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You Have Only Days to Deduce 'Who Killed Nessie?'

We chat with Paul Cornell and Rachael Smith about their cryptozoological mystery and the power of silliness.


Who Killed Nessie?

Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Paul Cornell and Rachael Smith about Who Killed Nessie? Listen to the unedited audio HERE.

 

Bigfoot. The Jersey Devil. The Mongolian Death Worm. Should we add the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to that roster? What about Santa? Do we dare?


We recently trapped former CBCC guest Paul Cornell and cartoonist Rachael Smith in our Zoom room and pounded them with difficult questions. Our faith in the impossible was shaken early in our childhood, betrayed with lies of dancing sugar plums, and we're still carrying a few psychic scars. This time, we're on the couch and demand proper counseling from this creative duo, as their new book opened some old wounds.


You have only days left to back their Zoop project, Who Killed Nessie? It's a cheeky whodunit involving a skeptical, inexperienced innkeeper named Lindsay, forced to solve the Loch Ness Monster's murder while surrounded by numerous other cryptozoological impossibilities. Her former boyfriend was quite the romantic, believing in all kinds of BS, and the sudden realization that some of his cherished nonsense might be real only propels Lindsay's emotional state further downward. There are low points, and then there are LOW POINTS.


Paul Cornell and Rachael Smith join us for a hearty discussion about the impossible and the rejuvenating power of silliness. Frequently, we dismiss the silly as less worthy than the dramatic, but how could we get through life without weaponizing humor? Smith understands this intimately, as her last batch of biographical comics (Wired Up Wrong, Quarantine Comix) brought much-needed respite to herself and her readers. Within a laugh rests knowledge.


This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

 

Never Mind Who Killing Nessie? What about Santa?


Lisa: I asked Brad for the first question because I have beef. Growing up, I feel like we got the hard sell on believing in the impossible with movies like Harry and the Hendersons, Pete's Dragon, and literally every Christmas movie. And then, as an adult, you are punished for believing in the impossible, you know what I mean? They just pull that rug of whimsy right out from under you. What do cryptozoological creatures represent for you?


Paul Cornell: Well, I grew up with cryptids, and I mean, not literally, not Tarzan or the Yeti, but I grew up with the notion of cryptids. I grew up with scary books about the unknown under my bedclothes. And so it's always been that thing out there in the woods, like Kate Bush sings in Wild Man about that distant figure tramping through the darkness where humans aren't, and I think there's a great romance to that. It's not just terrifying; it's also quite alluring.


Rachael Smith: They kind of represent the unknown and the unexplainable, which is I think where a lot of these creatures come from. They come from us trying to explain things that we can't explain in a boring way, so why not explain it in an extraordinary way? There's something quite wonderful about that.


Lisa: I have a distinct traumatic memory of being told that Christmas may not work the way that I had been told my entire life. I don't know why I'm being so careful. There could be a child reading, but being told how Christmas worked was a horrible and sad thing for me. Do you guys have any kind of experience of adulthood being presented as magical things that don't exist?


Paul Cornell: I like the euphemism of Christmas not quite working the way it's meant to.


Lisa: The whole operation is a sham.


Rachael Smith: Whoa. Whoa now.


Lisa: Oh, wait.


Paul Cornell: I think it's money laundering, pure and simple. But I did have a friend whose daughter started to photocopy teeth and put them under the pillow at any point in order to attract the tooth fairy, so he left photocopied coins. But yeah, I think that one's engagement with the mysterious is very important. I would love to see some fairies. I would love to see any of this stuff. Look, it's like I'm immune. I go around calling out for UFOs to come and not necessarily abduct me, but I'd like to have a look. And I feel the same way about all the mysterious beasts, but no mysterious beast for me has yet shown up, except for Santa, of course, I mean.


Rachael Smith: Yeah.


Paul Cornell: I've met him.


Brad: I remember being incredibly invested in the idea of the Loch Ness monster as a child. I would read a lot of books about it, and I would look at those well-documented photographs that we've all seen of the Loch Ness monster.


Paul Cornell: That's not a tall Labrador with a stick in its mouth, oh no.


Brad: Totally not, not that at all. It is interesting when you're a kid, and you are in this era, that Lisa's alluding to where you're going, "Well, are these things real?"


Lisa: To me, what felt the most like a betrayal was how I had defended these creatures, defended the existence of magic to the point of anger and tears with my peers.


Brad: But aren't you betraying them by giving up the faith in them now?


Lisa: That's the trick, right? That's how they get you.


Brad: It seems to me like Paul and Rachael still have a lot of faith.


Lisa: Their door is open.


Brad: Paul's looking for UFOs. He's waiting for it to happen.


