The Underground Men concludes with this page. What a long, strange trip it’s been. It’s literally true that I’ve written whole novels in less time than it’s taken me to draw this story. When you read a novel you’re confronted with an end product which has been meticulously edited to give a sense of stylistic wholeness. Not so here. My comics work has blurred for me the distinction between art and art-making, product and process. I think it’s possible to watch me evolving as an artist from page to page here.
I started this project having only a dim idea of where I was going. Usually I like to obsess over plotlines and carefully detail goings-on from one section or chapter or paragraph to another. This time I tried the Lee/Kirby style–which basically involved Stan Lee telling Jack Kirby in a sentence or two what he wanted to happen, Jack telling the whole story visually, panel by panel, and then Lee filling in words over Kirby’s completed tale. I’ve never allowed myself the freedom to let the story write itself. Before, especially in my mystery writing, but also in my scholarship, there was a preordained structure to which you had to adhere. Not so with my comics. I’ve rediscovered what I loved about drawing them as a kid–the freedom, the joy at the unexpected.
The Underground Men is part of a project I’ve spent years thinking about. The scope of that project overwhelmed me and paralyzed me from beginning anything. It was only when I told myself I would categorically NOT be writing a graphic novel that I felt free. Rather than worrying about a connected narrative I’m going to be telling stories that are more like essays, or essays that occasionally become stories when they’re not being histories, documentaries or political polemics. What motivates me more than anything is a desire to make sense of how I became inured to a world of tremendous violence and inequality and how I can support my continued struggle (and others’) to break free from it.
Thanks for reading The Underground Men. And stick around…this is only the beginning!