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Comics

The RUSH Interview: Si Spurrier Teaches About Sandwiches and the Gold Rush

1. As a fan and a GateCrasher, we pride ourselves on asking thoughtful questions, so here’s a question that we ask everyone as we consider it to be a crucial one in understanding the people we interview: what is your favorite sandwich?

Believe it or not, I live a few miles along the coast from the Sandwich. The town. As in, the Earl Of Sandwich. As in, the 16th-century aristocrat with a penchant for beef and bread, after whom all our modern filled baps, burgers, buns, and bagels are supposedly named.

See how effortlessly I crush your kooky question with the firm, thrusting jackhammer of HISTORY? I’m here to upsell my elaborately researched period horror comic, damn you, and I will not be diverted.

(Sandwich is a lovely little coastal town, for what it’s worth, with barely any monsters or ghosts or undead cowboys at all. Quintessentially Olde English, its charms are marred only slightly by a solid wall of golf courses enclosing it like an over-privileged castle wall, and an uncomfortably high quotient of refugee-hating gammony Brexiteers. Ironically, in Sandwich there are very few good places that sell, y’know, sandwiches.)

I am fond of a Reuben.

2. Was there anything about the Gold Rush that made you think that it felt uniquely American?

Um.

I mean… I should probably point out that the Yukon rush — this mind-shattering stampede of several hundred thousand people at the ass-end of the 19th century, who endured the most extraordinary horror and hardship on their way to disappointment and despair among the frozen placer-claims along the Klondike, around which The Rush is based — happened almost entirely within the borders of Canada.

So… there’s that.

Mind you, the profound distinctions between life and law on either side of the border in that period play a major role in our story. The majority of stampeders flowed up from the US West Coast, after all, stirred by rumors of easy wealth, deliberately inflated by travel agencies and outfit suppliers in Seattle. And were then preyed upon mercilessly by the conmen, gangsters, and murderers who flocked to the lawless Alaskan port cities on the US side of the border.

I hesitate to say that the instinct to just drop everything – to turn your back on life, love and legacy and go racing off in pursuit of a dream of gold – is an exclusively American phenomenon. Prospectors came to the Yukon from all over the world, after all. But I suspect there is something fundamentally frontier-y about it. Like a continent-sized version of the notion that fortune favors those who reach out and take what they want. Which, rightly or wrongly, feels like a very 21st Century American point of view.

This, needless to say, is fertile ground for introducing supernatural stuff. I think “one man versus the untamed wild” is a dyed-in part of the American national character, be it mythical or otherwise. It’s just that — in our story? The untamed wild bites back.

The tragedy, or maybe the point, is that pretty much none of those hundreds of thousands of people who went racing off to the Yukon came home better off than they were before. Plenty were broken by it. Many never came home at all.

The Rush explores all these things through a slightly distorted lens. Obsession, avarice, ambition, want… they’re all interrogated then subordinated behind the far simpler, purer motives of our central character. Her son has gone missing among the frozen goldfields. She will stop at nothing to find him.

3. Out of your bibliography, was there any comic that served as a learning curve to you where you learned something new about yourself that you wanted to try with The Rush?

Oh god, all of them! The best work I’ve ever done is always “the next gig”, and the worst work I’ve ever done is always “the most recent gig”. Nothing helps the autodidact grow quite like a festeringly toxic sense of self-criticism. Every project is a stepping stone to the next.

There are bits and bobs of obvious breadcrumbing if you’re looking. I developed a lot of meta-crit about Westerns and the inadequacy of genre theory when I wrote Six-Gun Gorilla… I learned to love the idea of an elaborately developed world which one then ignores in favor of a small human story in The Spire and Coda. I boned-up on the nature of mythology and the pacing of good horror for Hellblazer and The Dreaming, etc etc etc.

Ultimately I’m not sure it’s helpful – or even possible – to see creative projects like steps on a ladder or destinations on a traintrack. It’s simply not that linear. In this case, I happened upon a book of old photos from the Yukon Rush in a charity store and my curiosity was piqued.

Storytellers just go where the best story leads, I think, and hope their skills are up to doing it justice. (Having a world-class team of artists, colorists and letterers is also extremely handy.)

4. With a historical event like the Gold Rush, was there any research that you did that stick with you even when you weren’t writing the story?

