NOTE: The following article contains material meant for an adult audience.
Welcome to Pennystown, USA. Population: 63. Smaller than most small towns, yes, but bigger than most big cities when it comes to kind folks, good neighbors and good friends. Life was pretty plain in Pennystown, that is until Ethan - the checkout boy at the local store - had himself a little meltdown at the bar, profoundly offended every lady in the place, drove off in a rage, met an impossibly beautiful naked woman on the road, took her home and fed her some leftover wings, got himself seduced and woke up the next morning to discover that she'd laid a bunch of eggs.
Oh, then the eggs hatched exact, full-grown duplicates of her who started running around killing everybody.
And thus began "Girls," the highly acclaimed Image Comics series by the Luna brothers Jonathan and Joshua. The book finally comes this week to its intended conclusion after two straight years of addictive, thought-provoking and increasingly popular stories - not to mention countless hours of hard work. CBR News spoke with the Luna Brothers about their genre-defying indie comics opus, which is also this week's featured title on MySpace Comic Books.
"Don't ask me why, but one day I had this random idea of a girl hatching out of an egg," Joshua Luna told CBR News. "We knew we wanted to do something in the horror genre, so we began brainstorming--building on this loose concept of a 'beautiful monster'--and eventually, a story took shape."
"We wondered what it would be like if the 'girls' also multiplied as clones," Jonathan Luna added. "How it would affect the men and women of Earth."
Where did the "girls" come from? Why are the "girls" doing this? Why can't the townspeople escape? Why are the "girls" only killing the women? The mysteries of the "girls'" origin and their purpose remain among of the series' unanswered questions for much of the run, with more hints and clues revealed every issue, often in the form of some of the most delightfully painful cliffhangers seen in recent memory. Each chapter leads seamlessly into the next, creating over the last two years an exhilarating week-long saga in the lives of Pennystown's quirky and diverse cast of characters. By the end of volume one, "Conception," readers will know the main cast of "Girls" very, very well, and can follow their story and those of Pennystown's remaining survivors with as much empathy and enthusiasm as they would the characters of their favorite television show.
In this fashion, "Girls" resembles the type of serial fiction that's become more and more popular with American audiences over the last few years, both on television and in comics. "Girls" has been compared to shows like "Lost" and "Heroes" and to some extent comic books like "52," which have all earned huge audiences by exploring compelling characters in a mysterious and ever-unfolding world of danger and supernatural intrigue. Structure is where the comparisons stop, however, as "Girls" sets itself apart from everything else out there in several critical areas. For one, "Girls," unlike other projects of perhaps a similar nature, concludes with no question left unanswered. Further, "Girls" trumps not just the aforementioned examples, but also most everything else out there with two staples in it when it comes to creating a cast of fully realized, totally believable characters. Readers of "Girls" discovered early on that the series was more than a fantastic horror premise with beautiful artwork. Over two years, the Luna Brothers crafted expertly the tale of a town in crisis; a story about real people with real lives caught up in an inescapable situation, each one expressing their own points of view on not just what's happening around them, but also inside them and in their personal relationships.
"We wanted the population of Pennystown to be considerably low, even for small-town standards, in order to heighten the sense of fear, isolation, claustrophobia and helplessness once this alien threat arrived," said Joshua Luna. "And we didn't think it'd be necessary or effective to send a gigantic group of people into a meat grinder, killing them one after the other. Death scenes tend to lose impact after you do it enough. Smaller cast equals bigger stakes. When someone dies, that loss resonates with the reader."
In addition to Ethan, other main characters include the kindly officer Wes, the town's lone policeman, who's charged with maintaining authority and keeping the people of Pennystown alive and safe. Wes' struggle is one of the best documented by the Luna Brothers, because as a policeman he's constantly pushed to the precipice of morality, especially when it concerns what to do with the "girls" he and the survivors capture. Another character is Nancy, who in the face of the crisis emerges as a matriarchal figure with her own fierce convictions about what to do with Pennystown's men - who, for mysterious reasons, can't seem to control themselves around the tremendously seductive "girls," thus creating more eggs and more monsters.
Over the course of the week, factions form and factions splinter, with the townspeople pushing their own beliefs, prejudices and personalities more and more to the forefront as their fears and anxieties grow. The results can be disturbing and often humorous, but are always true to life. A crucial scene that's resonated with many readers involves Ethan having to defend himself when questioned as to why he chose to have sex with a strange naked girl he met on the side of the road. Complicating matters is the fact that one of the angriest voices is that of Taylor, Ethan's ex-girlfriend, who's angry not only because Ethan did something that turned out to be so detrimental to everybody's lives, but also because he cheated on her.
"We…we broke up six months ago!" said Ethan.
"I thought we were taking a time-out!!" said Taylor.
The scene inspired a number of letters to the Luna Brothers, many questioning passionately why Ethan should have to defend himself for having consensual sex with a beautiful woman; that he couldn't possibly have known she'd turn out to be some kind of egg-laying monster. Others felt it justified, considering she was completely naked, mute and standing by the side of a highway in the dark. The scene is just one of countless others that illustrate how honestly the Luna Brothers depict human relationships, many of which are truly hilarious, which is perhaps strange given the setting. This kind of contrast is characteristic of "Girls." Beautiful monsters. Sex and sensuality set against gruesome violence. Street-level human drama against sci-fi spectacle.
