A new hero is about to rise. Today sees the launch of a Kickstarter for Inferno Girl Red, a new superhero graphic novel from writer Mat Groom, artist Erica D’Urso, color artist Igor Monti, letterer Becca Carey, and editor Kyle Higgins. The book, first teased last month in the back of the Higgins-written Radiant Black #1 from Image Comics, follows teenager Cássia Costa as she discovers her family’s hidden superpowered legacy, and unexpectedly inherits the mantle of the titular Inferno Girl Red.

Inferno Girl Red

With today’s Kickstarter launchThe Beat had the opportunity to chat with Groom about the development of Inferno Girl Red, why Kickstarter was the right avenue for getting it out into the world, and the book’s potential Radiant Black connection.

Joe Grunenwald: What was your inspiration for Inferno Girl Red? Why was it something that you kept coming back to over the years?

Mat Groom: Like with all of my work, it started with something I’d been wrestling with. Something I hadn’t really figured out. And I think that’s really important, as a foundation for your book, because if the foundation is something you’re certain of, something you’ve made up your mind about, then you’re proselytizing, not storytelling.

In this instance, the ‘something’ was belief—and three elements of it specifically. Firstly, the fact that you need to have some level of irrational belief, some unfounded optimism, to achieve great things in the face of long odds. Secondly, that irrational belief can be incredibly dangerous, and lead you to a dark and toxic place. And thirdly that, with so many (and varied) existential threats before us, we’re going to need to achieve great things in the face of long odds.

The contradictions and the tensions where those three elements overlap, that’s where I wanted to dig around—and eventually turn into a graphic novel that mixes superhero drama, teen angst and tokusatsu action!

Grunenwald: How did you meet Erica D’Urso? What made her work the right fit for Inferno Girl Red?

Groom: I didn’t meet Erica, so much as find her! After a very long search—probably over a year? I had a vision of who I wanted our lead character to be, a teen girl named Cássia, and I knew I needed a non-male co-creator and perspective if Cássia was going to be as authentic and textured as she needed to be.

So Kyle Higgins (the editor of the book) and I went looking– asking everyone we knew, scouring hashtags like #visiblewomen, even just browsing the shelves at my local comic store (Kings Comics in Sydney). The search probably took so long because I was being picky—specifying non-male obviously cut out a lot of candidates, but I really wanted someone who could handle big action as well as heartfelt emotion, and who had a style that felt extremely modern.

Ultimately, it was the ‘asking everyone we knew’ method that paid off—Francesco Manna (who Kyle and I work with on ULTRAMAN) recommended Erica, and as soon I looked over her work I knew she was the right fit. Her work was everything I described earlier, and she is the best collaborator a person could ask for– passionate and hardworking and wildly inventive.

Grunenwald: The book also has Igor Monti providing colors and Becca Carey lettering. How have their contributions helped to further elevate the project?

Groom: Our mission statement for the vibe of the book was to create something that felt like it was from the future. To be inventive, and create something that was both wild and energetic but also expressive and earnest. Igor and Becca were both hugely instrumental in our efforts to try and hit that vibe.

If you’ve read MEGA MAN: FULLY CHARGED, you’ll know that Igor’s colors are unlike anything else. The palette is electric and vibrant, and what he does with light and shadow makes ‘colorist’ feel like a reductive term. But despite this, it doesn’t feel like an assault on the senses– he knows how to make all of this color and energy mean something, how to use it as a tool to communicate and build upon the emotion of a scene. He’s really a magician.

And Becca compliments Erica and Igor’s efforts in this so well. If you check out the preview pages on our Kickstarter campaign page, you’ll see that Becca strayed quite a ways away from traditional lettering for the characters of Inferno Girl Red and The Griffin within our story.  We told Becca we wanted the lettering to feel like a release valve for the emotion and drama of the story in the same way the action is, and she absolutely delivered on that—but also, impressively, maintained clarity in the storytelling and cohesion of the style.

Grunenwald: What went into your decision to bring this project to Kickstarter?

Groom: The short version is “we wanted to do a graphic novel”. Neither Erica nor myself are the most known, visible quantities in the market, and we found when approaching publishers with this project, because of this, we would have to make a choice: either publish the book as single issues to more-quickly recoup the financial investment for the publisher, or give up the intellectual property rights (and control of the story), so the publisher could find financial reward some other way. None of this was malicious or unreasonable.

