Spotlight: The Wilds

© Black Mask Studios

In Vita Ayala and Emily Pearson’s gorgeous upcoming comic with Black Mask Studios, The Wilds, a devastating plague has swept across America leaving it in ruins. The remaining survivors have formed city-state-like communities in order to survive.

Daisy Walker is a Runner for the compound that she lives in. It’s her job to ferry precious cargo (whether it be black market items or human beings) between settlements. Of course, even for someone seasoned in the trade, this is no easy task. Beyond the walls are numerous threats, including Abominations – people that were infected by the plague and have been turned into something quite monstrous as a result. None of this really bothers Daisy until her lover, a fellow runner named Heather, goes mysteriously missing on a job.

Vita and Emily kindly agreed to do an interview with us here at TNL about the world that they have created in The Wilds, as well as their personal creative processes. Read on to find out more about what inspired them to create The Wilds, how they came to collaborate together, and what kind of lives they’d be living in a post-apocalyptic America.

1. We’d love to know how you two came to collaborate together on The Wilds.

E: I was a big fan of Vita’s writing, and we were following each other on twitter, occasionally talking to each other. Vita tends to write very personal and relatable characters, even if they were characters Vita didn’t create. I ended up reaching out on Twitter and asking if they were interested in putting a comics pitch together, and we eventually came to working on The Wilds after sharing ideas.

V: I have a very healthy appreciation of artists – a lot of my siblings are visual artists, and most of my friends are artists of some sort as well – and Emily is incredibly skilled, as well as kind, intelligent, and just all around awesome. I followed her on twitter after I saw some of her fan art, and then her originals started popping up and I was even more blown away. When she hit me up and wanted to talk about a possible collaboration, I immediately had three stories in mind that I would have loved her perspective on, though honestly I would have worked on anything she wanted to, ha-ha. One was The Wilds, which she ended up being really interested in, and here we are!

2. Some Creators work well while listening to music but others feel the need to put on noise-canceling headphones. Where do you two fall? What does your creative process look like?

E: I end up spending the majority of my day drawing, so I’ll find lots of different things to listen to or to just generally distract myself from obsessing over insane details. Most often I’ll listen to audiobooks, but I’ll also put on music, podcasts, or streams. Other than that I’ll try to warm-up with drawing studies if I have the time for it.

V: Music, music, music. I build playlists for whatever project I am working on specifically (there is a public Spotify playlist for The Wilds), and when I am stuck, I put on either Lemonade (because let’s be real, 6-Inch Heels is pure motivation) or one of the Borderlands soundtracks (they are instrumental, good, and also stressful/get the blood flowing). If I am outlining I may put on a podcast or audiobook, or if I am lonely at home I will put Bob Ross in the background. 95% of the time, gotta have the jams.

3. Writers and artists often keep their inspirations a secret. We want to pull back the curtain a little. From where or from what did you draw inspiration for The Wilds?

E: A lot of inspiration from The Wilds came from personal things from me. I’ll try to do things like take pictures of nature, or of cool cars to add in, places or things around my hometown. I’ll also try to find out what I like visually in certain comics, movies or video games, and try to take the best parts of what I enjoy into The Wilds.

V:  In terms of the seeds of the story, it was a mix of personal stuff – one of my best friends at University and I would come up with stories and scenarios all the time, and this one was birthed in winter up in the North Country, driving around deserted highways – as well as media intake. I am an avid comic and prose reader, and when I have time, I love to lose myself in video games. I was rereading Mouse Guard and a book called Burden Kansas by Alan Ryker, and playing Fallout and Left For Dead when this was first conceived. And when Emily came on board, she changed a LOT of things (for the way better) with her questions and ideas.

4. What was the process of pitching The Wilds like? Why Black Mask Studios?

V: The Wilds – which went by a different name when I pitched it – was a relatively simple book to pitch, I think. The core is the idea of exploitation of labor – of demanding the emotional and literal labor of people while not giving them the same rights, respects, or resources as others – which is a relatable and timely, and the story is couched in a setting of post-apocalypse, which has been an appealing way to tell these fables for a minute. The trick was what set our book/world apart, and once Emily was in, that issue was resolved.

