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For decades, the comic book industry has been dominated by white males. But with the launch of Vescell over at Image Comics last year, half-Black/half-Latino scribe Enrique Carrion is looking to bring some much-needed diversity to the industry. Vescellfeatures a main character named Mauricio 'Moo' Barrino, who not only an African American, he's also one of the most realistic minorities in comics. You see, Barrino wasn’t created just for the sole purpose of having a black character in the book—he’s a real fleshed-out character with an infectious personality who rises above being just a publicity stunt.
Set in a futuristic world where technology exists that can transfer a person’s mind and soul into any other body of their choosing, Vescell is a sci-fi thriller that strives to bring unique innovation to the table with each new installment. One issue can focus on something socially relevant like the pitfalls of the celebrity culture, while the next features a cameo by Adolf Hitler in an all-out fantasy mind-bender. There are no rules in Vescell, and every issue throws another big idea at readers that completely shatters the preconceived notions of the series.
Carrion’s style, energy, and passion can be felt in every beautifully illustrated panel of the book, courtesy of artist John Upchurch. There's no doubt that Carrion is about to break out in a huge way, so to get in on the ground floor, be sure to pick up Vescell #7, which hits stands today. Complex chatted with Carrion recently about Vescell, diversity in comics, and his inspirations.
What got you into reading comics in the first place?
The first thing that got me into reading comics was my uncle, really. The first comic book I got was Amazing Spider-Man #300, which was drawn by Todd McFarlane, and it was the first appearance of Venom. That was the first comic that was given to me; it was crazy.
Did you keep up with comics all through your youth, or is this something that you’re just getting back into?
No, I’ve totally, totally been keeping up with them. I’ve been a big comic book head all through Infinity Gauntlet, all the way through Civil War, Planet Hulk. Anything sci-fi, comics, anime. I’m a street nerd.
For those who haven’t had a chance to read Vescell, can you give us a brief synopsis of the main ideas of the series?
Vescell is like sci-fi, noir, mashed up with a love story, mixed with a coming-of-age story. That’s pretty much what’s going on with Vescell. If you like sci-fi, if you like Hulk, if you like noir, then the book is for you. It’s all of those things mashed up together and cooked up pretty marvelously.
There are some pretty heavy sci-fi themes going on in Vescell. What was your inspiration for the futuristic world and tech that runs throughout the series?
Back in the day, I was a big role-playing fan; you know, table top games and the twenty-sided dice games. And I was a big Final Fantasy fan, so one thing that Final Fantasy and anime taught me was, “Don’t be scared to make stuff up.” So for the sci-fi stuff I feel like, “Where can I go with it? What can I do? What item or gadget can get me there that is different and unique that no one has thought of.” Then I would go and invent that.
There's also a lot of social commentary going on in the book, too, especially in the issue that deals with the celebrity culture. Was it fun to let out some frustrations about the world in this book?
To be honest with you, that’s my favorite book [Vescell #4]. That’s the issue that I loved the most. I definitely make a comment about the celebrity culture. I don’t think I had frustrations, but I just… You know what? You’re right; maybe I did. I feel some of the undercurrents and dangers, not only to people who are drawn to celebrity culture and the blogs and stuff, but the dangers to celebrities themselves.
Celebrities face a lot of dangers. You get into that world and your privacy is totally stripped. You’re basically living in a fish bowl, and that’s the price you pay for fame. There are dangers for the person who is just a voyeur, too. That can affect you in certain ways. But celebrities undergo a lot of perilous encounters every day. Look at what happened to Kim Kardashian on the red carpet the other day. It doesn’t matter whether you like her or not, you don’t want that to happen to anybody.
What does it mean to you personally to be one of the only black minority writers in comics?
It means everything to me. Honestly. I’m black and Puerto Rican, raised in Spanish Harlem. First of all, people of all ethnicities and backgrounds love the book, and I’m really appreciative of it. But a lot of my black and Latino readers they just come up to me and shake my hand and hold it for a long time and say, “Thank you, man. This book means a lot to me. I hope it goes on as long as it can.”
It really means a lot to me because I’m trying to break a lot of stereotypes that are associated with black characters. I’m trying to create a black character that is contemporary, that’s cool and sophisticated. I didn’t want him falling into the regular stereotypes of not only black characters in comic books but black characters in the media, whether they be in movies, TV, or comic books.
