On Wednesday, June 9th, 2021, The Beat attended a Webex Chat featuring two of the creators behind Static Season One #1, writer Vita Ayala and layout artist ChrisCross. The Beat was among one of many outlets covering the event, which was moderated by Michael Shelling. Static Season One #1 will be available tomorrow, Tuesday, June 15th, 2021, but today, you can read a preview of the issue underneath this article!
Static Season One #1
The event hit the ground running, with the first question asking what it was like creating the book in the shadow of Dwayne McDuffie and John Paul Leon.
“Two really amazing geniuses in their own right,” said ChrisCross, who pointed out that he was part of the old guard himself. “I don’t think anyone has ever drawn like Leon… I was always amazed by Leon’s work. And he always made me think deeper and want to do things more cinematic – the amount of stuff that that brother could put in a panel, and what he could do with a panel by placing one particular figure in one place, and all this extra negative space – it was so Alex Toth, so many things that he ended up being a master at, and I’m always hoping that something bigger comes with his work now that he’s passed away. It’s a shame that it would have to be a post-mortem thing.”
ChrisCross went on to say that he didn’t believe anyone could hold a candle to McDuffie or Leon’s work, but he noted that Ayala had put their own spin on the story by “living in the airspace” of Virgil Hawkins in order to follow in the creative footsteps of McDuffie and Robert L. Washington III.
Ayala had nothing but nice things to say about ChrisCross’s work, and noted that, as a big noir fan, they were trying to manifest the artist working on Blood Syndicate, which they believe would lend itself well to the hardboiled genre.
As far as following McDuffie, they said that they tried not to think about it too much, as following in his footsteps is such a daunting proposition.
“For me, it’s so daunting that I can’t think about it. You can’t follow someone like McDuffie, it’s not possible… that man wasn’t just a genius, he’s one of the reasons that I do what I do,” they said. “Before that stuff, I didn’t really think it was possible for Black people to do for us, by us work in comics, because that’s not what you see.”
A hero for our time
ChrisCross asked Ayala about where they found inspiration for beginning the story of this incarnation of Virgil, and Ayala responded that they spoke extensively with Reginald Hudlin and Denys Cowan. They were inspired by Hudlin’s script for Milestone Returns: Infinite Edition Zero, which introduces the plot threads for the Milestone relaunch, including the traumatic origin of Virgil’s superpowers, and Virgil fighting back against Hotstreak.
“In the Zero issue, he rocks Hotstreak – he destroys him,” said Ayala. “And I was like, okay, if that’s where we’re starting, then he’s already been pushed to the limit – we haven’t seen it, but he’s up to here. What I wanted to do with that is not explain why he could do it, but to make it feel organic. For me, Static is not a character who’s especially violent – he’s not a ‘catch these hands at all times’ kind of character.”
They wanted to show that Virgil’s journey is less about accumulating the power to face his obstacles, and more about learning the balance necessary to achieve his goals: at this point in the narrative, his inability to regulate his abilities is more of a concern than “bulking up.”
Virgil’s emotions are an integral part of the story, and another question asked if it was important that the narrative allow him to be angry.
“I hope so,” said ChrisCross. “Sixteen, right? Considering what he’s seen and the present situation…”
“I think that it’s really important to show a real person,” Ayala said. “And I think him not being angry would be very confusing. It would not make sense to me. I’m a very happy-go-lucky person, but I’m angry.”
“If he wasn’t angry, that would be something to talk about,” agreed ChrisCross.
“If we were playing it that way, then it would be about repressing anger,” said Ayala. “But I think his journey is more about regulating his emotion. This is really common in people with PTSD, where you have trouble regulating your emotional response to a situation because you’re just… alarm bells, right? ‘Oh! We’re at Def-Con 5!’”
Ayala noted that often, people in general – but especially Black people – are given the message that they’re not allowed to be angry, because that makes them “dangerous” or “evil.” However, they believe that people should react appropriately to a situation, which can sometimes mean anger.
They said that one of their favorite books as a kid (and by extension, probably one of Virgil’s favorite books, too) was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
“That’s a book about how you get to be angry, and you just have to handle your shit,” Ayala said. “That’s a good book for a kid. Sometimes you just have to go out in the woods and just scream and knock shit over for a while, and then you come home and you have your soup. That’s it.”
