Vertigo's SCALPED Tackles Abortion in "Unwanted"

Scalped has never backed away from tough subjects, and the current arc, "Unwanted," is no exception.

As readers found out in July's Scalped #39, characters dealing with unwanted pregnancies — both in the past and the present — serve as the backbone of this four-issue story arc. This week, Scalped #40 continues the story that confronts the issue of abortion head-on.

At the center of the story is Carol, the daughter of Chief Red Crow, and her discovery that she's pregnant with Dash's child. Through the course of the arc, readers are finding out that Carol isn't the first character in Scalped to deal with an unwanted pregnancy, and all of them have a different perspective.

"As with everything I do in Scalped, I wanted to deal with unwanted pregnancy and abortion in a way that looks at it from different angles, as opposed to trying to beat people over the head with one opinion or the other," said series writer Jason Aaron. "So I think by the end of the arc, we will have dealt with a complicated issue in a complicated way."

Since its launch in 2007, Scalped has received high praise from critics and other creators for its character-focused approach to crime on a Native American reservation. The latest to laud the comic is Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, who shared the unsolicited comment with his fans that, "Scalped by Jason Aaron is the best thing I've read in a long time. Dark, beautiful and not for kids. Graphic storytelling at its best."

Lindelof is just echoing what writers like Ed Brubaker and Garth Ennis have said about the Vertigo series. And those who have worked on Scalped are no different, as evidenced by recent comments from series artist R.M. Guéra, whose gritty, noir artwork gives Scalped its unique look. "It's gratifying on all levels," the artist says of the series.

When we contacted Jock, the cover artist for Scalped, to find out more about his haunting covers for "Unwanted," he shared similar feelings about the comic.

"With that first cover for 'Unwanted,' what I wanted to get across was a very strong sense of a pregnant female, but also that there's trouble. There's a problem there," Jock said of the cover for Scalped #39, which kicked off the story arc. "I love working on Scalped. I honestly think it's one of the best comics being published right now. With the covers, I can take it as far and as deep as I can, and the story will support it. I can use richer imagery and it'll support it. I'm just so impressed with what Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra are doing with the comic."

Newsarama talked more with Aaron about "Unwanted" and how he's approaching the issue of abortion.

Newsarama: Jason, when you first came up with the idea for this storyline, was it at all daunting?

Jason Aaron: A little bit, but I don't think I ever hesitated. I just wanted to make sure I was doing it for the right reasons and that I wasn't just doing something to spark some controversy or irritate people one way or the other.

But I think it fit with everything the series has always been about and the direction we've been moving. And it made sense with everything that's been going on with Carol and the direction she's been going.

As with everything I do in Scalped, I wanted to deal with unwanted pregnancy and abortion in a way that looks at it from different angles, as opposed to trying to beat people over the head with one opinion or the other. So I think by the end of the arc, we will have dealt with a complicated issue in a complicated way.

Nrama: This character is almost the poster child for someone who you can understand why she would consider an abortion. Carol is poor, and she's a drug addict. But in her story, there's also an experience from her past that is driving her to want this child. Can you explain where Carol's head is right now?

Aaron: She's got a lot of reasons to want this child and a lot of reasons not to. We've shown before that her downward spiral started when she was pregnant before and lost the baby unexpectedly. That started her down a long, dark road that brought her where she is now.

On the one hand, she's always wanted a baby. She always wanted to get pregnant again. That's where her life turned, so she's always wanted to get back there.

But now that she's hit bottom and is starting to pull herself out, she doesn't know if this is what she wants anymore. She doesn't know if she can handle it or if she deserves it.

So this whole arc is about her having to make a choice, looking at all the factors in the world around her and struggling to get clean.

And Dash, the baby's father, is going through his own problems.

Nrama: Will we see more of Dash's side in this story? Will he find out?

Aaron: Well, we don't know yet, but presumably he will. In Scalped #40, they're both still dealing with their own problems. They're both trying to get clean and are dealing with their own problems before they can talk to each other. But further down the line, they will both want to talk to each other for different reasons. And that's coming.

