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In 1975 Manhattan, the streets were far more dangerous than anyone knew — but one cab driver kept them safe, with the help of her trusty enchanted tire iron. MCMLXXV, a new Image Comics series, introduces the world to Pamela Evans, the bad-ass driver in question, and tells the story of what might be the most important year of her life.
Coming from Man of Action Entertainment’s Joe Casey and artist Ian MacEwan, the series is as much of a pop-culture melting pot as the city it takes place in, and debuts a brand-new hero and mythology sure to leave its mark on readers’ minds. Heat Vision spoke to the creators about the origins and influences behind Pamela and the world — and the year — she lives in.
I’ll start with the obvious question: Where did this comic come from? It clearly has very specific cultural touchstones, but “Let’s tell a story that’s part Foxy Brown, part Taxi Driver and part Buffy the Vampire Slayer” isn’t the most obvious idea.
Ian MacEwan: The concept was all Joe, but I have these triggers when it comes to specific story elements that endear me right away, and Joe saying “’70s New York” and “mythology” together in a pitch was one of them. As far as what’s obvious or not, I think taking whatever disparate touchstones you’re into at the time and mixing them together, to varying degrees of transparency, is a good foundation to build a genre story. They fit not because they naturally go together, but because they’re funneled the author’s voices.
Joe Casey: For better or worse, I’m not sure if any of my ideas have ever been “obvious.” I can tell you that this all started from the goofy, half-formed notion that — despite all the countless superheroes crowding our media in movies, TV etc. — we were lacking in the kind of pure folk heroes that come along once in awhile and end up really resonating across the ages. And as the mainstream superheroes get more and more commodified in our culture, the need for more… I dunno, “authentic” heroes was being felt, even if on an unconscious, unspoken level. Not to mention, the image in my head of a female cab driver fighting monsters with an enchanted tire iron in mid-’70’s Manhattan was just too cool not to do.
Judging from the first issue, the world of MCMLXXV feels fully formed from the start. Partly, that’s because it is something that’s so rooted in existing pop culture touchstones, but it also feels entirely thought out and fleshed out throughout the entire issue. Is this simply you two being very good at what you do, or was there a lot of planning behind the scenes, prior to starting work on the book?
Casey: I’ve been doing this long enough… At the very least, I’ve learned a little patience. Once I worked out the basic ideas, we took a bit of time developing this thing, figuring out the type of book this was going to be, what inspirations we were going to draw from, etc. All that good stuff. So there was some planning, sure… but I try not to get too deep with it. Comics are supposed to be fun, so I made damn sure that I didn’t overthink this series. It’s still meant to be a ride… but the creators are taking it along with the readers.
MacEwan: ’70s New York is just iconic, right? The pre-Koch Manhattan that exists in movies is a dangerous place that’s simultaneously the most densely populated city in the US and a desolate, threatening haunted house. I love how lonely it feels in films like The Warriors, as if civilians don’t even live there, just gangs and cops. Street lights rarely work, trash is everywhere (garbage strikes were happening all the time then), whole blocks of apartment buildings without any lit windows. They feel like canyons of brick and stone, and that was one of my main visual drives with this book.
It fit Joe’s concept of taking a mythological view of the city as well, so we were completely in sync with that from the jump. Whether it shows or not I’m not sure, but I researched a lot, only drawing buildings as they existed in ’75. You wouldn’t believe the amount of time I spent hunting down a picture of a pre-80s Papaya King.
The art in the first issue looks like a middle ground between “art comics” and superhero comics; I see traces of all kinds of people from Frank Miller to Geof Darrow to Farel Dalrymple to Jim Steranko, Chris Ware and beyond. Ian, am I off-base with what I’m seeing in there?
MacEwan: Influence questions are interesting to me, because I feel like artists should be asking the interviewer this question. Influences come from all over, and the important ones usually aren’t conscious, so it gets hard for me tell what shows up to others. I mean, I never would have guessed someone would compare me to Chris Ware! But a lot of the bigger influences on my end aren’t that identifiable because they’re more tonal, or about technical things like studying how a particular artist lit a building at night. That’s stuff I get really excited about.
Two people I looked at a lot for inspiration are Pepe Moreno, who did a great book called Rebel another called Gene Kong. His depictions of cities and action are wonderful (and completely different between those two books). The other is Jordi Longaron, who’s best known for doing the Friday Foster comic strip. He also did some Harlem crime comics for Pilote magazine that got at the level of murky shadow I wanted for my New York. They both helped me a lot in figuring out how I wanted to make my own approach.
