Why comics had to happen
I’m in a chemistry classroom in September, 2010. Somebody is saying to me, You should be writing comic books. I think you’d be good at it. I tell this person, What do you think I’ve been trying to do every day since I was thirteen?
New York City, April 2012. Everywhere I go, everybody’s asking me about comic books. I’m staying up late on my friend’s sofa in Brooklyn to explain how Captain America subverts his own patriotic iconography as a radically anti-government figure in established superhero mythology. On a street corner in St. Mark’s I’m passionately explaining why Civil War can’t and shouldn’t be breached in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because they haven’t done enough to develop Tony Stark’s (sometimes infuriating) moral ambiguity. At Desert Island Comics I’m loitering around with Melissa and Anna, talking about comics I’m sorta-kinda-maybe writing, and feeling intensely jealous of each and every writer with comics on the racks.
Before I leave for home, I’m pondering making my move once and for all.
It’s been coming up a lot lately, the same question: Why comic books? Why now? I’ve been publishing short stories and flash fiction (and soon, novels, if I’m lucky) for the better part of three years now, carving out a tiny name for myself in the fish bowl world of Horror and Bizzaro. Sometimes painful, sometimes funny, sometimes completely off-putting, I take a very particular joy in making other people as uncomfortable as I possibly can with my writing. As any of my publishers and editors will tell you, I’m weird like that.
The truth is, though, writing literature (if you can call it that; I don’t) is a consolation prize. It’s my participation ribbon or my little A+ For Effort gold foil sticker. My heart’s never been in it. I know that sounds stupid to anybody out there struggling to get their short stories published, or finish their first (or second, or third) novel. I wish I could say something to make me look less like a jackass, but it’s true. Writing proper fiction was never on the table for me; it was just something that I stumbled into. I taught myself do it by writing novels that would never get off the ground and creating supplemental material for comics that I would never actually put together.
Comic books were always the goal. Now, finally, I’m in a place to try to make that happen.
I grew up under the shadows of superheroes. Most girls my age had Spice Girls. I had X-Men, Avengers and a well-defined stance on Spider-Man’s Clone Saga storyline. (Spoiler: Not a fan.) As I got older I moved into broader, stranger genres populated by indie writers and artists. Horror comics, spy comics, love comics, kitschy little personal dramas. English comics, Korean comics, French and Spanish comics, too. I even started reading Warrior Nun. Have you ever heard of Warrior Nun? That’s okay. (Looking back, I’m not entirely sure I’d recommend it.) Comics were how I taught myself to write and tell stories. In middle and high school I wanted to write superheroes; in college and after it was horror. In any case, it was always comics.
Then I was told girls didn’t write comics, and I’d better sit this one out. So I started writing fiction instead.
July 2009. I’m sitting in a crowded hall at the San Diego Convention Center for Comic Con. I scored front-row seats, eagerly awaiting the Venture Brothers panel later that afternoon, admiring the cosplayers in the crowd behind me. The program said Gerard Way was the next speaker, talking about something called Umbrella Academy. I had no idea what Umbrella Academy was, or why he was supposed to be talking about it. Wasn’t he in some douchey band with his brother or something?
I sat there for an hour, completely mesmerized by his views on the industry, on his love of post-modernism in comics, and his story of wanting to write comics so bad he was about to burst. After getting home to Texas, I bought the first volume of Umbrella Academy — Apocalypse Suite — and I fell in love. Then I bought Dallas and I knew this was why I had to start writing comics again, somehow.
(I’m still waiting on Hotel Oblivion, Gerard. You know. Just saying.)
Sometime in the summer of 2010, I get a message from John David Brown. He did some illustration work for my story The Aquarium on Fiction Circus, and I really loved his style. He really liked my style, too, and said he wanted to do comics. I had no idea what to send; I’d been writing short stories and working on my novel. Scripting had been furthest from my mind and, honestly, I was pretty rusty. For a while I sat on his offer, digging through my unfinished drafts, trying to find something to send. Eventually, in a bout of desperation and malaise, I sent him a weird little zombie story I hadn’t been able to get published, based on a Johnny Cash song.
You might know that comic book as Ain’t No Grave.
Yeah, I write comic books.
It’s August. I’m working on a draft of the first arc of my comic, Black Out. It’s an action story about a down-and-out biker named Andy who’s tossed out of his MC for the crime of being with the wrong person. Andy has to get a job working for the other side to make the money he needs to get out of town, dodging fights and retribution threats from his former brothers along the way. One last big score, he tells himself, then he’s gone — up north, to freedom, to the lover who got him kicked out of the only family he’s ever known. Just a run to North Dakota to sell guns to a band of travelers known as The Wolves, thieves and conmen who wear wolf-pelts and cover themselves in Nordic runes. There he encounters a woman known only to him as Stitch, the kid sister of the Wolf-King’s right hand man Lucas, who’s desperate to escape her life as a Wolf at any cost to herself.
What ensues lands Andy in the middle of waring Texas crime families and feuding werewolves, taken hostage by Stitch to get her across the border and out from under her possessive brother’s thumb. It’s a chase story. It’s a comedy. It’s a drama. It’s an exploitation movie with werewolves and bikers and strippers with guns. I have no idea how I’m going to pitch this but it’s what I’ve got, and I’ve got more on the back-burner. I have The Bagman of Shrekville, a pseudo-Shakespearean drama about a subculture of modern-day vampires, hailing from a primitive species of cave-dwelling predators, and the life of a foot-soldier in the middle of warring criminal aristocracies. I also have a story loosely titled Dust-Bowl Apocalypse, following a lowly G-Man in the early days of the FBI who finds himself following the destructive paths of The Four Horsemen through the American heartland and across Eastern Europe, culminating in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Hell, maybe one day I’ll actually get to write superhero comics. Won’t that be something?