Recently, Dark Horse Comics launched a new imprint entitled Berger Books, founded by Karen Berger, the mastermind behind DC’s legendary Vertigo line. One of the latest series launched by this imprint is She Could Fly‘ which we gave our thoughts on a few weeks back and is out in stores now. We spoke to writer Christopher Cantwell and artist Martín Morazzo about some of the context surrounding the book and different visual mediums of fiction.
AiPT!: As a nearly lifelong Chicagoan I have to say I instantly connected with the visuals that may have just seemed generic to others but were quite relatable to me. Chris, did you intend to make this series a love letter to Chicago?
Christopher Cantwell: Setting this story in Chicago just made the visuals click, and Luna’s world completely fall into place. Though I grew up in Texas, I was born in Chicago and both my parents were raised there in blue collar families, and I visited relatives so much during my childhood and adolescence. The city is burned in my mind, and is made even more special by the fact that I never got to fully live there. When figuring out the setting of the story, I landed on Chicago because 1) New York gets all the cool stories and I’m sick of it, 2) I still wanted some high buildings for the Flying Woman to swirl around. Not that other cities don’t have that, but c’mon, Chicago is the City of Broad Shoulders, it’s a town of labor, it has grit. And I put Luna in the suburbs, specifically Elmhurst, where I first lived as a baby with my parents in a thousand square foot home, but her house is heavily inspired by my grandmother’s old house in Wood Dale. It felt right. My parents went to Fenton High, but Luna goes to fictional William Perry High, which is another inside joke for Chicagoans. Even Bill’s instructions of where to put a sticker on an elevated train car window are correct for the Loop in terms of the lines and the direction of travel. I love detail, especially detail I’m familiar with, so it’s great to dive deep into Chicago lore. And Martín was certainly up for the challenge.
AiPT!: Keeping on the topic of the Second City, there are definitely some parallels in the visions of violence with the very real violence that is happening in our city almost daily. Was this an intentional connection, and regardless, what are your thoughts on the situation?
Cantwell: The violence is more in Luna’s mind at the beginning of the story, and focuses much more on her adolescent angst and struggles. Real violence certainly comes to the story later on, but in a much more bizarre and almost surreal way. That’s the tone and purview of this story. It’s but one little corner of Chicago’s vivid scope, and obviously it’s nowhere near enough to capture the larger issues and problems of the city. I also don’t live in Chicago and haven’t immersed myself in its toughest concerns, so I don’t really know what value my input or opinions would have. I do know that historically, and at least in my family’s experience, Chicago has felt like a very segregated city at times, down to the town in Poland your ancestors hailed from. Without going too deeply into it here, my grandfather on my mother’s side was a German conscript and then prisoner during WWII, and made it to America (my mom was born in Germany too). He was a butcher in Chicago and had that very house in Wood Dale. He had a friend named Charlie who was African American, and Charlie actually came to my grandfather’s house after MLK was assassinated, and shared a drink with my grandfather. But after he left a neighbor asked my grandfather to please refrain from bringing people like Charlie to the area. And this was Wood Dale, in 1968. A LOT has changed since then, and then again… some things haven’t. I know what Cabrini-Green was. I know I love that town and sincerely hope the communities begin to find a way forward, ideally together. By the way, my grandfather threatened to beat the s--t out of that neighbor. I’m trying to write something about his experiences in Chicago in the ’60s and ’70s–things like the Skokie Nazi march and all that garbage–I don’t know if it’ll ever see the light of day.
AiPT!: Martin, you’re working with a first-time comic book writer who previously worked in television. From an artist’s perspective, can you compare these two visual mediums of storytelling?
Martín Morazzo: Comic book scripts and screenplays have a lot in common. But [in comics] it’s the distilling of the story down to its barest essentials that is the toughest. Asking yourself, what’s the single image that conveys what needs to happen in this entire scene? On TV, you can pivot the actors back and forth across three dimensional space whenever you damn well please. But comics are locked, they’re this kind of series of dramatic tableaus, and the rest is left up the reader’s imagination. I really love that. Something that’s both a drawback and benefit of TV is the fact that’s so dynamic. You can write something one way and after it’s shot it’s completely different. Sometimes that means it sucks and you end up cutting it. Comics are more crystallized, even as the artist embellishes and elevates everything you imagined. I would love to see how Luna walks, or scratches her face, or hear the mumbles of her voice.
AiPT!: Mental illness is an extremely powerful yet touchy topic to tackle in this series. I thought you did a great job of conveying what was going through Luna’s mind with the way you drew her expressions. What do you draw upon to convey such life like reactions and feelings?
Morazzo: Sadly, I lived together with mental illness for a long time in my life. There were some cases in my immediate family and I know it’s something that shouldn’t be underestimated. By having direct contact with it, I guess I’ve learnt what angst, sadness or feeling lost all the time can do to a person and I try to reflect that in Luna.
In a way, I feel lucky I get to draw about this. I thought it was hard at first, stressful, but now I’m sure it helps me release the negative emotional energy and that helps me heal. It’s cathartic!
AiPT!: You started off in the world of webcomics. What do you see for the future of the medium and how it stacks up with “print” especially with the rise of apps like Comixology and others?
Morazzo: At the moment DC and Marvel started publishing digitally the same books they do in print, it seemed like comic books in paper were about to disappear. And it looked like the process was going to be so fast! Now, almost ten years after that, looks like that change is going to be slow, really slow!
I guess, through the years, paper will keep losing ground, and probably be only used for special, more romantic, editions, but I don’t know if we’ll see that change happening or if it’ll ever happen at all.