Comic Books

Valor Speaks Volumes: The Elk Mountain Interview

Valor Speaks Volumes: The Elk Mountain Interview

This past weekend, a very exciting event took place. No, I didn’t get to attend NYCC, but I did have the incredible fortune to chat with the uber-talented creative team behind Elk Mountain. We discussed comics, politics, and everything in between. This is the Elk Mountain Interview: 

WOTN: When we think of superheroes, we tend to think of them as patrolling some grand, sweeping metropolis. Why was it important to showcase Valor in a small-town rural setting?

Jordan Clark - image via the Elk Mountain Kickstarter page
Jordan Clark

Image via the Elk Mountain Kickstarter page

Jordan Clark: I think that’s one of the main reasons we made the decision. Big cities tend to have a lot of heroes running (or flying) around and it can feel a bit impersonal. In Elk Mountain, Valor knows everyone, and everyone knows Valor. It’s a tight-knit relationship that leads to another point, which is immigrants are everywhere. They’re moving not just to big cities, but small rural towns where they can find work. For Valor, it’s as much his home as anyone else’s and he’s proud to be from there.”

Vince Underwood: “Valor is out there saving people in Chicago and Tokyo. He’s zooming around globally. He’s in Zimbabwe one minute and Paraguay the next. But we like this idea of his home being this small town. I think it’s more intimate this way. He has this place where he can be himself. And we get to see a smaller slice of the world’s view of Valor. Really get in there and see how people feel about him. Not as some mythic figure, but as Alex AND Valor. These things become especially important in Part Two. When the fallout from Part One hits, they aren’t just dealing with some symbol. They’re talking about their neighbor. Their friend. I think it makes it all the more meaningful.”

WOTN: What is your opinion on the representation of minorities in the comic book medium? Have we come far enough, and where do you feel there is still room for improvement?

Elk Mountain: Part One cover by Vince Underwood
Elk Mountain: Part One cover by Vince Underwood

JC: It’s a tough question because in some ways we have. There’s definitely more visible PoC and LGBTQ creators doing amazing work than there were in the past, but when you take a step back and look at the larger picture we still make up such a small percentage of the industry, even less when you move up to the decision making level. I know so many talented creators from so many different backgrounds doing amazing work right now, it’s just not always in the most visible places. I think the real issue comes down to access. Getting into the rooms to be seen and be a part of the decisions that get made.”

VU: “There can never be enough diverse voices in ANY medium. My own personal philosophy on art breaks down like this: Art is the most effective tool we have to build a collective understanding of the human experience. I make a comic (or a film or book or painting or whatever) and in it is a bit of my perspective. It’s not all it does. Hopefully, it entertains or evokes some emotion, but even that, fundamentally, is all filtered through me. Then you, the audience, can take it in, kind of compare notes with your own experience and we gain a greater understanding of what it means to be here.

“As the cishet white man on the Elk Mountain team, I’m the one who has had a lifetime of growing up in a world where most creators and most characters have an experience that is closer to my own. I know that story. And sure, I can gain insight and learn from a Grant Morrison Superman story, but reading someone like Khamala Khan—I have NO frame of reference for growing up as a teenaged Muslim woman of color. Tell me about that! And if you can do it with superheroes… amazing.”

WOTN: The relationship between Valor and Dwayne seems to go beyond that of just friendship. Is there something more beneath the surface? Are they romantically involved?

JC: That’s interesting, haha. I don’t have any plans for a romantic relationship between them, but there is a deep bond that I wanted to show, specifically between men, that I don’t see a lot in media. A lot of the relationships we see between men are very alpha, just a lot of ‘guys being guys’. I wanted Valor and Dwayne to have more vulnerability between them, to not hide their emotions. I think they do love each other, not romantically, but in a way that’s just as deep and honest. They don’t have to hide from each other or put up an act to be ‘men’ around each other. And because of that, hopefully, they come off as real.”

Vince Underwood - image via the Elk Mountain Kickstarter page
Vince Underwood

Image via the Elk Mountain Kickstarter page

VU: “Dwayne is gay. Yeah. I don’t think we actually ever discussed Valor’s sexuality. I always assumed he was straight, but that might be my own bias. But straight, gay, or bi, Valor and Dwayne are friends. The question itself, though, kind of points to a problem with how we view male relationships. They’re close, emotionally honest and care a lot about each other. Why are those qualifiers for ‘something more?’ Dwayne places a comforting hand on Valor’s shoulder and we should read into that? Would we if they were Diane and Alexandra instead? When I composed the scene, their body language and interactions, it never once occurred to me that it was anything more than old friends.”

WOTN: Instead of lampooning or satirizing Donald Trump you took a no-holds-barred approach. You call him out by name and even refer to him at one point as “a jackass”. Why did you choose to break the fourth wall in this manner?

