Author Archive for Megan Purdy

DC’s Eternity Girl Uses Superheroics to Explore Depression and Trauma

DC’s Eternity Girl Uses Superheroics to Explore Depression and Trauma

Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew make their Young Animal debut with Eternity Girl #1, out this week. The six-issue DC Comics series follows superpowered agent Caroline Sharp as she tries to get back on the roster at Alpha 13, after being benched following an “incident.” Caroline is depressed and traumatized, and Eternity Girl doesn’t hold back with either. It’s a brutal, beautiful comic that uses superheroics and the super-body to explore dissociation, suicidal ideation and dysphoria.

While Caroline Sharp is new to the Young Animal universe, she feels like she’s always been there, and here in the big cultural soup of superheroes and supernatural pop culture IPs. Comics are full of radical, involuntary bodily transformations and superpowers that hurt as much as they help. Caroline feels like a cousin to all these characters whose lives were transformed, both positively and tragically, by gaining powers — but unlike many of them, she’s in a comic that doesn’t need to put hers on hold to get back to the action.

RELATED: DC’s Young Animal Imprint Gets Major Revamp in March

CBR talked to Visaggio, Liew and colorist Chris Chuckry about the development of Caroline Sharp and Eternity Girl.

Eternity Girl #1 cover by Sonny Liew

CBR: The first thing that got me interested in Eternity Girl was that fantastic cover. Then I saw who was on the team! Mags, Sonny, tell me a bit about how the book and this team came together. And how did you find the experience of collaborating on it?

Magdalene Visaggio: The development process for this book has been really lengthy, going back to Thanksgiving 2016. But for all that, the book honestly hasn’t changed that much. Casting the artist on this book was probably the most difficult part of the process — it’s such a weird, specific story, and the tone needed to be perfect.

At some point in the process I remembered how blown away I was by Sonny Liew’s work on Doctor Fate, which was the only place I really knew him from, and I threw his name into the hat. [Young Animal curator] Gerard [Way] and Jamie Rich, who was the editor on Eternity Girl all through the development process, both immediately fell in love with the idea. They knew his work better than me; they understood the immense breadth of his talent, his versatility. He’s been an absolute wonder to work with, and he elevates my writing while at the same time giving me the freedom to ask for things I don’t know I could have with anyone else.

Sonny Liew: I got an email from editor Jamie Rich asking if I’d be interested in working on a new title for DC Young Animal sometime last year — in some ways it felt like a return to the roots of my first DC gig with Vertigo (My Faith in Frankie with Mike Carey and Marc Hempel). Mag’s idea for a superheroine suffering from depression was fascinating, and I could envision introducing some slightly alternative comics art style elements to complement the narrative, so it all seemed like an interesting challenge to take on; sort of mainstream work with a real edge to it. We got to hang out a little bit at San Diego Comic-Con and have been working on getting the series done ever since.

As a result of a government experiment — I think? — Caroline Sharp, aka Chrysalis, has bird-like feet, clawed hands, yellow eyes and some grayscale-looking skin. It also gave her powers, which include shape-shifting, energy blasts and being “a wave function, an intrinsic field interacting with other intrinsic fields.” In short, as of this first issue we don’t know the full scope of her abilities and how the experiment affected her. Mags, what were your inspirations for the character, variously called a “sumerian elemental goddess” and a “foul-smelling homunculus”?

Visaggio: First, it wasn’t a government experiment. It was a mission deep into the Iraqi desert to stop a supervillain from unlocking this exact power.

There are two primary sources pouring into Caroline: one, obviously, is Element Girl, from whom we borrow the broad outlines of her origin (we went Babylonian instead of Egyptian) and the basic idea of her body configuration. The other is Doctor Manhattan, from whom I stole the concept of an intrinsic field and its weird properties over matter. The Manhattan influence is worth mentioning also, because, while it didn’t influence the course of her depression, it has strong resonances: the sense of disconnection and depersonalization I have found so characteristic of in my depression, I find echoes in the blue naked guy.

So, her powers aren’t identical to those of Doctor Manhattan or Element Girl, but borrow from both; she’s a shape-shifter who can transform herself into everything from a human to a big steel monolith to noxious gas, because she has utter control over her atomic structure because she is functionally identical with her own intrinsic field. That also lets her shoot charged electrostatic blasts.