But… well, I love single issues of comics, and I loved writing to that form specifically with SELF/MADE, it’s just that the story we wanted to tell here was always conceived as a novel—and our hope is this story will help make superhero stories more widely accessible to people who don’t traditionally read comics, which is easier with a novel (because it’s a more familiar form to the uninitiated). And we’ve all invested so much into this story, and building the characters and the world, that we couldn’t bear the thought of handing the destiny of it over to someone who isn’t as invested as ourselves. So neither option was acceptable to us.

And yet, we needed money to make the book. Not so much for me—writing is easier than art, and I’ve been able to write the book in the evenings after I’ve finished my day job (and around co-writing ULTRAMAN). But for Erica, Igor and Becca, asking them to work for the better part of a year without income for them to put food on the table and pay rent… that was just a non-starter. So that’s what got us to the third option, community support—and though it has been a tremendous amount of work, it has also been really heartening and reassuring to see how many people have been expressing excitement about the book.

Nicola Scott artwork for a Kickstarter-exclusive print

Grunenwald: Talk a little bit about your lead character, Cássia Costa. The Kickstarter announcement describes her as “an intensely pragmatic, rational girl.” What drives Cássia? What do you enjoy most about writing her?

Groom: Quite a few years before our story takes place, Cássia’s mother Ana became something of a pariah (for unjust reasons), which has meant Cássia and Ana have spent their lives moving from city-to-city, struggling a bit to get by, as Ana looked for work. This isn’t to say that Cássia has had a bad life, necessarily– despite their circumstances, Ana is a joyous, optimistic and attentive parent. But her mother’s experiences have taught Cássia that life isn’t always fair and there are no fairytales.

So when our book opens, nothing is really driving Cássia—she’s extremely clever, and curious, and has a really strong sense of right-and-wrong… but is, in many ways, stuck in place by her belief that it would be unrealistic to think that her life will ever amount to anything.

I think that’s quite relatable, and it’s a big part of why I love writing her—because we’ve all been there, right? We’ve all felt overwhelmed and small in face of the forces at play around us. But when that sense of being pinned down is fighting against a drive inside you that says things need to change, that tension can create a spark—which, in Cássia’s case, might just ignite an inferno.

Grunenwald: Can you say anything about the ”secret legacy” she discovers for herself? That seems like the sort of thing that can really upend a person’s life, depending on what it is.

Groom: Well, it’s teased in the preview pages on the Kickstarter campaign, so I might just come out and say it here.

As you mentioned, Cássia is pragmatic, and rational… so while some might take the ‘dragon bracelet flies into Cássia’s life and gives the opportunity to change things’ as a sign this is a ‘Chosen One’ or ‘great destiny’ story, Cássia doesn’t see it that way… and she’s given pretty good reason to think that she’s right when she discovers that she is not the first Inferno Girl Red.

A promo for Inferno Girl Red ran in the back of Radiant Black #1.

Grunenwald: You’ve teased a connection between Inferno Girl Red and Radiant Black, the Image Comics series written by your collaborator Kyle Higgins. How evident will that connection be to someone who reads both books?

Groom: In terms of spiritual connection (for lack of a better term), I think INFERNO GIRL RED and RADIANT BLACK are both similar and quite different, in the same ways that Kyle and I are both similar and quite different as writers.

In terms of literal connection, I’d say that it might not be immediately, obviously evident. It’s obviously important for stories to stand on their own as a first priority. Having said that, if you’re looking for connecting threads, I’d look especially at RADIANT BLACK… and not just because of INFERNO GIRL RED…

Grunenwald: Speaking of Kyle, what have his editorial contributions added to Inferno Girl Red?

Groom: Kyle and I are close both personally and professionally, and we chat story and craft regularly—so Kyle would probably have some influence on the book even if he wasn’t the editor. But the title of editor reflects just how important Kyle has been as a sounding board of ideas, and deep well of experience-borne wisdom… which has been invaluable not just when facing creative/storytelling issues, but also in managing all aspects of comics production, which is particularly important on a creator-owned book!

Grunenwald: What should people expect if they back the Inferno Girl Red Kickstarter?

Groom: A heartfelt and thrilling story about hope in the face of darkness and action in the face of apathy, from a team that’s pouring their hearts and souls into it. 100 pages of gorgeous, eye-popping visuals. Amazing prints from Nicola Scott, Darko Lafuente, Tiffany Turrill, Eleonora Carlini, Nicole Goux and many more. And, if I may be so bold, a glimpse into the future of what the superhero genre might look like.

The Kickstarter campaign for the Inferno Girl Red graphic novel is live now. The campaign runs through May 5th, 2021.