Emmett Nahil on Let Me Out
Emmett Nahil is a writer, narrative designer, game developer, and literary jack of all trades living in a haunted town north of Boston, Massachusetts. He’s interested in intersectional analysis, diverse representation for other queer Middle Easterners, and bringing more nuanced work to genre fiction. He’s been known to favor horror, along with sci-fi, fantasy, and really weird speculative literature. Let Me Out is his debut graphic novel.
A. R. James: What led you to this story? What made this the one that was eating its way out of you? (Whether that be your writing career, influences, experiences, current events or the particular sub-genre of suburban occult horror).
Emmett Nahil: I think it’s a combination of a few things. I’ve always really been interested in possession stories, and the way that, for a certain segment of the population in the US and Canada, that became real in the era of the Satanic Panic. I really wanted to write queer and trans characters into those narratives, and how people like me and my friends might be forced to deal with something as insane as being accused of consorting with the Devil.
I read that you’re an ex-art historian – did the art world lead you into comics and illustrated (and animated) narratives?
Somewhat! For undergrad, I originally went to MICA for illustration, and wound up in printmaking. Because most 18-19 year olds aren’t very bright, I decided that a more economical field would be art history for some reason. I’d always been really interested in art and in the history of the printed object, which definitely leads to an interest in comics. Funnily enough, I started out writing books and short stories, and returned to writing comics scripts afterwards.
Your bio includes: “…literary jack of all trades. I’m interested in intersectional analysis, diverse representation for other queer Middle Easterners, and bringing more nuanced work to weird literature. I’ve been known to favor horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and trans-inclusive speculative fiction.”
Firstly, thank you so much! What you’re contributing to the arts is so needed and so valued by so many of us.
What does intersectional representation look like to you? Some creators are hesitant to engage with that for fear of box-ticking, getting it wrong, etc. How do you engage with intersectionality across your spectrum of work, and within one story, given that you can’t (or can you) tell all stories at once?
Well I appreciate that. I think the question of intersectional representation is really, really tricky, depending on who you’re talking to and where. Because if I’m talking to some wannabe fascist, the very act of representation of queer, BIPOC trans people is revolutionary and flies directly against this recent wave of book bans and reactionary action against queer people being able to exist in public, and in that way it’s important.
But I guess for creators who occupy those intersections, it’s a little bit tricker. You want to encourage people to write the stories they want to write without being pressured to self-dissect via art.
How diverse is your audience (if you know that)? Or, how does your intersectional approach reach and serve a diverse audience?
Frankly, I don’t exactly know who my audience is yet. I can guess, but I’m nervous to put it out in the world, for fear of limiting myself, haha. I hope it reaches and serves an audience that can find footholds in many different elements of the story, without needing to see themselves represented in it.
Why 1979 New Jersey? Talk to us about what the time and location setting meant to this story.
I’m from New England, so New Jersey always seems a little uncanny to me. It’s similar to where I grew up, but also not at all. The time period specifically was an interesting one just because it was just such a collision point between mono-culture and counter-culture. Politically, all sorts of wild things were going on, and it was the early days of the Satanic Panic. You’ve got so many forces colliding at once, and I think it makes my job as a writer significantly more fun.
Small-town life and supernatural cavalry – talk to us about what the sub-genre opens up for queer and trans stories. What are your top tips for surviving a Satanic Panic and Satan?
I think the moral of the story is that you survive the Satanic Panic by becoming friends with Satan. In a more abstract way, I guess you could say you get through the worst by being yourself and operating from a knowledge of your own personal power, no matter what.
As a trans creative engaging with your lived experience in your work, how do you see representation progressing and evolving from these stories that are rooted in trauma? Do they need to?
I bring some of my own lived experience into my own work, but I wouldn’t say LMO is based in my own trauma, not at all. It’s fiction, first and foremost. I think that the idea of the “progression of representation” isn’t quite accurate to how the world operates: we live on a sliding scale of types of fiction that finds different types of audiences and tells different stories with wholly different purposes. I think I’d never compare my own work as a horror genre writer to someone who’s telling a biographical tale of their own lives, which may or may not include traumatic events. I think the idea of cis, straight people only depicting trans people to symbolically embody their own guilt about gendered violence against the community is a problem for cis, straight people to sort out on their own time.
How do you see other own voices engaging with these stories?
I think the label of “own voices” is a very broad one, and can embody lots of different identities. So I’d say people engage how they want to in their own fiction. There are tons of interesting trans and queer creators working today in a variety of mediums, generally.
What was the hardest thing, if any, about telling this story? Was there a hardest arc or scene? If so, why?
The hardest part was figuring out the pacing. I’m an impatient writer, and so holding off on the big third act was the most difficult part for me personally. I get excited to get to the blood.
How do you like to play with tropes?
(“This is a story about what happens when a group of queer and trans friends are given the supernatural means to fight back. It is also about found family and the joy one finds in one’s friends, even amidst seemingly inescapable darkness.”)
The institution as villain; an already-vulnerable group preyed upon by the more privileged; a precarious bargain.
Playing with tropes is one of my favorite things to do, especially in horror. Because you have an audience who, by and large, are very trope-savvy. You can invert expectations in ways that really are a love letter to the genre, and to people who ‘get it’. I like the flexibility to zag when people think you’re gonna zig, while still being a bit self-referential. I guess mixing earnest enjoyment of trope with a willingness to fuck with it is important.