As I mentioned just now, the impetus of my obsession with this time and place came from the chance discovery of a dusty old book in a charity shop — a portfolio edition of the photographs of E.A.Hegg. It’s thanks in no small part to him that so many of the astonishing, grueling but utterly human episodes from the Klondike rush are so beautifully preserved and documented. That’s what makes the last great stampede of the modern era such a fertile place to tell stories: it’s unfathomably different from our own lives, but also extensively documented. We’re dealing with a world of 120 years ago, in the grip of moral codes and material manias which make it feel quite alien to us today. And yet the committed researcher – or interested geek – can delve into a treasure trove of first-hand testimonies and amazing photographs. That’s a seductive mix. The unfamiliar and the detailed; the relevant and the exotic.

Many of the episodes I encountered in my research could easily build epic stories of their own (I’ve used them as context and color around which to build my supernatural tale.) Off the top of my head…? Hundreds of dead horses beneath the snow of the white horse pass… thousands of men inching up the sheer slope of the Chilkoot Pass, so tightly packed that if they stepped off the path for a rest it would be hours before they could get back underway… the gangster Soapy Smith being gunned down on the pier in Skaguay… the mounties setting up Maxim Guns at the top of the mountain passes to dissuade ill-equipped prospectors from trying to reach the Klondike… those first bedraggled miners arriving in Dawson expecting to find gold littering the ground, only to discover instead they’d have to melt every shovelful of permafrozen dirt one inch at a time just to reach bedrock, and the almost-certain lack of gold that awaited…  I could go on. 

Ultimately I’ve spun my story around the margins of this extraordinary real-life human drama.

The biggest takeaway one finds when one researches stampedes and boomtown rhythms form part of the central thematic thrust of The Rush: gold never sleeps in the hand that dug it.

Of all the men who made it, who became insanely wealthy at the turn of a pickaxe? Almost all of them died in penury, poverty, or disgrace. They may have come for gold. What they found was emptiness.

This, as I said above, is very fertile ground for horror.

5. When it comes to writing stories like The Rush, what aspect of the writing process is the most intimidating? Conversely, what aspect of the writing process is the easiest for you?

Historical accuracy is very important with a book like this. Readers don’t have to be authorities to be able to smell a faker. For me, language is especially important. I’ve gone to quite extraordinary lengths to give our characters a sense of verisimilitude whenever they speak, including a real division in the vocabulary of classes and backgrounds.

It’s really just an expression of the same thing I’ve said about past projects when people ask about world-building. The real trick is not to create a world that feels real. The trick is to depict a world that feels functional then ignore it in favor of the shit that really matters: character, theme, drama. Giant spiders. Etc.

6. With a comic like The Rush, what “aesthetic” were you and your collaborators going for with the storytelling?

I think that’s probably a question for Nate and Duke more than for me. (A lesson it’s taken me a long time to learn: a surprising amount of being a halfway-decent comics writer is knowing when to voice an aesthetic opinion and when to STFU because, by definition, your artists are better at this shit than you are).

The photos I mentioned before by E.A.Hegg will necessarily be a major part of the book’s look, and to be sure I spent many many hours collating contemporary photographs as reference for Nate. But as soon as we drift away from the closely referential locations in our tale – Skaguay, Dawson, etc – towards the town at the center of our tale, Brokehoof, and the eerie wilderness around it, that’s when Nate and Duke come into their ingenious own.

Beautiful grubbiness is the overly reductive term I would use for what they’ve come up with.

7. When it comes to determining the “aesthetic” of a comic book, what aspect of the collaborative process do you love the most?

Receiving those first tentative sketches from the artist is an eternally golden moment. Getting your first glimpse at a character you’ve come to know on an entirely mental level. Immediately forgetting how you thought they’d look because it’s been instantly eclipsed by this, their true skin, in pencil or pen or pixel. It’s wild alchemy.

8. For you, what is it about the horror genre that you find enticing?

Oh, too many things to mention in brief. I could waffle endlessly about the purity of using comics for horror because both the genre and the medium are ultimately defined by manipulation of pace and timing. (In comics we don’t have the lazy luxury of jumpscares and “boo” moments, so we have to be very confident in how we build up suspense and mystery. We’re far more in the business of Unsettling than we are in the business of Scaring, if you want to get precise about it.)

I think somewhere in the muddle of natural inclinations and formalist pomposity there’s probably a simpler answer: I grew up reading 1990’s Vertigo comics, and “horror” was usually just a misnomer that meant “thoughtful and weird”. Which, y’know. Is very much my vibe.

Is The Rush more precisely a horror, or a Western, or a period drama, or a conspiracy thriller…? Who the fuck knows? Who the fuck cares? Genre labels are unfit for purpose – none of them tell us anything useful about the story. It’s a story about a time and a place and a woman with purpose.

