Well, I purposely never mention any politicians and I never take political sides. This will probably be the most pretentious-sounding thing I’ve ever said in an interview, but Van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo wrote that in his paintings he tries to leave the obvious vague and exaggerate the essential. I tried to take a similar approach in Red Border, leaving the obvious political stuff in the backdrop, and focusing on the essential—the characters and the action. But, yeah, it’s definitely a super current “of the moment” type of story.
It's satirical too, the exaggeration of the Mexican gang people as well as of the red-blooded Texas family, who put the couple on the run at their ranch.
Anything I write borders—so to speak—on satire. I can’t help it. When I get deep into a story and start having fun with the characters, I can’t resist getting satirical. I also think, for me, it’s a more subtle way of making any political points, because in satire the positions always come from the attitude of the characters, not from me. For example, Colby, the American who “rescues” Eduardo and Karina, has over-the-top opinions that I certainly don’t have, but I try to let the reader fill in the undercurrents.
One reason I especially liked Red Border is because of the setting, the US-Mexico border. I mean, you're a New York City person through and through and so many of your books are set in the city, capturing to a tee certain New York and urban vibes. I imagine it was fun, without having to write a whole novel, to set a story in a different landscape. I know you spent time in Mexico awhile back. Any particular research you did on Mexico, and Texas, or did you basically let your imagination take over?
Having lived in Mexico for a while definitely helped with the main characters, Eduardo and Katina, and the overall vibe. I did some research specifically about border crossings where I basically imagined I was in the same predicament as the characters. If I was running for my life and needed to cross into the U.S. how would I do it? So any research I did was mainly related to that question. I really wanted to make sure I was accurate about those details. Most of the rest of the book is character-driven so I really just had to know the attitudes of the characters really well. I will say that if I had written Red Border as a novel I would’ve done much more research. In comics, you can rely on the art to fill in a lot of the atmosphere and visual details. I guess, in this sense, it’s similar to screenwriting.
There's a particular horror movie -- you can mention it if you'd like -- that the story taps into. Makes perfect sense considering the locale. But I was wondering: since comics are visual, with their individual panels and so forth, how much, or if, you are influenced by movies when writing the story for a comic. You're the writer, not the artist, but do you envision set pieces, so to speak? Do you write it as a series of scenes -- with cuts from scene to scene -- similar to how you might with a screenplay?
Well, as you know, I’m a big fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You and I even met Leatherface himself at a Fangoria convention years ago! I was definitely going for a modern, Trump-era take on that sort of story. Also, there’s some Get Out influence in the book and some Elmore Leonard vibe with the gang member banter and the dark humor. Yes, I’m definitely influenced by movies, maybe more so for this book than anything else I’ve written. One of the publisher’s main objectives is to create IP that can easily be adapted for film and TV, so I plotted Red Border with a movie in mind, which I never do when I’m writing novels. In general, though, comics writing requires the writer to think cinematically. You’re writing dialogue, like a screenwriter, but you’re also thinking about the space, and you have to describe camera angles, and definitely set pieces. Comics are all about the big set pieces. I wouldn’t say cuts from scenes to scenes as much as thinking about cliffhangers—not just for the end of each issue, but for the end of each page. You also are thinking about the space you have. I think it’s more about connecting pages than connecting scenes. In a screenplay, you’re not as confined.
Speaking of films, if horror, at least in part, was an inspiration for Red Border, that unholy thing known as the erotic thriller seems to be the inspiration for your newest comic, also from AWA, Casual Fling. The first issue came out a week or two ago, and the next one very soon. Part one sets us straightaway in contemporary Manhattan, and there's a subtitle that says "Sex is Never Safe". Hmnn. How did this one come about?
Casual Fling is an erotic thriller, with a Fatal Attraction vibe. It’s probably more similar to one of my novels than to any previous comic I’ve written—not just because it’s set in New York, but because it’s a thriller about one bad decision that Jennifer, the heroine of the comic, makes that has dire consequences for her and her family. It’s sort of story that isn’t told very often in comics and the art from Dalibor Talajić really takes it to a whole other level.
So far it's very New York, and quite funny. Anytime a man and a woman with sexual chemistry heating up between them talk at a ritzy bar about Milan Kundera and Oxford commas, it's hard not to chuckle, though it all, for a certain strata of Manhattan people, rings totally true. I'm eager to see where this will go.
All I will say is that there's a very big modern twist on the genre.
I'd expect nothing less. And next, if I can ask, what's coming? Another novel or a new comic?