The Hawkins Family
Another question concerned the depiction of Virgil’s family in this incarnation – a depiction that is distinct from both the 1993 comic and the 2000 animated series. According to Ayala, it was important to them, finishing artist and colorist Nikolas Draper-Ivey, and Reggie that Virgil be depicted as part of a Black family that was together – unified, even if they weren’t perfect.
Ayala asked ChrisCross about his thoughts on the updates to the origin story when compared with the 1993 incarnation.
“I think Reggie saw what was there, and saw what was happening now, and said, ‘It would be perfect if we made this a BLM thing,’” said ChrisCross. “Lord knows the Black Lives Matter movement is going through a lot of political storms right now… It’s the same as what’s happening in this country now with voter registration and voter rights. People are doing things in front of you and they’re looking at you and saying, ‘It ain’t really happening. We didn’t really just do that to you.’ And you’re supposed to accept that.”
Other Concept Design Sketches For Static. Enjoy. Issue One In Stores TUESDAY!! pic.twitter.com/btiTNP7WY5
— Nikolas Draper-Ivey (@NikDraperIvey) June 13, 2021
In addition to updating elements of Static’s origin story, Virgil’s aesthetic was updated for the 2021 incarnation, with ChrisCross noting that current hair and clothing was an essential consideration, which he pushed for around every corner. And Ayala noted that Draper-Ivey put a lot of extra thought into the characters appearances as well, citing Jean-Michel Basquiat as one of the inspirations for Virgil’s hair.
But it isn’t just comics that imitate life, it’s also life that imitates comics: ChrisCross revealed that while drawing a pair of show-stopping two-page spread pages for Static Season One #1, which include a depiction of the Hawkins family having a meal of spaghetti and meatballs, he became overwhelmed.
“I was drawing them eating spaghetti and meatballs, and I had to get something to eat,” admitted ChrisCross. “So after I finished those two pages, I just got up and made some even though it was night!”
According to Ayala, both they and Draper-Ivey are fans of both the original comic and the animated series, and sought to integrate some of the unique, jubilant elements of the cartoon into Static Season One.
“My goal is to get him to a place where he could be voiced by Phil LaMarr,” they said.
ChrisCross emphasized that it was a singular experience to watch a character he knew from his comic book genesis be adapted into an animated series that at one point aired on the WB (although you can currently watch all those episodes on HBO Max). He did observe that it was somewhat strange to see a more “G-rated” version of Virgil through the animated series.
Static’s Year One
Another question specifically asked how current social movements (like BLM) influenced this depiction of Static.
“One of the things that was really important to Reggie and also to our team was to put Static in the context of what’s happening right now,” Ayala answered. “In a way that will still feel kind of evergreen – hopefully as a historical thing and not because we’re going through the same thing forever… 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 that hope that Static has.”
Next, Ayala was asked if they could tease any familiar Milestone characters (or Static villains) later in the series. While Ayala could neither confirm nor deny any such appearances, they did tease that because Static Season One was the flagship title for the Milestone re-launch, they were able to “seed” the larger universe at play, noting that “there are Easter Eggs everywhere.”
Ayala revealed that if they (hopefully!) get another Static arc, Draper-Ivey in particular has some characters he hopes to see included. However, they could confirm that readers will be seeing one specific character in the panels of Static Season One: Hardware. Plus, with Holocaust making an appearance in the Zero issue but not having a solo series, Ayala speculates he must be making an appearance in some of the other books…
One of the final questions inquired about how Ayala so effectively channeled the voices of young people through their writing.
“I really like the elasticity of young people,” they explained. “This ability to pivot, to get new information and incorporate that into your world view… For me, what I wanted to do with Virgil was show the nuance that Black teens can have. I wanted to show that there was as much of a rich internal life – as many doubts and joys – as is depicted for their white peers.
“I wanted to show that complexity… and also I wanted to show, a lot of the times we treat teens as though they don’t have that kind of complexity, right? I wanted to really show that they’re people, they’re just different than older people… Teens are capable of doing the work to process that trauma, and we have to acknowledge and respect them as people.”
Static Season One #1 will be available at your local comic shop beginning tomorrow, June 15th, 2021.