Micah Ian Wright is currently working on film, videogame and graphic novel projects, He has written thirty two videogames, five feature films, hours upon hours of aired television, four books of political commentary, five graphic novels, three of which featured comic “Stormwatch: Team Achilles,”, and a musical comedy based on the 1980′s action film “Red Dawn.” “Duster,” Micah’s new graphic novel, is currently in production and will be published soon, but is always available for yardwork and light construction jobs, if you promise to give him a ride back to the Home Depot at the end of the day.
So we picked Micah up at Home Depot and he was nice enough to answer a few questions for the First Comics News Readers.
First Comics News: Duster is a Kickstarter campaign, why Kickstarter?
Micah Ian Wright: Making independent comics isn’t cheap. Either you take on all the burdens of self-publishing, or you go with an established publisher and find some sort of rights split. Even then, though, it’s very common to find yourself earning only 10-15% of the cover price of your book after the publisher, distributor, and retailer takes their share of the profits. The problem with that situation is that the artists often never break even on their financial and time investment. This is why some of the best comics artists I know have left comics entirely and gone into magazine illustration or videogames.
Kickstarter allows us to go directly to interested customers, and to directly solicit pledges from interested customers who are investing in the future of the artistic project. In a way, we’re pre-selling the books to interested parties and getting to keep 100% of the cover price… but Kickstarter isn’t a store, and it’s not a replacement for retail. It’s distributed, small-scale artistic patronage. A million little mini-Medicis all kicking in to pay a bunch of wanna-be Leonardos and Michelangelos to paint some ceilings for everyone to enjoy.
Micah: I’m going to cry a lot. I feel confident in Kickstarter’s user base and the quality of our product, though, so I’m hoping that isn’t going to be our fate.
1st: What made you pick a 200+ hardcover format, instead of a mini-series and then collecting it?
Micah: Well, Kickstarter allows us to recoup all of our art costs at once, without having to navigate the extremely hazardous waters of the comics direct market. Duster isn’t the standard comic… It’s a book set in WWII about a woman. Most comic stores are run by men, and cater to male customers, and they almost exclusively order comics about flying men in spandex outfits punching one another in the face. This book would likely not have been a heavily-ordered series in the American comics market for several reasons. Hopefully we do well enough on Kickstarter that we recoup our costs, and get enough attention paid to the project that we pick up a traditional comics retailer, and the publicity from the Kickstarter campaign and good word of mouth from the limited-edition hardback gets comic store owners to the point where they’d be willing to pick up individual issues or a trade paperback of the book once we’re being distributed through Diamond.
Micah: We have a 40(!) page full-color preview of the book online. That’s a pretty good chunk of the story… about 1/6th of it. I hope that people can make up their minds whether they’re interested from that preview and from the sneak peeks into chapters 2-6 which can be seen in the Kickstarter video, and from the recommendation of Kurt Busiek who’s read all of chapters 1-4.
1st: What made a post V-E Day period piece the perfect project for your return to comics?
Micah: I’ve been working on this story in one way or another since 1995 when it was a dream I had while attending San Diego Comicon. I woke up midway through the dream and was like “WOW! I’ve got to find out how this ends…” and laid my head down and went back to sleep hoping to finish it. I did, and the ending was great. That dream, about a plane full of Nazis crashing on my grandparents’ farm inMorton,Texas in 1944, was the basis for this story. When I decided that I wanted to make a graphic novel, I wanted to do one that wasn’t about super-powers or extraordinary abilities, and this seemed like an obvious story to do; action, nazis, planes, guns, farms, cotton… it’s all fantastic story material.
Micah: She’s a woman caught in a bad situation. Her husband was a crop-duster pilot who volunteered for the Army Air Forces, and was shot down over Europe. She’s had to take up his work as a crop-duster to make ends meet for her family. In that way, she’s just like millions of American women who found themselves working in factories and the military for the first time ever during World War II. Jo’s loosely based on my grandmother combined with the spirit of the female aviation pioneers of the era, like the WASPs, the Women’s Air Forces Service Pilots who flew American combat planes during WWII from the factories inAmerica into the war zones of Europe andJapan. I’ve long wanted to do a story about the WASPs, and this story was my way of nodding to those events, while not focusing on them.