That’s not all she can do, either, but that’s spoilers.

Eternity Girl #1 interior art by Sonny Liew and Chris Chuckry

So for Caroline is that mission a source of trauma, or at least troubling memories, both for transforming her but also because it’s a kind of successful failure? She succeeded at her mission, but not the way she was meant to?

Visaggio: Basically, the mission is something she resents, and it underlines the extent to which she feels used and helpless; everything she did, she did for Alpha 13, and it cost her her humanity, and then they tossed her out. She was always someone driven by duty, someone full of drive and energy who wanted to do great things, and the big disappointment of her life is that Alpha 13 just wrung every ounce of usefulness out of her. That’s part of the trauma: her being abandoned.

There’s definitely a lot going on regarding her complicated feelings about what happened and the relationship it placed her in with regard to her body, which didn’t emerge out of the aether when she lost control of her powers. But I think that created a sense of alienation; that she’s not even really in control of her body. Her relationship to it is severed. So the initial trauma regarding the transformation was something she could easily displace as long as it seemed to have meaning for her. When that meaning fell away, well, it was all downhill.

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Corpus Aims for Honest Stories of Physical and Mental Illness

Corpus Aims for Honest Stories of Physical and Mental Illness

Corpus: A Comic Anthology of Bodily Ailments is one of those projects you hear about and wonder why it’s only now being made. The anthology contains 40 stories by new and established creators (including Christopher Sebela, Vita Ayala and Tina Howard) about living with physical and mental illness — everything from allergies to chronic illness to struggling for adequate healthcare.

In superhero comics, it’s common for the hero overcomes illness or disability through a miraculous transformation that also grants them powers. So are comics where the hero is “brought low” with a temporary disability that he must overcome through hard work. Think Steve Rogers being cured of his vague assortment of chronic illnesses to become Captain America, or Bruce Wayne’s back being broken in “Knightfall” so he could come back stronger than before. In superhero comics, physical health is its own kind of heroism.

Mental health struggles, meanwhile, are too often mined for high drama. Tony Stark falling off the wagon is a great excuse for yet another redemption arc — but few Iron Man writers have incorporated his AA meetings the character’s ordinary, daily life. Comics about people just living with illness that don’t lean on harmful stereotypes? Those aren’t so common.

Corpus isn’t a book of superhero comics. But how the genre treats illness and disability is exemplar of how it’s treated culturally: depicted when convenient for drama, but otherwise magically cured or forgotten. We desperately need better representation of people who live with chronic illnesses and disabilities. But we also need broader and more nuanced depictions of physical and mental health. We need stories that don’t shame; stories that don’t associate illness with weakness, or health with strength and moral good. That’s why Corpus is so exciting.

RELATED: The Apocalypse is Floral in The Wilds, Complete with Flower Zombies

As Corpus editor Nadia Shammas puts it, “Everyone’s been sick at some point, some for short periods, some for their entire lives. We are all united by the fact that we navigate the world with our bodies, and it deeply affects the way we exist. Everyone has a story. Stories have the power to spark empathy. These stories of illness connect us, remove the fear of the disabled and the unknown. After all, health is a funny thing like that. Most don’t really think about their own health until it’s compromised.”

The anthology is in it’s final stretch on Kickstarter — as of publication, it has met its $25,000 goal, with fundraising continuing until Sunday at midnight, eastern time — so I sat down to chat with Shammas, and contributors Emily Pearson, Ryan Cady, Cathy Leamy and Eliot Rahal about their work on the book, and what they hope the project achieves.

Corpus cover art by Mark Wang

CBR: Why were you interested in being a part of Corpus, and how have you found working on your story? Has it been easier or harder than you expected to create a comic on this topic?

Nadia Shammas: The idea for the anthology came out of a few different things at once. I had just lost my first job out of college and decided I was ready to embark on my first major self-published passion project. Around this time I was also really preoccupied with the healthcare discussions regarding repealing the Affordable Care Act. I noticed this trend where people with illnesses were being really dehumanized and discussed as though they were a small group of lazy moochers who wanted to take money from the healthy. It couldn’t have been further from the truth, and it was really strange to me that one of the only things we can be sure of in life is the fact that we all get sick. I thought, “If they knew me, knew my story as a Type 1 Diabetic, they wouldn’t think this way.” Then the thought came, how could they know my story? No one tells it. Diabetics are the bookend of a fat joke and not much more.

