On October 1, 2017, 58 people died and 851 more were injured when gunman Stephen Paddock fired more than 1,100 rounds into the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, in the deadliest mass shooting in United States history. Now, some of the biggest names in comic books have come together to help raise money for the survivors and their families - and, in the process, help their stories be told.
Where We Live, spearheaded by J.H. Williams III and his wife/collaborator Wendy Wright-Williams, brings together a massive crew of talent - including Neil Gaiman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Mignola, Mark Millar, Jeff Lemire and many, many more - features more than 70 stories that both adapt real-world experiences and fictional tales looking at everything from gun violence to the vibrancy of the Las Vegas community.
Set for publication on May 30, the book may be pre-ordered with the Diamond code MAR180600 through comics retailers. Newsarama spoke with the Williamses about why they put this book together, what it’s about – and what it’s not about – the responsibility of telling real people’s stories, and more.
Newsarama: Wendy, Jim, what made you first decide to do a book about the shooting?
Wendy Wright-Williams: Well, we live in Vegas - we only moved here a couple years ago, but we’ve been coming here for 20-odd years, and we have different friends who work on the Strip, who live in different parts of the community. They really welcomed us.
We were actually talking to a friend of ours who worked at the Strip when [the shooting] was happening - she worked at a casino that was on lockdown, and she was giving us updates and we were helping talk her through it, keeping her calm.
We’re so tied to the community, and we care about the community, and the incident itself was so traumatic. And the amount of need out there - people talk about the 58 dead, but there were more than 500 injured… there were some very serious injuries that people will never get over, never mind the psychological impact.
We knew that of course there was going to be some sort of donation process, but the sheer amount of need…we needed to do as much as we could. And we also felt like we could offer a unique perspective through our industry and say something about it. There are a lot of benefit books where it’s a bunch of pin-ups, and that’s fine, but we wanted to do something that honored the victims, and that tried to address the issues that led to the shooting in the first place.
We interviewed a lot of the victims - some, unfortunately, had to back out, for personal reasons or legal reasons - but many of them will be telling their stories. And we made a concerted effort to include as many locals as possible in terms of talents - local writers, and local artists, and local journalists, a beautiful poem from a local writer - and tried to pair them with people more experienced in the comics industry.
The book is an anthology where the victims’ stories are recounted, of course, but we also have stories, fictional and nonfictional, about gun violence 0
J.H. Williams III: Not just gun violence, but guns in general, and people’s relationships with guns. We have people doing stories about how guns have been involved in their own lives. So, it’s been interesting, in the fact that we’re getting very personal material from a lot of folks who are very established in the industry. And there are some stories that are allegorical as well. The content is quite varied, but it’s all sort of directed at this problem that the country’s facing -
Wright-Williams: - mental health issues as well.
Williams: Right. There’s some pretty potent material.
Nrama: The effects of violence are something that are often ignored in the media in terms of both fiction and nonfiction - not just depicting violence, but in showing how people must deal with the experience of it over the long-term.
Wright-Williams: Right, and that’s something we wanted to deal with - it’s something that latches onto you. There are statistics, yes, but there are people behind those statistics. I think it’s hard sometimes for people to realize that for a family, their life was never going to be the same, and you’re saying there’s nothing you can do about it. I think there’s a cop-out – there is something you can do.
Nrama: What was the process of doing the interviews like?
Wright-Williams: It’s… difficult. Particularly when you hear what happened. It’s difficult to trust a stranger – I’m not a journalist, so we just try to present the idea of the book and explain that to them. Las Vegas is a close-knit community, and everyone knows someone else there. We reached out to friends, and they reached out to their friends, and they reached out to their friends, and we were able to cobble together some resources.
The people we were able to interview… it makes you even more driven to do right by the project, and right by them. This was an event where they thought they were going to party and have fun with their friends, and it was the opposite. They had no idea their lives would be forever changed. We keep in contact with them, and keep checking in with them, because it’s such an emotional thing, and you want to take emotional care of them.
Williams: Wendy and I would get on the phone with them, and talk, and let them say what they had to say, and then we’d communicate with one of the writers on the book, and they’d figure out how to tell their story in a few pages of comics, which is -
Wright-Williams: Incredibly difficult.
