I bet you’re expecting me to talk about Batfleck this week, but since everyone else is, let’s focus on something a bit more important in the geek world at this moment – breaking new ground.
It’s something comic books have been great at since their inception in the 1930s, making use of unique storytelling techniques to tell all kinds of tales, from cheesy, family-friendly “superhero saves the day” fiction to dark, hardboiled adult stories that even the hardest R-rated film wouldn’t touch. There’s a reason why studios and filmmakers are mining comics for the next great idea – it’s one of the only mediums left that’s still full of them.
Many of these ideas come from independent creators, and the latest I’ve read about is “Virgil,” an original graphic novel inspired as much by Archie Comics as it is Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” Yes, in the world of comics, that sentence is actually not all that crazy.
New York-based creator Steve Orlando, who wrote “Mystery in Space” for DC Comics/Vertigo, Vol. 1 and 3 of “Outlaw Territory” for Image Comics, and “Nobodies” Vol. 2 for Drawmore, Inc., asked, after seeing Archie introduce an openly gay character (Kevin Keller) that didn’t “fetishize” the lifestyle, why this fair, normal treatment couldn’t appear elsewhere.
On the other side of the spectrum, “Django” touched a nerve when it came out late last year by using spaghetti Western and grindhouse-style “blaxploitation” to talk about racism in the days of slavery and today, forcing Orlando to question why the same hadn’t been done to tackle issues of the LGBTQ community. In other words, why can’t characters who are typically straight be gay, and why can’t classic tropes be turned upside down by putting strong, central gay characters into the mix?
“Virgil,” the story of an outed gay cop who must fight his way across a violent, homophobic landscape to save his kidnapped boyfriend, is the answer to all these questions.
“As ‘Django’ was a blaxploitation throwback, this would be exploitation for the LGBTQ community. With the anti-gay violence in Jamaica largely unknown, I knew where to set my book – a place commonly thought of as a vacation paradise, with an unexplored underbelly,” Orlando explained on “Virgil’s” Kickstarter page.
“70 percent 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. Because of that, ‘Virgil’ is vital. ‘Virgil’ uses a story every reader can get behind to open eyes to the LGBTQ community’s battle. It doesn’t ignore the darkness within.”
Yes, Orlando is funding this through Kickstarter, and he only has until Sept. 11 to reach his $15,000 goal. So far, he’s about one-third of the way there, so I must ask – why haven’t I read about this project on all the major comic and entertainment websites? Why aren’t supporters screaming, “Finally!” and haters shouting obscenities? Have we really let the genre become so lame and mainstream that Ben Affleck playing Batman is all we can talk about? No. I refuse to believe that.
When I started reading comics at around eight years old, I immediately understood that “X-Men” wasn’t just about cool mutants with powers versus bad guys; it was about discrimination, racism, and fighting for what you know is right even when the world thinks you’re wrong. I understood even then that there was more to comics than battle scenes and bright colors, that this medium was capable of taking on more than others would dare. I can see that spirit running through “Virgil” loud and clear, which is why I think it’s worth talking about. After all, it’s talking about the things we probably should be right now.
I, for one, will be supporting this project because I want to see how this remarkable story plays out. As a fan of both comics and ‘70s exploitation films, I couldn’t ask for a more daring or intriguing graphic novel to read, and just from the pages released so far, it’s clear that artist JD Faith really understood what Orlando was trying to accomplish and was able to bring this gritty grindhouse story to life with bold, strikingly colorful visuals.
And I may not have ever learned about it had I not met Steve at a friend’s wedding last year, friending him on Facebook and seeing the links pop up in my newsfeed. I’m thrilled to dedicate column space this week to something new, different, and challenging instead of recycling the same old conversation about fan outrage and trending hashtags. Geeks everywhere should do the same and link the hell out of kickstarter.com/projects/thesteveorlando/virgil-an-original-graphic-novel and thesteveorlando.com, give what they can, and discuss something that could actually break some ground.
That’s probably why they started reading comics in the first place, and it’s probably why they still do. How’s that for fan reaction?
-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.