I’m interested in legends and folklore and stories, and the darkness in the hearts of humans, and the purity and beauty that can emerge – suddenly and unexpectedly – against that backdrop. 

I also like scary motherfuckers with supernatural guns who ride on giant spiders. In this, I am not nearly as complicated as I affect to be.

9. What is it about the Western that you feel would make a good horror story?

It’s just a perfectly intense fusion of reality and mythology, isn’t it? It’s like an elegant crystallization of the idea that there is no such thing as objective history; just stories that exaggerate or downplay whichever parts they choose. Westerns are an entire genre of tall tales, masquerading as period pieces. One senses the historical accuracy lurking behind it — one even cautiously permits oneself to nod at the illusion of verisimilitude — but deep down we all know this was far more a breeding ground for legends and lies than it ever was a long-lasting and functioning place or time. Monsters, myths, superstitions, and folklore sit extremely comfortably within such shifting syncretic sands.

What makes the West so compelling – to me – is that one can lean heavily into the thematic mainstays that make the genre so delicious (if I had to distill it… It’s the tragedy of a world whose primary industry involves replacing itself with something newer, more lawful and less fantastical)… and then juxtapose them with intricate stories of human emotion.

Monsters, gold, wealth, epochs endings, cultures clashing, the land itself rebelling against exploitative forces… these are all huge, heavy, epic notions that lie behind the toilet-door of The Rush. And yet we deliberately shine our spotlight on the one character in our drama who does not give a single loose shit for any of it, because she is utterly and completely dedicated to finding her lost son.

10. On your website, you mentioned the protagonist’s love for her child and how for you, a recent father, it was a story that you couldn’t resist not telling. Did you feel a sense of responsibility in wanting to write this story?

Yeah, definitely. Or, more accurately, a sense of responsibility in wanting to write it well.

That’s something else that writers have to learn over the course of their inevitably topsy-turvy careers, I think. The notion that, ultimately, when you’re alone and unable to sleep in the middle of the night, and you find yourself trying to measure your worth – I’m sure it’s not just me, right? – well, it doesn’t matter how much you got paid or which iconic characters you got to play with, it doesn’t matter if you topped the sales charts or won awards, it doesn’t matter if your peers talk down to you or simper at every word you say. What matters is whether you believed what you wrote, and whether you changed anyone’s life along the way. Including your own.

Success and meaning are the same thing, in a particular light.

11. With regards to the previous question, was there anything else about the Gold Rush that felt intensely personal to you?

Not to labor the above point, there’s a painful but important message wrapped up in the common experience of the prospectors who hit paydirt. All these guys who became unthinkably rich overnight – the Bonanza Kings. And yet they all, almost to a man, spent their riches just as quickly as they made them. A lot of them made and lost fortunes several times over.

It’s as if we’re hardwired to Want — to pursue the accumulation of stuff — but we’re actually really fucking bad at having. We expect wealth to make us happy, but of course it doesn’t. We expect the achievement of goals to satisfy us, but of course we simply become aware of new goals. The problem with running towards the horizon is that the fucking thing just keeps moving.

And yet — and yet — and yet — ALL those men (it’s always men, of course), who’d briefly tasted princely wealth then lost it, when asked about it later in life, remembered their time in the Yukon with fondness. “I wouldn’t have changed a thing.” As if they’d survived a war. As if they’d struggled and fought side-by-side against some unspeakable demon. As if – and here’s the point – the experience, and how it changed them, was far more important than the goal that led them to it in the first place.

Storytellers have a plotty shorthand when they’re working on characters. Characters should have A Thing They Think They Want, in whose pursuit they discover The Thing They Didn’t Know They Needed. That’s reductive and formulaic, but you’d be amazed how often it’s true.

And… it’s the story of the goldrush. And – to come back to your question – as I sit here being all maudlin and staring at my baby daughter while she sleeps – I suppose it’s the story of my past few years of life too.

12. And before we conclude this interview, I have one pressing question that I think is important to ask as a GateCrasher as we seek answers from the creators who are pushing the boundaries of storytelling: if you had a Rube Goldberg machine, what would you do?

Dirty martini maker.


The RUSH by Si Spurrier, Nathan Gooden, Addison Duke, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou and Tim Daniel, from Vault Comics releases October 27th.

Categories
Books Uncategorized

Sharing the Bisexual Experience

As I write this, I think this is the first time I am writing an article where I am open about my bisexuality.

