Jacqueline Sofia Veracruz has gone through some of the most extensive changes of any character in Tall Tales. Originally a one-shot character, the reader was going to meet her in a story arc that involved Matteson investigating some strange behavior from the Loch Ness Monster. It was planned that she would be someone Matteson had known for a long time, but had moved to Scotland some time before the overall story started and was therefore largely a part of Matteson's past.
It is worth remembering that, in its original form, Tall Tales was a much more narrow story, telling the events of about four years of Matteson's life in his mid-to-late-forties. The character that became Jackie, who I think was actually named Samantha at the time, would have met Matteson in the events that are now the Born of Water arc, which I was debating referencing in flashbacks. It would have been known that Matteson and Samantha remained in contact and occasionally helped each other out, but had grown distant when she left the country and his career took off.
When it was decided that the story was going to be much larger, I realized I should actually allow Samantha to become a full character who would be active throughout, and began to seriously consider the idea that she doesn't entirely leave the story at any point. This latter concern was especially noted when I found the Loch Ness story may not even fit the larger plot anymore. I also forgot her name and had to come up with a new one (I only remember it now because I've found some of my old notes). Of course, this meant fleshing out her personality more, and I ended up borrowing a bit from real sources.
This sort of thing happens throughout Tall Tales. There are a small handful of stories which are actually based on real events, to some degree or another. Every one is significantly fictionalized, and reformatted to fit the larger story which is entirely fiction, but there are traces of personal experiences and therefore traces of real people I encountered along the way. In "Born of Water," Jackie is largely filling the role of a young woman I met in Chicago named Barbie, who I never spoke to again after I returned home. Occasionally she will borrow influence from Nicki White or Jen Dietz, witches I knew from high school and art school, respectively. But the bulk of her personality, and her involvement in most stories, are only true of her. All three of these sources, however, are white, and originally so was Samantha.
One thing I wanted to do was make her not Wiccan, which Samantha had been. There were a couple reasons for this, one being that if I specifically named a tradition I would have to be very careful to represent that tradition accurately, and I needed more freedom than that to fit the story. Also, frankly, I wanted something different, something I don't see much of in media. It seems like every witch I come across in fiction is either Wiccan or vaguely European, so I looked for other sources. Brujah ended up catching my attention, as what I found of it suggested that it fit pretty well the character that I was planning. But again, I needed the flexibility to go outside that tradition, and wanted to avoid misrepresenting something I really don't understand, so I went beyond that and started looking at other Central American folk magic traditions.
In the end, I decided that she would be using some unstated amalgam of these traditions, with a splash of influence from her mentor who I already knew was Anatolian. But hey, if she's going to be using that, why should she be white? It made more sense to me that she would have picked up these traditions from her family, so I went ahead and made her Latina. Thankfully, her story is about her exploration of magic and not a "this is what life is like as a Latina," so I can fairly easily avoid acting like I know what their experiences are actually like. There is research involved in how I have her handle things, of course, and her personality has been colored by the Latin women I've known, but I do not claim to be able to tell their stories their way and Jackie's blog is not designed to be read as though I'm trying to do that.
There's more I want to say about Jackie, but some of it should probably wait until the story develops a bit more and you see more of her.
Father Benedict Michael de Monte was not originally one character, but two. And he wasn't in the world of Tall Tales. And he wasn't named Benedict.
The original comic idea that became this project was the joint work of me and Alex, who has been mentioned before. Alex was working on another comic at the time, about a demon hunter who had managed to enslave one demon who was very desperate to not be cast into the Abyss and had agreed to turn on his own kind to save his own hide. The hunter was named Orion, and I know surprisingly little about the plans Alex had for him. I asked, a bit, but it seemed like it was still pretty rough in his mind at the time and he didn't feel the need to ask for my help with it, so it was left at that.
But there was one story arc I had decided to do that would take place at the Devil's Church. This setting will be explained in a one-shot lore story on the narrator blog here after "Land of Goshen" ends, because I plan to still use the setting for something. Anyway, I had decided that demons would be an issue in that arc, but Matteson was reluctant to deal with demons. He wasn't afraid of them, per se, at least not more so than anything else. But he was written at the time with the view that they were far more hassle than they were worth and tended to be vengeful. So Alex suggested a crossover, in which Matteson would call a guy he knew named Orion and Orion would 'lend' him his demon to help with the case. There was hope that both comics would be known by that point in the story and this would be an exciting thing for readers of both comics. To my knowledge, neither comic has ever actually existed in a public form.