Actually, can we talk about less obvious influences? There’s definitely a Moebius nod with the MG Arzachs, in the first issue, isn’t there…? There is so much to be seen and explored; they feel like Easter eggs in the best sense, in that they’re entirely additive to the story, as opposed to standing in for the entire experience. Between this and the soundtrack that gets listed through the issue, it makes MCMLXXV feel like a shared experience in the way that something like Morrison’s Invisibles, or — as odd as this might sound — James Robinson’s Starman did; something that extends outside of the comic and into a shared pop culture gang. It feels more than just a comic. Was that the intent?
MacEwan: The Arzachs, and the greater visual idea behind many of the gangs, was something I thought would be fun. And like you say, an Easter egg. (More to come!) But they’re fun, peripheral things. One thing I wanted to avoid was doing a blaxploitation pastiche which, aside from being problematic for me, usually relies on loud obvious touchstones that distract from the immersion of reading it. We put in some fun little nods (I had a little too much fun drawing a Man From Hong Kong billboard), but hopefully they’re just that.
Casey: I’ve always tended to embrace the scratch-mix approach to making comics. It’s fun to throw in little bits of detail that maybe only I’ll ever know about. Listen, I gotta get my kicks in this biz somehow. And I’ll pull from anywhere and everywhere — other comics, movies, music, prose fiction, whatever. Oftentimes it’s a lot of truly disparate elements, from the obvious to the obscure, encompassing whatever I happen to be into at the time. Obviously, the hope is that it all ultimately coalesces into something greater than just the sum of its parts. Then again, that’s where Pamela Evans enters into it. She’s the real transcendent element of MCMLXXV. She’s what makes it all work.
MacEwan: And honestly, a selfish thing for myself, which I think is a good thing. Whenever Geof Darrow gets asked about the level of detail he puts in his drawings, all the tiny things going on in the background, and I really relate to his answer of “well, to keep myself from dying of boredom!” So ideally, if I do a good job of entertaining myself, that will genuinely transfer to the reader.
Without giving away the end of the first issue, this isn’t necessarily the book it first presents as — there’s a bigger story here, and more to Pamela than meets the eye, as much as Pamela is an utterly winning lead from the get-go. When launching a new story today, in an industry and landscape more used to relaunches and makeovers of familiar characters, is there a desire to give everything away upfront to try and convince people to check out the book?
MacEwan: I don’t think giving everything away is necessary, and it’s definitely not desirable. Jeez, it’s sad to me that not being a relaunch or a makeover is even a selling point. I appreciate page previews online, and that’s always been enough to let me know if I want to buy a book. The look and tone say a lot to me, and I think MCMLXXV is direct enough in its intent that people will know instantly if it’s for them after seeing a few pages. The story goes places from there, but I don’t see how an explanation of plot has ever been a good way to hook people further.
Casey: Personally, I don’t worry too much about what anyone else is doing. That way lies madness. The landscape is what it is, and I’ve done pretty well in the past by consciously flying in the face of whatever the current corporate thinking might be. When it comes to MCMLXXV, there is definitely a bigger story going on. But it goes far beyond just the plot. We’re trying to create a bit of modern mythology here… something that taps into some of those Joseph Campbell theories that, for whatever reason, aren’t quite as in vogue as they were just a few decades ago. Having said that, even mythology needs to reflect a recognizable world. That’s partly where it gets its power and that’s hopefully how it connects to a wider readership.
So, what’s the pitch for MCMLXXV for people entirely unfamiliar with it? How do you convince people to sample the first issue, at least?
MacEwan: It’s a big street fight of a comic, that revels in lonely dark streets and someone who still breaks a sweat when they’re being fierce and capable. It’s about getting through the night, swinging.
Casey: First of all, I would tell anyone who was interested just to take a look at Ian’s artwork, along with Brad Simpson’s colors. I mean, c’mon, it pretty much sells itself. Beyond that… it’s all about Pamela. I feel like Pamela Evans isn’t just a hero for our times, but a hero for all times. Like I said, she’s built to be a 21st Century folk hero… with all that label might imply. Plus, it’s got the type of action sequences that’ll knock your dick in the dirt. In a good way.
MCMLXXV will launch from Image Comics in September. A preview of artwork from the first issue is below, to help make Casey’s point.
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