Note: Adult language in the following story.
Six months ago, there were readers of "The Red Star" who had never heard of the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s and the decade-long war that spun out of it.
Today, as readers can't help but be more educated in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attack on the United States, the series has moved on to its next fictionalized conflict of the former Soviet Union, and has expanded its focus.
When the new story arc began with issue #6, we were introduced to a new character, Makita, who was explicitly set up as a counterpart to Maya, the star of the series. Makita's not just a focal point for a single story arc, though.
"Yeah, Makita is definitely a permanent cast member," series creator Christian Gossett said. "Each character in 'The Red Star' was designed from different aspects of heroism, and the courage it takes to be a hero. Makita is the symbol of ferocious determination against all odds. (Kinda like my good ol' Yankees this weekend, sending the As back to Oakland after being down two games to nothing.) Makita's country, Nokgorka, is the setting of this arc, and actually, introducing her into the story is really the most important aspect of this part of the story. Everyone will see why in issue 8. That's when the big mystery around Makita is revealed as far as who she is and why she is so important to the saga."
The saga also takes a turn away from the fictionalized version of the USSR/Afghanistan conflict to a more contemporary one.
"Yes, the setting of this arc, the fictional nation of 'Nokgorka' is based on Chechnya. Chechnya is a very historic battleground for Russia, as was Afghanistan, which as we've said all along, was the setting for the first story arc. The reason why we based 'The Red Star' in the world of Central Asian Islam was because it was obvious to us that people needed to know what was going on in that part of the world. When I first conceived 'The Red Star' back in 1994, I was amazed that a tiny Muslim nation, Afghanistan, could bring down the Soviet Union. Most school kids in America back then lost sleep at least once over the fear of nuclear war with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and here is this little nation that took them down for good.
"It became clear that in the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, both superpowers had created monsters all over the world due to their power struggles with each other. For example: Back in the 1960s, the leader of our enemy in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, had been an ally of the U.S. in the '50s -- we helped him come to power. Why? Well, the official story is that we were seeking to aid leaders that would be loyal to us and not the Russians. The strength we gave him was what allowed him to launch the war against us.
"Fast forward to the 1970s, where president's Nixon and Ford used to make million dollar payments to the Ayatollahs of Iran so they would remain loyal to us and not the Soviets -- this ended up giving Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran the resources to take over the U.S. embassy in 1979.
"Again, in the 1980s, Reagan and then Vice President George Bush Sr. needed a tough guy in Iraq to fight against Iran, and who did they choose to make strong? Saddam Hussein.
"Finally, also in the 1980s, and here is where it comes full circle, George Bush Sr., (who many people forget was once director of the CIA) was instrumental in the U.S. efforts to arm the Mujahideen tribesmen of Afghanistan to defeat the Soviets when they fought their war there -- one of those tribesmen, as many people are figuring out now, was none other than Usama Bin Laden.
"This is why we create 'The Red Star.' Because the connections between cause and effect in world affairs is fascinating, and effects all of us when shit hits the fan. The list of dictators I just wrote, how could the average American think that some far off rebel tribesmen would someday be a part of them losing their jobs? But here we are with our fellow Americans suffering from just that. People should know their world, and we believe that good entertainment informs as well as entertains."
In the wake of the September 11th attacks, Gossett says "The Red Star" has gotten positive feedback from readers.
"Well, it is great that people are contacting us and thanking us for writing a comic that has made them knowledgeable about Afghanistan. One young lady said that her whole family started reading 'The Red Star' when they were huddled around CNN one night and she knew more about Afghanistan than any of them. We've got servicemen and women in the U.S. military, who've been fans since issue #1 who are being mobilized and don't want to lose track of the story arc, so they're ordering the latest issues and having us send them to their military bases. That's really a great compliment for us. We've got a lot of Desert Storm vets who read 'The Red Star,' and they really appreciate the respect we show for soldiers issue after issue. So that's some effect. One of them said that since they might be stationed on air bases that were once used by the Red Army, that they'll be sharing 'The Red Star' with any Russian soldiers they meet who can read English. Ya know, we're not the most popular comic book around, we're not Batman or Spider-Man and we've got no mutants, but we've got a comic that a soldier can be proud of to have in their kit, and that's seriously bad ass."
The new arc also evolves the look and feel of the comic, series colorist Snakebite told CBR News.
