September 4, 2014

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SPX Spotlight 2014: Jeremy Whitley Goes "Illegal" in Final Days of Kickstarter

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Jeremy Whitley bounced onto my radar when I heard about Princeless, the story of a young girl who doesn't want to just accept what society expects her to do. An amazing all-ages book, it showed that Whitley could not only write a book that works for both young girls and their parents, but anyone who likes quality comics.

Now Whitley is wrapping up a successful Kickstarter, and the more funding he can get here in the final days, the more this new series will get a head start on its planned fifteen issues.

Illegal is the story of a woman struggling to survive as an illegal immigrant in a world where only those chipped are allowed to remain in this near future dystopic version of America. If you're caught, you're sent to a camp where life is nasty, brutal, and short, while the wait to just leave the country is far longer.

It's a chilling tale that takes some of the current issues in the United States and theorizes what it might be like if those who let fear, racism, and classist impulses gain control of the country. (God help us all, that's got a really good shot of happening, too.) As Jeremy notes, it's all too easy for people to spout their lies about how the other are "stealing jobs" or "ruining society" and he was thinking about the horrible implications of these thoughts and how'd they'd hurt good people, like Whitley's own grandfather.

It's very personal for Jeremy, because his own life experience was one of abuse, where only his grandfather steadied his path. That's the same man that many would force out because they're horrible bigots. Further, he was frustrated by when most sci-fi stories of this nature begin. He writes of the story:
In "Illegal" I wanted to take that same sort of story - a girl from Mexico who has an abusive father and no future worth speaking of makes a split second decision with her mother to leave it behind in favor of a chance to do or be something better.  But what I also wanted to do was bring in the current landscape of modern technology, government surveillance, and the increasingly ridiculous state of immigration reform in the US.
The thing that always bothers me about sci-fi stories is that we come in so late in the story.  We only really see and learn about the government corruption and abuse when it threatens the life of our well to do young white and male protagonist.  That's not the beginning.  First they isolate the outsiders: the poor, the sick, the powerless, the minorities.  If the government is turning against the young strong white men, then a lot has already gone down.  Where are the stories of the sick who were experimented on?  Where are the stories of the minorities whose cries of racism were ignored?  Where are the stories of the ones who aren't missed when the government turns on them, because the government convinced you that their very presence was illegal?
What resulted was "Illegal", a story about Gianna Delrey - a young woman who is living outside the system and in constant danger of being arrested and detained just for daring to exist in America.  
It's a great idea, one that fits with Jeremy's writing themes of looking at issues currently facing real people and finding a way to integrate them into comics without being insulting, demeaning, or patronizing.

That's what made Princeless so great--there was never a time where you felt like Whitley was talking down to his characters or the young readers who paged through the book. While I haven't read Illegal yet, I see no reason why Jeremy would change his style for this story.

Joining Whitley on Illegal is artist Heather Nunnelly, who is the creator behind the sci-fi webcomic Vacant. They worked together on an NFL-themed book in the past, and are now putting together this series. She, like me, was intrigued by the premise of the series and the issues it can address.

The Kickstarter itself is base funded, as I mentioned, but it would be awesome to get it another $2,000 so that the first five issues can be fully funded for digital release (right now, only up to issue 3 is guaranteed). I firmly believe that Jeremy will do everything he can to make this series happen all the way out to the final issue, but making comics is a risk, and so there is a chance it will only go as far as it's funded.

We talk a lot about wanting more comics of a certain type. It would be great to see a story like Illegal get enough funding to ensure the first arc of the story sees complete release. Let's make it happen then go support Jeremy at SPX by picking up Princeless or anything else he'll have at the show.

You can back the Illegal Kickstarter here.