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Community: Comic Relief

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Comic Relief
Photography by Brent Holmes

Artists, writers, and the graphic-novel industry rally around Las Vegas with a post-shooting benefit comics anthology

Four months after 9/11, comic book publishers DC, Dark Horse, Image, and Chaos!, working in the same grasping helplessness as everyone else in the country, came together to release two graphic-novel anthologies that benefitted charities helping in the aftermath. Since then, the benefit comic has bloomed, turning into a reliable, if niche, signpost of tragedy, even as they’ve helped out victims of hurricanes Katrina and Maria, the Japanese tsunami, the Pulse nightclub attack, and others.

Welcome to the miserable club, Las Vegas.

Here we are, all of eight months since a madman with inscrutable motives rained down hell, and it’s our turn to be the beneficiaries of accomplished comic-book professionals hoping to unwind even a little bit of the damage.

Where we LiveMassive anthology collection Where We Live, released May 30 from Image Comics ($19.99), is the brainchild of recent California transplants J.H. Williams III and his wife, Wendy Wright-Williams. After years of visiting Las Vegas, they took the residential plunge two years ago — just in time, as it were.

“We were out of town for a friend’s wedding,” Williams says of October 1. “But we know people who work on the Strip, and some very dear friends of ours were caught up in it. One of them was working at a restaurant that night and was forced into lockdown. We were on the phone with her for a good chunk of the night. Of course, it’s terrifying; she’s being told the shooter is in their building, there are bombs in the buildings. By the time we got off the phone with her it was almost 3 in the morning.”

Stop us if you’ve heard that one before.

Williams, a highly regarded artist who’s worked with comic-book luminaries like Neil Gaiman (Sandman Overtures) and Warren Ellis (Desolation Jones), did, in the aftermath of the shooting, the de rigueur helpless-and-angry-shouting-into-the-void dance, tweeting, “Gotta say, I’m mentally finding it difficult to do normal things and to work, after such a horrible thing happened 15 miles down the road.” 

Two replies came quickly, from letterer Bernardo Brice and industry heavyweight writer/artist Kurt Busiek (The Avengers, Astro City, Superman, et al), both saying they would contribute to an anthology. When Williams brought the idea to publisher Eric Stephenson, who heads Image, the third-largest comics company behind Marvel and DC, he signed off immediately. Didn’t even blink as the page count ballooned past 300 as more and more creators attached themselves between October and February.

Support comes from

The contributor’s list is a who’s-who of comics: Gaiman, Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Mike Allred, Greg Pak, Cliff Chiang, Jeff Lemire, Sean Phillips, Darick Robertson, Bill Sienkiewicz, James Robinson, and Brian Haberlin — the latter two Las Vegas locals — have combined to work on just about every major superhero from Ant-Man to the X-Men, and have written or drawn some of the most influential non-superhero books, from Gaiman’s industry-shaking Sandman to Phillips’ award-winning Criminal.

Wright-Williams sought out more than a dozen local contributors, including Matt Cervillo, Josh Ellis, Rachel Crosby, Daniel Hernandez, Jarret Keene, and Pierce Elliott, among others, to tell their own stories, or the stories of people on the ground during the shooting. Proceeds from the book will go to the Route 91 Strong fund.

The stories range from journalism covering the victims and responders to poetry to essays to allegories. To a wide extent, they argue for restrictions on the availability of guns, something Williams didn’t necessarily intend from the outset, but which was probably inevitable.

“Each person needed to say and vocalize what they felt inside, whether they lean one direction or the other. If, at the end, the book leans one direction or the other, that’s just the tide.” Even if the book has a de facto point of view, Wright-Williams’ hope is that it will lead to that most oft-wished-for outcome of late modernity: a conversation. “We don’t claim it’s going to stop all gun violence. That’s ridiculous,” she said. “We’re just hoping because it’s not like pundits barking at each other that maybe we can have a conversation. You’re taking in that information in a different way, because it is art.”

We have more conversations than an overstuffed Mamet screenplay these days. You can judge for yourself their varying degrees of efficacy. But maybe this isn’t the conversation we’re going to take away from a project like this. Of two narratives that the book’s editors point to that arose in the shooting’s aftermath, Wright-Williams cites the unheralded (at least nationally) connectivity of the Las Vegas community. Williams, pessimistically, talks of a local paranoia about big, collective events, and of taking precautions where none were previously taken.

Maybe the conversation we, as a city, should have is a referendum on memory.

Williams may be right that some are staying out of the public square — but for how long? How long before tourists, who are even further removed, will feel like the odds of another incident are so far gone that the riskiest part of a trip to Vegas would be taking a Southwest flight there? How long until the shooting recedes beyond easy recollection?

It’s hard enough as an American to keep a long memory of history. Harder still when you live in the city that’s pure, concentrated black-tar America.

The guignol reportage coming out of the massacre was overwhelming, and the sheer volume of it threatens to turn signal into noise. Where We Live, though, makes a far more compelling case for the necessity of memory in a city that’s often short on it. Las Vegas is young enough it could be an infant city, which is appropriate because it has a bad case of object impermanence. The Hoover Dam will stand forever as a signpost of its beginnings, but the middle doesn’t have much remaining in the way of permanent iconography. At least with projects like this, we can get art — an actual, permanent object. The conversation we need to have is whether this process should, or can, be the beginning of an ongoing binding of art, memory, and place that makes a city more than a space you happen to exist for a few years.

 

MEET AND GREET

Where We Live will launch June 2 with an event 2-6p at Alternate Reality Comics, alternaterealitycomics.net. Many local contributors to the anthology will be on hand.

 

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