This was something I realized as a teenager, but I went back inside the closet thinking that maybe it was just a phase. It wasn’t until last year that I slowly acknowledged it and it’s been an interesting journey. One of the things that I’ve been doing is obsessively looking up famous bisexual people. I went to sites like Bi.org or the Wikipedia database to look for people who were bi like me. I looked for stories with bisexual characters. I looked for resources on the doubts I had about myself. 

So when I heard about Bi Visibility: A Bisexual Anthology, I wanted to read it. Created by Kat Calamia, whose reviews I used to read voraciously on Newsarama, it promised a selection of bi-themed stories, ranging from the mundane to the more fantastical. And while I will admit that I was ambivalent about the anthology, as I felt the stories may not be something I find relatable, I was wrong.

Credit: Kathryn Calamia/Taylor Esposito/Dominic Bustamante

Ever since I came out as bisexual, I struggle with the notion that I am not someone worthy of that space. I was unsure as to whether I conform to certain ideas of how a bisexual person, or in this case, a brown bisexual person like me, should be in terms of what their tastes are. By the end of the day, I realized that it doesn’t really matter how I present myself; what matters is that I should be the best version of myself. As silly as that may sound, it is true. There is no singular vision of bisexuality and that’s the intention behind the anthology; to show the identity as one that is multifaceted.  

An anthology works best with the range of stories being told and Bi Visibility follows that. The anthology doesn’t just rely on the identity of having that range; the stories are excellent in how they tackle certain aspects of bisexuality with a reassuring honesty, centered around relatable situations. While I haven’t been in the situations presented in the stories in a literal sense, I have grappled with the questions that the stories deal with. And while I find all of the stories to be well-written, there were two stories that felt personal to me; “LGBTQ-RPG” and “The Bi Card.”

Credit: Jimmy Gaspero/Beck Kubrick/Taylor Esposito

What I appreciated about the aforementioned stories is that there is a whimsical feel to them. I won’t get into the details, but what I appreciated is how writers Jimmy Gaspero (“LGBTQ-RPG”) and Hailey Rose-Lyon (“The Bi Card”) used the premise to delve into those truths about bisexuality. And I know that there’s the temptation to read the scenes and reiterate that the themes of the story are commonplace and that everyone knows the “solution” to the questions about bisexuality that the stories address, but I think that’s why it works. Because while I like to think that I am familiar enough with my identity to talk about it, I am also aware of the fact that I still have a lot to learn. Even if I may know the “answers” in these stories, that doesn’t necessarily take away from the enjoyment and the feeling of reassurance I got from them. And I can imagine that for someone who’s struggling with their identity, these stories have a lot of value. 

Credit: Haley Rose-Lyon/Eileen Widjaja/Taylor Esposito

In terms of the aesthetic, or the “look,” I think the stories look beautiful. In accommodation with the wide range of stories being told here, the artwork is clean and crisp. Having a different artist on each story solidifies the individuality of each of the stories being told here, whether that be the cartoony fantasy book-esque aspect of Beck Kubrick’s art in “LGBTQ-RPG,” or Sarah Stern’s colors with Phillip Sevy’s artwork in “My Voice” (another excellent story), which gives it an almost pulpy sci-fi feel. This harkens back to my aforementioned point about bisexuality being multifaceted. In other words, I think it’s a good presentation of the intricacies and the nuances of the “bisexual experience.” 

Of course, with the range of stories about bisexual people, there is an umbrella that unites all of them and that would be Taylor Esposito’s lettering. Regardless of the story being told, there is always a consistency to it that fits the story. It’s adaptable and it’s readable without compromising on its style. In a way, the lettering is almost symbolic of the collective aspect of the bisexual experience; it’s a space where people like me can share our stories and we’re united by our identity. 

And finally, while I do wish there were more stories being told because there’s a vast potential to explore further aspects of bisexuality, I am also aware of the fact that this is an unfair criticism, as it is not up to a set of people or one person to tell such a story, as that would be impossible. This anthology has done more than enough to provide readers with a wide variety of stories that address the bisexual experience and it speaks to a need in the comics industry, and perhaps the media industry as a whole, to have more stories about bisexuality. 

Because we are gonna be here for a while and we will not be going away. 

Check out and support the Kickstarter campaign for Bi Visibility: A Bisexual Anthology here before it closes on September 30th, 2021.

Categories
Film

Reagan’s Recs: The City w/ Bobby Varghese Vinu

Bobby Varghese Vinu is someone who very obviously loves movies. His passion for all film and most especially the films of Wong Kar-Wai is very apparent once you’ve talked to him for even a little bit. But more noticeable than his love for the films he’s already seen is his desire to learn more, to see more. I asked Bobby to guest on Reagan’s Recs because I knew that he would happily share that love with others if given the chance.

