“Imagine DIE HARD if John McClane was killing terrorists to save his partner.”
Steve Orlando is trying to raise $15,000 to crowdfund his latest graphic novel VIRGIL. Creative team includes JD Faith on art duties, colors by Chris Beckett, and lettering by Victor Ochoa. Orlando and Beckett have worked on various DC/Vertigo projects. Faith drew 30 issues of a webcomic called Acrobat, and Ochoa is the mastermind behind the Nobodies anthologies that were made possible by (readers like you and) Kickstarter.
Orlando and I got to talking on Twitter and I noticed that he was promoting this project. There was a particular quote on the project page that reached out and grabbed me:
Welcome to Jamaica. A resort destination. 70% of citizens don’t think gay men and women deserve basic human rights. The world’s highest murder rate.The worst place on Earth to be gay.
And no one knows.
Aside from the bright colors and interesting subject matter he isn’t asking for much. Comic book readers have been kicking and screaming for stories that don’t play to the “superhero” crowd. There’s a underserved market that wants diverse characters and taboos that we face in everyday life. I haven’t read this comic yet, but the preview pages and incentives makes this project look very promising.
Orlando was nice enough to answer some of my questions regarding the subject matter, how this project came to fruition, and where’s the money going. Here’s some excerpts from our conversation:
Henry Barajas: Great meeting you on Twitter. I didn’t realize it but I have read your work before. You contributed a story to “Mystery In Space” for Vertigo a year ago. Tell me about Virgil and why you need to tell this story.
Steve Orlando: First of all thank you for checking out Mystery in Space!
VIRGIL is the result of a long standing goal I have to create an action story, steeped in the tropes of the genre, but with a gay couple in the lead. I didn’t want to make it the focus, I wanted to make it hyper-normal, just another part of the story. An action story first, which by its casual acceptance of the gay lead, would say something bold. Imagine DIE HARD if John McClane was killing terrorists to save his partner.
I’ve always had a love for old school 70s action movies, revenge flicks with grit and gristle. I knew what VIRGIL would be when I saw Django Unchained and realized I wanted to do that, but with a gay couple. Upon doing some research with Human Rights Watch reports, my focus changed from Africa (also the site of a huge amount of Anti-Gay Violence), to Jamaica. Why? The conflict between perception and reality. Many think of Jamaica as a resort vacation destination, but for many it’s nothing but a vacation. Anti-Gay attitudes are higher there than almost anywhere else. If I was going to do a throwback civil rights action book, it had to be here, in a setting relatively unexplored in comics. Virgil himself is the perfect double sided coin, as a policeman he enforces the status quo and acts the macho lead, but he’s really living in fear, oppressing himself. Once his two lives collide and he’s out in the open, he can finally unify his personality and become a badass fighting not to protect himself, but the one he loves.
Henry: How did you convince JD to take on this project?
Steve: I asked him! JD and I had “met” so to speak on the NOBODIES Volume 2 Anthology, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter last year. Since then we’d been tossing around ideas, with some getting more traction than others. But when I mentioned Virgil to him everything fell into place- he was, it turned out, a huge fan of the crime genre, and itching to do something with a nice, retro stylized look. Virgil was the perfect challenge, and a fresh take on a genre he loved.
Henry: What kind of response have your received from the LGBT community?
Steve: Incredibly supportive. Many already knew about what was happening in Jamaica, and the struggles the queer community faces there, and were excited about a book spreading the word. But also many were excited to see this type of genre take with a gay couple center stage. Between the urgent message and an engaging story, people have been anxious to see the book come to fruition.
Henry: Was this a hard sell to publisher and that’s why your taking the Kickstarter route?
Steve: We’re going to Kickstarter so that we can make the book our way, and offer an original vision directly to readers. It’s not about hard sell or soft sell, it’s about a different route entirely. We wanted to try it, and wanted to build on what we created with the NOBODIES Kickstarter. In many ways we’re a 2nd Generation Kickstarter project, and it is interesting to carry on the tradition and aggregate the community.
Henry: I feel like this story could be in an episode of NPR. How in depth is your research in the area and type of conflict you’re dealing with?
Steve: I spent about 6 month researching the topic and culture in various media, from the religion, attitudes, and lingo. The documentary “An Abominable Crime” is a great source for looks into the struggles the LGBT community is facing in the area. In addition, and unfortunately, there are new stories about attacks and crimes popping up at least once a week, so I am always getting fresh information. There are a wealth of first-hand reports and blogs online as well, detailing the day-to-day of being gay in Jamaica. People aren’t shy about voicing their opinions on the topic, so it makes it easy to find quotes and points of view to build into characters.
Henry: How are you rewarding yourself and the rest of the creators? Does the goal amount include compensation or just publishing?
Steve: The reward for me, first an foremost, is making the book a reality. Funding is definitely allotted to include compensation, but a large part of the funding goal goes to the production of the rewards and the hard copy edition of the book. It’s interesting, the contemporary expectation I have heard from backers is that they would not back a campaign that did not offer the complete book. BUT if we didn’t offer that, our goal could have been substantially lower and easier to attain. That’s not one thing or another, but more an interesting look at how Kickstarter has evolved and what it represents. As it becomes an outlet for direct publishing, the funding goals also increase to meet the expectations of backers. For us, the goal goes mainly to ensure top quality production values, and a variety of diverse rewards for backers of all levels.
Henry: Do you plan on continuing the series or Kickstarting other ideas depending on your success with this project?
Steve: While VIRGIL may be finished after this Kickstarter, it has been a great experience connecting with new supporters and readers, something I’d love to do again in the future. BUT my focus right now is on making sure this book is successfully funded, without which the book cannot be produced, and then making sure that all backers are 100% satisfied, in the loop, and receive their goods on time. To me, the most important thing is that their faith in this creative team has to be rewarded.
Click here to visit the project page and pledge your support.
Henry Barajas is the co-creator, writer and letterer for El Loco and Captain Unikorn. He has also written and lettered short stories for two successful Kickstarter SpazDog Press projects: Unite and Take Over: Stories inspired by The Smiths and Break The Walls: Comic Stories inspired by The Pixies. He is the Newsroom Research Assistant for The Arizona Daily Star and was nominated for the Shel Dorf Blogger of the Year award for his work at The Beat. You can follow him on Twitter @HenryBarajas.
Henry Barajas is the co-creator, writer and letterer for El Loco and Captain Unikorn. He has also written and lettered short stories for two successful Kickstarter SpazDog Press projects: Unite and Take Over: Stories inspired by The Smiths and Break The Walls: Comic Stories inspired by The Pixies. He is the Newsroom Research Assistant for The Arizona Daily Star and was nominated for the Shel Dorf Blogger of the Year award for his work at The Beat. You can follow him on Twitter @HenryBarajas and Google+.