It isn't necessary to go into the whole thing here, but Mephitz Omega was basically a prequel to the apocalypse in which the big reveal at the end was that the boy they were protecting was destined to become the Antichrist. Alex did concept art for this story, but we never got far enough with it for him to do much else. It relied on some of the same theology as stories like Left Behind, though I no longer held those views myself. Unlike those stories, it also included werewolves, vampires, and pretty active angels and demons. Father Raphael Centuri was a secondary character in that story, a priest who was actively hunting a specific powerful vampire and would occasionally cross paths with the main cast. He was also a half-demon, the son of a nun and the demon Balthazar as part of a bet that Balthazar won. Raphael had a subplot running in which he was attempting to find the means to kill his demon father in order to help this friend of his, but that's getting pretty well off track. Balthazar had been designed by another friend, Josh Flynn, but I gather he stole a lot of the design from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or one of the other similar shows he was watching at the time. To be fair, Raphael himself showed a fair bit of influence from Nicholas D. Wolfwood, the priest(ish) character in Trigun.
I, uh...I abandoned this story for a number of reasons, guys.
I decided to drop Balthazar, and some of the more anime aspects of the priest (like a literal set of ephemeral armor styled after the armor analogy in Ephesians 6:10-18), and his kind of ridiculous name, and a number of other things. I took what was left, and rebuilt it as Benedict. As you can probably tell from the story, there's still something inhuman about Benedict, but that will be explained in time. He also has a similar job, as an inquisitor, though he tends to deal much less with vampires.
I actually really like Benedict a lot more than I liked Raphael, in the end. I think he works better, he's in a world that I enjoy more, and the stuff I liked about him gets to be explored more. When I set out to make him a recurring character, I found myself developing a whole story he was doing alongside Matteson, and ended up deciding that he needed his own space to really get into that. So he went from one character who would make a cameo appearance and another who would pop in rarely, to one of the core storytellers of this project. And I'm excited to see if you all end up loving him as much as I do.
Bonus: Below the cut are Alex's designs for other characters in Mephitz Omega. I can't imagine another post where these people would come up, as none of this specific lot are being brought over to Tall Tales. If you like Alex's over-decade-old work, you should really check out his current stuff. I'm pretty sure he takes commissions. I got that link from him after we reconnected about a year ago. Note that I did all the coloring here, on my computer (which was a limited affair back then), and that I'm colorblind.
Tall Tales began with a single scene.
I took a vacation to Chicago during the last week of October, 2004, and my flight home was scheduled for election day. I was visiting a friend, named Brandon, who I had met through an IRC tabletop campaign based on the World of Darkness. We had met in person before, and when I was looking for somewhere to go to kill a week he offered to let me stay at his place and invited me to attend the Halloween party he and his roommates were planning.
The events of that week will be addressed on this blog in more detail another time, because there are a number of aspects of my trip that found their way into one story arc of Tall Tales, specifically the Matteson story arc "Born of Water," which will be the first one covered by his blog when it releases...soon. In the meantime, however, I wanted to talk about how this whole thing started, and I mostly only need you to know that that trip happened, weird things happened on that trip, and everything you see here began about a month later while I was thinking about it.
The scene that introduced me to Tall Tales was not a real event that happened during that trip, and it isn't even in the story anymore. But in thinking about other things that did happen, and some conversations that we had, I ended up daydreaming later and imagined a scene with a guy, about my age, helping some druids and witches in a ritual to exorcise the apartment I had been visiting. That was it; a brief snapshot of a single event in the lives of these characters. I liked the scene, though, so I started asking myself who these people were, why they were there, and what they were trying to exorcise.
That guy, I came to understand, was named John Matteson. As I thought more about him, I ended up developing a little story about a certain period of his life, and jotting down notes about the characters for that story and the general idea of what was happening. As soon as I had a rough idea of a beginning, ending, and overarching theme, I went to a friend of mine named Alex Portal and pitched the idea of making a webcomic. This would have been January, maybe February 2005.
I'll talk more about that webcomic in another post, but the reason that scene didn't last was because, ultimately, the story I developed didn't need it. In its original form, as that first webcomic, the story actually took place about twenty years after that scene. The scene itself was preserved as a possible flashback, but we never really decided whether or not we were going to do that. I eventually changed the model of the story to be two parallel periods in Matteson's life, about twenty years apart, and the scene was going to make a comeback until I realized that in order for the overall story to work, that scene had to be changed. By the time those changes were settled, the scene was scrapped entirely.
But I can still imagine it just fine, or at least as well as I mentally view anything; Matteson standing next to the fire, his back to me, smoking a cigarette and listening as his newly-found friends performed their ceremony, only really there because they had asked him to be because he was somehow connected to what they were exorcising. With that single snapshot, a character was created that would haunt my dreams and projects for the next fourteen years, until I finally decided it was time to let everyone else see him.
What is this?
Worldbuilding Wednesdays is a real-world blog, written by Tim McLaughlin, that gives a little peek behind the curtain of Tall Tales. That includes the process of creating the story and world, influences, world rules, and even the occasional story.