When Bobby came to me with the idea to cover cities all I could think about was how it was such a perfect idea with so much room to work with in terms of what could be chosen. After all, the topic of cities can cover everything from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World to Oldboy. Much like with the real world, there’s just so much to explore.


I grew up in a city, but I lived in a housing colony, which is why I enjoyed going into the metropolitan area where I lived. I was excited when I moved to London to do my bachelor’s degree and whenever I go to Manchester (where I am doing my master’s degree) now that I live in a town near the city. And as someone who’s been indulging in his love for films, I find that the city is a tapestry to weave in a wide range of stories.

And so, without further ado, here are my picks!

Monsoon Wedding (2001) dir. Mira Nair (Delhi, India)

(CW/TW: While it is not shown, Monsoon Wedding deals with the ramifications of family child abuse with one of the characters being revealed to be an abuser)

When I was learning Indian geography as a kid, I remember asking why some people call it “New Delhi. If there’s a “New Delhi,” is there an “Old Delhi?”

Monsoon Wedding goes into that. With the premise circulating around a wedding in India, it does take place in Delhi at the turn of the millennium, which has changed considerably, there is the conflict of tradition and modernity, especially with families, thus creating an “Old Delhi” and the “New Delhi.” The city is a perfect tapestry for that kind of conflict.

That kind of conflict is messy, especially when considering the people who are affected by it on a psychological level. In its use of the tradition vs. modernity conflict, director Mira Nair and screenwriter Sabrina Dhawan tackle long-standing family issues with a sensitivity that I don’t think someone who wasn’t Indian would be able to pull off, such as the one I mentioned in my CW/TW. It’s uncomfortable for the characters involved to grapple with the truth, but it must happen.

But Monsoon Wedding is also a beautiful film about love, with its sincerity. It’s charming in the way romantic comedies can be, and love is a catalyst for change. It’s a way to break free of the shackles of the past and to enjoy the present while embracing the future.

Do the Right Thing (1989) dir. Spike Lee (Brooklyn, New York City, United States)

(CW/TW for an ableist slur, racism, antisemitism, flashing lights, and nudity)

No wonder Spike Lee is the Brooklyn filmmaker.

I love how I got to know the community of characters in this film. The filming techniques utilised in Do the Right Thing, such as the use of the camera angles and the zooms keep this sense of movement with the characters. It gives them an active presence and it also helps with showcasing their mood, especially with the film’s story of racial tensions that are a constant across its Brooklyn neighborhood.

This is what makes the film timeless. These filming techniques aren’t just for show. Lee tells a story about racism, and he uses his techniques to get the viewer to understand Mookie, Radio Raheem, Buggin’ Out, and the like when it comes to their grievances.

And that’s not even mentioning how well this film has aged. 

Heat (1995), dir. Michael Mann (Los Angeles, United States)

(CW/TW for flashing lights, a suicide attempt, and sequences of violence, which includes the off-screen death of a sex worker who’s underage. Some images may be triggering to viewers)

I remember first hearing about Heat when Christopher Nolan talked about how the film inspired his take on Gotham City where he wanted to tell a “city story.” Heat is very much that.

Heat is perfect when it comes to style. It has some of the best set pieces that I’ve seen from action films. And Mann does an excellent job at showcasing the quieter, more introspective moments in the film, such as the diner scene. It’s all to show the kind of characters that exist in his world of LA, where the criminals and the cops may be on the opposite sides of the law, but they have one thing in common: an obsession to do what they’re good at, no matter whatever shred of happiness it costs them.

Touki Bouki (1973), dir. Djibril Diop Mambéty (Dakar, Senegal)

(CW/TW for a racial slur for mixed-race people, scenes of graphic animal violence, and nudity. There are unsettling images involving skulls)

At first glance, Touki Bouki may be the usual story about two lovers wanting to move elsewhere, but what makes this film interesting is the fact that it’s about them wanting to move from the city of Dakar, Senegal, to Paris. It’s a poetic film about colonization and migration, with its innovative use of sound and jump cuts, all of which are used to grapple with the ramifications of post-colonialism. For Djibril Diop Mambéty, Dakar, and Senegal by large, is a place that may retain its own culture, but is also influenced by the decades of French colonialism. It’s not recognizable anymore. And you see that with the lovers, Mory and Anta, who see Paris as an escape from the dullness of their lives, especially since they don’t know if Dakar is a place they can call home. There are the scenes at the slaughterhouse, which are uncomfortable to watch, and while they don’t involve the characters, it makes sense in the context of their lives; they can try to change, but they won’t always be in control.

