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Vita Ayala and ChrisCross spark a conversation about 'Static Season One'

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Vita Ayala and ChrisCross spark a conversation about ‘Static Season One’

On June 15, Static will return with Static Season One, his first headlining comic in a decade — and the first under the Milestone imprint since 1997. Vita Ayala, Nikolas Draper-Ivey, and ChrisCross are bringing the character into the modern day, where he’ll be influenced by modern social movements and even his classic cartoon Static Shock. The book will be the first of three all-new Milestone books hitting shelves this summer, marking the line’s full-scale relaunch into the world of comics.

(Static was created by the late Dwayne McDuffie, who along with Robert Washington III, Scott McDaniel, and John Rozum, are the only writers to ever write a Static comic. The original series was also drawn by the late John Paul Leon.)

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Ahead of issue #1’s release, we took part in a web chat with Ayala and ChrisCross, discussing how they adapted the character, writing Virgil Hawkins’ story in the era of BLM, and much, much more.

Static Character Sheet by Nikolas Draper-Ivey

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: What’s it like creating this book in the shadow of Dwayne McDuffie and John Paul Leon?

Vita Ayala: Oh, really soft ball question guys, you gotta go harder! Hahaha! I’ll let Cross begin.

ChrisCross: It’s kinda deep actually, maybe it’s softball for Vita, but I was actually a part of the old guard. In light of being part of the Milestone family, and one of the originators, John Paul Leon and Dwayne McDuffie: no longer here. Never thought I would’ve said that in one sentence. I think John Paul Leon and I kinda came in around the same time, and we always had this friendly competition about artwork. I was always impressed with his abilities. And of course Dwayne McDuffie wound up being sort of like a mentor to me in a way. 

I was always amazed by John Paul Leon’s work. He always made me think deeper. He always made me want to do things more cinematic. I mean the amount of stuff that brother could put in a panel, and what he could do with a panel just by placing one particular figure in one place, and he had all this extra negative space. It was so Alex Toth. It was so many things he wound up being a master at. I’m always hoping that something bigger comes with his work, now that he’s passed away. Even though it’s a shame that it’d have to be a post-mortum thing. It’s kind of weird that people would start to become very very famous after they’ve done their work. 

Static Season One

Courtesy of DC Comics.

To see Static coming back, especially next week, it’s kind of surreal that I would be a part of that. I’m glad that I am, but it’s very surreal. I just hope that people really like it. I think Vita’s trying her [their] darndest to make sure she [they] gets the spirit of Static, in the way that she [they] can twist it in her [their] way in order to make it more palatable and powerful for the fans. Hopefully it’s gonna be just as iconic. I think she [they] is doing a good job. I think she’s [they’re] kinda living in Virgil Hawkins’ air space for a bit. Only she [they] could tell you how that feels right now, to kind of follow Dwayne McDuffie and Robert Washington III for putting that stuff together.

VA: For me, it’s so daunting that I can’t think about it. Y’know, you can’t follow someone like Dwayne McDuffie. It’s not possible. That man is not just a genius, he’s one of the reasons why I do what I do. Before that stuff I didn’t really think it was possible for black people to just do for us, by us work in comics because that’s not what we’ve seen. I’ve been following his work across all of the platforms that he’s used, all the mediums that he’s used. To me he’s a hero, and the same with John Paul Leon. That guy’s untouchable.

What we’re trying to do, instead of follow-up, is try to honor what their goals were, I think. For me, what I’m trying to do is to be as authentic to the character and the moment as I can be. And I think that’s the only way that the imposter syndrome won’t crush me into dust.

I talked extensively with Reggie and Dennis, mostly Reggie. Dennis is very quiet, but then he comes in and says very knowledgeable and wise things, and then backs out. Then Reggie and I go back and forth. I read Reggie’s script and I saw overall what goes for the Milestone Relaunch, and I went, “Ok, that’s my inspiration.” How do I tell a story about this version of Virgil Hawkins? What makes sense logically? And my brief was, and this is not a secret or a spoiler at all, my brief was, “you’re starting before we have started in Static stories before.” Usually he’s Static, and you kind of get little flashbacks, but you’re seeing him be a superhero. So I was told, “you’re getting him to that place.” That’s what we’re seeing now. We’re seeing directly after this huge traumatic event in his life, how does this boy rebound and heal enough to become the Static that we know and love. That’s my north star.

AIPT: One of the creative choices in this book which is distinct from both the ‘93 series and the cartoon, is the depiction of Virgil’s family. What was behind that decision?

Static Season One 2

Courtesy of DC Comics.

VA: That’s a great question, and I will say that was very important to me, and to Nik because we had talked about it, and also Reggie. My original conversation with Reggie in the room was like, “I want to depict a black family that is together and maybe not perfect, but unified in a way that I actually know black families to be.” Every family has its hard times but I think the default is to go one parent, someone’s dead, or this or that, and I was like, “we don’t have to do that.” We can show a family who’s going to try and get through this really intense traumatic thing together. To me Virgil is a character who is clearly very loved and very supported even though he’s kinda weird. I was also kinda weird as a kid. I wanted to show, well, you get that through this kind of support. Maybe they don’t always understand you, but they love you and they’re trying to do their best. And everyone was down with that. 