I have been working on another series with Black Mask Studios that I am co-writing with Matt Rosenberg, and when I talked to them about doing a solo book, they were very interested. The Wilds is the kind of book that fits well with other books put out by the company, while still being unique on the shelf. They have a knack for publishing books that say something important, while being page turners in terms of the worlds they create, and they felt The Wilds fit that.

5. Are there any personal aspects from you that are portrayed in Daisy Walker?

E: Not really for me. A lot of my creation for Daisy was done visually, since Vita already had well developed characters in mind when we started working together.

V: I think there are personal aspects in most characters I write. Daisy in particular is close to my heart, because she tends to err on the side of helping people, and that is something that is important to me too – helping people. I have been told it can be a fatal flaw as much as a virtue, and that extends to Daisy’s behavior as well.

6. While the outside world is obviously a dangerous place to find yourself in in The Wilds, The Compound also sounds pretty ominous. Would you rather face plague-ravaged America or hunker down in a citystate-like community and hope for the best?

E: Neither sound like a great option, but for me personally, at least I’d be somewhat safe in a community, even if it is a depressing place to live. Although living in nature would be nice, I don’t think I’d last too long against an abomination.

V: Both present their own problems, like in real life – do I stay close to home and my family to find fulfillment, or do I strike out and fight the world to achieve my goals? – but me personally, I would probably be a Nomad (which are what the wandering people are called). The walls would drive me insane after awhile I think, and I do best when I can hear the river and see the sky, so to speak. The abominations are scary, but they won’t stab you in the back for a percentage (to nip a phrase from one of my favorite movie heroes)

7. Daisy is a Runner (which is described as a sort of ‘‘post apocalyptic postal service’) for The Compound. What kind of job/role do you think you would have in a post-apocalyptic America?

E:  I don’t think I could be a Runner. I’m too clumsy and I get scared walking down a dark hallway in the middle of the night. I’d probably end up doing the worst type of dirty job at a compound, because I spent my life before the apocalypse learning art, instead of something like car mechanics or medicine. Although, if there’s any art job open during the apocalypse, I’d be down for that!

V: I mean probably Runner if I had to have a homebase, but there are a few other sorts of people (not revealed yet) that have pretty weird and cool jobs. But let’s say, if I had to have a job, Runner haha.

8. Speaking of jobs… if you weren’t writing and illustrating comics, what do you think you’d be doing (post-apocalyptic America aside).

E: If I could have an art-related job that wasn’t comics, I’d probably want to be a concept artist. If it’s something that doesn’t involve art at all, I’d like to do something creative. Photography would be fun to pursue.

V: I’ve worked night security at a large Museum for the last almost 4 years, and prior to that it was retail for… a long time. I have had quite a lot of jobs (baker, events coordinator, building manager, among others), but since security was the last let’s say that one! Good benefits, wonderful environment, awesome co-workers, weird hours.

9. What have been some  of your favorite moments working on this project?

E: This is a comic that I’ve enjoyed working on so much, there’s been a lot moments that have been great. Getting the entire team together has been amazing. At first it was just Vita and I, and shortly after we brought in our incredibly talented colorist, Marissa Louise. Then we got our editor, Danny Lore, multiple cover artists including Natasha Alterici, our letter, Jim Campbell, Tim Daniel for our logo, and a few more artists. I’m used to working on projects with just myself and a writer, so building our team and comic has been one of my favorite experiences

V: Honestly, talking things out with Emily has always been a joy. She really invigorates me when I am feeling low, and seeing her pages is always a thrill. And then seeing what Marissa does with Emily’s line-art is incredible. Also having Danny has been a godsend – they are my soul-sibling as well as my editor. And Jim… damn, collaborating I guess. Collaborating has made this less me screaming into the void about something, and more a community effort. And I don’t mean just because it is a comic, which is collaborative by nature, but this team is wonderful and truly invested in creating together. We have Natasha Alterici on main covers, and a few surprise guest artists working on some extra content, and it is just amazing.

10. What are some of the biggest drawbacks you’ve faced? Are there ever moments where you feel like throwing in the towel?

