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Olivia Cuartero-Briggs on building the world of 'Silver City'

Comic Books

Olivia Cuartero-Briggs on building the world of ‘Silver City’

The new gritty fantasy series involves the afterlife, a kidnapping, and superpowers.

As a writer, Olivia Cuartero-Briggs has honed her craft on TV shows like Queen of the South and The Arrangement. But more recently, she’s made her way into the real of comics; first with 2019’s mostly entertaining Mary Shelley: Monster Hunter, and now a brand-new series, Silver City.

Published by AfterShock Comics, the series (which features art from Luca Merli) follows a “young roughneck” who arrives in the titular “purgatorial metropolis of the afterlife,” where she gets wrapped up in a kidnapping of celestial proportions (not to mention, superpowers). It’s sort of like Push meets Harry Potter meets Sin City — but infinitely more magical and confrontational and emotionally compelling than such a descriptor could ever muster.

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Ahead of issue #1 landing in stores tomorrow (May 12), we spent some time with Cuartero-Briggs, tackling the series’ larger scope and inspiration, her work with Merli, how she’s developing as a comics writer, the story’s motifs and themes, and much, much more.

Olivia Cuartero-Briggs on building the world of 'Silver City'AIPT: This is your second time working with AfterShock following the mostly great Mary Shelley: Monster Hunter. What are you bringing from that book in terms of writing comics, inspiration, etc.?

Olivia Cuartero-Briggs: Mary Shelley: Monster Hunter was the book that taught me how to write comics. Sure, storytelling is storytelling, but I come from the world of film and television writing, so the format was completely new to me. Thankfully, I had Adam Glass, who is an incredible mentor and co-writer who showed me the ropes. Though two very different stories, I took every single bit of what I learned on Mary Shelley and applied it the story breaking process and writing of Silver City. It wouldn’t be what it is without Mary and Adam.

AIPT: What’s your elevator pitch for the series? Could you describe it as “X meets X?”

OCB: The official elevator pitch is this: In the purgatorial slum of the dead, a young misfit, murdered under mysterious circumstances, embarks on a harrowing adventure through the worlds of the afterlife, to uncover the secrets of her past and liberate humanity from a prison we don’t even know we’re in.

But, when I’m just conversationally talking to someone about the book, I always like to start with the fact that it is inspired by a dream I had of waking up in a strange city I had never been in before, and being told that I was dead. Not only that, but I had to get a job, find a place to live and pay rent, and just how completely disappointed I was to find that death was even more of a tireless hustle than life could be. It helps set the tone, but also gets a chuckle out of people. No one wants to have to get a job when they die. That’s just wrong.

In terms of describing the story with tonal comps alone, that’s a tough one. There isn’t really anything out there like this, but I can say that in scope, I was greatly inspired by epic, world building stories like The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars, as well as the Harry Potter series. But Silver City is a bit grittier, and more grounded than some of those, in spite of the fact that we’re dealing with the afterlife, time travel, and the magic of instant manifestation, which puts those elements somewhere in between The Fifth Element perhaps, or 12 Monkeys, but with dead people… see how hard this is? Ha!

AIPT: Just reading over the description of the series, and it seems like there’s such a rich blend of inspirations and ideas. What was the genesis of Silver City?

OCB: Silver City, as I mentioned, was based on a very vivid dream I had nearly 15 years ago now. That, combined with my own curiosity about what comes after this life, really created a necessity to find a way to tell this story with a dynamic, complicated female lead at the helm. We are all fascinated with death. It’s the only thing, aside from being born, that we all do, and yet it is the most terrifying. I had to wonder, why is that? And coming up with the answer to that question, is really what propelled the entire series.

AIPT: You mention that every character in the book is from The Bronx somehow. What about that area/culture/vibe do you think inspired or influenced you? Is this a kind of love letter to The Bronx itself?

OCB: There’s only one character who is from the Bronx, and that’s Mick Bianchi. I am a native New Yorker who grew up in Manhattan and went to school in Brooklyn Heights. Between those two heavily gentrified areas, there wasn’t a whole lot of old, New York City culture, and there’s even less there now. I wanted to include a character that spoke to what New York City was. A melting pot of immigrant families and their American children, who had big dreams, big expectations for themselves, and extreme loyalties, sometimes to a fault. That’s who Mick is. A tough on the outside, soft on the inside, Italian American kid from the 50s, who, for lack of a less well-worn phrase, wants to save the world.

Ru, the protagonist, is a Latina from Los Angeles. Junie is half Black, half White, also from the Los Angeles area, and Victor is a British punk rocker who died in the early 90s. And lastly, Snax was my first dog who passed away two years ago, but this book gave me a chance to bring him back. They’re a melting pot in their own right, and quickly become an unlikely little family.

Olivia Cuartero-Briggs on building the world of 'Silver City'

Courtesy of AfterShock Comics.

AIPT: Obviously the afterlife is a hugely popular subject (especially in comics). What is your interest especially, and are you trying to glean some new insights or understandings?

OCB: My interest is probably similar to many who have written on the subject: to answer the unanswerable. Give ourselves a sense of comfort, or maybe just a bit of resolution, about what’s next. But for me, it’s because we don’t have any answers that makes it such a fun world to dabble in. We can take what we know of life, the experiences we share, like near death experiences, deja vus, that inexplicable feeling of having just met someone but feeling as if you’ve known them your entire life – and contextualize it within the universe I’m creating. That’s what makes this type of work so much fun, and that strange feasibility in the face of the great unknown is what — I hope — draws audiences in.

AIPT: There’s a lot of different story elements going on in the book (the afterlife, superpowers, a compelling personal story, etc.) How do you balance all of these elements?