Williams: Such a daunting task. And some of these stories are so incredibly detailed that there was the question of, “How can we convey the weight of it in a few pages?” But thankfully, all the feedback we’ve gotten so far is very positive. Everything is coming in very effective, I think.
Some stories are four or five pages; some are eight. That’s just the witness stuff.
Nrama: Sounds like there’s some organization by perspective in this.
Williams: Kind of - we’re treating it like a mix tape, particularly because some of the allegorical stuff is out-there in terms of genre content. The book’s going to sit at 300 pages or so, so the eyewitness stories are going to drop every few pages, and we’re going to include design elements that help delineate them from the rest of the content, and to take the respect and honor of those stories into consideration.
Wright-Williams: And with the diverse types of content, it felt like - we’re not claiming to have all the answers or even an answer, but we wanted to pose the questions and make people think. And we must pose those question from several different angles. We wanted everyone to express themselves; everyone has an opinion, and here’s the chance to express it artistically.
We want people to think about it, and it’s such a loaded - no pun intended - subject, and people can’t seem to talk about it rationally. What I’m hoping - really hoping - is that through this medium of comics, we can get people to let their guards down, and maybe have a reasonable dialogue about it.
Williams: And to feel something.
Wright-Williams: Yeah, and to understand the impact. I understand the Second Amendment is very important to a lot of people - I grew up on a farm, I grew up with guns, not like these assault rifles, but I know them. We’ve kind of gone to a ridiculous end of the spectrum.
Williams: I mention this in the introduction to the book - there’s military personnel who say, “These are weapons of war, they are made to rip apart flesh. They should not be in the hands of the general public for just anyone to use.”
Wright-Williams: On military bases, they’re not just walking around with these guns – they have to check them out, check them back in.
Williams: When you have military personnel saying that… it’s such a bizarre set of circumstances. And what boggles my mind is that there’s such a resistance from the government, because these weapons were controlled before. With enough willpower, they can be controlled again, with common sense.
Nrama: It’s a controversial conversation, because there’s a lot of talk about the “slippery slope” of banning assault weapons leading to banning all guns, then in turn leading to the overturning of the Second Amendment and so forth…
Wright-Williams: Yeah. There’s a lot of common-sense discussion that’s necessary… I’m not going to presume that this is everyone who owns a gun, because it’s not. But there’s such a resistance with that “slippery slope” argument. I think we need to be more mature and smarter than that.
What you think you’re protecting yourself against… it’s happening. People are going into public places and shooting each other up. There’s plenty of people we interviewed who own guns, and they want gun control. They were in the middle of it, and have a very different perspective now, because of what they experienced. I get that there’s responsible gun owners, but I think there needs to be a higher standard… and that’s not everyone’s perspective, and it’s not everyone’s perspective in the book.
I’m not anti-gun, there just needs to be more common-sense responsibility taking place.
Williams: There was no edict put towards the creators of this book other than to address the problem at hand, and to talk about how they feel about it. There was no argument that they had to put forth - that’s not how you handle this sort of discussion.
If the book ends up coming out leaning towards one way or another towards the end, that just happens to be the way the tide is going. But we left each creator room to say whatever they wanted, regardless of what we believed. And that’s very important, that we make that clear.
Wright-Williams: The only direction that we gave was that we didn’t want any knee-jerk reactions, and to be thoughtful - no “let’s take all the guns!” It must be an argument that’s well-thought-out.
Williams: In whichever direction you stand.
Wright-Williams: Some people just wrote about their own relationship with guns, like growing up with them…
Williams: What they remembered about it - what’s different now.
It’s all very human. It’s the human experience, that’s coming through in all of these.
Wright-Williams: We have a story with a local that I thought was great - he’s a comedian and does a food blog, so he knows many restaurants here. He organized all these chefs and food trucks to help feed the first responders out there, and that was his way of contributing - get a truck and park it behind the hospital and feed staff all night. He didn’t know what else to do - but this was something he could do. We have his story in there, and he co-wrote it with Ollie Masters.
It’s not all one thing - I can’t say it won’t be a heavy book, but we’re trying to have lots of perspectives in there, both personal and political, and also fictional – I hope it reads in a way that you can take something from it, then read a little more, and take something else, and really contemplate the situation as a whole.