Black Mask Studio's queer zombie comic The Wilds and the "twins" that make it

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Feb 26, 2018, 4:05 PM EST

If you work in a comic book shop selling comics long enough, you'll eventually wind up working with someone who makes comics for a living. Sometimes you are that someone. And, if you're very lucky, sometimes you get to take someone along with you.

Forbidden Planet in New York City (full disclosure: I worked there for about five years) has a few stories involving register-jockeys-turned-comics-pros. This one is my favorite.

This is the story of a comic written by-and-for queer folks of color called The Wilds, its writer, Vita Ayala, its editor, Danny Lore, how they became "The Twins" of Forbidden Planet, and how they turned that friendship into comic book success.

This is their story, in their words (with some edits for clarity and also because we talked for over an hour and there were a lot of inside jokes). Maybe, in some ways, you'll find it's your story, too.




VITA: I love that store. I would go in all the time. I was really good friends with most of the people that work there from age 12 until 19 when I started to work there.

I was having a really bad day at school. I was left back. Let's put it this way: I didn't want to do school, so I just didn't go. And then, I would show up for the test and pass it. But because I had no other grades, it just wouldn't matter. I was really frustrated and I had gotten into a fight or something at school and I was like, you know what? Screw this.

And I march down Broadway, smoking cigarettes. I'm so pissed off and I go to Forbidden Planet and I have, like, $5 so I don't really have very much money. I'm like, screw it, I'm gonna walk in and ask for a job because I don't want to go to high school anymore.

So, I storm in and Patrick was there. And I didn't even know he was in charge, but I walk up to the register and I'm like, "I wanna work here."

And he turns to me — dude is like 6'6" giant, black dude — and he goes, "Oh, you're in here all the time, right? You know anime and manga, right?" I was like, "Sure." I did. But whatever. I was like, "I do in fact, sir." And he was like, "All right, come in tomorrow and we'll sign paperwork."

So I left the store and I came back and that was the first time I worked there. And it ended after six months with me sobbing in the basement and going back, of course — I would go back many times. But one of the subsequent times that I left, I decided to get my shit together and go to college, and I did. I would just work in the summer for a couple of years there. And when I left the second time I quit for good (not the case), the next day, apparently, Danny walks in.

DANNY: I was at the point where I was doing that thing of, "Oh my gosh, I have to leave mom's house," which involves, you know, getting a job. So I literally spent that day walking to every comic shop in Manhattan, just every single one. And I went in and it happens that Jean is at the front register. Jean-Marie the legend, the hero. And I wasn't as much of a regular as V, but I'd been there a few times.

What I didn't know is that V had just left for school at the time.

VITA: Let us, for context, say that we dressed similarly, were of similar build, and both wear glasses.

DANNY: And we both had long curly hair that we were too lazy to do anything with. So we just had it in a braid.

VITA: Yeah, we don't actually look the same, but we were close enough.



DANNY: And I'm fully aware that V's story is not the norm, that mine is not the norm. I'm coming in to drop off my resume, and Jean looks me up and down and goes, "One moment". And I think Jean made Jeff give me an interview. Jean was like, "Yeah, he's interviewing today," so I just had my interview then.

VITA: Jean was like, "Oh, [Danny] looked like you and I miss you."

DANNY: So my first two months there are just people walking in, getting really excited and then really disappointed because they think Vita's in the back of the store, but it's not, it's just so weird.

VITA: And [during] my two months at school, people were constantly AIMing me (because it was forever ago) going, "Yo, were you at the store?"

"No, what are you talking about? I'm not. I'm 460 miles away. Like, what are you talking about?"

"Oh, Vita 2.0 is at the store. You got to meet them," and I was like, "Ah, there's only one Vita, bitch."

So I come back for Christmas break. I walked into the store and Matt Kerwin, who also used to work at the store was like, "Yo Vita 2.0 is here." I was like, "Y'all need to stop saying that because I'm going to have to kill this person because it's Highlander and there can be only one."

DANNY: I'm at the register.

VITA: I look across and it's like Kill Bill.



VITA: No one has introduced us, mind you.

DANNY: It was just obvious.

VITA: We could be cousins. We're not the same, but we could be related, I guess, and I was like, "You..."

DANNY: And I'm pointing back and I'm just like, "You..."

VITA: And then I just go, "Oh, you're cool." And then we ended up spending two weeks solid together.




DANNY: One of the best shifts of all time. Jean got very angry.

VITA: We just started switching clothes.

DANNY: We made checkpoints throughout the day. So, like, we never changed full outfits. We'd just go, okay, we're going to change hats and then we're going to change the vest. Like, just piece by piece, until everyone on shift just kept confusing us because now they didn't even have colors to differentiate.

VITA: So we changed tags first and, immediately, it was a problem because people — people that we've worked with, people that knew me for years — were just like, this is a lot.