JC: In earlier drafts of the story things were less overt. We kind of danced around it, but the more I thought about it, that just felt irresponsible. We’re living in some real times and I feel it every day. This administration is doing some awful things that are having gut-wrenching effects on real people. Part of the thought experiment we went through with Valor was what if Superman was Latino? He would move through the world very differently. In seeing Trump locking up fellow immigrants, I think Valor is having a very strong and real reaction to what’s happening. Trump doesn’t bite his tongue; why should Valor?”

VU: Valor exists in a world where Donald Trump is President of the United States and like all people who do (us here in the real world included) have an opinion on the man. In the early stages of Elk Mountain, we knew we wanted to tell the story of real people. I specifically asked Jordan if we could do something with a heavy anchor in reality. So we put Valor and Elk Mountain in our world. As we developed our story, our world changed and our story reflected that.

“And look, Valor is a superhero. He has dedicated his life to helping others. To selflessness. A greater good.

“These things stand counter to the attitudes and policies of Donald Trump. Would Superman give his last penny to feed and clothe an immigrant at the border? If you don’t think so, you’ve been misreading 80 years of comics. Would Captain America resort to name-calling or racist remarks? No. I just think, regardless of how Jordan and I feel, it’s obvious how Valor would feel.”

WOTN: A lot of what takes place within the pages of Elk Mountain mirrors closely some of the stories and events that have taken place along the United States/Mexico border. In your opinion, is Donald Trump what is wrong with America? Or is he a symptom of a greater underlying issue?

Elk Mountain sample page - image via the Elk Mountain Kickstarter page
Elk Mountain sample page

Image via the Elk Mountain Kickstarter page

JC: I think America has a lot of unresolved issues from the past and Trump is certainly playing on them. A lot of his rhetoric around race, gender, immigrants, religion, etc aren’t new. Even Make America Great again was Reagan, but what he’s tapped into, I think, is dangerous. Trump doesn’t care about America; he cares about himself and whatever power he can get. Our political system overall is extremely flawed and he was able to use that to his advantage and worm his way into the White House. The reason being is that politics has become team sports, where everyone is just trying to beat the other side instead of actually focusing on the issues facing our country.

“Democracy is built on compromise; no side is ever going to get their way entirely, so we have to find ways to get along to make sure we continue to progress as a country. Trump has created an environment where even the word bipartisan is radioactive and rational discussion is a distant thought. And once we can’t even talk to each other, the whole system breaks down and he can do what he wants.”

VU: “He isn’t special. Men like him have found their way to power throughout the world and throughout history. To call him the cause gives him too much credit. It isn’t just an American problem. It’s a human problem. Alt-Right politics, xenophobia, white supremacy, these are global problems. We are treating the horrific as if it is a political viewpoint up for debate. There’s no debate on treating CHILDREN in an inhumane fashion. It’s not about being Democrat or Republican. And yet somehow it became a liberal viewpoint to care for the needy. I have difficulty just processing that on a day to day basis. When did we become so cowardly or selfish that we need to put a wall around us?”

WOTN: What can you tell us about the forthcoming Elk Mountain Part 2? How can readers support the project?

JC: So the first part was funded by Kickstarter and we’ll likely be going back to finish the story with part 2. Things are going to be very different in Elk Mountain when Valor returns. Not everyone is going to be happy to see him. He’ll also learn some surprising secrets about his origin, and the final battle for Elk Mountain will come to a head.”

VU: Oh man! I can’t wait. There’s a lot more cool stuff for me to draw this time around. The town is about to go to war with super villains! And what happened to Vuuln and Valor in space?! And how is all of that going to come to a head in an explosive closing act? I can’t wait to show you.”

WOTN: If Elk Mountain were a movie, what song would play in the opening credits? What song would play during the end credits?

JC: So recently when I’ve been working on projects I’ve made soundtracks to go with them. So I actually made an Elk Mountain Playlist haha. But I think to open the movie I would go with ‘Life of Sin’ by Sturgill Simpson. It’s got a real groove and I think it speaks to the small-town feel of Elk Mountain. I can see someone throwing it on the jukebox at a bar and everyone getting into it. I actually was contemplating Valor having a Sturgill Simpson shirt at some point in the story. Maybe next issue, haha.

“To close I’d probably go with ‘Knockin’ on Heavens Door’ by Bob Dylan. I actually listened to this a lot while writing. Something about the lyrics and the overall vibe just spoke to me about Valor and the way he kind of felt by the end. He’s facing a pretty big fight and it takes a lot out of him. ‘Something On Your Mind’ by Karen Dalton is another song I listened to a lot and would also make a perfect closing theme.”

VU: It’s not really the kind of thing I listen to, but I heard a song the other day called ‘That’s Where I’m From’ by Robbie Fulks. The lyrics just screamed Elk Mountain to me. I think that would be a perfect opening. As for the ending, I’m a diehard Nine Inch Nails fan, so I’d want Trent Reznor to score the whole film and close it out with an original badass NIN tune so I could just die happy.”

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