Immigration has been a boiling point topic for communities around the world since the beginning of time. There is an inherent vein of Xenophobia that taints humanity’s heart and can infect even the best people. Elk Mountain is a new graphic novel by Latinx creator Jordan Clark that is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter. His story attempts to tackle the migrant issue on a super hero level.
“Elk Mountain explores the relationship between heroes and the communities they defend…Elk Mountain also looks at how the current climate of fear can break apart a community in an instant. Fear of the other can turn long time neighbors against each other, and it’s happening right now with immigrants and non-immigrants.”
I spoke with Clark about his book and his thoughts on some of the real life global issues that are mirrored in his story.
Chris Hernandez: Tell us about Elk Mountain; it’s a super-hero story but what is the message at its core?
Jordan Clark: Elk Mountain follows an immigrant superhero named Valor, who has lived in and defended this small town for most of his life. He’s had a great relationship with the town but the current political and social climate has started to change the way people look at him. There’s a lot of people who begin to start questioning his intentions simply because of his immigrant status, and the core of the story really grapples with what a hero’s responsibilities are to the communities they defend, and how fears surrounding things like immigration can tear communities apart.
CH: The world community’s acceptance of the appearance of a super hero has changed somewhat over the years. If you look at Superman ’78 you find excitement and wonder at the appearance of the hero. However, 2013’s Man of Steel gives us a hateful and fearing response to Kal-el. How do you think the real world would really react to a super hero appearing on the scene today?
JC: It’s hard to say because we live in a really divisive time, partially by necessity, partially because the internet has changed how accessible we all our and our expectations of our access to others. I think Superman is a timeless character, and we based our hero on a lot of his story (an “alien” arriving in a small town, growing up and learning to use their powers, and how they choose to interact with those they defend). Superman used to fight corrupt landlords, politicians, and domestic abusers, and then moved on to larger world ending threats.
But almost any public act is now considered political in some way, and we’ve gotten to a point where our politics are basically team sports. And if you’re not on the “right team”, you’re the enemy. Now again, a lot of this is necessary. Things like the #Metoo movement, BLM, and other groups who now have a voice to speak their truth are facing enormous backlash because the powers that be aren’t used to being challenged. And like I mentioned before, we live in a day and age where privacy means less and less. So, can you imagine how the world would react to an all-powerful being, or a street level vigilante whose identity was a complete secret?
So, I think it’s a really complex idea, because I don’t know if there would be a universally beloved kind of hero like Superman was in ’78. I just hope that if we ever do see a superpowered being in the real world, they have the integrity, the heart, and the empathy of Superman.
CH: Typically, we find super hero stories taking place in large metropolitan cities. Why set Elk Mountain in a smaller community?
JC: That’s one of the main reasons we decided to set in a small town, because we’re so used to these stories taking place in a sprawling city like New York, Gotham, or Metropolis. Also, going with our Superman riff, we wanted to explore the idea of Clark never leaving Smallville. What would that look like? Obviously like most small towns, he wouldn’t be able to keep a lot of secrets, so everyone would know he was Superman, but also like most small towns, they wouldn’t take too kindly to outsiders poking around asking questions. So, I’d imagine his identity would remain a secret.
We also wanted to have a place small enough that his relationship with the community would have more weight. There’s way too many people in Gotham and Metropolis for Superman or Batman to have a personal relationship with all of them, but we can do that in Elk Mountain, which makes the tension between Valor and the town more dynamic.
CH: Are most of Valor’s foes as inept as Red River Rick?
JC: Yes and no. We have a big bad lurking in the fringes that poses a great threat to both Valor and Elk Mountain, but if you look at Superman’s rogue gallery, how much of a threat is Toyman really? There’s not a lot of villains who can go toe to toe with Valor, but if you and I were to run into Red River Rick, we’d be in trouble. I thought that was an interesting juxtaposition. If you’ve ever read Gotham Central, which follows the GCPD on a series of cases involving many of Batman’s villains, you see that villains like Killer Moth or Mister Freeze are extremely dangerous to people not named Batman. So, while Rick might seem a little goofy on his own, or compared to Valor, if you remove Valor from the picture it’s a very different story.
CH: Is Elk Mountain about Valor or is it more about the community?
JC: I think we do a good job exploring both. Valor is our lead, and a lot of the story revolves around him, whether he’s physically there or not. On the other hand, we wanted to explore what it’s like to live in a town with such a powerful hero. How does that effect how people carry themselves? Does it make people more bold or fearless or more vulnerable thinking Valor will always be around to save them. I think Valor is insuperable from his community because it’s so small, and vice versa, so it’s a lot of fun to poke and pull at both sides to see how they react to one another.
CH: Why did you pick 80s Panama as an origin for Valor?
JC: With the current climate surrounding immigration, I think we discount how much of an effect our foreign policy has had on the countries these immigrants are coming from. We invaded Panama in the late 80’s and people don’t really talk about how they never really recovered from that. So, I wanted to give Valor an even more complicated relationship with America. While he’s never been to Panama, he’s in America now because of the things the government did in the 80’s, and now is in another complicated situation because of it.
CH: Do you think we are about to see the emergence of more “ethnic” super heroes in comic books?
JC: I certainly hope so! I’m Puerto Rican and Black, so Miles Morales was the first comic character who was really like me and it felt great to follow his adventures. If you look at the reaction people have had to just the teaser trailers for Into the Spider-Verse, there’s a real demand for more inclusive superhero stories. From Black Panther, to Black Lightning, and characters like Kamala Khan and Sam Alexander, I think there’s a definite need for these kinds of characters. And even more so, a more inclusive group of creators who can tell these stories from a personal place. Comics has more than enough space for all kinds of characters, and I think the industry will be in a better place if we choose to embrace it rather than go against it.
CH: Is Elk Mountain a stand-alone story or is there the possibility for more stories in this world?
JC: Right now, we’re focused on getting this story out to the world, but I definitely have plenty of ideas of where things could go after this story.
Check out Elk Mountain’s Kickstarter page which will conclude funding on Monday, June 11, 2018: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1597163608/elk-mountain