OCB: Structurally speaking, it’s an exercise in checks and balances. Having an overarching goal for the story, and then going back in the outline to make sure each of those elements are not just tracking, but building, so the whole story has a feel of climbing higher and higher up a steep ladder.

Artistically speaking, the balance lies within the strength of the protagonist. I spent a lot of time crafting Ru. Who she is, who she was, how she speaks, what she believes, what she wants. Then, I drop her in the Silver City, and, as a writer, I can follow her. Her abilities surface where it makes sense for them to. She discovers things about her world because she is naturally curious, and we’re on that journey, discovering with her. And she recalls memories when present circumstances remind her of them, putting together fragmented pieces of the life she left behind. It’s a slightly complicated process, but nothing that can’t be deciphered with a solid outline.

AIPT: I love that there’s this really perfect blend of mundanity and magic permeating the book (at least in issue #1). How would you describe the feeling and the larger role of the actual Silver City in the book?

OCB: Yay for mundanity! I love that you put your finger on that, because that was a huge element of my dream. Like, hang on. I just died, and now I have to survive in this shithole? Great. And yes, there is magic as well, or as I like to think of it, the power of manifestation. We all have it, it’s just a bit more developed in some people than others, and that specific power will play a HUGE role in books 6-10.

But in terms of Silver City specifically, it’s the first world of the afterlife, and as such, most closely resembles the living world. Unlike the living world, however, where the Time Keepers have been able to mask their wrong-doings, Silver City is clearly a prison. There’s a literal Wall surrounding it that incinerates anyone who tries to escape. So, in that way, it makes the whole conceit of the mythos the story is founded upon, quite literal: that there was once a time when there were no boundaries between the worlds of the living and those of the dead. The fact that we now have no idea what comes after this life is an artificial construct meant to enslave us. So, in that way, the Silver City is a bridge. A transition point, both literally and metaphysically, between the living world, and what truly lies beyond.

AIPT: Even just in issue #1, it’s clear there’s a great mythos under the surface. Did you spend a lot of time world-building, and how much of this large mythology are we going to see?

OCB: I hesitate to say this, because I feel it’s discouraging to new writers, but yes, it took years to build the world, legends, and mythos of Silver City, and there’s a lot I still don’t know. But some ideas are just like that. They take a lot of time to marinate, or compost, as Neil Gaiman puts it. (He’s my secret mentor in life. He doesn’t know it, but somewhere, in another lifetime, we were besties. Or, perhaps, in Silver City itself ;) ). That’s not to say, however, that all ideas take a decade and a half to realize, they don’t. But I will say that at the time the idea for Silver City first came to me, I wasn’t a good enough writer to tackle it. I hope I am now. You all can tell me.

And in terms of what you are going to see, books one to five give a lot of information, but it’s still just what Ru and the audience needs to know to complete her first mission, and understand the daunting task in front of her. What’s in there is fun, engaging, and rich, but as you’ll see, there’s a lot more to come as well.

Silver City

Courtesy of AfterShock Comics.

AIPT: I think you’ve nailed this great tone between “death is scary” and also “it’s just another thing we do in life, like taxes.” How do you think people should feel about death as it’s portrayed here? Is there some deeper meaning or gesture at work here?

OCB: That’s a tough one. I’m currently reading an amazing book called Dark Archives, about the history of books bound in human skin. Strange, I know, but hey, I write about dead people. The author, Megan Rosenbloom, is an incredible storyteller in her own right, a librarian, and a leader in the death-positive movement. You can read about it on her website, or on The Order of the Good Death website, but basically, the movement surrounds not hiding death or the subject of death. That we should talk about death and dying, and that doing so isn’t morbid, it’s natural, healthy, and helpful. I agree with, and have been incredibly inspired by these words.

Much as I was when Chrissy Teigen took the courageous step of publicly discussing the heartbreaking loss of her baby. Fearing or hiding from death isn’t healthy or helpful in a world where every single one of us dies and experiences loss. Imagine if you were terrified to go to the bathroom? Or eat food? Any therapist would tell you that’s not a healthy fear, because those things are necessities in our lives. It sounds silly, but it’s true. Talking about death isn’t always easy. Neither is writing about it. But by having the discussion, perhaps we can get one step closer to relieving ourselves of the fear of death, and bring us that much more freedom to live the lives we have.

AIPT: What was it like working with Luca Merli? What did he bring to the table in terms of helping to shape the scope and story?

OCB: Luca is a dream to work with. Honestly, most of the time, I feel like he crawled into my brain and turned my imagination into art. What he does is honestly the most true expression of that word, and Silver City has benefitted so much from his skill, attention to detail, and dedication. He’s also extremely open, and any time I have had notes — which has been few and far between — the discussions we have always bring the art and the story to the next level. I’ve never met him face to face, but I’m thinking about a trip to Italy just so I can buy him a drink. He’s amazing.

AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?

OCB: Oh wow… forcing me to be my own salesman, huh? Well, I can’t speak to why anyone should pick it up, but here’s why I would: It’s an underdog story with a kick ass Latina protagonist I would kill to be friends with. The world is dark and mysterious, vet vibrant, with a mythos that has taken half a lifetime to fully develop. The supporting characters are all from different times and places in history, which makes it super fun to see them all together. And lastly, this is a huge, epic story, with many more chapters to come. But, I only get to write them if people grab these first five books. So, if you want to be part of the unfolding of an awesome new journey, pick up a copy. Find me on the socials, tell me what you think.

If you like it, tell your friends and family about it. Content is driven by audiences, and creators are nothing without their fans. Here’s hoping Silver City earns me a few more. I would be so, completely honored.

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