1st: Who is Cathy Baker? What is Cathy and Jo’s relationship like? Does the fact that Jo changed her last name back to her maiden name, cause trouble between Cathy and Jo?
Micah: Cathy is Joanna’s teenage daughter. Jo’s response to her husband’s death was to throw herself into work and not deal with her grief, so she’s busy working and doesn’t have time enough for Cathy. Her daughter’s still getting over her father’s death, and from her perspective, she doesn’t feel like her mother should have gotten over his death so easy. She’s a teenager and doesn’t understand that everyone grieves in their own way. Plus, she’s still operating on this antiquated notion of what a middle class mother’s life is supposed to look like… even though the war has utterly demolished that notion.
As the book begins, their relationship is horrible for a number of reasons. Jo never wanted any of these responsibilities and pressures… but now that she has them, she’s discovered that she enjoys them in a way she never thought she would. That disturbs both her daughter, and some of the other, more traditional women of the town. Children are often the most rigid enforcers of gender roles, and that’s certainly the way Cathy is responding to her mother’s changes in the months leading up to the beginning of the book. She definitely starts the book as a child, but ends it with a much better understand and appreciation for her mother’s sacrifices.
Micah: Jo’s father. He’s an oldWest Texas cotton farmer. He doesn’t have a son of his own, and was hoping to leave the farm to his son-in-law, but he died fighting Nazis in the skies overEurope, so Sam’s at a crossroads in his life, too. He’s raised Jo to be a fiercely independent woman, but he’s starting to worry that perhaps he’s done too good a job of that. I think the older you get the more you realize that culture can’t be changed overnight. Change takes time. Sam worries that his daughter is outpacing that necessary time.
1st: Who is Dwight Goodrich?
Micah: Dwight’s the wealthy son of the town’s mayor. He’s also a draft dodger. His own father volunteered and is in combat, but not Dwight. I think of him as one of those guys who’s really in favor of war, though. Always talking about how victory would be achieved faster if only he was in charge and didn’t have flat feet and swimmer’s ear and eczema, etc.
Micah: He’s an ex-Marine veteran of the South Pacific. He has a Silver Star for service rendered, and one leg that’s 3 inches shorter than the other, so he walks with a limp. He also has a massive case of untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, what they called “Shell Shock” back in the day, so when the Nazis come to town, it brings up a lot of bad memories for him. I based all his behaviors on real cases of veterans of Afghanistan andIraq that I read about. It’s a heartbreaking condition, and worse even in the 1940’s because it was often just put down to the victim being a coward or a nervous nelly, when it’s really just another, invisible injury on top of his hip and leg injuries.
1st: What is his relationship with Jo?
1st: Sheriff Gideon has a black Deputy. Isn’t that unusual for 1940′sTexas?
Micah: Yes. He also only has one arm. But then again, WWII created a massive manpower shortage, and Ken was my way of examining the results of that. WWII didn’t only change gender roles in the 1940’s, it put America directly on the path to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s when those black veterans came home after kicking the racial supermen’s asses… and chafed at being forced back into their subservient positions in American culture. Ken’s our eyes-on view of that. You have a strong feeling that maybe Ken wouldn’t keep that job once all the town’s young men muster out at the end of the war against Japan in 1945.
Micah: Ahhh… no, that’s Inez. I know it’s confusing, because it’s presented out of context, but Inez has straight hair, and Jo has curly hair. Inez is Hispanic, so their relationship is still frowned upon by society, but it’s even more scandalous than if Jo was doing it because Inez is married and her husband is away at war. That’s all Chapter Two stuff… you’ve gotta contribute if you want to read it!
1st: Who is Schutzstaffel Brigadeführer Horst Metzger and what does he see as his mission?