CC: I think Reggie just saw what was there and saw what was happening now… Lord knows the Black Lives Matter movement is going through a lot of political storms right now. A lot of people who are against it, seeing what’s happening with the country now when it comes to voter registration and voter rights and stuff like that. People are doing things in front of you and they’re looking at you saying, “It didn’t really happen. We didn’t really just do that to you.” And you’re supposed to accept that. In that situation, you have what’s happening in this book, you just saw a kid blow up and basically turn into a deer and run off. You didn’t really see that. You just have to let that go, don’t really talk about it. I guess I understand where Virgil Hawkins is coming from. I mean he still has that playing around in his mind, and he’s still trying to be who Virgil Hawkins was before all that happened. I see how you’re [Vita] trying to write all that, and how you’re trying to move it.

You see Virgil Hawkins. He’s like, “What the hell do I do with this? I’m Magneto, kinda, in some cases even better. I have this power, probably the most powerful person in this universe, as far as I know. I have to be able to work with that, and I’m near my family, and for all I know I could be radiating my family as I speak.” So he has a lot of stuff going on. Then the father of course is looking at him like, “What do I do with this? I just saw my kid doing some stuff,” without blowing anything up. You just kind of say to yourself, how is a family dynamic going to survive going through this? Because of course if he has this power, he’s going to be a magnetic target for other people coming his way, who have the same thing. So it’s a lot to take on and it’s a lot to tell, so I don’t envy you [Vita] your task. 

AIPT: How did y’all come up with Virgil’s visual identity? What influences were you pulling from?

CC: In a way his visual identity was already set. I think Nik just wanted to kind of make him younger; come up with a different version of who he was, kind of make him more up to date with the hair styles and the clothing style and stuff like that. You see him pull kind of the sweats, and the really cool jackets, and the versions of different caps that brothers wear anyways. Like I said before the hairstyles, the braids, the kinda kinky hair, maybe some dreads here and there, it’s just something you kinda want to play with. With the culture the way that we are, there’s a lot to our visuals anyways. It really hasn’t been pulled in as much through the years. I mean people’ll have a fade, or they’ll have an afro, or they’ll have some cheesy, basic hairstyle that they’ll see a brother just walking down the street with. 

Static Season One 3

Courtesy of DC Comics.

He’ll [Draper-Ivey] show me some extra stuff here and there, and I said, “look man, do your thing man, have fun with it.” Just don’t go too crazy because, storytelling wise, if you keep changing the person’s hair and changing their style it messes with where they are in the time period. It’s all basic, small storytelling stuff.

AIPT: How did current social movements, such as Black Lives Matter, influence this depiction of Static?

VA: I think Chris touched on this a little bit earlier, so I won’t go too long. I think one of the things that was really important to Reggie and also important to our team was to put Static in the context of what’s happening right now, in a way that still will feel kind of evergreen. Hopefully as a historical thing, and not because we’re going to the same thing forever. It will be understandable even down the road. It was really important to talk about what black people, especially black youth are going through right now, very publicly and very violently, but also still preserve that optimism and hope that Static has. I know the first issue was a little rough, but the idea is that he is working through all of the things that happened to him, and kind of working through that trauma. I would say you’d be hard pressed to find black kids that don’t relate to that, even if it’s not watching classmates melt. Just that kind of oppression and violent suppression and fear, even if you live in the nicest place, that’s a very relatable experience. 

We wanted to show that Static is only one of the people that is reacting to what’s happening; we just happened to be in his perspective. I wanted to show what that’s like from that perspective, but also to hint at a bunch of these other kinds of experiences. We have the character Darius, who goes from someone who’s very whatever and he wants to be a Twitch star and he has a gossip stream. Then seeing this stuff he’s radicalized. He’s like, “Yo, not only did this happen because I have this footage, but people are lying about it now. Absolutely not.” So he’s gonna make it his mission to tell the truth with a capital “T” and then really find out what’s going on. And I wanted to run these stories in parallel to show, like, they are very different people, but they’re going to end up in the same place. 

So yeah, it is very informed by all of these movements, not just the Black Lives Matter movement, but just all of these movements trying to fight against oppression and state sanctioned violence.

Static

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Can you tease any other Milestone characters or Static villains who might show up in the rest of the series?

VA: I can neither confirm nor deny any specific characters, but one of the things that Nik was super hype about, and Conroy and Reggie and Denys were like, “this is a good idea,” is seeding things. So this is the flagship title for the relaunch so part of our job is going to be, being like, “Hey there’s a larger universe of stuff.” So there’s definitely going to be stuff in there. There’s also stuff that Nik — he didn’t have to convince me — but he’s very involved in the storytelling stuff as well, we collaborate about stuff all the time. There are some people that he’s very interested in exploring if we ever get another arc. If not, definitely won’t take away from this story to see them in the background, but there are some people that he wants to see soon down the road. There are easter eggs all over the place. I can’t promise it, but I believe that’s gonna be the case for the books in general.

This isn’t a secret, Hardware exists. We get to see him a little bit.

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