Behind the BSaTT Curtain, Part 2

Page 1

This is the first page from our upcoming “What is Your Emergency?” story in Issue # 5 of our flagship anthology series. Bonus! It’s in color here, which the comic will actually be in black-and-white. Josh Hood (yes, that Josh Hood!) did the pencils and inks, Travis Perkins (yes, that Travis Perkins!) did the colors and the lettering.

The story that this art introduces is what brings us back around, too. The controversy that was mentioned last time around.

I was sitting at a friend’s house years ago on a Friday evening. It was the Friday that Netflix dropped its first Daredevil series, and we’d gathered to watch some of it. Like so many, I was blown away by that series, especially the one long continuous shot of Daredevil fighting through that one particular building. Watching it, I wondered what would it be like for someone to really do something like that? Be a vigilante. This is nothing new, I’m well aware. Even so, it kept kicking around in my head. Not costumes. No capes or tights or even body armor. I wasn’t looking at doing the second coming of Kick-Ass.

What would compel someone to go out and patrol a city at night and put themselves in harm’s way? I started working on this idea as a story and talked it over with a few friends. The immediate response that I got was that my story was a tricky one to pull off because the protagonist in the story is an African-American man, and I am not. One very good friend in particular introduced me to a two very key things: 1) A movement (that I shall not name because I don’t want to give them any traction) that was growing at the time in comics that opposed diversity in characters as well as creators; and 2) Ta-Nahesi Coates, more specifically Between the World and Me, his best-selling book that is really more an open letter to his son. This was just before Mr. Coates began his amazing run on Marvel’s Black Panther series.

Reading the opposing sides of an argument over inclusiveness in the comic book industry at the same time as reading Mr. Coates’ book opened my eyes to a much bigger, and truthfully, much scarier world. Privilege, for those of us who benefit from it, can be a warm blanket that makes us feel like everything is safe. Or at least better than it really is. I confess, I had been naive, and perhaps I still am.

I shelved the story. I’d come back around to it occasionally. I pitched it to an independent comic book company (spoiler, they passed on it). Time went on, and the story kept rummaging around in my mind. I decided that I wanted to tackle it again. Everything I had learned made the story feel even more important to me, even though I recognized that it would be a difficult story to properly tell.

In mid-2018, I struck up a conversation with independent artist Josh Hood at a convention. I was surprised that I was even talking about it at all, let alone that anyone else was interested. In no time at all, we were at work, and pages were coming in. I approached some colleagues with my script just before sending them to Josh, and I received a lot of the same warnings and concerns that I’d received before. For years I’d been struggling with this question, and here it was again:

Is it really a good idea for a white man to be writing an African-American story? At all? In this time? If one is going to tell a story that involves racism, can it really be told by someone who hasn’t experienced it? Or even worse, has been the beneficiary of privilege? Ok, that’s more than one question, but they’re all intricately woven together into one very important subject. I wasn’t sure whether or not it was a good idea to continue.

Then my Mom died, abruptly, unexpectedly, and somewhat violently. I wasn’t with her when the initial accident happened, but I was with her at the hospital, and I saw her go from being upset with herself for having fallen in her house and talking about how silly she felt for being there to losing her ability to talk at all. I saw her afraid, and I witnessed many of the horrors they had to do to her body in the name of trying to save her life.

There are moments in our lives that change us, shape us, pivotal moments. Many of them are positive, and I’m grateful for those in my life. In this case, though, I got thoroughly and utterly derailed. Grief, loss, guilt, all these things that I thought I knew, they took on a whole new depth and breadth. In late 2018, I was changed, and not really for the better.

The script got revised. My goal in telling the story changed. The circumstances in the story didn’t change too much, but the overall goal was radically different. I wasn’t trying to tell a story of racism, or vigilantism, crime, or anything else really.

I was telling a story about grief.

So here we are, the first part of this story is complete, in the can as we like to say in the biz. Issue # 5 will hopefully be coming out this year, that’s the plan at least. Plagues have certainly upended a lot of plans, so we’ll do our best.

When it does come out, I’ll be interested to see how the story connects with readers. I freely admit, I may not have any right to be the one to try to tell this story. I may be utterly and completely wrong, and I surely have been before. But oddly enough, it’s an easier decision for me now because I believe that grief and loss are common to us all, and death is the great unifying fate that we all face. I hope, and I would like to believe, that compassion and empathy are also unifying forces for us, but that may well be more of that naivete coming out.

A little spoiler warning: there’s a scene in this first installment of the story where our protagonist has come home from a funeral of his family. He’s wrecked, on the floor of his kitchen, the room where his family had died, and listening to his voice mail messages. That scene, his actions there, I do not think I could have written those scenes before my Mom had died. I definitely know that seeing them come alive with Josh’s pencils and inks and Travis’ colors resonated with me in a powerful way. A painful way. Eventually, a little bit of a cathartic way.

Until later, stay healthy and stay safe all of you Beautiful, Silly, but never Terrible people!

John

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