Steve Orlando has been writing comics for some years now, having contributed to such projects as Image’s Outlaw Territory, Vertigo’s Mystery in Space, and the Kickstarter funded NOBODIES anthology from Drawmore Inc. Now, Orlando is in the midst of his own Kickstarter campaign for a comic of his own creation: Virgil. We had a chance to speak to Orlando about the project and what readers can expect!
AP2HYC: What is Virgil? Can you tell us a bit about the story and concept?
Steve Orlando: VIRGIL is a 1970s crime & revenge graphic novel, inspired by actions movies like Death Wish, Foxy Brown, and Shaft, as well as crime comics like Scalped and 100 Bullets. It’s got the attitude of those movies, and another key element of those comics- the setting is as much a character as the people. Here we visit Jamaica, one of the most contradictory places on the planet. A vacation paradise, an impoverished ghetto. People seek it out to relax, but for citizens life can be a day to day battle. And for the LGBT community, 70% of citizens don’t even think they deserve basic human rights.
AP2HYC: How long have you been writing comics?
Orlando: I’ve been writing comics for about ten years, moving around small press and experimental independent publishing. After living in Russia, I wrote Octobriana, which I co-published with Poseur Ink. More recently I’ve worked with Image Comics on a variety of anthologies, as well as Anything That Loves, an LGBT Anthology from Northwest Press. I wrote about centaurs in love for DC Comics/Vertigo, and a culinary kitchen version of Narnia in The Kitchen Witch from 215 Ink.
AP2HYC: What was the inspiration for Virgil? You describe Virgil as a “Queer-sploitation” comic, and that it references many of the exploitation films of the 70s; were there any films in particular that you drew upon when creating Virgil?
Orlando: To me the greatest inspiration is Shaft. Why? It was a crime narrative with an action hero that wasn’t ashamed of who he was. BUT it didn’t turn a blind eye to the evils within the community, or the allies outside of it. In a time of racial tension, relationships in the movie were built on respect, not the color of one’s skin. This is the aim of VIRGIL, where our hero is righteous, tough, and fighting back against his oppressors. But he’s not a day and night, black and white character. He has fault, he is is own worst enemy sometimes, and not everyone that’s like him is with him. To me exploitation, at least in the modern sense, gives a holistic look at a community’s fight, and uses a relatable genre story to do it. Shaft broke boundaries, and that’s the hope for this book too.
AP2HYC: Do you see this as a standalone story or does Virgil have the potential to be an ongoing story?
Orlando: VIRGIL is definitely a standalone story, complete in an 88 page, full color package. But as more and more Anti-Gay Violence appears in the news, the potential for a follow-up in a different setting is obvious. We could visit other worlds, explore other cultures, in an entirely new story in the spirit of the first.
AP2HYC: Clearly Virgil will be breaking many gay stereotypes in the comic. What motivated the decision to make him gay and how do you think that aspect of the character will be received?
Orlando: I think it’s important to show that gay characters come in all shapes and sizes and faces. There’s nothing wrong with the gay characters that have appeared. I don’t see it as breaking stereotypes, but more as offering alternatives. I mentioned Scalped, which, without spoiling anything, features LGBT characters in new places readers wouldn’t expect. The same goes for Ex Machina. The decision comes from the countless life accounts I’ve read or heard of people who struggle to fit into a gay narrative for their life, when in reality there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to be gay. I think many will find that refreshing, and it’s all about the presentation. This isn’t a book about being gay, it’s a book that incorporates gay characters with a nonchalant approach. That hyper normality, the casual acceptance, makes it a progressive crime book first. It’s the greatest statement about the characters within.
AP2HYC: Why do you think Virgil is such an important comic?
Orlando: As I mentioned, the approach of not fetishizing the gay characters, but making them just another normal part of the book, makes it vital. It’s a crime book that features gay characters, but doesn’t ogle them, single them out. This is the ultimate acceptance. Also the book is vital because it shines a light on Anti-Gay Violence in an area that most people didn’t even know was home to such crimes. Spreading the word, and doing it in an exciting way, is also the heart of a powerful genre tale.
AP2HYC: How did you meet the artists you’re working with? How did JD Faith come up with the style?
VIRGIL is what I would call a 2nd Generation Kickstarter project. JD and I both appeared in the NOBODIES anthology, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter last summer. Since that time, JD and I have been wanting to work together, and when I brought the idea for this book to him, it turned out that he had been hungry to do a new take on crime fiction for a long time. JD instantly had his own ideas for a unique style, to make the book classic in appearance, and everything he drew up was amazing from the start. I know he was inspired by Batman: Year One and its gritty, approachable, timeless style. Visiting a new setting with that style has made the book unlike anything else I’ve worked on.
AP2HYC: Why did you decide to use Kickstarter? How is the campaign going?
Orlando: Using Kickstarter only felt right! Not only did JD and I meet on a book there, BUT letterer and designer Victor Ochoa ALSO published that same book. Colorist Chris Beckett has been attached to successful Kickstarters as well, and so it seem right to aggregate that experience and bring everyone back for another book! Also, Kickstarter will allow us to create an exclusive version of the book and get it to supporters directly, which is an exciting experience from a creative standpoint.