Magic, Mythical Beasts, Fashion, Neon, Los Angeles: Enter Humphries & Bartel's BLACKBIRD

Blackbird
Credit: Jen Bartel (Image Comics)
Credit: Jen Bartel (Image Comics)

Los Angeles becomes an epicenter of magic and mystery in the pages of Blackbird, a new Image Comics series launching this week from writer Sam Humphries and artist Jen Bartel.

Growing up, Nina Rodriguez told people magic was real, but nobody ever believed her. Now, later in life, she comes face to face with proof that magic is very real... and very dangerous.

After speaking with Bartel earlier this year, Newsarama now caught up with Humphries and talked all things Blackbird from how magic is utilized in this world to what best defines Nina as a character and of course what makes Los Angeles so inspiring.

Credit: Jen Bartel (Image Comics)

Newsarama: Okay Sam, you announced Blackbird at Image Expo this year - break it down on working and collaborating with Jen Bartel, and getting the pitch together for Image.

Sam Humphries: Blackbird is a comic that can only belong to myself and Jen in collaboration. The idea came out of our friendship and lots of conversations we were having about what we wanted to see more of in comic books. We got to the point where we decided to do a book together, and it felt natural to build it from the ground up. The first thing I asked her was, "What do you want to draw?" And she came out with a list of all these things -- magic and mythical beasts and fashion and neon and Los Angeles -- and I thought, damn I'd read that comic!

Nrama: Were there any concerns about Jen not having worked in sequentials much before?

Credit: Jen Bartel (Image Comics)

Humphries: Not from me. Jen is of course a spectacular artist. But more than that, she's incredibly dedicated and very smart. Any problems or challenges I knew she'd be able to bulldoze right over them. We've got an incredible team working together, with Paul Reinwand on layouts, Nayoung Wilson and Triona Farrell on colors, Jodi Wynne on letters, Dylan Todd on design, Jim Gibbons on editorial... we're a true crew, in that we shore each other up and bring out the best in each other. And Jen - she's been more than ready.

Nrama: How is Nina different than any character you've created before?

Credit: Jen Bartel (Image Comics)

Humphries: Nina's experience with family and death and grief more closely resembles my own than anyone I've written before. She's struggling with grief and family. I've lost a lot of family members, and I've flirted with that in other books, but Blackbird is the closest I've come to mining my own experiences with death and loss and renewal.

There's a lot of crazy magic and beautiful wizards making out and all that good stuff, but it's the emotional core that hits the hardest in Blackbird.

Nrama: Blackbird is planned as an ongoing, do you have an issue number in your head or are you taking this as it goes?

Humphries: A hundred thousand!

Credit: Jen Bartel (Image Comics)

No, we've talked about a lot of story and there's a lot of potential to explore. There's at least thirty issues. And a lot to play with.

Almost a century of magical history in Los Angeles. Why do paragons use gems? Why is magic so prevalent in Los Angeles? What is the effect on the "civilians" of Los Angeles? The magical world is not all power and glamor, it's crime and tragedy and making horrible decisions too.

Nrama: You have the entire team listed on the cover. What do you say to other Image books and other companies that say there's not room to fit them all on the cover?

Humphries: I'd tell them the time for excuses is over.

Credit: Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Nrama: What are you excited most about for fans to read Blackbird?

Humphries: Probably the cliffhanger at the end of Blackbird #3. It changes everything for Nina. No one will see it coming. It's a real heartbreaker.

Nrama: You have Harry Potter magic, wizards in Lord of the Rings, and of course all the warlocks and magicians in comics as is, how does magic operate in Blackbird? Can it be taught or something instilled at birth?

Credit: Jen Bartel (Image Comics)

Humphries: The development of magic in the world of Blackbird involves a lot of secrets that we'll reveal over time. But I can say that it is tied to Los Angeles' tradition of innovation, and diversity, and geography. The paragons we see now use golden bracelets called cirques and a variety of gems to cast spells. There's a before and after there in magic history. How did those developments influence the paragons and their cabals?

Nrama: Why the name "Blackbird"? Where does it come from?

Humphries: The name "Blackbird" has a significant meaning within the book that I cannot spoil right now. Like any good coming of age story, there's a lot about Nina that she doesn't even know about herself yet. Also “Blackbird” sounds really cool.

Nrama: You make no bones about being a west coaster, what is it about Los Angeles that inspires you so much?

Humphries: The energy, the creative spark, the natural beauty close by, the chaotic geography, understanding the chaotic geography, the neon, the strip mall culture, food truck culture, the food in general, drag shows, underground hip hop, indie rock, the blending of cultures from near and far, how diversity is a fundamental foundation of the city, the hills, the sun, the sky, the "imagination of disaster" - to quote Michael Davis - the architecture, the museums, the secrets, the history of crime, the history of water, the history of money, the history of transportation, the drive and ambition of innovation that defines every era of the city, the pure joy of living here... I've been here twenty years and I love it.

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