When G. Willow Wilson introduced Amelia Earhart as a character in her Eisner Award-nominated series “Air” on the final page of her first arc, the Vertigo title produced what fans of the series feel is one of the great comic book reveals of recent memory.
Recognized more today as a pop culture icon than a significant historical figure (thanks in part to posthumous ads for Gap and Apple), Amelia Earhart disappeared mysteriously on July 2, 1937 while attempting to circumnavigate the globe in a Lockheed L-10 Electra twin-engine, all-metal monoplane. And while her real-life story ended – perhaps – tragically in her fortieth year, the ‘open-ended’ conclusion surrounding Earhart’s final flight provided great fodder for Wilson when she was developing her series about flight, symbolism and political intrigue with internationally acclaimed Turkish artist MK Perker.
As such, Wilson, a 27-year old journalist who has contributed to “Atlantic Monthly” and “New York Times Magazine,” dropped the legendary aviatrix smack dab in the middle of the world she created that features Blythe, an acrophobic flight attendant, who just so happens to be a hyperpract. Or, if you’re not reading “Air,” someone with the power to move between different dimensions and realities.
With “Amelia,” the Oscar buzzed-biopic starring Hilary Swank, coming to theaters nationwide on Friday – and “Air” #14 on sale this week – CBR News checked in with Wilson for her thoughts on the pioneering pilot and how the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean fits in so nicely in the world of “Air.”
Was utilizing Amelia Earhart as a major player in the “Air” universe always part of master plan, or did her involvement transpire organically after the book was conceived?
She was there from the beginning. Actually, including Amelia was one of the things that really appealed to Karen Berger and to [artist] MK [Perker] when we were still conceptualizing the series together.
Amelia really has captured people’s imagination for just a huge number of reasons – because she was one of the most famous female aviators, because she was the first to cross the Atlantic, and of course, because of her very mysterious disappearance. Elements of her story tied in so well to what I wanted to do with the book. She just jumped out at me from the very beginning.
Did you do much research on her during the book’s development? Meaning, did you seek out and read various biographical accounts or is your knowledge of her based on her iconic status and her Gap ads?
I did lot of research into the circumstances of her disappearance and the various theories floating around about what happened to her, which range from the wildly outlandish, like, she was a spy, and that she was either captured or shot down by Japan, or that she’s actually still alive and living either somewhere in China or Japan, to theories that make a lot more sense, like, she was stranded on one of the poorly charted tidal islands that are in South Pacific in the vicinity of Hawaii, and that’s why the traces of her plane were eaten up by the sea and disappeared.
I think the Gardner Island theory, which is the one that holds that she was probably stranded on a very small island called Gardner Island that is under water for part of the time, is the one that will probably bear out and is the most sensible.
It was nice to have somebody whose life was so open-ended because you can take the raw ingredients of the character which were true and kind of take them in any direction that you want.
Will you be further exploring Amelia’s backstory in “Air” and maybe get into what people back in our world are thinking about her disappearance?
“Air” #15, which comes out next month, is dedicated almost entirely to Amelia and to the backstory of the real Amelia and how that ties to the character that we see in “Air.”
For Amelia fans, there’s definitely a lot more coming with regard to her backstory.
Do you think the upcoming movie with Hilary Swank will give “Air” any kind of bump in terms of sales or market penetration, as it will surely generate lots of press and interest in Amelia Earhart?
If it helps the book, that’s awesome. What I’m really excited about is the fact that the movie was made at all, and that it’s directed by Mira Nair, who is one of my absolute favorite directors. I think that it’s amazing that you’ve got this female Indian director whose bringing her own very unique sensibility to this American icon, and I’m really excited to see where she takes it.
It’s ironic, the first time I saw the movie advertised, “Air” had been on the shelves for three or four months, and I’d been writing it for over a year and I was really kind of astounded because the last project Mira Nair did was “Vanity Fair,” which is one of my favorite books. It seems like a very strange thing for a director, who has stuck kind of close to home in terms of what she’s choosing to look at culturally and politically, to do something like “Vanity Fair.” It was really cool. And it was a really neat coincidence that I had, sort of, two moments of synchronous thinking with this awesome director. So I’m really just excited by the people who are involved in the project more than anything.
So, if “Air” gets made into movie, it sounds like you have your choice for a director?
[Laughs] Hey, if she wants it, she can have it. I don’t know how you’d film “Air,” but my hat’s off to anyone who wants to try.
Have you thought about an “Air” movie?
It’s not something that I thought about a lot when I sat down to write the book, which was probably obvious because I take very liberal use of stuff that you can really only do in comics. It would be a lot harder to do in film. But I have wondered, what would this look like to a film director [laughs]? How would this play out in other media? So it’s not something I have any solid ideas about, but it’s interesting to think about.
You mentioned ‘stuff,’ and by that I assume you mean aircraft fuelled by Aztec technology and alternate universe leaping-hyperpracts that walk among us. Are you a science geek?
I’m more of a philosophy geek than anything else. Hyperpraxis is one of the weird pseudo-scientific, pseudo-philosophical underlying principles of the book, and it’s a concept that came to me after reading a lot of Umberto Eco, a lot of Jorge Luis Borges, a lot of post-colonist, post-structuralist works. I’m not super, super educated when it comes to technological stuff. I had to do a lot of research into how airplanes are built, how they function and that kind of thing, and then I just threw it all out the window. But I’m definitely a philosophy geek, and I think that probably shows.
Your main character, Blythe, is acrophobic and has a real fear of flying. Are you OK with flying?
I like flying. Planes have really never bothered me. But what really fascinates me, more than anything else, are airports. And the way that people behave on planes. Where you’re really, really stuck in this tiny little flying tube of metal for a long period of time, and it’s not like a bus where, if something really bad happens, worse comes to worse, you can pull the bus over and let people off. It’s not like that. So to me, what’s really interesting, is what happens to people in airplanes and how they behave, especially on these big long intercontinental flights that I’ve had to do a lot of, living in the Middle East. So I guess culturally, flying is really interesting to me.
You divide your time between Egypt and the United States, and you converted to Islam while attending Boston University. With your feet deeply planted in two worlds, not unlike your lead character Blythe, do you feel your own personal story comes out when writing “Air?” Or do you at least feel you have an understanding of what Blythe may be going through?
I hope I do. I’m not sure I do. It’s sort of a fine line to walk. Comics are a very western media in a sense that, in this part of the world, we don’t really have any fear of images for creative use – as a form of creative impression. But having lived in the Middle East where people are very careful in how they use images, they almost treat them with more respect. There’s no such thing as just art in Middle East. Art is important and it has real world consequences. So in a weird way, they have, I think, a deeper respect for the power of images, which is why in certain circumstances, images can be so much more explosive in the Muslim world, whereas here, we’re sometimes, a bit, “Oh, whatever.”
We’re very casual and almost dismissive towards images. So it’s a weird space to inhabit, and I’m sure a lot goes on, sort of sub-consciously, that I’m not even aware of that comes out in my writing.
“Air” #14 is on sale this week from Vertigo Comics.