It hit me how little representation illness actually gets, and so I realized not only did I need to create the content I wanted to see, I needed to do it immediately. I was ready to launch something, but I also wanted to get these stories out there as soon as possible as while this administration is in office, healthcare will continue to be at risk.

Emily Pearson: I was initially interested in being a part of Corpus because of Nadia, and the writer I’m working on my story with, Stephanie Cannon. Nadia and Stephanie are both amazing people and creators, and working with them is something I knew I would enjoy. Having a comic anthology about mental and physical illness is something that’s so personal for everyone involved, and I was really interested in seeing all the stories coming out from my other friends working on the anthology as well.

Ryan Cady: At first, I wanted to do a more autobiographical piece – 2017 was an awful year for my health, with some terrible depression/anxiety issues and my cubital tunnel syndrome making basic writing work difficult somedays — but after a couple drafts the personal stuff just felt too maudlin, untouchable. So instead, artist Phil Sevy and I took the feelings behind our health (and mental health!) issues from comics work and put them into this more fantastical piece.

Cathy Leamy: I’m a cartoonist who specializes in health and medical topics, so the Corpus anthology is definitely on my wavelength! What’s challenging is figuring out how much educational detail to include. The comic I’m collaborating on is about Dupuytren’s disease (also called Dupuytren’s contracture), a hand condition where the fingers can wind up permanently bent. It’s common, but there’s not a lot of awareness around it. So, we want to explain the disease (what it is, who’s at risk, what the treatments are), but we don’t want to barf up an entire textbook full of facts. We’re still telling a story here.

Eliot Rahal: Nadia is young and excited about comics. Something desperately needed in comics right now. She has hope for the future. It’s clear that she wants to help make this world a better place. Corpus is living proof of that. How could I not want to be a part of that? Working with Sean is great. His art is cosmic. It has an interdimensional quality to it. It allows us to get weird in a create something really beautiful. Also. He is a fellow studio mate and friend. We can work on this together in the same room. That can be rare sometimes. So it’s really cool to be able to feed off of each other’s ideas.

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The Apocalypse is Floral in The Wilds, Complete with Flower Zombies

The Apocalypse is Floral in The Wilds, Complete with Flower Zombies

The Wilds, the new zombie apocalypse comic from Black Mask Studios, has a very big twist: instead of decaying shamblers, or fast-moving infected, the zombies in The Wilds have become host to flowers. How these Abominations, as they’re called in the comic, actually work isn’t explained in the first issue. Instead we learn about the chaotic early days of the new plague and the new world that’s grown in its wreckage. The flower zombie Abominations have taken over the countryside, with humanity having retreated into armed compounds and walled towns. Only Runners travel safely between communities, delivering supplies, messages, and occasionally people.

The Abominations are so good a concept and their world so quickly and thoroughly established in The Wilds #1 that you’ll be willing to wait for that explanation while you get to know runner Daisy, her girlfriend Heather and the rest of the cast in this most unusual zombie apocalypse story.

RELATED: Calexit’s Dystopia Rooted in Real-Life ‘Toxic Political Environment’

CBR caught up with the full Wilds crew — writer Vita Ayala, penciler Emily Pearson, colorist Marissa Louise, letterer Jim Campbell, cover artist Natasha Alterici, and editor Danny Lore — to talk flower zombies, apocalypse fiction, and how they put this book together.

The Wilds #1 cover by Emily Pearson

CBR: How did you get involved with The Wilds and why did you decide to work on this book?

Emily Pearson: Vita and I were looking for a story to do together, and we went over a few ideas that might be fun to do. The Wilds really stood out to me the most, and we starting working on the book and developing it from there. There’s a lot about The Wilds that’s appealing to me. I love drawing women, nature, cars, and I love apocalypse settings. I’m not too picky when I’m looking to work on a comic — as long as the story’s good, I’m hooked, and Vita’s the person you call if you want a good story.

