Journalist G. Willow Wilson made a splash last year with her debut graphic novel, Cairo, a Middle Eastern fantasy drawn by MK Perker and published by Vertigo. Now Wilson and Perker are reuniting for an ongoing monthly Vertigo series, Air, just announced at the New York Comic-Con and scheduled to debut in October. She told PW Comics Week about the origins of the series and brought us up to date on her other projects, both inside and outside comics.
PW Comics Week: The first three issues of Air are already completed—it seems like you're working way ahead of schedule.
G. Willow Wilson: Oh, yeah. MK and I are both kind of workaholics, so by the time the first one comes out, we'll have a large chunk of the first year done.
PWCW: What's the concept behind Air?
GWW: Air is a story about an acrophobic stewardess who, through a series of accidents, gets drawn into a hijacking plot. She discovers an entirely different world behind the ordinary world of air travel that she didn't know existed, and she becomes part of a race to develop this new kind of technology that will totally change the way that people move around the world. It's cool! It's got a lot of different elements—it's got highly symbolic abstract stuff, and it explores the intersection between a lot of ideas that we don't usually connect, like religion and technology and geography and politics and identity.
PWCW: How did all those ideas come together into the story?
GWW: The original inspiration for Air was a layover I had in Amsterdam a couple of years ago. As I was boarding the plane, I showed my passport to a flight attendant, and it had a bunch of dubious-looking visas—I had been to Iran, all this other stuff, and she looked at me, like "do you really want to get on this plane?" The mini-interrogation I went through was striking to me because of how indirect it was. Nobody comes out and asks you, "Are you a terrorist? Are you working for al-Qaeda?" The questions they were asking me were more like "who packed your bags, why do you use your maiden name instead of your married name..." I thought about it for over a year and began to write a novel, and stopped after I'd written about a chapter and a half, and thought, "This has to be a comic book."
PWCW: What's the story behind Narimar, the not-quite-real country where some of Air takes place? The key line seems to be "the map is the territory."
GWW: I wish that was an idea I'd created myself, but it's been floating around in literature since Umberto Eco and Jorge Luis Borges. I'd been thinking a lot about maps while planning the first year of Air. In the world today, so much of politics is really about symbolism—whose name gets put on a map, who gets to speak for a certain group of people. So I thought it'd be interesting to think about, in a fantasy world, what happens to a country once it's taken off a map? Narimar was a fine metaphysical place to write about.
PWCW: Another notable thing about Air is that you're continuing your collaboration with MK Perker.
GWW: We worked together so well on Cairo—there was an immediate symbiosis between the way he envisioned the story and the way I did. So when I was coming up with Air, Karen Berger suggested, "You guys worked so well together, why not keep going?" What's fun is that we can let our artistic relationship evolve over a longer period of time, and be a part of the creation of this story as it evolves on a much more cellular level.
PWCW: What else do you have in the works?
GWW: I'm working on a memoir called The Butterfly Mosque for Grove Press, which is due to come out this coming winter. I'm also working on something in the mainstream DC universe that I'm going to be secretive about and leave hanging in the air, but it should be announced in the next couple of months. And MK and I will be speaking at NYU on April 22—we're going at the invitation of the NYU Muslim Students Association, to talk about Cairo. That should be cool—it's not a usual occurrence for Muslims and comics fans to get together in the same room and not try to kill each other. So I'm really excited.