Micah: Horst is the living embodiment of the true believer Nazi party member. While Gruppenführer Hans Kammler is technically in charge of this mission, it’s Horst who actually commands the men. Where Kammler is erudite and educated and became a General through his engineering talents, Horst is the brutish face of Nazi Germany, promoted to leadership on the battlefield. Where Kammler is used to issuing orders and being obeyed because of his rank, Horst inspires equal parts terror and fervor in his men, leading from the front ranks, not the rear like Kammler. Kammler the man of learning, Horst the man of action.
Born in 1912 to parents who were early Nazi party members, Horst was raised in the cult of personality that surrounded Adolph Hitler. From the age of 10 years old, he was a member of the Deutsches Jungfolk, then the Hitler Youth, then he joined the Schutzstaffel (SS) at 18, participated in the Night of the Long Knives at 22 (the night where Hitler and Himmler eliminated their rival Ernst Röhm and the SA brownshirts), fought with the Waffen-SS on the Eastern Front, was wounded in Stalingrad (scars his face still bears), he transferred for a time to the Totenkopfverbände, the units which ran the SS Death Camps, while he recovered, and then returned to active duty with the Einsatzgruppen, the murderers who killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in Eastern Europe.
When the war in the East went bad for Hitler, Horst was called back toGermany and promoted again by Adolph Hitler himself in the final days of the war in Europe… and assigned to accompany Kammler on this last mission designed to bring about the founding of a Fourth Reich inSouth America.
1st: Who is Gruppenführer General Doktor Engineer Hans Friedrich Karl Franz Kammler and how does he see his mission differently them Metzger?
Micah: General Doktor Engineer Hans (Heinz) Friedrich Karl Franz Kammler is the main villain of DUSTER.
Our character is based on a real SS General who built Hitler’s concentration camps, destroyed the Warsaw Ghetto, ran the nazi jet fighter research program, the V-2 missile program, and oversaw the Nazis’ atomic bomb research. The real General Kammler disappeared at the end of World War II, and his records were redacted from the Nuremberg Trials and all war crimes charges against him mysteriously dropped (even though other high-ranking Nazis like Martin Bormann were hunted for 50 years after the war ended).
One leading theory is that far from dying in the war, General Kammler was instead taken into Operation Paperclip, an operation of the American OSS (Office of Strategic Service, the predecessor to the CIA), which sought to recruit German scientists to work in American science programs. To do this, the OSS often whitewashed and covered up for Nazi war criminals who were of value to America in their remaining fight against Japan… or the inevitable fight they saw coming against the communist Soviet Union.
Kammler was, for example, Werner Von Braun’s immediate superior… and theUnited States desperately wanted Von Braun. They also wanted the cream of the Germans’ crop of atomic bomb scientists, jet engine designers, and other weapons builders. Did Kammler trade Von Braun and the other scientists for a cushy life of ease inSouth America? We won’t know until the OSS’ final records are released by the CIA specifying all their post-WWII dealings helping known Nazi war criminals escape justice, and those records aren’t due to be released until… oh, right, never. So, until we know the truth… well, there’s always DUSTER.
Micah: The Nazis never built bombers capable of long-range flight. Goering didn’t think they would be necessary because Hitler always assumed thatAmerica would stay out of the war, and by the time they needed them, it was too late to begin building them. The plane that they’re in has a limited range. I sat down and plotted out the various flight paths available to a crew of escaping Nazis who wanted to leave Europe on their own terms, and there wasn’t a way for them to get to South America in any way except either by boat, or by flying through the United States.
Their deal in the book is simple: they stop for gas at pre-designated American bases, and in exchange, Kammler is trading atomic bomb and jet engine and rocket fuel scientists in exchange for safe passage to the next base. As our book opens, he reveals to his OSS handler that he’s brought along a special little something extra to ensure that the American’s don’t decide to unilaterally change the deal.
Kammler definitely wants to live. He’s a survivor… a rat who has fled the sinking ship. Horst, however, is a maniac and a true believer. All he sees are enemies that he wants to kill. He would gleefully commit suicide to do it, and that tension between those two men is the crux of the relationship amongst the Nazi forces in chapters 2-6.
For more on Duster go to Kickstarter.com