According to writer Swifty Lang, the genesis of his border crossing turned werewolf horror comic, Feeding Ground were the real life harrowing tales of the men, women, and children who daily attempt to cross over into the United States from both the documentary of his friend Thomas Peyton, 3 Men From 3 Valleys as well as Luis Alberta Urea’s book, The Devil’s Highway, and certainly the frequent newspaper headlines about the issue. The concept was also born, obviously enough, from conversations about werewolves. Not only was Lang interested in moving the classic monster away from the old tropes and limitations of silver and full moons, but he was interested in the metaphorical aspects of the creatures.
The idea of transformation, the most integral part of the monster, struck me as something not only corollary but integral to the crosser’s journey of seeking out a new life… How does one survive and what is their reason to continue?
The story involves a coyote and family man–Diego Busqueda–who encounters one of these monsters out along the Arizona-Mexico border and the treacherous crossing he attempts with his family to escape threats both supernatural and criminal. Lang says that he feels Diego’s story–the non-supernatural elements, at least–represent an American story, in that he and his collaborators on the series are “are attempting to tap into what is universal about sacrificing one’s identity to make a better life for their family.”
Written by Lang, and co-created along with series designer and layout artist Chris Mangun, and illustrator Michael Lapinski, the series was born through the crucible of collaboration, with the trio “duking out the beats,” according to Lang. “We literally have ‘kill cards’ in which we shoot down each others’ ideas; there is a pretty intense vetting process.”
The art style, by Lapinski, is somewhat photo-realistic utilizing a monochromatic color scheme. The look brings to mind a grounded version of Jaime Hernandez–Love and Rockets for the fur and fangs set. Lang describes Lapinski as a “conductor, laying out these moments and making sure they hit in the right places visually.” Working with his collaborator, the writer says the artist usually blows his mind once an issue. It’s hard to disagree, with the semi-classical version of the story’s werewolves–bipedal with lanky bodies–loping about in the Southewestern landscape, menacing the cast. Meanwhile, Chris Mangun’s designs work towards creating the “sound” of the book, as Lang credits him with being the one who makes sure that the dialog “sings.”
The dialog itself comes largely from the frayed nerves of the cast of would-be immigrants and border agents, mixed with the operatic intensity of pack leader and series antagonist, Alejandro Blackwell. The latter appears to be scheming out in the desert to maintain his bloodline–moments in the script hint that he’s been at it a while. Here, too, Lang finds a place to inject metaphor into the work:
[Blackwell’s] pack is composed of men who tried to cross and have decided to make another choice. They have been driven from their homes by lack of opportunity. Blackwell offers the men a way to support their family, even though they must sacrifice their connection home. This is often the case in reality. What Blackwell’s men have exchanged in our tale is their humanity for a materially better life.
Blackwell also has an interest in Diego’s young daughter, Flaca, who has been bitten by a member of his pack. While we’re told that females don’t survive the change, Blackwell seems to find something significant about the child, whose transformation provides the ticking clock at the heart of the first three issues. In a way, the writer is crafting parallel stories about family: on one side, Diego and his tiny clan trying to survive in the wilderness, and on the other, Blackwell and his pack in the comfort of a mansion attempting to keep their artificial family alive. This idea of bloodline and family is key to Lang, who notes:
We are fundamentally social creatures and in the new world, one is often completely alone. At the point in which we meet him, with the onset of the mutations to his thinned bloodline, Blackwell has become keenly aware of his mortality, and will do what must to perpetuate his lineage. Flaca is the embodiment of his future.
Publisher Archaia is offering the series as a flip book with an English-language version and Spanish-language version in the same issue.
Archaia suggested that from the get-go and it truly was a stroke of brilliance. Not only does this allow us to present the story in a way that is true to the region, but also it is able to reach such a wider audience. I think that the greatest compliment one can pay as a visitor to another region is trying to speak in their mother tongue.
It’s an interesting argument and it be more interesting still to see what the sales impact is on the title in Latin American markets. Presenting the book bilingually gets to the issue of diversity in comics from the other side, not just by centering the story of non-whites (which the story, by necessity, does), but by catering to a “non-traditional” audience for the content. It’s actually rather forward-thinking given the (outsized) panic about the shrinking of the print market.
As for what’s next, Lang promises that Feeding Ground could continue indefinitely, given the rules and the universe created by himself and his collaborators. But they’re also talking to the publisher about what’s next for the creators. Lang hopes to continue “us[ing] genre as a lens into contemporary issues.” To that end, the creative team is mulling over plots involving 1980’s Miami and another featuring runaways. Whatever the next project, Lang would like to focus on a smaller set of character as opposed to the many strands running through Feeding Ground, “as a welcome breather.” Still, for the time being, Feeding Ground is here and works as an interesting look at our own world through, well, the lens of genre.