Images Comics has always been a very progressive company. Did that make it an easier sell to have a minority character be in the lead and not just be there specifically to be a token minority character?
Definitely, Image Comics is definitely the most progressive and forward thinking comic book company. We’re all about the next big idea, innovation. And Eric Stephenson [Publisher of Image Comics] is all about imagination as authority. He’s a champion of imagination. So if it’s hot, he doesn’t care what it is, just as long as it’s hot. It has to be hot, it has to be out of the box, it has to be innovative. Yeah, so Image Comics is definitely the home for a comic book like Vescell. But I really have to thank everybody there, especially Eric Stephenson. I call him the Steve Jobs of comics. I’ve been waiting for a good place to say that, and I think Complex is the place to say that. So you heard it here first.
Look what he’s bringing out: Walking Dead, Grant Morrison is on a title, you got [Jonathan] Hickman doing a few things over there. When people look back, they’ll say, “Damn, look at all the quality this guy brought out. Look at the way they stepped up the art form.” Especially for the writers. When Image Comics first started, it was all artists. Now, all of the really, really big names are the writers, too. Writing is always changing and transforming. Especially with Walking Dead, Chew, and Vescell. Vescell is some state-of-the-art stuff.
Vescell is full of violence, sexuality, and other mature themes. Is that one of the other benefits of working at an indie publisher? The fact that you can get away with that stuff without worrying about toys coming out and advertisers getting upset with it?
Yeah, it’s definitely something that they gave me room and they allowed me to go in any direction that I want. But I’m really careful with all that, especially with the violence and sexual content in the book. I don’t do anything for shock value in my book; I don’t like books that do that. If there is violence, it has a purpose; if there is a sex scene in one of my books, it’s in context. It’s allowing me to explore this aspect of the character and get deeper into the plot in that moment. I never do anything just for the shock value. But yeah, Image definitely gives me the room to do what I need to do.
Are you disappointed with how far Marvel and DC have come with racial diversity?
I’m really not. To keep it real with you, I was just talking to Axel Alonso [Editor-in-Chief at Marvel] the other day, and me and him were having a half-hour conversation about music. He’s a big Curren$y fan. And we were talking about hip-hop; we didn’t even talk about comics. You can tell that this guy wants to do some exciting stuff over there. I can’t speak for DC because I haven’t really spoken with anyone over there. I think what Image Comics is doing is that it’s showing everybody, especially with Vescell, is that a black book can be successful and be sought out by all groups of people. I think that more than half of my buyers are white.
So, I’m not disappointed, I think it took a book to really show people that things could be different, and I think that’s what Vescell did. There’s a lot of work to do, but I’m not mad or disappointed at either of the “Big Two.” There’s just a lot of work to do. I also think that black writers and creators need to think outside the box. You can’t create another Black Lightning or something like that. I don’t want to see any more stereotypical characters. It’s also the creators; they have to do something different. That’s something I had to do with Vescell. I thought, “I can do another stereotypical character, or I can try to create something different where his color doesn’t matter.”
How far into the future are you thinking with Vescell at this point?
Image, right now, they want me to work on some other properties. They’re really treating me like royalty over there. Everybody over there is wonderful; I love my Image family. I already have it written out to volume three, so whenever a reader picks up a book, it’s not something that I’m writing month-to-month. I may tweak one or two things here, depending on the flow. I really listen to what my readers want. In issue six, the last story in issue six, which is the Batan story, that’s because that was a reader favorite and people wanted him back from the second issue. He only had a little part in the second issue, so I gave him the whole second half of issue six.
These new properties that you’re working on for Image, will these be established characters or something that you create?
Oh, it’s going to be something that I create.
As a comic book writer, what books do you look forward to the most every month?
I just looked for the first time at Marvel’s Infinite line the other day. The new digital joint. That joint is so ill. It’s mad cinematic; it’s crazy. So I just checked that out, the one with Nova. I just read the first volume of Walking Dead, and I’m into Bomb Queen, Mice Templar. So, yeah, those are some of the joints that I’m reading right now.
Check out the official Vescell website right here.