Vita Ayala and Pat Shand discuss The Wilds and Breathless

January 25, 2018

Editors note: Here at we wanted to shine a light on two comic book creators, Vita Ayala (Bitch Planet: Triple Feature, Suicide Squad: Most Wanted, El Diablo and Amanda Waller, Supergirl, Wonder Woman Annual), and Pat Shand (Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy: Space Riot, Marvel Avengers: The Serpent Society, Destiny: NY, Clonsters) and feature a recent conversation between the two creators.

Both creators recently announced new series’ with Black Mask Studios. The Wilds, is written by Ayala, illustrated by Emily Pearson and colored by Marissa Louise. A synopsis for The Wilds from the Black Mask Studios website reads, “after a cataclysmic plague sweeps across America, survivors come together to form citystate-like communities for safety. Daisy Walker is a Runner for The Compound, a mix of post-apocalyptic postal service and black market salvaging operation. It is a Runner’s job to ferry items and people between settlements, and on occasion scavenge through the ruins of the old world. Daisy is the best there is at what she does.”

Shand’s series (with art by Renzo Rodriguez)  , Breathless, is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer if the villains were big pharma. Scout Turner works as a cryptozoologist, examining and cataloguing supernatural creatures for scientific purposes. When she discovers the cure for asthma in the venom of a new breed of monster, she quickly finds herself on the run from Kenilworth Pharmaceuticals and the monsters that they’ve hired to kill her. With no one by her side but her clueless assistant, a morally ambiguous succubus, and her geriatric dog, Scout goes on the run… but in a world controlled by money and drugs, can she escape the reaching claws of a medical monopoly?”

Sit back and enjoy this conversation between the two writers as they talk about their respective series.

VITA AYALA: Hello folks. Today I am lucky enough to be in the company of a prolific writer, Pat Shand. You may recognize the name from such amazing titles as Destiny, NY & Thor: Crusade of the Forgotten.

PAT SHAND: Meet Vita Ayala! They write comics and have an awesome book coming out from Black Mask in February 2018… The Wilds! If this was a podcast, I would have one of those bomb drop or air horn sound effects after that.

VITA: Hahaha, yes!

PAT: So we are both writers and we have books coming out from Black Mask in the first quarter of 2018. We’re having a writer-to-writer conversation about those books, which is a bit of a relief to me. There are so many things I want to ask fellow writers that I never really see asked in interviews.

Which brings me to this — The Wilds looks fucking amazing. I’m doing a bunch of interviews for my book, Breathless, and I keep getting the same question: “Give me the elevator pitch!” I don’t think we should do that, though. I think we should go deeper. Can you tell me about the core of the book – the thing that’s going to keep readers coming back? The thing that makes you care?

Daisy concept sheet from The Wilds

VITA: I think that, beneath the specifics of the plot, what The Wilds is about is how certain types of people are expected to perform emotional (and literal) labor, disproportionately and without any reward or acknowledgment – without empathy towards them as people. These people, represented pretty clearly by the Runners (and the mechanic character) risk their emotional and physical well-being for the sake of the other people around them, and have no real power, privilege, or even rest. The story mostly follows Daisy, who has swallowed the “I have to give everything for the greater good” line, and is about how she comes to a place where she realizes that exploitation is not okay, and that she doesn’t have to sacrifice her person. That it is okay to expect and demand respect, equal right to resources, and to say no to being used up for someone else’s gain.

It sounds like you want to get to the blood beneath the skin of the story here. I would turn the question around then, and ask what is at the core of Breathless, and also, how you incorporated your metaphors in service of that core.

PAT: Breathless comes from a place of anger, which I think might come from a place of fear. I’m examining that through the book. But basically, in about a month, I’m going to have to go to the pharmacy and lay down an immense amount of money to be able to breathe for the next three months. Part of that is my fault, because I’ve chosen a career path that pretty much guarantees that I’ll never have health insurance paid for by my job. But I like to think that we should aspire to live in a world where the self-employed aren’t punished for their aspirations, you know what I mean? So Breathless takes that, the idea that an entire business thrives off of America’s sicknesses, and turns it into a horror story.

Which, I mean, I guess it kind of already was one. We’ve got monsters, though!

Gotta say, after hearing all this about The Wilds, I reaaaally can’t wait to read the book. The concept is stellar and the preview pages have been absolutely lovely.

VITA: Thank you so much! The team has been working VERY hard on it. And I am so interested in reading Breathless. The art is gorgeous, and I love your work in general. Would you say that Breathless is a way for you to come to terms with things, or is it more of a wish fulfillment? Or maybe a better way to ask, is it a call to arms?

PAT: It’s a little bit of all three of those! The lead character Scout, she deals with things a lot differently than I would… I like to think, but I’m probably wrong. Scout has found it very easy to disconnect from the world and adopt a negative viewpoint — which is pretty much confirmed for her when her enemies at Big Pharma end up targeting her directly, instead of making her life hell passively. She discovers what might be a cure for asthma, and ends up on the run from monsters and men (which, let’s be real, also monsters) who don’t want that getting out.

And that’s the big threat in Breathless. Blowing up the ongoing existential threat of the pharmaceutical industry into a more immediate, direct one. What would you say is the threat to Daisy in The Wilds?

