Interview: Ayala, Pearson and Louise Head Into THE WILDS

Flowers, nature, and bright colors don’t normally conjure up images of a dystopian future of zombie-like creatures taking over the planet. However, in The Wilds the new comic book series by Vita Ayala, Emily Pearson, and Marissa Louise a plague creates a different type of zombie than what we seen before.

Ayala and fellow creators give readers a world that almost seems more alive than the survivors of the plague. I discussed the world as they have created it and the reason why it is blooming instead of rotting.

Chris Campbell: What gave birth to the idea for this story?

Vita Ayala: The seed for this story was actually something I had been working on for years with my brother from another mother, Alec. It was VERY different in some ways, but the core and the general cast of characters were the same.

We were going to University in Upstate New York (basically Canada), which is very rural and… desolate isn’t the right word, but maybe isolated? We would drive around when we weren’t dying under the weight of our classes and jobs, and the landscape – ESPECIALLY in the winter – gave rise this feeling of existential depression.

I say this, but I loved my time there and all the people. But yeah, we would often make up stories out loud to each other, and this one came out of that sense of almost Lovecraftian encroaching grayness up there.

CC: Your world of cataclysmic plague looks very alive and colorful while the survivors seem more like the dead ones. What can you tell us about the plague and  how it affected the world? Is what we see actually what has happened or is it symbolistic.

VA: The plague itself is a bacteria, which affects different blood types differently. I wanted it to act a little like illnesses that exist, so I did some googling (I will never sleep again) and the closest I could think of in terms of how it moves and effects people was something like malaria (which is caused by a parasite but bear with me) and that fungus that makes bugs into zombies in real life. It multiplies in the mucus membranes, and makes the host body VERY fertile in terms of growing other things – like plants, for example.

So, basically the bodies become an almost potting soil, and whatever stray seeds that blow into open orifices or woulds take root and grow.

The overall idea behind the plague was to give the sense that humanity itself was a virus like infection on the Earth, and that nature had finally had enough and it was fighting back. If humanity is the virus, then the Abominations are like Mother Nature’s anti-bodies. In a way the “survivors” are much more like the dead, because the plague allows nature to flourish and reclaim.

This isn’t to say I think in reality humanity is a blight, but in terms of the relationship between the sickness, humans, and the planet, it was the best way I could think to frame it. So a huge swath of humanity died, a very large portion of those that remained were turned, and the rest of the population (a minority) has to deal. The Abominations are also now much more a part of the ecosystem than unaffected humans, who are completely disconnected from both the Earth and each other.

CC: What can you tell us about the main character Daisy. She appears to be pretty deadly towards the Abominations and even pretty cold towards others but still has a heart underneath. How hard has it been for her to hang on to her humanity?

VA: Oh Daisy, how I love her! She’s actually very caring and soft hearted.

Before the plague hit, she was a pre-med student – she wanted to help people heal. That never went away, so what you have is someone who is trying desperately to put up a front of being cold and unaffected, but she really just wants everyone to be taken care of. She can have a kind of gruff way of presenting herself to strangers, or when she on the job, but she definitely goes home and curls up and cries at the suffering she sees.

I saw a little mini-comic on twitter once of like a little squishy gum inside a robot armor, and that is essentially Daisy. She gets done what needs to get done – whether that is killing Abominations, or going into dangerous areas for salvage – but then goes home and lets her partner (Heather) comfort her, or plays board games with the other Runners just to remind herself that what she is doing is for the greater good.

CC: We live in what feels like such dark and backwards times politically, and socially. Why do you think that stories about zombies and an apocalyptic end for humanity so popular and not brighter happier ones?

VA: I honestly don’t know. I know I personally love both, and need them for different reasons.

Sometimes I need to see people managing to survive in brutal situations to remind myself that I can make it through, and sometimes I need to put on Bob Ross for like 4 hours in a row because I need happy little trees. I think that at the core of a lot of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction are some really important metaphors about society and humanity, and perseverance. They speak deeply to me.

They also have a way of being cathartic in a way, which I think we need. It is hard to lance the poison of the anxiety and sadness and exhaustion from these difficult times, and fiction helps us do that in what can be a healthy and safer sort of space.

CC:  What songs would be included on a soundtrack to accompany The Wilds?

VA: I have a Spotify playlist haha!

On it you will find such gems as:

Road To Home – Girl In A Coma
Fade Away And Radiate – Blondie
Why We Build The Wall – Anais Mitchell
Get By – Talib Kweli
Immigrant – Sade
Dancing In The Dark – Bruce Springsteen
You Don’t Own The Road – The Kills

There are more (I think it is 58 songs strong right now), but yeah, I don’t mess around…

CC: What do you hope that your writing in general will accomplish? What do you hope people looking back 50 years from now will say about you.

VA: In general, I write for younger versions of me. For little baby gay and brown Vita who never saw themself in anything. I write to produce stories from perspectives that we don’t get enough of, because I never want another person who is queer or of color to come up feeling like they don’t exist or that they aren’t worth putting into stories.

When I was in high school, I was going through some really rough stuff, and I was given an Octavia Butler novel by a teacher. He saved my life, and also opened up my world. If tomorrow, or next year, or 50 years from now, I can help someone feel seen and real like Mama Butler did for me, I don’t care what people are saying. My hope is to help people connect, with themselves and stories, and maybe each other.

CC: Marissa, the world around them and even the abominations seemed to be more alive than the survivors. They appear to be given colder tones. What can you tell me about the choice of colors?”

Marissa Louise: Emily had color design of the characters for me to work off of and Vita had some pretty clear foreshadowing. I’m mostly bringing together the existing ideas and adding mood.

CC: Emily, what inspired your choices for designing the look of the plague?

Emily Pearson: Vita and I talked a lot about what we wanted the plague to look like. We ultimately agreed we wanted something that felt beautiful yet horrible. My mom’s a horticulturist, so growing up I learned about a lot of different types of plants, and in what conditions they can survive. We wanted to make a world where the ecosystem was thriving, and we wanted the abominations to reflect that.

CC: I noticed that the Abominations always seem to have their eyes wide open like they are aware of what they are doing.  Does this symbolize something important?

EP: Eyes have always been a great way to convey how a character’s feeling. The Abominations have a purpose to what they’re doing. They see humans who aren’t affected by the plague, similar to the way humans see the abominations.

CC: You have done an excellent job of designing Daisy. I felt like I could see everything she has been through in her face. What is most important artistically in conveying a characters history visually?

EP: Thank you! Daisy has been such a great character to draw. Daisy’s someone who’s hard, but soft around the edges. She still feels uncomfortable in the world, but she has so much to lose. We all wear expressions and emotions differently, and I tried to understand Daisy’s character as much as possible, so that the readers could do the same.

CC: What do you hope that readers will take away from artwork?

EP: I hope the artwork will help the readers feel closer to the world and the story, and that some part of the characters or environment will feel personal to them.

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