For most of my childhood and my teenage years, I used to move around a lot, and I remember how four years ago, I was excited to leave Trivandrum (the city I am from) for London, and I remember being conflicted as to whether I really wanted to leave or not. I felt like I was betraying my roots and this film reminds me of that time. 

And I think it’s something a lot of folks outside the West can relate to. 

Paddington 2 (2017) dir. Paul King (London, United Kingdom)

(CW/TW: Heavy use of marmalade)

When I first moved to London, I would constantly hear about the big bear and I never bought into it, until I watched the first film. And the second film is just as excellent.

I related to this film, especially since I live in a country where right-wing rhetoric is all too common to the point where it doesn’t surprise me anymore; it just adds to my ever-growing cynicism. I feel unwelcome as if my voice doesn’t matter.

And yet, I still feel my cynicism disappear for a moment with this film. In Paddington 2, London is a city where different cultures coexist and mingle with each other. It may not be a perfect city, but the filmimbues London with a humanistic warmth that just feels like a hug, especially with its title character’s presence, who’s just an amazing person. There’s also some incredible commentary on Brexit and prison reform. It’s a film that dares to ask hard questions of a country that has not done anything to stem the systemic problems it faces.

It’s a marmalade-infused charm of a masterpiece.

Chungking Express (1994), dir. Wong Kar-wai (Hong Kong)

(CW/TW for the drugging of a character and flashing lights)

One of the best things to happen to me this year was discovering the work of Wong Kar-wai. There are numerous films I could pick here, but I wanted to go with Chungking Express, the film that captured my heart with its energized depiction of Hong Kong. 

In Wong’s depiction of Hong Kong, now a retrospective ode to the pre-handover days, you can meet someone with your eyes and in an instant, a connection is formed, with all the endless possibilities that come with it. Hong Kong is a character that brings different kinds of people together.

And with the use of bold colours, courtesy of cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Wong uses the city to provide that insight into connections. I was drawn to the characters to the point where I connected to them in some ways, especially when it came to love.

Another aspect of Hong Kong that I loved in Chungking Express is how it’s “international.” Whether that be the depiction of the Chungking Mansions with its wide assortment of cultures that are in one spot, or the use of American music such as The Mamas and Papas’ “California Dreamin” or Dinah Washington’s “What A Difference A Day Makes,” it adds to the identity of Hong Kong. It adds to the exhilarating romanticism of living in the city.

California Dreamin’ indeed.


Now maybe it’s because I have Chungking Express on this list, but I think a certain thing is starting to become clear to me.

I moved around a lot in my younger years, and what always struck me was how I live in an interconnected world. I have friends around the globe, including the folks at GateCrashers and I think there’s something about the city that allows for that.

The city is global. And with that comes the terror of capitalist exploitation, but there’s also the beauty in talking to different kinds of people and understanding them.

I think that’s beautiful.

Categories
Comics

Reptil #2 Highlights the Importance of Representation

When I read the first issue of Reptil, I was unfamiliar with the character, and thankfully that issue provides a recap that enabled me to understand the character better. It was an issue that hooked me in, especially considering that this is a Marvel character I hadn’t read about until now. Now that that’s out of the way, we have Reptil #2, which continues the title character’s story.

In my review of the first issue, I mentioned that even though I got an exposition-heavy recap of the character and his supporting cast, I was never bored. Now that all of the exposition is out of the way, there’s the second issue. Now I know who Reptil, aka Humberto Lopez, is, and I know his deal. We don’t need any more exposition on his origins, and now we can move the story forward. So does Reptil #2 do that? For this reader, the answer is a resounding yes!

Source: Marvel Comics

What I loved about this issue is that compared to the first issue, it feels tighter. I understand why the first issue had to rely on some exposition and recap, but this issue is better. The story moves forward, and there’s a briskness to it. And considering that this issue is a miniseries, it’s easy to fall into that misstep of being rushed with events passing by in quick succession, but that is not the case. Blas manages to let us feel what happens in the story and understand the stakes involved in the quest undertaken by Humberto and his cousins, Eva and Julian.

Another aspect of the writing that I did appreciate is the character writing that Blas employs here. As I’ve mentioned in my review of the first issue, having a Latinx writer like him means maintaining a level of authenticity that I feel wouldn’t have been present had a non-Latinx writer been in charge. In this issue, though, Blas delves into the character’s identity, addressing themes of keeping one’s heritage alive and the importance of representation.