DANNY: I think you even brought vests because I wasn't wearing vests at the time. So you brought a vest and a hat so that we could make sure.

VITA: They separated us by floor. They got tired of this. They were like, "No, you're on time out. You are in the back of the store and you're in manga."

At one point, they separate us. They put me at the front of the store, at bag check to punish me for something that wasn't my fault. And then Danny was up in manga and people would come, see me, give me their bag, go upstairs and go... what? I remember getting asked by someone: "Are ya'll Multiple Man? How are you so fast?"

That's just how we roll.




VITA: The Wilds is a book set in a post-apocalyptic America, in New York specifically (not the city but the state). The big cataclysmic event is this plague. This plague kills most people, and then many other people who have survived it become zombies. Specifically plant zombies. They're not actually zombies in the [George A.] Romero sense, but they might as well be. It's a shorthand. It's very pretty. The artist, Emily Pearson is incredible and is actually very involved with why [the zombies] look so pretty.

We came up with this concept together. Thematically it's about how certain groups of people, marginalized people, especially women, are required to do all this emotional and physical labor with no reward, with no acknowledgment, and often in a way that's detrimental to themselves.

And it's about this person who has brought in this idea of the greater good but ends up laying down the burden. That's what it's about. It's coming to this place where you go, "No. It's okay. I don't have to completely sacrifice everything. I'm a person, too."

Plot-wise, it's about this woman named Daisy Walker who is a runner. In order to survive this wild-ass new America, (which is very much just plants and nature, reclaiming the ruins of humanity), people have formed these city-state-like settlements. One of them is called the Compound. The Compound is a specialized settlement, the post office mixed with the black market. [Residents] go out and salvage a bunch of cool stuff, redistribute, and also, if there's any travel that has to happen between settlements, they are the ones that are the couriers.

So, it's very dangerous to be a runner. There are zombies out there. If you have an accident: sorry, you assed out.

Daisy is a queer woman of color and is the best runner that the Compound has. She's bought into it whole-hog. "I need to do this. I need to go out. I know it's dangerous, but all of these people are depending on me. Everything will collapse if we don't do our job."

Her lover Heather is like, "You need to chill. They are going to work you to death." Heather's also a runner. But Heather understands the game. Something happens to her. She disappears. And Daisy kind of comes to this realization that, "I am being used. I am being gamed. It's more important to me to save this person that I love and to make sure that this doesn't happen to other people than to keep the status quo."

Black Mask Studio, comics

Credit: Black Mask Studio



VITA: Danny is my number one. I write for three people: It's Danny, it's Julia [note: Julia Madden also works at Forbidden Planet NYC and is a solid-gold saint] and it's my wife. My wife is the roughest of the bunch and Julia is the gentlest of the bunch and Danny is right in the middle. I trust Danny to understand (just because of our long history together) what I want to say or the feeling that I'm trying to get at in a scene in a bit of dialogue with a character.

I've had this idea for a very long time. It was something I'd actually, in another form, hashed out with a friend from college and it ended up being a lot different. But when I knew it was actually going to be something that people would see, I was, like, "I need an editor — desperately."

I trust Danny above anyone because they know what I'm trying to say. And so I was like, "Hey, I would love to give you credit and cash. Would you like to work on this thing together? We'll put your name on it. It will be shiny."

DANNY: I think my response was probably, "I mean, yeah, but are you sure?"

VITA: I think that's right. And it's very collaborative. Danny has definitely shaped each issue in very important ways, but also Danny is someone I can be like, "Alright, this is something that I wanted to do with this thing," and Danny will be, like, "Well, you might want to look at these things..."

DANNY: My job and my goal and the thing that I really enjoy doing is: I know V both on paper and as a person enough that I know both the story they want to tell, specifically, here and the story that they want to tell, overall, beyond these five issues.

VITA: Your eyes can only look outward. No matter how good you are at analyzing other people's behavior and analyzing other people's writing or storytelling or whatever, you can only do so much on your own for your own piece.

DANNY: That's my thing: I don't know how to step out of my head. I'm an incredibly anxious person, so we go together so well.

VITA: I'm depressed and you're anxious. I took Danny almost by the hand. I was invited to the DC dinner this past year; Danny was my plus one because Danny is incredible and needs to meet everyone. That's something that Matthew Rosenberg [note: Matthew Rosenberg is a steady and very popular comic writer at both Black Mask and Marvel] did for me. That's just a thing that leads to the hustle. You just need to be introduced to people, but, again, we're partners: I'm the loud, mouthy one.

DANNY: You're ammunitions and I've got the laptop.

VITA: That's right. I'm the hitter. You're the hacker.

(The Wilds #1 is available from Black Mask Studios beginning Feb. 28 and there will be a signing at Forbidden Planet at 832 Broadway New York, NY on Feb. 28 beginning 6:30 p.m.)