I first became aware of Adam McGovern’s work with the Image Comics mini-series, Nightworld, created and illustrated by Paolo Leandri. Reminiscent of the supernatural Jack Kirby comics published by DC Comics in the seventies, the series was an absolute joy and one of my favorite releases of 2014.
Adam and I connected some time ago on Facebook, shortly after the release of Savage Dragon #215 which featured the first appearance of his new character Aquaria. Discussing his work and his passion of the medium, Adam has quickly become one of my favorite people in the industry.
Adam took some time to discuss his latest work, his influences and what he has coming up.
FOG!: This week, Savage Dragon #216 comes out which features the second appearance of Aquaria, created by you and your frequent collaborator, Paolo Leandri. What was the genesis of the character?
Adam McGovern: Dean Haspiel needed a character to finish out the quartet of heroes making up the “New Brooklyn Universe” that he, Vito Delsante, the late Seth Kushner and others were creating (some of which is currently seen on LINE Webtoons).
When I think of Brooklyn, my first psychological word-association is: mermaids! Specifically, the annual punk-Mardi-Gras Mermaid Parade!
I came up with the idea of a more modern-day, mutated mermaid; Dean consulted; and Paolo designed. As we go along, you’ll see more of our teen heroine Mirta del Mar’s connection to classic mermaids, and to concepts from the fringe of science, both of which will help her understand who she is.
One of the things that I found to be really, really impressive is how much you pack into the work. The stories are 4 and 6 pages and each tell a complete tale with a beginning, middle and end. Do you find it more challenging to tell a story with such a limited amount of space?
Actually my thoughts race so fast and Paolo’s storytelling is so tight that sometimes the challenge is not to have the story go by too soon! Even the biggest-name characters in comics starred mostly in anthologies of short stories for the first 20 or so years of comics’ history. It’s a natural yarn-spinning impulse of ours — we can roll the thread out much farther, as we did for the four-issue Nightworld, but we always want the storyline to be taut.
Stylistically, the Aquaria stories seem very reminiscent of Sixties Marvel Comics and the art has a Kirbyesque feel. Was that a conscious decision to pay homage, or is it just the result of being influenced by comics in general?
Dean’s mandate for the “NuBKU” was, “What if the Marvel Universe had started not in Manhattan in 1961 but in Brooklyn in 2016?” That combines a consciousness of our roots with an eagerness to push forward, as Stan & Jack were doing in their time.
How did you and Leandri start collaborating together?
We met by mail when Paolo thought his work would fit a column I was writing about present-day comic work inspired by Jack Kirby. I thought his style would fit a one-off satire character called Dr. Id, Psychologist of The Supernatural — and the inspired way he brought it to life gave us both so many ideas they would only fit in a full-length anthology of mock-vintage 1970s stories.
We kept challenging each other from there, with the digital djinni Idoru Jones, the dystopian cowboy Kid Luger, the grindhouse gothic of Nightworld, and a bunch of surreal sci-fi fables in indie-comix papers.
I feel like comic creators in general have forgotten how much fun it is to create characters. What do you like best about Aquaria and her cast?
Paolo would have to speak to his fav qualities, though he seems to be having a lot of fun with Aquaria’s elegant aerial action and the personality of her wonky crew.
I like the eccentric be-yourself-ness of those kids too, and the affectionate crankiness with which Aquaria always ends up taking personal risks, trying to de-escalate conflicts and doing what’s right.
In comics, avoiding fights is still a new idea, and the pressures of young people facing a disaster-movie future is still rare to see in pop.
What comics or creators have had the biggest influence on your work?
For spectacle that has consequence and not just giant scale, Kirby; for skepticism about the commonplaces of pop and a compulsion to go in directions that it hasn’t yet, Steve Gerber. The modern heirs of Gerber are Gail Simone, Alex De Campi, Joe Casey, Marguerite Bennett; the crown of Kirby of course goes to Paolo! I know that reading play-scripts by Arthur Miller in high school convinced me to always set the scenes and establish the character-backgrounds for my comic-scripts in picture-painting prose that only the artist will ever see; and I think I get the poetry-verse vibe of a lot of my comic voiceovers from the filmmaker Chris Marker.
Are there plans for more Aquaria stories? What else are you working on?
We have graphic-novels-worth of ideas for further Aquaria adventures — which we hope you’ll start seeing soon!
In early 2017 we have a parable of political revolution that’s a sci-fi spin on the myths of Hermes, the god of messages, coming in the Twice Upon a Time Machine anthology from Dark Horse/Locust Moon. We’re readying full-length books of Paolo’s creations Kid Luger and The Wild Ones, and I’m hoping Paolo finds a U.S. publisher for his prolific, giallo-inspired horror tales too!
What are you currently geeking out over?
Love the Brobot Johnson hip-hop cyber-saga on wax and web-series by Darian Dauchan. Dig the daring of Pamela Adlon and Ali Wong on TV speaking truth to punchlines about women’s reality in the misogynist year of Trump. For comics, I’m seeing completely new vision in the poetry of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther; the sass and ingenuity of Mags Visaggio’s Kim & Kim; the brutal, lyrical honesty of Fred Van Lente’s Generation Zero; and the wit and freshness of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft Holmes. I’m also “In a relationship” with Ben & Jerry’s new vegan Chunky Monkey flavor — it’s NOT complicated.