The writer of Black Mask’s new, po­lit­i­cally charged se­ries CalExit tells all.

In Black Mask Stu­dios’ CalExit, Cal­i­for­nia se­cedes from the United States. Will Sal­mon finds out more...

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

Comic He­roes: What was your start­ing point for

CalExit? Was there a spe­cific in­ci­dent or news story that sparked the idea?

Mat­teo Piz­zolo: The story in gen­eral is some­thing I’ve been cook­ing up for a lit­tle while now – there’s noth­ing new about the fact that our gov­ern­ment has a prob­lem with the way it treats im­mi­grants. Who­ever won the elec­tion, it’d still be a prob­lem. The elec­tion did shift the con­text pretty dra­mat­i­cally, but I wouldn’t say that’s what re­ally pushed this project to the level of ag­gres­sion we’re hit­ting.

The thing that re­ally amped us up to turn this thing up to 11 was the Women’s March and airport protests. I grew up in NY, where there is a lot of ac­tivism, and I’ve been part of ac­tivist groups in DC, Detroit, Seat­tle, Port­land, the Bay Area... Gen­er­ally LA is not a city that’s per­ceived as be­ing all that po­lit­i­cally en­gaged, but over the 10plus years I’ve lived here I’ve re­ally been struck by the in­creas­ing lev­els of en­gage­ment. I per­son­ally saw it when Oc­cupy reached LA and then it raised to an­other level with the Black Lives Mat­ter protests, and then be­ing at the Women’s March with my family was just pretty in­cred­i­ble. And when the Women’s March turnout was re­ported and Cal­i­for­nia had ar­guably the high­est num­bers of any state, it re­ally made me re­think what’s pos­si­ble. The fol­low­ing week the protests shut down both LAX and SFO air­ports... It’s a big deal what’s hap­pen­ing here. A lot of Cal­i­for­ni­ans feel frus­trated that their votes don’t mat­ter as much as other states’ be­cause of the elec­toral col­lege, and when you have an elec­tion like this one where Cal­i­for­nia con­trib­uted so heav­ily to the pop­u­lar vote, the level of anger is pal­pa­ble. CH: What do your pro­tag­o­nists want, and what is against them?

MP: With­out giv­ing too much away, Zora is al­ready very rad­i­calised. She is an im­mi­grant on the run from de­por­ta­tion forces and she’s a part of the re­sis­tance movement. Jamil is apo­lit­i­cal; he’s a sur­vivor who’s a good per­son but ba­si­cally look­ing out for him­self. Their jour­ney to­gether will change them both. CH: It sounds like we’re root­ing for Cal­i­for­nia, but are there any down­sides to it mak­ing its exit?

MP: Sure there are down­sides. Se­ces­sion isn’t a slam­dunk in prac­tice. The fact is, we’re all very in­ter­de­pen­dent. But there are also down­sides to the US Gov­ern­ment in the story es­ca­lat­ing its au­thor­i­tar­ian rule and try­ing to force peo­ple into do­ing things they find morally re­pug­nant. War is gen­er­ally pretty aw­ful for both sides, but that doesn’t mean you ap­pease fas­cists. Ul­ti­mately, this story isn’t about po­lit­i­cal in­trigue be­tween DC and Sacra­mento, though, it’s about the char­ac­ters

who are try­ing to make their way and do the right thing the best they can in an in­sane world. CH: You’re work­ing with Aman­cay Nahuel­pan again. What do you en­joy about your col­lab­o­ra­tions?

MP: Aman­cay is an in­cred­i­ble col­lab­o­ra­tor and I’m re­ally thrilled to be work­ing with him again. We’ve de­vel­oped a re­ally nice short­hand and he al­ways takes my ideas and makes them bet­ter and adds his own bril­liant ideas. We met when he con­trib­uted to the Oc­cupy Comics project I put to­gether years back, and we pub­lish his se­ries Clan­des­tino about a rev­o­lu­tion against a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor, so we’re pretty like-minded po­lit­i­cally and nei­ther of us is scared to push the bound­aries, so that’s re­ally im­por­tant in a col­lab­o­ra­tion. He’s re­ally fear­less and his work has grit and dy­namism that I find re­ally rare. So I’m re­ally blessed to get to work with him. CH: Were you al­ready work­ing on the se­ries be­fore Trump won the pres­i­dency?

MP: Yes, but like I said it was re­con­tex­tu­alised and has changed sig­nif­i­cantly based on cur­rent events. As the pub­lisher at Black Mask, I can’t tell you how many pitches I re­ceived dur­ing the pri­maries that started with “This starts in a world where Trump ac­tu­ally be­comes Pres­i­dent.” Any­one who was work­ing on po­lit­i­cal sto­ries in 2016 re­ally had to re­think those sto­ries in the past few months. CH: How im­por­tant is it for you that comics con­front the po­lit­i­cal sta­tus quo?

MP: I think it’s one of the most im­por­tant things comics can do. There’s a rea­son why books like Maus, V For Vendetta, March, Perse­po­lis, DMZ, The In­vis­i­bles and so many more have be­come the modern clas­sics. Comics, es­pe­cially in­die comics, are re­ally unique be­cause there’s so few gate­keep­ers be­tween the creators and the read­ers. It en­ables creators to tell re­ally per­sonal sto­ries in a very in­ti­mate set­ting with­out a mega­cor­po­ra­tion dic­tat­ing what is and isn’t al­lowed, with­out a rat­ings board say­ing what is and isn’t ac­cept­able, with­out ad­ver­tis­ers soft­en­ing ev­ery­thing so they can sell soap. It’s a real priv­i­lege that we have this art­form and this mar­ket­place that makes creators and read­ers and shop own­ers and col­lec­tors all so ac­ces­si­ble to one an­other. There’s no rules other than not to mis­treat one an­other. Other than that, you can do or say any­thing you want in comics, and that’s re­ally spe­cial. Creators in most art­forms don’t have that. So in a lot of ways I think it’s comics creators’ re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­front the sta­tus quo be­cause we can. CH: Is CalExit go­ing to be a minis­eries or on­go­ing book?

MP: We see this as an on­go­ing se­ries of mini-se­ries with breaks in be­tween. That will help us catch our breath so we don’t run be­hind or have to rush the qual­ity. CH: What’s it like work­ing at Black Mask Stu­dios?

MP: It’s amaz­ing. I’m one of the co‑founders, so my point of view is dif­fer­ent from ev­ery­body else’s, but it’s a re­ally unique family of creators here. I feel so blessed to get to sup­port and read their books and also to be able to con­trib­ute cre­atively. Ev­ery­one here looks out for one an­other and cares about one an­other. I think it’s just dif­fer­ent than any­place else and re­ally spe­cial. And it’s just a great time to be mak­ing comics.

Left: Con­cept draw­ings of the pro­tag­o­nists.

Above: UK read­ers might be sur­prised to dis­cover there re­ally is a Cal­i­for­nian se­ces­sion movement, but CalExit “isn’t specif­i­cally about se­ces­sion” per se.

Above: Piz­zolo says CalExit is a “hope­ful” book. “As de­press­ing as the news can be, I’m re­ally heart­ened by the mil­lions of peo­ple com­ing to­gether to try and make pos­i­tive change and pro­tect one an­other.”

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