Living in a major metropolitan area has its advantages, but there's also a lot of unexpected dangers. But, within those dangers, there are also wonders.
Submerged, a new comic from Vault by Vita Ayala, Lisa Sterle, Stelladia, and Rachel Deering (with covers from Jen Bartel), is — to some small degree — about those dangers and wonders. It is a story that comes, in part, from Vita's experiences during Hurricane Sandy in New York City back in 2012.
If you are not a New Yorker, Sandy was memorable for several reasons, one of which is the impact it had on NYC's public transit. If the subway signals can't handle even basic rain (they can't), imagine the result of actual weather.
That is where character Ellie Puente's journey begins. And, assuming you haven't read Submerged, your story begins right here with an interview from writer Vita Ayala, a lovely trailer (comic books have trailers now), and a five-page preview.
What is the story of Submerged?
Submerged, most simply put, is the story of a young woman (Ellie Puente) desperately searching for her lost younger brother, Angel. To do it, she has to face down some pretty brutal obstacles and truths.
It is has a horror bend to it, but I think it is much closer to dark magical realism than anything else if that makes sense. I was reading [writer Haruki] Murakami a lot as I developed this and listening to [the musical] Hadestown by Anais Mitchell.
I know this idea can partially from your experience with Hurricane Sandy. What do you remember from that day and what are the other real-life influences on the book?
I remember it very well, actually. I lived in the Lower East Side at the time, and we lost power for about four days. I have been in the city for other disasters and destructive events (9/11, the Blackout of 2003, Irene, and others). Sandy was frightening, but it was also very surreal.
I walked from my place to Union Square on the night of the storm. The streets were eerily clear — no one else walking, no homeless people, no vendors, and on the entire 20-minute walk, I only saw three cars drive by, and one was an ambulance.
As I passed the large subway entrance on the north-east side of the park — service having been suspended already — I paused. Again, everything was abandoned, but something made me stop in front of the stairs. I looked down, and at the bottom, back a little way, was a gate, locked with a loose chain. It was dim beyond that.
I took a few steps down and then heard a noise, like the movement of something big. Immediately, I remembered that I am Black and that this is how Black people die in the movies, and so I high-tailed it out of there!
But that night, I lay awake in the deep dark of the power outage (darker than it had been in a decade in the City), and I thought about what could be lurking down there. I thought about Luke Skywalker going down into the cave on Dagobah, and how, truly, the most terrifying things are the things that you take with you into the dark.
I couldn’t let the story go. I have been kicking it around in my head since!
There are a ton of reference to other legends and myths. Which ones were you especially keen on using to help tell this story?
I have always been into mythology in general — especially Egyptian and Greek — and so even though there are nods to other folklore traditions in there, most notably La Llorona, the Greeks and their tragedies were the major guiding star on this one.
This is our retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in the subway tunnels of contemporary New York City during a massive hurricane. There are differences besides the setting, of course — Ellie and Angel are siblings, not lovers just to start — but like the myth, this story is about love, loss, and denial.
You play with the timeline a bit, leaving readers unsure of when Angel actually disappeared and what's really going on with Ellie and her family. How does this technique help in telling Ellie's story?
Part of the reason we tell the story like we do is to play with revealing information — when, where, why — but mostly, at least to me, it was really important that we experience the narrative with Ellie.
I think in general, most people don’t experience their existence in a strictly linear way. We have intrusive thoughts, memories that are brought on by present experiences, and daydreams, and so it seems pretty natural to put that on the page, especially because a huge part of Ellie’s psychology is wrapped up in denying or repressing things that have happened in her life.
Talk about Lisa's art and how it's influencing you as you continue telling Ellie's story.
It has been so amazing [to see] how much Lisa and I are feeding off each other. I wrote the first issue before we really had a chance to go back and forth about it, but since then, everything she has done has a huge influence on me as I write. We communicate a lot, talking about ideas and sharing snippets of work in progress and I have completely overhauled entire scenes because of conversations we have had.
Now that we are better acquainted with each other, too, I write for her. I leave a lot of room for her to do her thing in general, but also I have her style in mind as I go. She is constantly surprising me with little details I didn’t even know I wanted! Her panel work alone is untouchable — she has some really amazing things in store for everyone!
She has a truly amazing knack for getting at the subtleties of expression and putting such rich feeling and evocative emotion on the page! I actually end up cutting a lot of dialogue because she is so good at getting across the feeling that it would just get in the way.
I want to talk briefly about Stelladía's amazing colors, as well. I think that they are truly incredible, and some of the things they have done (which are a little bit of a spoiler, so I will hold off on saying what specifically) have elevated this story beyond my wildest dreams. Being on a team with them is truly a pleasure, and their colors paired with Lisa’s line art is a blessing. Seeing what they do has, in some places, completely changed how I wanted to tell the story, and that has only worked out for the best.
Check out the five-page preview below. Submerged #1 drops July 4.