VITA: In The Wilds, there are two fold enemies to the Runners – and Daisy especially. People have formed these kind of city-state style settlements, walled off from nature, to survive. Outside of them are the Abominations, which are what we call the flower-zombies, which present the kind of expected threat. They don’t eat people like traditional zombies, but they do kill them, generally rending them limb from limb. They are MUCH stronger than people, and while not usually quick, they can be relentless. These are often the direct threat. Then there is the societal threat. The Compound is one of the city-state settlements, but also different. It serves as a mix between a postal service, which runs packages, messages, and even people between settlements, and also as a sort of warehouse/black market. The Runners are both the couriers and the salvage gatherers. They are out there beyond the walls a lot, ferrying things, or exploring the ruins and taking whatever is usable. Imagine the worst office politics you have ever experienced, and then add in no oversight and the threat of zombies, and that is The Compound. There are other specialized settlements – Medical Central for example (imagine a huge hospital and medical research facility combines, and walled off) – that play an important role in the world and in the story. The settlements are meant to be vaguely menacing in the way that oppressive systems in our own world are, which even as they do good are resting on the backs of marginalized people.

PAT: How many issues is this going to be? I could see this going for a long time. Your world seems so expansive and rich.

Also… fucking FLOWER ZOMBIES!

Page 7 from Issue 1 of The Wilds

VITA: We have 5 issues planned for now, though the world is an expansive and rich one, so if it is possible, Emily and I have talked about doing more. Basically as many issues as they let us have!

Please, I know this is the standard line, but you HAVE to tell me more about the Scout! I noticed she is a woman of color. How did you approach writing someone whose perspective is so different from your own? I want to know what parts of yourself you’ve put into her. Do you think you would go about handling things the way she did, given the chance?

I promise to keep the standard questions to a minimum, but I am fiending to know more about her, her motivations for taking on big pharma when she is (as you said) disconnected from the world, and ultimately what she actually hopes to gain.

PAT: No no, that’s a good question! I’ve been kinda trying to live in Scout’s POV, flesh out her history and all as I’m writing and probably especially when I’m not writing, so this is exactly the kind of stuff I love talking about.

I think that writing from a different perspective comes from a place of empathy and research. I’m not sure which is more important, maybe neither — they’re both essential. It’s essential to ask questions, to seek to understand. I don’t know if we’ve ever spoken about this, but before I was writing comics, and before I was ever reading comics, I was writing plays in New York. Like… off-off-off-off (about five more offs) Broadway. I did so much collaborating and connecting, and the most important thing I took away from writing theatre was the workshopping progress. I would sit in a room, surrounded by people whose lives and experiences are totally different, and I’d hear them react, positively and negatively, to my work. And then when the play was over, I’d sit for a feedback session, and then speak to the actors, the directors… there was this total breakdown of ego, this surrendering to the idea that just because we as writers write something, that doesn’t mean that it’s accurate to the character. There is this idea that a character that we create begins and ends in the writer’s mind, and that is so not true. I hope that was a coherent answer, haha.

VITA: So you are not a stranger to the collaborative process, beyond comics! That makes a lot of sense, knowing you.

PAT: I think there is so much value to really, REALLY collaborating. Sharing ideas and all. I remember the first time I gave a note on a comic I was doing and I got totally chewed out for it, hahaha. VERY different from my previous experiences.

VITA: I think you hit on something that is so important when writing in general, but especially when taking on the task of writing characters that are different from one’s self: empathy.

PAT: It’s so important. I think it’s the key. I mean, kinda like what we were talking about earlier, about elevator pitches.

VITA: Base level, yeah.

PAT: I feel like we’re sooo addicted to high concepts these days. The idea that we can understand what to expect about a book in a tweet. I’m trying to think of a comic I love that can be REALLY summed up with an elevator pitch, but I don’t think I can. Every elevator pitch that I create is kind of a lie. For me, it’s definitely about the characters, if I can empathize, if I feel the writer empathizes.

VITA: Okay, then tell me about Scout. You have put a lot of work into her, you have her as the center of this story that is very personal to you. Who is she?

PAT: Scout is an asthmatic cryptozoologist who works at a lab dissecting monsters, searching for medicinal properties in their unexplored biology. Now, obviously a career isn’t the core of a person, but Scout has kind of let this job become her life. The thing is, everything she does officially doesn’t exist, so she’s been, on paper, off the job market since graduating. Everything she does is her job and taking care of her dying aunt and her super old dog, while trying to make ends meet. She’s realizing now that she let her life kind of get away from her, but is wondering if she’s too far gone to reach out again and grab it. The real personal story of Breathless, the thing that made me really begin to get excited about Scout’s story, is what happens when everything gets shaken up and she goes on the run. When that happens, instead of finding herself horrified, she suddenly feels as if she’s living again. And I can’t lie, that’s kind of exactly how I felt when I escaped by longtime exclusive job at a different comics company. I’m finally freelancing! Hahaha.

Now, we’ve talked privately about how amazing your co-creator/artist Emily Pearson is… I mean, I think we both said that she’s going to be one of the biggest artists in the industry. I think it’s going to happen kinda now.

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