enough, Evil Forest. It feels a bit anthropocentric to refer to a place that humans aren’t comfortable as “evil,” and I imagine that the creatures who live in any given “evil forest” are probably quite happy there.

Hero


This comic was drawn by Valeria M. (@lunaartgallery on Tumblr) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

Listen, I’m not saying Ganondorf is a good person, I’m just saying that the Legend of Zelda games suddenly become a whole lot more interesting as soon as you stop thinking of him as being mindlessly evil. The way I see it, Ganondorf is an intelligent man who may have started out with good intentions, but he was twisted by his experience with the horrors lurking underneath the bucolic surface of Hyrule. To me at least, this interpretation makes the stories of the games much richer and more nuanced.

The Snake’s Garden




This comic was drawn by Naomi Skye (@lightsintheskye on Tumblr) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

I say this comic was written by me, but what really happened was that I sent Naomi a rambling email about how much I was enjoying the Good Omens miniseries on Amazon. I’ve been a fan of the book since I was in high school, and I think Naomi owns literally a dozen copies of it. Every character in Good Omens is wonderful, but I have a special fondness for the serpent who, having fallen from grace, makes a garden of his own.

This comic got a lot of attention on Tumblr, by the way, which is exactly as it should be.

Crosswalk



This comic was drawn by Frankiesbugs (@frankiesbugs on Tumblr) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

This actually happened to me in Philadelphia in 2012. It was super creepy, and I still think about it sometimes. Maybe this is just me, but I’m not entirely sure that Philadelphia exists in consensus reality.

Every Seven Days





This comic was drawn by Elizabeth D. (@mushroomys on Twitter) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

I used to think the Japanese horror film Ringu was super scary, and the Hollywood version creeped me out as well. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve begun to find both movies silly and charming, especially since I would love to have a ghost friend come to visit through my television screen.

The Legend of the Princess

This comic was drawn by Naomi Skye (@lightsintheskye on Tumblr) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

This is based on a scene from the sixth chapter of The Legend of the Princess, a Legend of Zelda fanfic I wrote in 2017 and 2018. I was interested in exploring the character of Ganondorf, who I don’t read as “evil” so much as taking radical action in extreme circumstances. This doesn’t mean that he’s a good person, but rather that Hyrule is an awful place. For me, Ganondorf represents a lot of the issues involved in what might be called “the ethics of rage.” He is expressing anger in this scene, but Zelda is wise enough not to make assumptions about what he means when he says that “Hyrule will burn.”

I’d always wanted to write a Gothic romance set in a haunted castle, but I wasn’t taking this story seriously until Naomi sent me this comic, which inspired me to step up my own creative efforts. The quality of Naomi’s work helped me realize that what I was doing had the potential to become an interesting and meaningful story that was worth my time and effort. Although I’d started writing a fairly basic fantasy-themed murder mystery, I ended up with an exploration of the intersections between gender, race, power, and political responsibility. It’s always a pleasure to collaborate with a visual artist, and I consider myself lucky that someone as brilliant and talented as Naomi was willing with work with me on this project.