E: I honestly feel like we’ve been very fortunate with our experience so far. The only problem I’ve really experienced, is not being used to working on a project this long. I’m used to doing short stories, or art for comic pitches which is all 5-10 pages. Transitioning to The Wilds, where I’m making 24 pages every month is a challenge for me. However, I appreciate the change, and definitely feel like it’s helped me grow as an artist. I’ve ended up enjoying working on longer story like this a lot more than doing short ones.

VTiming, ha-ha. It is a balancing act, and if I don’t get pages in on time, then nothing is on time. A lot of pressure, but well worth it in the end.

11. What comics or artists do you enjoy? Are there any in particular that have influenced your own work?

EThere are so many! Sean Murphy, Bilquis Evely, Fiona Staples, Greg Tocchini, Moebius, Jim Lee, Tula Lotay, and Babs Tarr are my favorite sequential artists, Yoji Shinkawa, Cedric Peyravernay, James Jean, Frank Frazetta, and JC Leyendecker are some of my favorite non-comic artists.

VMy influences are legion – there are WAY too many to name without leaving out important people and works! I’ll do a short list and beg for forgiveness! In terms of writing, traditionally Greg Rucka, Dwayne McDuffie, Gail Simon, Marjane Satrapi, C.J. Henderson, Warren Ellis, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dave Walker, Ed Brubaker, Brian K. Vaughan, and of course, the great Octavia Butler (totally counts, Kindred is a comic now). Right now, I am deep into Tom King, Farel Dalrymple, Matt Rosenberg, Tini Howard, Ronald Wimberly, Tony Patrick, Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, Mags Visaggio, and Kwanza Osajefo.

12. Is there anything you’re reading/bingeing/looking forward to that fans should know about?

EHeathen by Natasha Alterici, Spiritus by Tim Daniel, Short Order Crooks by Christopher Sebela, Destiny NY by Pat Shand, and The Dregs by Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, are all seriously underrated comics that I have been reading recently. Cult Classic by Eliot Rahal is a comic coming out next year that’s going to be great! Vita and I also did our own shorts for the project back in October or so!

VI am deep into the current Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads – that book in incredible, and I am so thrilled to be conscious and reading as it is coming out. It is changing the fabric of comics. I just read The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple. It has been on my shelf for a minute and I finally got the chance to crack it open. Read it in a night, and immediately forced a friend to read it too, haha. I backed Bingo Love (Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, and Joy San) and it was so warm and cute! Heathen by Natasha Alterici is a book I buy in singles then rebuy in trade (I own 3 versions of this book). I tend to read things in trade, so right now I am catching up on the latest releases from Black Mask Studios – The Dregs (Zawadzki, Thompson, Nadler, and Cunniffe), Kim & Kim vol 2 (Aguirre, Cabrera, and Visaggio), Black (Osajyefo, Smith 3, Igle, Randolph), and 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank (Rosenberg and Boss). The creative teams on those books are painfully good. Honestly, some of my favorite working in comics today.

13. Lastly, what advice would you impart to young comic book artists or writers? 

ETalk to creators. Especially on places like Twitter, where they’ll be looking to chat others up. Online is a great place for networking and finding other creators. For artists specifically, practice a lot, if you don’t know how to draw comics, there’s tons of practice scripts out there to use. If you do know how to draw comics, make a comic, either by yourself or with a writer. If it doesn’t get picked up by a publisher, self publishing is a great option.

VSomeone (probably Scott Snyder now that I am thinking about it) once said that EVERYONE has the hardest job in comics – writers, artists (lineart and colors, editors, letterers, etc. Have empathy across the board, because everyone is doing their best to create the book. Do your best, and also do your best to support those next in the chain. Respect everyone’s part of the process. Also to echo Emily, talk to creators – and lemme add, not JUST people you have always admired. Talk to your peers. They are on the same journey you are, and y’all are gonna be coming up together. Help and support each other, and forge those relationships that will result in a lifetime of good friends and good books.

Want to check out The Wilds before it’s released in February? We’ve got a few exclusive, gorgeous pages from the comic available for you to check out right here The_Wilds_PREVIEW. 

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