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Writer MK Reed and artist Jonathan Hill are looking forward to when their First Second graphic novel, Americus, is released in Fall 2010. In the meantime, as part of a build-up to the book’s release, the creators are pleased to serialize the book online here. The book is about “Neil Barton, a teenager growing up in Oklahoma, and his fight to keep his favorite fantasy series, The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde, in his public library.” Recently I was fortunate enough to do a brief email interview with Reed about the book and serializing it online in advance of its release.
Tim O’Shea: How did you and First Second decide upon serializing the story before printing it?
MK Reed: My editor (the fabulous Calista Brill) called me up in June and asked if Jonathan & I would be interested in putting it up on the web. We’ve been working on this book together since 2007, and besides the one chapter that was published in Papercutter, no one’s seen any of it, nor would they for another year. So we were psyched to get it out early, and they were psyched to start promoting two of their lesser known artists.
O’Shea: I couldn’t help but notice that the Colby’s chain store (which has a major role in your first book Cross Country) pops up in Americus at one point. Is this just a tossaway creative decision on your part–or do Cross Country and Americus share some other ties?
Reed: I was working on Cross Country before I started writing Americus, and for about two years I was working on them at the same time. Americus got finished first, or at least I finished the script a few months before Cross Country, so it is most likely my subconscious screaming at me to get back to work drawing. That or just venting about crappy retail jobs, which is always fun to do.
O’Shea: How far along in the development of this project did you decide the story (Apathea) within the story would have to be featured for certain extended scenes in the book?
Reed: Pretty much from the beginning, I knew it was going to be pretty wordy and not very fun to draw- there’s a little shouting, but not really much in terms of anyone punching anyone else in the main story line; no one blows up anything. So the fantasy element seemed like a good way to make it more fun and visual, and to keep it from getting too melodramatic. Plus, since the story is about the fight to keep the Apathea Ravenchilde books, it would have been dumb not to show what they were fighting for.
O’Shea: In developing the book, were there any librarians who you ran the story by, for perspective?
Reed: I had two friends edit the script for me as I was going along, one of whom was Greg Means, who edits Papercutter, is a librarian, and also is the former editor of the Zine Librarian zine. We’ve had three years of phone calls about library protocol and every inaccuracy in the book. There was a scene where a character was going to dog-ear a library book, which he heavily objected to and I ended up taking out. We had a rule that no librarian would be shown with either a cardigan or a tight bun, and no shushing. Any mistake left in there by this point is my fault, and the result of a lot of arguing.
O’Shea: Are you concerned at all of alienating some of your potential reading audience by populating the book with moderate and liberal characters in seemingly sympathetic roles–and conservatives, to a certain extent, as the crusaders against the Apathea book?
Reed: I sort of view it like the Simpsons writers do making jokes about the elderly- they’ve never had a complaint because old people don’t watch the show, so they’ve got some freedom to joke about Grandpa. I doubt that this is going to be read by hardcore fundamentalist- no one prays or gets born again, there aren’t any scenes of the rapture, it’s not on the ground at the bus station. When First Second picked up the book, they had the same assumption. Now that it’s going on the internet, we’re likely to get some trolls, but so does everybody.
To be clear though, I wrote Americus as an attack on bullies, not religion. I have nothing against moderate conservatives, or Christianity per se. But then there’s the fundamentalists, and the Teabaggers. As an educated woman from the Northeast with no children, I realize anything I say has instant grounds for dismissal for being elitist or influenced by the pro-homosexual agenda, but those guys are dicks.
O’Shea: How long have you and Jonathan Hill been collaborating on the project–and what attracted you to working with him on this project?
Reed: Greg Means teamed us up for Papercutter. They knew each other from living in Portland, and Greg suggested him as a really talented artist he was eager to work with. I think I read about six pages of Jonathan’s comics on his website and I knew we would able to work together. By the time I got to the comic about beating up grandmas, I was sold.
O’Shea: Did you grow up in a city like the one featured in Americus or is there a city you used for pure inspiration?
Reed: The town I grew up in in New Jersey is small and the schools only had about a hundred kids per grade, so everyone knew each other from kindergarten to graduation, and you knew everyone’s parents and siblings from soccer or whatever. But the similarities end there.
O’Shea: What’s the message (if any) you hope readers take away from the book?
Reed: Nobody should tell anyone else how to do anything, except for me, now, telling you, the reader, how to think.