FIYAH aims to highlight works of speculative fiction by Black writers across all mediums. Our comic feature this quarter is with James Wright and his project “Contact High.”
Contact High is written by James F. Wright, with art/colors/lettering by Josh Eckert. It was originally released digitally in the summer of 2017, and then in print in Spring 2018.
A digital version can be purchased here: https://gum.co/contact-high (Note: All digital sales income will be donated evenly to Lambda Legal and the Southern Poverty Law Center). Print editions are available directly through James at any convention he tables at.
1: Tell us a bit about your background as an artist.
Even though I’d been reading comics since I knew how to read–my dad was into them and my mom was a schoolteacher and understood they were a gateway to a love of reading–I didn’t really think about writing them until I was in my late twenties. I’ve always been fascinated by the breadth and variety of stories that can be told in the comics medium, and I really enjoy the collaborative aspect of them, how often multiple people of different backgrounds come together to make a singular piece of art. So, when I began writing comics I focused on the themes that meant the most to me: underrepresented and underestimated voices, outcasts, unique genre mixing, finite narratives. Even though I don’t always stick to those themes, I always aim to be aware of the vastness of what comics can be, and strive to push the medium forward in whatever ways I can as I write.
2: Give us an introduction to Contact High.
Contact High is, in a nutshell, a queer sci-fi action love story, which is a lot of elements to pack into a 26-page comic. It’s set in a future where human touch is a drug and has thus been outlawed. The origins of this biological change are never explicitly stated, though people have their theories. Regardless, as a result, everyone must wear protective suits at all times or risk confinement. Our story follows one such person, Ziggurat, who is apprehended and taken to a V.E.N.E.E.R. facility for “rehabilitation,” when he learns that his estranged partner, Apex, is being held in the same facility, and he does what he must to reconnect with him.
3: What would you say is the most significant thing you’ve learned in the creation of your comic? (this can be personal, about your work, about the industry, about the process, whatever)
The most significant thing about making Contact High for me was definitely personal. Through an unexpected circumstance, this is the book that helped me understand that I’m queer. Subconsciously I was aware, but it wasn’t until another queer person read the book and, in talking to me about it, assumed (correctly it turns out) that I was also queer. And in their assumption, I realized that I’d known but never spoken it aloud, so that was a pretty wild thing to take in during the middle of a huge comic convention, haha.
The other big thing about working on this was that I made it with my friend and frequent collaborator, Josh Eckert, and while this was maybe the third or fourth project we’d done together, this was where we really were operating as almost one mind, and on the same page throughout. With making any comic, especially with multiple creators involved, there will always be happy accidents, but with this book in particular I’d say about 95% of what’s on the page is exactly what we intended to say.
4: Any advice you’d give to other Black creators trying to break into comics?
First I’d say try to shift your thinking away from this idea of “breaking into comics.” If you make, or have made, a comic, guess what? You’re in comics! Traditionally, breaking into comics has been seen as working at the Big Two (Marvel and DC), but comics is so much bigger and more interesting than that, and while those companies do have deep histories and deeper pockets than other publishers, seeing them as an end goal rather than one of many possible avenues can be detrimental. It can be a lot more beneficial to focus on making your own comics, or finding friends to collaborate, and taking those books to local comic shows and zine fests. That will teach you so much about creating, marketing, and interacting with other creators and readers. That last part is crucial because the people you meet at that early stage are not just your peers but, in some cases, your friends, and those are the people who by and large will be in your corner (and you in theirs) as you navigate the medium and the industry. Seek out and support other Black creators, but also share your work with them, especially those who are at or around your level of experience, and be prepared to ask questions of those you respect, and to answer questions about your goals and the kinds of books you’re doing or want to do.
5: Fancast your comic! If Contact High were to be adapted for film/television, who would you want onboard to direct or act/voice act your characters?
Josh and I have talked about this a little because, hey, it’s a fun way to pass the time, right? Given that the two leads of the story are queer men, we’d prefer the casting would reflect that, but in the absence of that possibility, we’d be pretty happy with Winston Duke as Ziggurat and Cooper Andrews as Apex. Behind the camera? We really like Barry Jenkins, Ava Duvernay, Karyn Kusama, or even Hiro Murai.
6: What’s next for you in your creative career?
I’m still writing comics and hope to do so for a while to come. Lupina, a two-part graphic novel about a girl raised by a wolf and going on a journey of discovery and revenge, I’m doing with Liana Buszka, Bex Glendining, and Ariana Maher, and that should be out in 2020. And currently I’m working on a pitch for an original graphic novel, a coming-of-age story about surfing and grief and maybe something more. And I had a lot of fun last year assembling Foxglove (https://gumroad.com/l/foxglove), a sort of memoir that’s very, very loosely a comic about a seamstress from the ’40s who moonlighted as a pickpocket, which was a book I was able to make 90% without an artist, and I want to do another one of those soon.
Title: Contact High | Release Date: Spring 2018 | Buy links: Gumroad