"Evolution is a natural part of the artistic journey, as far as the question being asked whether or not I have evolved ... I hope the answer would be yes, cuz I believe I have, but then again the answer could be different if you asked someone else, hehehe. I would have to say that I have been blessed with a story and team that allows the natural process of evolution to take place. Every time we finish a issue I can honestly say that it is the best collaboration to date ... then I hate it, it's the curse of A.D.D., hehe.
"Process has gotten comfortable, allowing for a much more natural dance to take place between Goss and I, now we can just concentrate on who wears the tux and who wears the formal. We've problem solved a lot of the questions that once were, and now we're just enjoying the 'creating' part of visual story telling. Exploring as many avenues as possible."
The current arc also uses different colors, and to a greater intensity than the previous one. If you think that maybe that's meant to evoke a different mood, well, Snakebite says you wouldn't be wrong to think so.
"You could never read too much into it. Visual story telling means utilizing everything about your visuals, and color is no exception. Goss brings the audience into a new play ground of scenarios and emotions, as well as new realizations and personal growth for the characters both politically and mentally, so naturally I should introduce new colors and new values of colors.
"We are also introduced to new characters, Makita being my favorite. A 15 year old girl resistance fighter. Full of fire and new found sexuality, although the sexuality part is not really our focus, it is a natural chapter for any girl around this age ... so naturally blue, a color that has always been associated with sexuality, is a dominant color in the stories scheme. Take note, that when Goss has a perfect opportunity to do a panty shot, a shot most take advantage of, he deviates to the less obvious and I will assist in the suggestion. For example Makita's legs always disappear into blue shadow behind her coat, the blue of the shadow can be much more sexually appealing then some undersexed no talent hacks spelled out idea of what sexy is. Broken backs with basketballs for tits?, I say let the viewer fill in the gaps, so to speak, hehe.
"Color is just as important and in a lot of ways more important then the illustration itself when trying to convey emotion ... ideally you would want all of the elements conveying for ya, hehehehe ... ho.
"Next arc I'm planning on having a new approach ... what that approach is is still a mystery, even to me."
Gossett is clearly a man with a vision, but Snakebite says that singular vision doesn't preclude collaboration from the rest of the team.
"It's a total collaboration. I have reached a point in my life where I crossed the One Way Bullshit Bridge and there ain't no goin' back. Everyone I work with has to be open to the real meaning of collaboration. It's one thing to do small jobs for some extra holiday cash (anyone, anyone?), but if I'm gonna invest my life into a project such as TRS one has gots to be down and open for full participation involvement on my part. It's the difference between working 'for' and working 'with' someone. Goss has always been this way, he is very comfortable with me having input on the layout of the page, he believes it takes the page further, he is a rare individual and you will be seeing me fight by his side for long time to come.
"It is many hours and days hunkered over a monitor, conversing on approach and business aesthetic. One thing the green bruthas and sistas need to realize is that all aspects of this industry are important to take under consideration when deciding on being part of a team. Too many times have I worked for those monkeys who have the 'fling shit' method of production. It's easy to make decisions if all you want is money, much harder if all you want is longevity. If anyone gets anything out of my career path I hope it's a sense of self-worth, I'll never feel satisfied with my art, I know it and I'm sure a lot of people can relate, but I can be satisfied with my quality of life and that only comes from knowing how much I'm worth ... and I'm not talking about money."
The latest issue – "The Red Star" #7, published by Image Comics – came out on Wednesday, but readers won't have to wait for issue #8 for more from Gossett and company.
"After that, we are re-releasing a special issue known as "The Red Star: Transformation' which is full of features for people who haven't checked out the story yet but wanna try. It's packed, really. You'll get:
"1. the story from our 'Wizard' #1/2 – but check this out – Snakebite is repainting it completely, AND we're adding 10 new story pages so we can tie it in with the current story arc.
"2. A full breakdown of what's happened so far in the story arc (issues 6-7)
"3. An introduction to all major characters
"4. and the return of our Lexicon which is a guide to the terms and phrases unique to 'The Red Star'
"And the continued telling of one of the most culturally significant comics on the market today."
(Shameless plug: Snakebite's words of wisdom are made available to aspiring artists as a teacher at The Animation Academy.)
Jonah Weiland contributed to this story.