G. Willow Wilson talks "Air"

This August sees acclaimed writer G. Willow Wilson rejoining her "Cairo" collaborator M.K. Perker for a new Vertigo ongoing series titled "Air." The story focuses on a narcoleptic flight attendant named Blythe who --during an in-air terrorist hijacking that turns the plane in the direction of a country that doesn't exist-- meets a stranger who may change the way Blythe thinks about technology. Also involved in the book, which Wilson says is aimed directly at the "Y: The Last Man" crowd, is a an organization called the Etesian Front, a clandestine group that protects the skies from terrorism, as well as a "Lost"-like island named Narimar, which was the center of viral marketing campaign launched by Vertigo earlier this year.

A preview of "Air" #1 can be read in Vertigo's "Madame Xanadu" #1, on sale now.

CBR News sat down with Wilson to discuss "Air" and how the series was influenced by her career as a journalist, her conversion to Islam, and her time living in Cairo, Egypt.

The concept behind "Air" came from Wilson's own experiences after being grilled by a flight attendant in Amsterdam for the many visas in her passport. The airline staffer found it conspicuous that Wilson, an American, had traveled so much. "And by the fact that I was living in the Middle East," Wilson told CBR News. "MK [Perker] claims that this was just an accident, and that the idea was clearly percolating in my mind beforehand, because 'Air' expands radically beyond simple airport hijinks. Who knows where stories come from, in the end? Living abroad (no matter where) will do one thing to you, guaranteed: destroy your ability to accept what you're told without question."

Indeed, "Air" pulls a lot of rugs out from under a lot of commonly accepted beliefs, "which was certainly my experience living in another culture," Wilson remarked. "'Air' is political in a very different way than 'Cairo' was, and has a much broader focus. In 'Air' I'm pushing my own boundaries -- I'm looking at the relationship between paganism and monotheism, which for a Muslim writer is just enough rope to hang oneself with; between politics, technology and symbolism, between maps and territory. But that's awfully abstract. The meat and bones of 'Air' is a really fast-paced, surreal adventure with cliffhangers galore."

Willow describes her main character Blythe as an everywoman who's thrown into an extraordinary situation, not unlike another memorable Vertigo hero "On some level Blythe is a bit like Yorick from 'Y: The Last Man,' in the sense that she initially sees herself as a very ordinary person out of her depth, and discovers as time goes on that she's anything but ordinary," explained Wilson.

What Wilson hopes for "Air" is to create a good story that engages people. "That's really what's most important to me," she said. "People will always walk away from your work with different impressions than what you imagined -- the story has its own life and its own personality. As long as people get something good and useful out of 'Air,' it honestly doesn't matter to me what that something is."

For Wilson, her work in journalism in the Middle East shines through her fiction work and influences "Air." She has written many political and religious articles for The New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly and for the alternative weekly Cairo Magazine. The writer draws parallels between her own nonfiction work and her creative endeavors. "I'd just like to complicate people's existing assumptions about religion and its role in politics. Not necessarily change, but complicate," Wilson said. "That's really what art should do, I think -- make suggestions, not absolutes. Dealing in absolutes is propaganda. You have to leave people with enough room to make their own legitimate judgments.

"Reality gets filtered and biased and chewed-over as it's transmitted, which is why, for instance, the Middle East looks so different to Americans than it does to Middle Easterners, and vice-versa. I think you have to be very conscious of that no matter what genre you write in, and be responsible with the authority writing grants you. So there's less difference between journalism and fantasy than one might think -- in both cases one must not lie. They're just two different kinds of truth."

Though, with that in mind, it begged the question if Wilson's at all worried about how her work will be received politically. "Worried?" Wilson said. "No. I'm never worried until something I've written hits print and someone informs me that it's controversial. I'd rather create consensus than controversy, but of course it never works out that way."

"Air" #1 hits stands August 20.

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