Talk to us about the design of Satan – how much input did you have on what they would look like?
I did have some input! I really was interested in a Satan that actually looks like (and probably is) Baphomet, who as is an entity all about dualism and the joining of seeming opposites. Baphomet only got conflated with Satan and the Devil as Christianity absorbed local deities into the umbrella of monotheism. George took that idea and ran with it, and I credit him entirely with how cool they ended up looking.
The graphic novel form is incredibly collaborative – what did that balance look like on your team?
The balance was really very equal, to me. I trust George implicitly as an artist and co-creator, and we collaborated heavily at almost all stages. I’m not too precious with any of my scripts, so I feel that the balance ended up being pretty even.
What did you know for certain, or have ready, going in?
I had a pitch, and about 20 pages of script going in. I knew that I wanted to find an artist who had a somewhat loose and punk-inspired style, and George had that in spades. His sense of design and color was really important as we went through the pitch process and into pages, and really helped form how I was thinking and envisioning scenes, especially in the latter half of the book.
What did you figure out along the way or in response to each other’s suggestions?
I think the aesthetic look and vibe of each of the characters was hugely collaborative, as well as the framing of the panels themselves. I like to keep my scripts relatively loose so that I can react to George’s changes and to his choices, because it’s easier for me as the writer to work to his strengths than vice versa. My work takes less hard hours in the chair, I think.
How did it change from first draft to finished product?
Drafting was a pretty loose phase too: I would go through each chapter, writing and polishing, and George would follow along pretty closely. I tend to do multiple cumulative passes as I go in terms of scripting, so we’d go back and tweak as we went. George would sometimes make suggestions for paneling, or for tweaks to page layout as we went, and we’d go from there!
How did you work together?
George is in England, and I’m based in the Northeast USA, so we worked almost exclusively through Discord and Google Drive. Fairly regular back-and-forth helps keep that collaboration fluid.
How did you all make space for each other and the story?
We left a lot of space for the other person to play around. It’s mostly a matter of making sure that the other person is happy with what they’re doing, and isn’t stressed out too badly.
Do you have a favorite character; a darling that you wouldn’t kill for any editor in the world?
To me, the darling I wouldn’t kill is more of the sort of invisible feeling of rage that hovers over Mitch and the rest of the gang. That sense of righteous anger is really important and crucial to the story. To deplete that for purposes of relatability would really be dumbing down the story, I think.
Present company excluded, who would be your dream future collaborator?
Hmm. I’d love to work with Tyler Crook or Mike Mignola, if he ever feels like coming out of soft retirement. Those are the ultimates, for me. On the scriptwriting side, I’d love to work with Stephen Graham Jones or Cass Khaw on something, 110%. Both have such distinctive, incredible voices.
What do you want people to take from your writing?
I am a firm believer in the whole ‘death of the author’ thing. People truly can take what they like from my writing! Once work is published, it belongs to the reader.
What do you want to be known for?
I’d like to be known for propulsive, viscerally horrifying writing that pulls the reader into a different world.
What kinds of conversations do you hope people will have after reading Let Me Out?
I hope that people will think a bit about how they embody power, and how they use that power.
(And who do you hope will be having them?) Because this book feels strongly influenced by the movies, who would be your dream cast in the movie version?
It’s so tough to cast for, simply because I have a tough time thinking of a transmasc, Arab actor who’s the appropriate age to play Mitch, who obviously is the most important casting decision. I think he’d have to be an unknown. The one actor who I really had in mind while writing was Holt McCallany as Sheriff Mullen. He’s such a fantastic type of actor to play that authoritarian type character….admittedly Mullen’s brush cut was snagged from his character in Mindhunter.
What risks have you taken with your writing that have paid off (or not – it’s all valid)?
I think one of the biggest risks I’ve taken is kickstarting the initial version of Let Me Out. It was a huge step for me personally, and although I’ve run campaigns in collaboration with friends of mine, it was the first campaign that hinged so directly on my work in conjunction with George’s. It paid off in that it made folks in and out of the industry take notice of the book, even if it was a crazy amount of work.
How do you celebrate when you finish a book?
I’m really bad at that. I’ve had co-workers and collaborators call me out on that, unfortunately. I’m a workhorse, so it’s usually just onto the next project percolating on the back burner.
I for one would love to see Mitch and the gang surviving and thriving beyond the end of this chapter in their story – do you have any future plans for them?
It’s absolutely in the back of my mind. I don’t want a give away too much, but safe so say we’re thinking about it.
Round-up and sign-off:
If you’re a fan of classic revenge flicks, occult horror movies – Carrie, The Craft, The Witch – Let Me Out is for you. It’s a story about sacrifice, segregated identity; about surviving when you’ve been completely ostracized from your community. The graphic novel will be released on October 3, 2023, just in time for Halloween.
Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/Let-Me-Out-Emmett-Nahil/dp/1637152361/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2AMLZWOJ15UI9&keywords=let+me+out+emmett+nahil&qid=1686381792&sprefix=let+me+out+emmett+nahil%2Caps%2C189&sr=8-1
Thank you, Emmett, for being so generous with your time, self and creativity. Where can people find you and your work?
You’re so welcome! All of my work and socials are available on my website, www.emmettnahil.com. But most places, I can be found @_emnays. George is most places under the username @neatodon.
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