INTERVIEW: TOMMIE KELLY ON THE HOLY NUMBERS
My friend had been looking for a book on Scientology and couldn’t find anything so I recommended the book to him (which he enjoyed immensely). I know there are parallels to the Catholic Church but were you thinking of Scientology or similar religions when you were doing the book?
I was mainly thinking that when someone comes up with a good idea it very seldom stays in its original form. If Jesus existed, and if he was about now would he recognize the religion he founded? I highly doubt it. The Buddha would be horrified by some versions of Buddhism.
There is a documentary called “David Wants To Fly” that looks at the Transcendental Meditation movement and how it evolved from a basic idea of “sit down and shut up” into a very strange costume wearing hopping cult. People don’t seem to be able to leave things without trying to add their own “stuff” to them. Ultimately, no matter how pure an idea is, it will always get deformed over time.
TM, like all meditation, is an extremely useful tool for stress reduction, clarity, insight and the cultivation of a better world view but all of this dross that has been added to it over the years has corrupted it. Simple ideas are the hardest to keep.
I mentioned in my piece on women in comics about your take on how women were treated by organised religion and the parallels to Mary Magdalene. Was that an important element for you?
It’s not just religions that do that though, it’s society. For example, there is the idea that a man who has sex with lots of women is a stud but a women who does the same is considered a slut. Women have been treated as lesser in a lot of religions and are only really given centre stage if they are completely pure. Catholics for instance are not even happy with Mary having a Virgin birth but use the phrase “Ever Virgin” in their prayers. It’s not enough that Jesus was born without his mother “ruining” herself, for her to be Holy she must never have had sex.
I don’t understand that at all. I think it might be something similar to not wanting to think about your parents having sex, it just seems wrong. For a race that is so obsessed with sex we are also equally prudish.
The Numbers is a critical look at organised religion but I don’t think it is critical of belief. There is an underlying philosophy that I found to be true about life building up walls. Would you agree with that assessment? Is this a belief you hold?
I know I have done it and I assume that I am not unique. The Wall of screaming faces that is referenced in the book is more talking about letting other people’s voices drown out your own voice. The Facebook wall is very much an example of this. You are just bombarded with opinions, views and information and it becomes harder and harder to distinguish what are your own opinions, views and sentiments.
But I think this is evident in “real” life too. I often wonder how many of my beliefs are actually my family’s or taken from people I have met who impressed their ideas on me. It something that I took to another level with THEM.
It’s interesting to think about how many actual unique thoughts or beliefs you have. In fact, is it possible to have a completely independent view that hasn’t been originally delivered to your brain from somewhere or someone else? Is a completely independent original thought possible? I’m not sure it is.
So although we build walls around us to protect ourselves emotionally I suggest in the Holy Numbers that these walls are still composed of outside things, outside voices and outside beliefs. The wall of screaming faces.
There was sense of hypocrisy with the Catholic Church’s condemnations of The Numbers in the end of the book. Is that what you were going for?
Sure. But also the general hypocrisy of people in general. Public opinion can swing so quickly and there seems to be nothing nicer than expressing “told you so!”. I find it interesting how people can condemn certain beliefs or practices while at the same time hold equal or stranger beliefs. Some Christians, for instance, will massively condemn Wicca or Magick because they contain esoteric rituals but then see no problem with acting out the drinking and eating of a god on a weekly basis.
I enjoyed the political element. I think it is something missing in Irish comics. Is that something you might expand on in future books?
I don’t know. Originally THE HOLY NUMBERS was going to have an awful lot more political elements but as the story went along I found that they weren’t needed. A word here, a scene there was all that was required to fill in the bigger picture of political atmosphere of this alternative Ireland.
Is there a possibility of a sequel?
What I noticed about this book and THEM! was that there was a universal message/philosophy but the book had an Irish feel with the humour and the setting of course. Is it important for you to have that as an element or is it just a case of writing what you know?
It’s very important. I can only write what I know. Well, I could write what I don’t know for sure, but it wouldn’t be honest and it wouldn’t be saying something about the world from my perspective. My comics were the pulpit from which I tried to explain myself and my views to the world. Had I set Holy Numbers in America I would have been guessing rather than knowing. I have no idea how someone who lived in New York their entire life feels about the world. I only know what I feel about the world, so I write within those boundaries.
The final issue has just been released on ComiXology. I think your style really suits the digital version (I think it looks great on my iPad). What was it like getting the book on the platform?
It was extremely rewarding until I got sent the sales figures and then it was business as usual. In the end, comics is as much a business as an art form and I have no idea how to play that game. I also have no interest in it.
I feel Comixology may become more and more like what webcomics have become. It will be harder and harder for anything good to shine out among the huge piles of stuff released.
Anything else you’d like to say about the book?
I think a lot of people may be put off by the art. It’s a style I enjoy and love to look at but I am very aware that it is not a style that is particularly popular in comics. Also the themes and topics covered aren’t what is the norm for mainstream comics and to be honest I can’t see it being of much interest to the vast majority of comic fans. But don’t get me wrong, I am far from saying I don’t think it’s good, the opposite in fact, I just don’t think general comic fans will get it or enjoy it. It’s not what they are looking for.
But it is not for them. The Holy Numbers is aimed totally at me. It’s a comic I would want to find and read. The biggest lesson I learned, particularly from doing THEM, is that no one will ever care about my work more than I will. And recently I have become very OK with that.
What should we expect from you in 2014?
I would say expect very little, I’m not working on anything comic related at the minute.
The Holy Numbers can be purchased on ComiXology or in print in Dublin comic shops.