"Contrast is one of the most important tools in storytelling," said Jonathan Luna. "And it is our intention to keep the worlds in our stories grounded. That way the fantastic elements are much more effective."
Wrapped in a package of intense action, mystery and ultra-violence, "Girls" challenges its readers with commentary and questions about the world we live in. Puzzling symbols abound, specifically when it comes to themes of gender and male-female relations. In addition to the already intriguing notion of having the story's "villain" role occupied by an ever-growing horde of gorgeous naked women, "Girls" also features a giant glowing "sperm monster" which the "girls" feed constantly with the bodies of women they've killed. Upping the philosophical ante, the killer "girls" kill only the women of Pennystown. Interestingly, nearly every "monster girl" attack involves hair-pulling, the classic, stereotypical tactic of girl fights.
"'Girls' was more challenging than 'Ultrta,'" explained Joshua Luna, referring to the brothers' previous work about a celebrity superheroine. "Not only because of the significant increase in length and characters, but because we were creating a new 'monster' and not superheroes with built-in mythologies and archetypes most readers could easily recognize."
Readers have interpreted the themes and symbols of "Girls" in different ways. In one letter, a fan took delight in the Luna Brothers' supposed exposing of the "hypocrisy" of 'the politically correct," and embraced what he perceived to be the book's misogynistic message, going so far as to compare it to the work of famed anti-feminist and "Cerebus" creator Dave Sim. To most readers, though, "Girls" seems to have more in common with "Y: The Last Man," in that it deftly raises questions about men, women and gender in general – amongst other things. Joshua Luna confirmed, "I can see how some people picked up a sexist or hateful vibe early on when the first issue came out, but once the story started to unravel, I'd like to think that our intentions became clearer.
"One of the main themes in the story is fantasy vs. reality," Joshua continued. "The 'girls,' the alien invaders, kill human women and have sex with the men. So, while it's pure survival mode for the women, the men are offered a choice--the townswomen or the impossibly beautiful nymphomaniacs. Hopefully, we succeeded in an honest and unbiased attempt to explore the struggle between 'what men have' vs. 'what they desire' and the consequences of their decisions."
"And we don't use the giant 'sperm' because we think that males are more prominent or dominant," added Jonathan Luna. "It's not supposed to be misogynistic."
Indeed, the Luna Brothers have built for themselves a reputation for creating and working on books which feature strong female characters, most notably with their previous indie work, "Ultra." Jonathan Luna's art has also been seen in Marvel's "Spider-Woman: Origin" mini-series and on the cover of Dynamite's "Red Sonja."
"We're visual artists first, and simply, we have always liked to draw women," explained Jonathan Luna. "Women with power are really interesting, as well. It's great to see women doing what some people think men are only supposed to do."
Visual artists they definitely are, having created in "Girls" some of the most distinctive artwork on the stands today. To attempt to classify or compare their style to any established standard is all but futile, because as lifelong comic fans the brothers have synthesized too many influences to count, developing a look all their own. The Luna Brothers create every aspect of the book's unique appearance, which became even cooler as the series progressed. Joshua Luna provided layouts and lettering while Jonathan created the series artwork and color. "A lot of people tend to think that I draw the comics completely digitally, but I still use pencils (mechanical, 2H or HB) and ink pens," said Jonathan. "It's much more intimate for me. I'm not sure if I'll ever go fully digital, but I use a Wacom tablet occasionally. I color in Photoshop with a mouse. Others think that I use 3D modeling as well, but I don't."
"Girls" exemplifies the best traditions of classic indie comics. The Luna Brothers practice a form of auteurism that's inspiring to up-and-comers, making a complex story with even more complex themes look both easy and visually stunning while still managing to improve with every new release. Their characters are wholly developed and are never compromised for the sake of a cheap choke, easy bit of flash or dragging the story out for extra financial rewards. Creatively, it's leaps and bounds ahead of their already impressive "Ultra," which itself earned accolades and was adapted into an unreleased television pilot.
"It feels great, finishing 'Girls," knowing that we could take on a two-year long story because in the beginning, I was definitely intimidated," Joshua Luna confessed. "We always knew how the story would end, but getting there was a semi-organic process (plot points with wiggle room in between), so we'd always surprise ourselves with some crazy twist once in a while. We really can't plan the length of a series until we know what the story entails."
The Lunas haven't announced what their post-"Girls" plans are, but it's very likely that anyone who's read this epic work will follow them to whatever they do next. As for the beautiful monster herself, the "girl" who will remain forever in the memories of all fans of this comic, the Luna Brothers revealed to CBR News that actress Monica Bellucci inspired her look. "We think that she's one of the most classically beautiful women in the world," remarked Jonathan Luna. Having conducted the interview prior to the publishing of issue #24, "Girls'" final chapter, I suspected the Luna Brothers would for spoiler reasons decline to answer my final question. I asked it anyway.
AK: What'd you guys call the Main Naked Monster Girl in the script?
Luna Bros: You're right. We won't answer that one. [laughs]
"Girls" volumes 1-3 are available now. Issue #24 ships this week from Image Comics, with volume 4, "Extinction," collecting the final issues seeing release on May 16th. For more "Girls," visit MySpace Comic Books and The Luna Brothers' official site.
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