Source: Marvel Comics

Representation can be tricky because when writing characters who don’t conform to the dominant culture of superhero comics, the execution can be rough, no matter how good the intentions are, which is why it is crucial to highlight marginalized voices and marginalized voices characters in comics. In a world where readers are not just cis-gendered, heterosexual white men, representation can be refreshing. It can provide an opportunity to have different and complex perspectives, especially for readers. And this issue is a reminder of the importance of that aspect of representation: not to provide more voices but also to allow for more nuance.

While the writing is indeed stellar, the artwork is not to be ignored. Enid Bálam finally gets to depict some hardcore dinosaur action, and it’s pretty impressive. While there are some instances where the characters look off in terms of facial expressions and certain poses that seem to abuse the concept of body anatomy, it doesn’t necessarily ruin the flow of the issue. There’s a stylishness to it, bolstered by Olazaba’s inks, which maintain that feeling of this being a comic about superheroes. Both of them create a unified “look” of sorts with the comic, which works well with the scenes in this comic, whether that be the conversation between Humberto, Eva, and Julian or the scenes where the former taps into his dinosaur form to fight. When I was reading this issue, there was the feeling of a Saturday morning cartoon, which fits well with the overall story: that of being an adventure to look for one’s past and being a beacon for the others to look up to, while also getting involved in the fantastical aspects of the world they inhabit.

Source: Marvel Comics

Last but certainly not least, the letters by VC’s Joe Sabino always stay consistent. It may be in tandem with the Marvel house style of lettering, but it is readable, and there’s a strong sense of clarity to it, with some of the nuances of Blas’s script, such as the Spanish words translating very well to the words that we read.

As this is a four-issue miniseries, half of Reptil is over; leaving me wishing that I could read more, if only for the simple fact that Humberto and his supporting cast are interesting, especially regarding the world they inhabit.

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Comics

Djeliya: A World Outside The Expected

I made the decision to stop reading Big Two comics and focus more on independent publications because I just felt like I was missing something. And that’s when I made the decision to drop whatever I was pulling at the Big Two (except for Immortal Hulk and Far Sector, since the former is ending this year and the latter ended recently) and go “full indie.”

 This wasn’t because I hated what I was reading. But I just wanted to go outside my comfort zone and read comics that I wouldn’t normally be reading.

And that’s when I stumbled upon Juni Ba’s Djeliya.

Sure, it was an independent comic and I wanted to read more stuff like that. What I did also notice, however, was the fact that it was a story influenced by African folklore, especially from West Africa. It wasn’t the kind of story I was expecting from an industry that is dominated by a certain ideology that I feel sometimes limits the art that comes from the creators. This is why Djeliya was a breath of fresh air.

 The story of Djeliya is about Mansour Keita, the last prince of a dying kingdom, and Awa Kouyaté, who is his “djeli,” a term for the royal storyteller. It takes place in a world that is in ruins because of a wizard. And the two embark on a journey to meet him and possibly restore the world to its prosperous golden age.

 I feel like this is a simplification of the story because there’s so much more to this graphic novel than that summary. There’s a very interesting world within this comic, with there being various stories about this world. This makes the world of Djeliya fully realised with such stories. There is a freedom to which these stories can be told. There is a beauty to their folkloric influence that makes them deeply enjoyable. Throughout Mansour and Awa’s journey, these stories pop up, whether they be told by Awa or whether they be a brief interlude, and they’re not a “distraction,” but they add to the book’s appeal, at least for me. And some of them had messages that I deeply resonated with.

I also appreciated how these stories give us a look into Mansour and Awa. The former struggles with feelings of inadequacy since his father, with whom he’s compared, is seen as one of the best rulers. By contrast, he’s viewed as a failure; it is as if his presence is a representation to the people of how his father’s kingdom is in decline. And yet, despite his struggles with that legacy, he trudges on. The theme of legacy is also prominent for Awa, who struggles with the fact that the djeli are no longer the esteemed storytellers they once were; they deliver stories devoid of the passion that art can inspire. And as Mansour’s moral fibre, it is difficult for her to guide him into making the right decisions in a world that is now broken.

 This is why I find it amazing how much Djeliya tells. It’s only a graphic novel and yet it is expansive. Every page of the book is always interesting in terms of what is being told, and this is where I want to point out how gorgeous the art is. Every panel and every image on the pages are a sight to behold, especially with regards to my earlier point about how the world is fully realised. Every character is distinctive in their own way, and there’s a beautiful visual language that informs the book, whether that be through the stylised depictions of the characters or through the lettering, which has an energy to it depending on the scene, whether it is a tranquil scene or a scene brimming with tension. And that’s not even mentioning the abundance of scenery porn.  