Paul Cornell: You are going to get an angry letter from the fairies. I mean-


Lisa: I hope I do. I hope I do.


Paul Cornell: Dear fill-in-name-here, you should still believe in us because.


Who Killed Nessie? Why Kill Nessie?


Brad: But that's what it seems is at the heart of your story. Lindsay's adamant knowledge that these things do not exist. And her ex-boyfriend was always saying, "No, these things could be possible." And then when they break up, she has to batten down and go like, "No, this definitely ... I know what reality is. It's what I can touch and see," and then the fantasy becomes seeable for her.


Paul Cornell: And this is, of course, across a weekend, so this happens very fast. She's the intern. She's the only human left in the building because the humans go on holiday every year to let the cryptids have their convention. She doesn't know what this is. She's woken in the middle of the night by the Beast of Bodmin Moor who says, "It be time for you to solve the murder of the Loch Ness monster it be." And this is my original accent, and the Beast of Bodmin Moor kind of talks in it. And so basically, at high speed, she's got to accept all this stuff. We're doing a genuine murder mystery as well. We know who did it.


Brad: The corpse in the middle of the locked room could be any number of cryptids. Why is it the Loch Ness monster?


Paul Cornell: Because who killed Bigfoot, that's a tragedy. Who killed Nessie feels funny. I don't know why.


Rachael Smith: I really wanted to draw the chalk outline of Nessie. To me, that's hilarious. I'm sorry for any Nessie fans.


Paul Cornell: And again, who killed Bigfoot? It's just a big, big guy.


Rachael Smith: Big man.


Brad: That chalk outline is not interesting.


Paul Cornell: No.


Rachael Smith: Yeah. It's sad.


Paul Cornell: It is sad.


Lisa: I'm intrigued by starting Lindsay, our protagonist, in a low place, where they're just going through this breakup and the breakup was with this person who was this romantic, whimsical believer person. Why was it so important to start Lindsay at this kind of dip in her self-esteem?


Rachael Smith: I love Lindsay and there's a lot of me in her, I feel. I relate to her quite a lot. I think we've all been where Lindsay is at some point, maybe not exactly with the same circumstances, but we've all maybe thought about our place in the world and where we fit into it and whether we believe certain things. I think we start Lindsay off where she is to give her the most room to grow. I mean, that's kind of storytelling 101, so hopefully she'll end up in a much better place. I'm rooting for her anyway.


Paul Cornell: I think we all metaphorically have had to solve the murder of the Loch Ness monster at short notice.


Rachael Smith: I've had to do that a few times, actually.


Lisa: But we're putting the ex in this really powerful, "See, I told you so" place, which has got to be really challenging.


Paul Cornell: Well, yeah, absolutely. She has both to use her rationality to solve this murder amongst a community she did not believe in the existence of. As the Beast of Bodmin Moor says to her, "You may not believe in us, but we believe in you."


Rachael Smith: Such a good line.


Paul Cornell: Well, it's kind of a tagline.


Rachael Smith: I love it.


Who Killed Nessie? It's a Funny Question.


Lisa: I want to go back to something that you touched on just briefly, and that is the inherent value of silliness; where I feel like sometimes we put different storytelling tools on a higher pedestal than silliness, but I feel like silliness is this side door into vulnerability and earnestness. I would love Rachael to talk about this, how laughing at the serious stuff is the defense mechanism that goes like, "Okay, now I can be real."


Rachael Smith: I mean, being funny and being silly has been my defense mechanism against depression for most of my adult life. I think silliness is incredibly important, especially in storytelling. And you're right in being silly, in being funny, you're making yourself very vulnerable. If nobody laughs at your joke, that's horrible. You're basically giving someone a knife and going on your back, waiting for them to finish you off.


I think silliness gets overlooked a little bit as well, especially when you're writing books that aren't for children. Silliness is a wonderful tool in every storyteller's toolbox. Certainly in Nessie, it's very evident and in a lot of my autobiography stuff as well, just because in real life, I use silliness a lot just to cope with life.


Paul Cornell: Well, and as you say, a lot of your real life does both, sometimes at the same time. It's interesting, isn't it? I think one of the things about me is you never know what you're going to get. I've written so many different sorts of things, and this actually gets in the way of my career because that's not what you want from a writer. You want to know what the next thing is going to be like.


I often do reach for the big emotion, and because I think honesty and putting out what's really going on in there, he said, pointing to his body, and I mean, my sort of metaphorical heart, not my guts or anything, is important, and I do that a lot, but also joy and silliness is really important. I mean, everything I learned about writing is from Asterix the Gaul and The Muppet Show.

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