A Game Of Magic On The Wings Of Blackbird
Aug 11, 2018
by Vince Brusio
Writer Sam Humphries and artist Jen Bartel took their love of LA and used it as the backdrop for their neo-noir fantasy Blackbird from Image Comics. In this PREVIEWSworld Exclusive interview, Jen Bartel explains the love of her hometown, Final Fantasy 7, and a healthy diet of anime was the electric salad that kept her nourished so that she and Sam could make an ongoing series which hits comic shops this October.
Blackbird #1 (AUG180013) is in comic shops October 3.
Vince Brusio: What was the genesis of this project? What provided the spark? Is Blackbird #1 (AUG180013) a relatively new sculpt, or did the idea evolve from a different misshapen clay?
Jen Bartel: Sam and I had already decided we wanted to work on a project together before we created Blackbird, so it was very intentionally molded into the exact story we wanted to tell. Our initial conversations really centered around media we loved, what kinds of books we wanted to see more of in comic shops, and what kind of an audience we wanted to reach. From there, the story started developing—and we’ve both been contributing equally to it since its inception.
Vince Brusio: The book is described as a neo-noir fantasy. So what is it about the writing style and artwork that would afford it that label?
Jen Bartel: I had told Sam that I wanted to draw a comic that was set in a modern, real-world environment, but featured fantastical creatures, magic, couture fashion, and larger than life characters. Some of this was a utilitarian choice on my end — because Blackbird is my first ongoing comic book. I didn’t want to be tasked with designing entire new universes, but when Sam suggested we set it in LA, everything kind of clicked into place. In February of 2017, I took a trip back to my home city so that we could visit some of the locations that would be prominently featured in the book, and seeing those environments in person has given me so much rich material to work with. LA is a city that already looks incredibly magical — between the neon lights and the soft box lighting that the ocean (pollution?) haze causes, it’s a city that has enough raw material to pull from that I never have to make anything up if I don’t want to.
Vince Brusio: How do you approach the subject of “magic” in Blackbird? What does magic look like? Feel like? How does it taste? Personalize it for us. What does it mean to you, and how do you take that opinion and prejudice and apply it to the creatures and places we see in this story?
Jen Bartel: The magic in Blackbird is sort of a combination of the Materia system from Final Fantasy 7 and special attacks in classic Shounen anime. It has historically only been accessible to a very small group of very privileged and secretive people, but Nina is about to shake that up entirely. I don’t want to give away any spoilers beyond that, but I can safely say that we thought a great deal about the meaning of magic as currency in the world of Blackbird, what the implications of that are, and what kind of an effect it has on everyone in the city. From a purely visual standpoint? I want it to look SUPER COOL on the page. That’s my number one goal.
Vince Brusio: Tell us about the supporting characters in this story. How do they color the environment? How do you portray them as oxygen or pollution?
Jen Bartel: Without giving too much away, Blackbird is ultimately a story about family—and about how sometimes the relationships we have with family are less than ideal. As Nina peels back the layers of this new magical world she’s discovering, she also begins to confront a lot of those relationships as well. I would say that most of our supporting characters definitely serve as oxygen in the story.
Vince Brusio: If you could go freestyle at a comic convention panel (and since its convention season now that makes this question all the more timely), what would you say to the crowd to describe your experience working on this book? Why did you commit to the project? Why are jazzed for it? How does it represent your creativity?
Jen Bartel: I feel incredibly fortunate to be in a position in my career now where I’m able to tell an original story in this format, and I am so excited to be working on it with Sam. We’ve always had a great collaborative partnership, and after all the time we’ve invested into Blackbird, it’s exciting to finally be able to talk about it and show people the fruits of our labor. It was so important to me to create something that was fun, accessible, and had positive representation of marginalized characters, and our creative compass has stayed pointed at those priorities the entire time we’ve been working on this book.
Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.