In July, Image will release a brand new graphic novel called Wild Children, from writer Ales Kot and artist Riley Rossmo, that deals head on with school shootings, LSD, and… Well, that’s probably enough to create a bit of controversy, right? Still, the book isn’t just trying to provoke a reaction (though it will), it’s also exploring the ideas of what school is, why we go there, and how it affects who we are in the long run. We chatted with the busy team in advance of the release about all of this, as well as their inspiration – and what’s coming up next for them. Oh, and we've also got an exclusive first look at some panels and interior pages from the book:
MTV Geek: I’m sure it was any number of things, but given the subject matter, was there a specific event, or circumstance that inspired Wild Children?
Photo by Zoetica Ebb
Ales Kot: I had gone through six schools by the time I was seventeen. The schools felt designed to thwart my creative impulses. I did my best to explain that to the teachers and to my parents, but I eventually had to take the hard way and drop out while I still had something that resembled free will, critical thinking and creative impulses. I never regretted leaving school behind.
There's more, though: reading Douglas Rushkoff's 'Life, Inc.' and seeing this Ellwood P. Cubberley quote for the first time: "Our schools are, in a sense, factories, in which the raw product (the children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life. The specifications for manufacturing come from the demands of twentieth-century civilization, and it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down."
Ellwood P. Cubberley is, by the way, still somehow considered to be a pioneer in the field of educational administration.
That quote definitely sparked something interesting. See also: Marilyn Manson talking about school shootings in 'Bowling for Columbine'. Hakim Bey's essays. Grant Morrison's and Philip Bond's 'Kill Your Boyfriend' and 'Hellblazer: Shoot' by Warren Ellis and Phil Jimenez. Gus Van Sant's 'Elephant', Godard's 'Pierrot le Fou'. Musicians like Fuck Buttons, MGMT, Nosaj Thing, Coil and Digital Mystikz, Matt Seneca's comics theory...all of this, and much more, created a lot of useful madness in my head. So I sat down and started transcribing the noise.
Geek: Riley, I read that you were sold as soon as Ales pitched you on the idea. What, in particular, told you, “I have to do this story?”
Riley Rossmo: I made a lot of genre comics. This time, I wanted to make something a little more socially aware. I love genre-specific work, but it's nice to flex different intellectual muscles once in a while. I've been fascinated with how high school students are treated and perceived for a long time. I also liked that the characters in 'Wild Children' aren't stereotypical - they don't behave the way big media usually says they should. I'm interested in works that include children/young adult protagonist who are kind of violent - Battle Royale, Hunger Games, Ender's Game and so on. Also, 'Kill your Boyfriend' made a big impression on me when it came out.
I had a s****y time in school as well. I barely showed up, I was bored and disinterested in most classes. I think the education system doesn't cater to a lot of learning styles. 'Wild Children' touches on that in some very interesting ways.
Geek: What about the look? It has a very specific feel and pacing, so what went into deciding how it would be laid out and colored?
AK: Creating a comic that would be visually interesting and arresting was a priority. Riley was interested in experimenting with his style and he went for a very Ligne Claire approach, which felt appropriate to our storytelling needs - we wanted something simple and immediate, a smart artbomb. Smart bomb. Greg Wright, our colorist, came on board and perfectly nailed the utter gloom and tiredness of high school walls and empty eyes. Once he started turning in pages with the weirder moments, I realized that we couldn't have picked a better colorist. Greg and Riley complement each other in a magical, 21st century-appropriate way.
RR: For me, Wild Children is an experiment in cleanliness. My work is usually dirty, scratchy, messy - but here I wanted to try something I had only used in some of the editorial work I'd done. All line, no spotted blacks.
Geek: What can you tell us about the tone of the book? From what I’ve seen, it gets steadily more surreal as it goes (I’m dancing around spoilers here)...
AK: Psychedelic pop. And, to quote Skunk Anansie, yes, it's fucking political. But it's also art theory. And a horror story, from a certain angle.
Ideally, the story will change every time you read it, functioning as a mirror to your own self. That's what the best art does to me, and that's precisely what I want us to achieve with Wild Children. Create a story that's more than just a story.
Geek: Okay, let’s talk more specific subject matter... What can you tell us about the plot and characters?
AK: The plot is simple: five kids walk into their High School with guns, cameras and acid. They let everyone except four teachers go, they turn the cameras on...and a very strange journey begins.
The characters are less characters and more...manifestations. Of what exactly, that we'll keep to ourselves.
Geek: It may be tricky to talk about this, but what’s the overall driving impetus of the book? I realize it may be a bit of a puzzle that doesn’t reveal itself until the end, but what can you tell us, if anything?
AK: Secrets are sexy.
Also, going on a bit of a mental tangent here - 'Secret' #1 by Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim is out and it's one of those comics that are incredibly relevant to where we are right now as a society. 'Secret' is not connected to 'Wild Children' in any way whatsoever besides having the same publisher, but it's a great book and it deserves attention. I suggest buying a copy.
Geek: To get more specific: what’s your opinion on school shootings? Clearly this is something that is still happening, and artists from comics, movies, and TV try to deal with it any way they can; so what’s your take?
AK: School shootings are radical reactions to the realities of most school systems of today: the school systems that teach you that thinking for yourself leads to bad things, that being yourself leads to nightmares, that focusing on finding yourself through anything other than widely accepted cultural paths is lazy and/or criminal. Imagine yourself in a position like that: for years, people castrate your feelings, ideas, hopes and dreams - and then you realize that's what's happening, but you're already driven over the edge and you feel like you can't go on.
In a sense, school shootings are the ultimate success of the American high school system, because they prove that, just like Cubberley wanted, we're changing human beings into products. And if you feel like a product, why should you treat other people as human beings?
Geek: What do you think the reaction to the book will be like? I imagine you’re trying to get a reaction with this, so what do you want/think readers will take away from the book?
RR: I want readers to think about what motivates people to commit such heinous acts. I'd like more people to become aware of how much impact their actions can have on their peers.
AK: I try not to think about what the reaction will be like. If 'Wild Children' makes you feel more alive than you felt before you opened the comic, I'll consider it a success.
Geek: Ales, this has so far been a pretty big year for you, with this, and the Batman story that was just announced... What’s it been like to see everything happen at the same time?
AK: It feels amazing. Seeing these ideas take form in front of my eyes does wonders to the relationship I have with my mortal coil and with the universe. I love making comics, and I want to continue creating them for a long, long time. I have about seven other comics projects in development right now and I'm just getting started. I want to change the world through comics, you know?
Geek: Do you two have anything you’re planning on working on together after this? Wild Children Two, maybe?
AK: Never say never, but I don't think we'll come back to Wild Children. Even if the comic sells 200,000 copies or more, I won't come back to it unless it makes perfect sense as a decision that will be 100% motivated by our desire to tell a new story. I suspect Riley & I will make more comics together, but Wild Children feels like it's exactly what it needs to be.
WILD CHILDREN hits comic book stores from Image Comics on July 11th. Here’s the solicit text below, as well as a look at the cover and some interior pages:
WILD CHILDREN (one-shot)
story ALES KOT
art RILEY ROSSMO
64 PAGES / FC / T+
Guns. Acid. Cameras. School.
The themes behind the controversial Hellblazer: “Shoot” by WARREN ELLIS and PHIL JIMENEZ merge with the attitude of the GRANT MORRISON and PHILIP BOND masterpiece of teenage revolt, Kill Your Boyfriend, delivering a story of magic, passion and disinformation.
WILD CHILDREN: A different type of education.