 I could go more in detail about Djeliya, and I don’t know this review does the book justice, but it’s beautiful with a story that pulls you into a world outside the West that you never thought would have existed. It’s a world full of exciting possibilities and a kind of storytelling that I don’t think I’ve ever taken note of in my lifetime of reading comics. And when I talk about the world outside the West, I am not talking about an Orientalist depiction. There’s an honesty to it that I don’t think I would have seen had this been written by someone who wasn’t as familiar with the inspirations as Juni Ba was.

This is why I read comics. I want to see creators flex their artistic muscles and do the sort of storytelling that reminds me of the passion that motivated them to create art. And there’s something personal about this comic. It’s like a friend beckoning you to take a look at this world that has a beautiful honesty to it.

 And it’s waiting for you.

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Comics

REVIEW: While Exposition-Heavy, Reptil #1 Never Feels Like a Drag

Let me preface this by saying that I am not too familiar with the character of Reptil. I have a cursory understanding of his character so I do appreciate that this issue begins with a general recap of who Reptil is and what he’s doing right now. 

To give a brief overview on who Reptil is, Humberto Lopez is a teenager who, thanks to finding an amulet on one of his parents’ (who are paleontologists) digsites has the ability to turn into any species of dinosuar. Ever since then, he’s been the superhero now known as Reptil.

Source: Marvel Comics

Since this is a four-issue miniseries, I was worried that this recap would take up space that could be considered valuable in terms of set-up. But Terry Blas does a good job of establishing the crux of its story around an aspect of Humberto’s background that is covered in the recap, which I believe could interest fans of the character. 

That being said, I still feel that even with a recap that doesn’t feel like a waste of pages a lot of this issue felt like set-up, at least until the last few pages. Normally, I’d be critical of this, but I think in the case of Reptil, it is essential for Humberto’s character. For the reader, it provides a glimpse into how he and his loved ones are feeling. He’s someone who’s dealing with that elusive beast known as uncertainty, especially after a certain event that involved teenage superheroes of the Marvel universe known as Outlawed (don’t worry about it; the issue explains what happened there). So when there is that big revelation, it felt earned and as someone who considers this series as his first foray into the character, I was also interested.

This speaks to one of the merits of the book, which is its accessibility. This is obviously a book that I am sure existing Reptil fans will enjoy but, as mentioned earlier for someone like me who has never read any of the character’s previous appearances, I didn’t have to worry about “catching up” with Reptil’s history. 

Source: Marvel Comics

Even for readers new to comics, Reptil #1 does provide a good entry point with a character who would be interesting even if he was taken outside of Marvel continuity. His dinosaur powers and excellent design showcase a character rife with potential. What was mentioned earlier about how there’s no need to “catch up” with the character’s history also means that non-comic book readers don’t have to be intimidated by any sort of prior continuity, which is oftentimes a failing of the Big Two (Marvel and DC) comic books; that they’re so obsessed with sticking to continuity to the detriment of new readers who may have the slightest of interest in comic books. Which is why this comic serves as an excellent jumping on point for readers looking to get into comics in general. For all intents and purposes, this is essentially a new character in a world they don’t have to be too acquainted with outside of a few references, which aren’t crucial to understanding the story. 

While the recap pages are beneficial in terms of the aforementioned accessibility, they are also a good opportunity for Blas to give humanity to these characters. It should also be noted that having a Latinx writer like Terry Blas tackle these characters gives them a voice of authenticity. There’s an honesty to Humberto and his loved ones that gets the readers invested into the character from the jump. And I am sure that had this book been written by a writer who is not part of the culture that Humberto and his loved ones are from, there wouldn’t be that honesty. It would have felt artificial and they wouldn’t have felt like real characters. 

Blas is also lucky to work with a good penciller. While I would have loved to see more of Enid Balám’s art, especially with Reptil’s transformation, it’s still nice to look at. The designs for Humberto’s dinosaur alter-egos are really cool to see and I do hope to see him become more unrestrained with how he draws Reptil’s dinosaur forms.

The pencils are balanced well with Victor Olazaba’s inking, which has a smoothness to it that I appreciate. And while I do feel like a series like this could have utilised bolder colours to make it stand out more, Carlos Lopez is still a good colorist. And last but not least, the lettering by VC’s Joe Sabino stays consistent and readable.

Source: Marvel Comics

Considering this issue as a whole, I’d say that it is good at keeping readers invested in the titular character and his loved ones, especially with its accessibility. And while I would normally be concerned with a four-issue series that begins with this much exposition, the ending is proof that this series is about to kick into high gear.