Marissa Louise: I don’t remember how I got involved. All I remember was hearing the team and saying yes, then hearing the concept and screaming yes.

Vita Ayala: I have been working on a version of this story (which has gone through two name changes) for years now. It was a story that I initially developed in college with a very good friend, and while it is very different from that seed of an idea, many things have spiritually carried over. When Emily and I started talking about working together, she reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the story. When we worked out the specifics of the Abominations — the flower zombies — I knew there was no turning back, I was obsessed.

Danny Lore: Vita and I have always bounced ideas back and forth, and I think I’d seen one of the older iterations of this story. Vita has always come up with the kinds of stories I want to see in the world, so I jumped at the chance to participate. The fact that it was a floral apocalypse just cemented my excitement.

Natasha Alterici: I had made it a goal of mine to do more cover work this year, and to collaborate and support the projects of less white/cis/het/male teams. So it was perfect timing that Vita reached out to me about doing variants for the series. And when I read over all the materials and saw the amazing art that was done for it already, I knew I wanted to be a part of this smart and beautiful series. Plus, how could I say no to painting flower zombies?

I think “flower zombies” is a concept that sells itself, no elevator pitch necessary. But can you tell me a bit about the genesis of the idea, and how the concept developed and changed throughout the process of putting this book together?

Pearson: Neither of us can remember for the life of us which one of us came up with the idea of flower zombies. Vita asked if there’s anything I’d be interested in drawing. I mentioned it might be fun to draw mutated people, but I really didn’t think much of it. Vita ended up changing a lot of the story to include mutations. We ended up talking about it for a while, I went through a couple renditions of what the abominations could look like, and eventually we both settled on the current design of these creepy colorful flower zombies.

Ayala: It was a sort of chemical reaction between Emily and I. I wanted to know what kind of things she was interested in creating and drawing — I didn’t want her to be miserable for however many months it would be we worked on this. She mentioned she loved drawing nature and cute girls, and that worked well because even in the beginning, nature played a huge role (the secret main character of the book). Figuring out the Abominations was a bit like a jazz jam session. We were in the creative zone, just throwing ideas around, and we ended up making some sweet music!

Pundits keep declaring zombies and post-apocalyptic narratives dead, but The Walking Dead shows no signs of slowing down, and new takes on zombies and extreme survival stories keep coming. Why are zombies and social collapse stories so popular right now, in this historical moment?

Ayala: I think Monsters with capital “M” are cyclical. They represent very real anxieties and fears that we have, and depending on what is happening in our world at any given moment, these fears can surge to the forefront of our consciousness. I think zombies and that sort of horde-like end of the world scenario speak to very real feelings of not just helplessness and anxiety over global catastrophe, but also to feelings of losing the sense of self. They are a sweet spot of very real concerns about the end of civilization [particularly] our specific way of life as it in the present, and corruption.

This genre of story also speaks to people’s need to believe they will survive, against all odds. Sure there may be a literal wave of death coming for me (zombies, plague, nuclear war), but I can make it — I am strong enough, smart enough, and wily enough to beat the odds.

Zombies are often metaphors for real viral plagues and government failures with respect to public health. Other times they’re about failures in human character: representative of sin or selfishness. And in very bad zombie stories, they’re just an excuse for our heroes to enact violence on mindless bodies. What are the zombies in The Wilds about — and why flowers?

Ayala: To me, the zombies in The Wilds represent a few things. They represent our fears, about the world and about things we cannot control, about what we really are. They also represent the dangers that people — especially marginalized people — face every day, just for existing. Literally walking down the street as a PoC, as a Queer person, as a woman (and all the gods help you if you are all three) is a huge risk, can and does often entail protecting yourself against psychological, emotional or physical violence regularly. The Abominations [or flower zombies] also sort of represent the relentless march of Mother Nature and how it doesn’t care about humanity or our agendas.

Ultimately, while we are a very destructive species, we all end up the same as any other in the end, and when we are gone, nature will cover up our bones and the ruins of our buildings right quick. So I guess, they represent both our internal fears of being powerless and consumed, how we enact violence on people who are socially vulnerable, and also how nature scoffs at our pettiness.

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