Adding Diversity To The Future of Sci-Fi - An Interview With The Creators of Illegal

Last week we brought you information on Jeremy Whitley’s (Princeless) new kickstarter project Illegal. I had a chance to talk to Jeremy and series artist Heather Nunnelly (Vacant) about the project and why they took it to Kickstarter.

DUSTIN: To start off can you tell us a little about Illegal and how the idea came to be?

JEREMY WHITLEY: Illegal is inspired by a history of loving science fiction and an adult lifetime of being weirded out by the lack of diversity in the future.  I wanted to make a future that actually reflected not only the diversity of our world but also the actual political problems of immigration reform, government observation, and class warfare taken to an extreme.

I wanted to tell a story about a heroine who was an undocumented immigrant, who had been forced to run to the United States and was also being forced to run from her new life.

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HEATHER NUNNELLY: Illegal is a story about a woman named Gianna Delrey who is an illegal immigrant trying to live safely in a future United States. Everyone has microchips embedded under their skin that confirm whether or not they are citizens. If you don’t have a chip, that means you are an illegal, and are wanted by the government. So Gianna is constantly on the run from, not only an unpleasant past, but from the police.

The comic is greatly inspired by Jeremy’s own experiences with the issue. Illegal talks a lot about the racism we are constantly surrounded by, and the unfairness of the treatment of illegal immigrants.

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DUSTIN: From the description of the project there seems to be social commentary, what are your goals with that and how will the art play a role?

JEREMY: Absolutely.  I want to make a statement in this comic about the kinds of people who can be heroes and heroines as well as the road I think a lot of our political decisions are taking us down.

HEATHER: We plan on spreading word. Maybe reach out to others who have also dealt with similar problems. I, personally, have not seen a lot of comics that talked about this issue. So, I think the comic is worth making just so that there is more much-needed attention to the subject of immigration.

DUSTIN: How did you two end up working together on the project?

JEREMY: Heather and I had discussed her working on an upcoming volume of Princeless.  I loved her art but I ended up getting a submission from an artist whose style fit the book perfectly.  I wanted to do something with Heather and I pitched her some books I had already been working on.  Illegal really clicked, so we started working on it.  It became quickly apparent that she was the perfect match for the project.

Illegal Kickstarter Interview (1)HEATHER: I actually volunteered to draw Princeless volume 4, but however, didn’t get it because my style didn’t match the book enough. So, Jeremy pitched to me Illegal because he liked my artwork a lot. I said sure, and that I liked the premise a lot.  Next thing I know I was drawing up concept art.

DUSTIN: There’s been a slight improvement in female leads in comic books lately, so what’s going to make your main character Gianna standout?

JEREMY: Gianna is a survivor.  She's not a superhero or a super spy or even a mercenary.  Gianna is a survivor.  She's mentally and physically tough.  Her strength actually lies largely in her past weakness.  Gianna is complicated in ways that a lot of "strong female characters" are not.  Not everything she does is going to be simple or easy, but she does it to survive.

HEATHER: There are a lot of reasons, I think. First of all she is a POC. She has the perspective of an illegal immigrant and someone who has dealt with her own very dark problems in life. She’s very soft-spoken. So, not only is she very strong physically, but she also has moments of weakness. In the first issue I think she’s just trying to figure out how to get by. She clearly hasn’t really found herself yet, and as the comic goes along she becomes more confident. That’s very important because I think that makes her a very well written character.

There’s sort of a misunderstanding that strong female characters are very masculine characters--they sort of take on a male persona. Obviously, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being masculine, but there’s more than one type of female character. Some of them are feminine, and a lot of the female characters in Illegal have that. Like Emma (my favorite character) likes fashion, make up, and high heels. That’s great, and I think comic fans will enjoy it, too.

Illegal Kickstarter Interview (3)DUSTIN: Why crowd-funding other than the obvious of “it works”?

JEREMY: Like you said, there's a lot of politics in this book.  We wanted to be free to make the book we wanted to make, make it the length we wanted to make it, and do it at our own pace.  We think there are enough people who are interested in a thing like this to fund it through Kickstarter, but it's the sort of thing that tends to scare publishers off.

HEATHER: We both needed it. Neither one of us are in financial situations in which we can afford to produce this comic realistically within a decent amount of time. If we did not use something like Kickstarter, it would take us years to draw this comic. I’d have to find other ways of getting money, and that would detract attention from our project.

If the project gets funded then I can actually use all my time to draw pages and get the work done.

DUSTIN: I noticed that in the stretch goals that the story has a set run, does that mean that the overall story is plotted already and how does that affect the art?

JEREMY: Yep, I have a basic plot set down for the full run of the story.  I think it works nicely for the art because Heather can know where it’s going and not have to have me directing over her shoulder.

HEATHER: It’s already plotted, yes. I don’t think it affects the art, really. Except for the fact that Jeremy has a very detailed idea of how he wants everything to look. So, I drew like 5 versions of Gianna, and he picked one that he liked the most.

Well there you have it, that’s a ton of great information about the project. If you’re interested in supporting the series then head over to the Illegal Kickstarter page. Otherwise I’d like to thank both Jeremy and Heather for their time and for talking to Comic Bastards.