But as to what comes from that conversation and what happens afterward, that remains to be seen.

Nrama: This comic has always been multi-generational, exploring the stories of more than one age group in this small community, showing how choices made years ago affect not only themselves but the next generation. How much do the past actions of the grandparents of this unwanted child have an effect on what's happening now?

Aaron: We definitely deal with the different generations over the course of this arc. You saw the opening of the first issue, Scalped #39, which was our first glimpse at Carol's mother. We met her for the first time and saw her grappling with the same type of decision.

The opening of Issue #40, we'll see that Gina Bad Horse, Dash's mother, was in a similar situation. And Issue #41 has another flashback with a completely different character, showing these moments in the lives of all these different people. So we'll see that the unwanted pregnancies and abortion have come up again and again over the course of these characters' lives on the reservation.

And in the present Granny Poor Bear is a big part of this arc. She has popped up here and there, in different stories throughout the series. You can see the impact she's having on Carol already. She continues to do so throughout this arc.

And also, Dino pops up, who to me, kind of represents the newer generation. He's a young guy we've seen before, and he has his own kid to deal with too. We haven't seen him since Mr. Brass took his eye out. So he pops up. In Issue #41, he has a conversation with Carol that I really loved writing. It started out that it was going to be a one-page conversation with Carol, but it grew and grew into three or four pages, then it ended up being the crux of the whole arc in a way. These are two characters who would usually never interact, but they find a moment to really related to each other in a way that nobody else can.

Nrama: At the end of Scalped #39, we saw a surprise character show up at the end. I'm not sure if you want to avoid spoilers on that one, but are we going to see more of him?

Aaron: Yes, and I think we can say who it is: Dash's father. We've seen his character in flashbacks, so I don't think it's probably a surprise that he was going to show up at some point. In Issue #38, we saw Dash's father in a flashback. He's been referenced before and has been off-panel, but we've never actually seen him. Maybe once before, just briefly.

This is the first time we have a real story for him. So he pops up at the end of Issue #39, and yes, he's going to be a big part of this arc as well.

Other than an arc about just abortion, this is an arc about family. Struggling with issues of family, whether it's starting a family, or dealing with your family falling apart or trying to come back together or whatever. All those issues are swirling around in this arc.

But yeah, Dash's dad is back and wants to see his son. Of course, he still needs to talk to Red Crow, who's not so happy about that. But that meeting between Dash and his dad is coming.

And, something else, I knew I had to show Dash's dad eventually because for year, when the book first started, I had so many people assuming that Red Crow was his father. If nothing else, I wanted to squelch that pretty quick. I think that was the first time we saw Wade, was to show that Dash does have a dad and it's not Red Crow.

There's a scene in Issue #40 between Dash's father, Wade, and Red Crow. It's the two of them talking for the first time. There's been a lot going on between these two guys, and if nothing else, there's just a resentment over the love triangle with Gina. So writing those two guys knocking heads a bit was really fun.

Nrama: As you were writing this, was it tough for you as a father to deal with this issue?

Aaron: Not really. I mean, it's not all about abortion. It's an arc about family. So me being a dad played into that in a big way. I don't mean to talk about my personal feelings on abortion. I hope that people who read this, regardless of how it plays out, that people wouldn't necessarily know, "Well, the writer believes this."

There's no message behind it. There's not a pro-choice or pro-life message behind the arc. It's just a story that looks at the issue from a lot of different perspectives.

Within the story, we have people who are pro-abortion and people who are anti-abortion, and I think they both get to say their piece within the course of the story. But at the end, it all comes down to Carol and where she wants to go.

Nrama: This is the first time we've talked since that high-octane arc, "The Gnawing." You've done a few character-based issues since that arc. Is this more indicative of what's to come in Scalped?

Aaron: I don't know. If you look back at what came before "The Gnawing," there's really no set, standard type of arc. I think it always varies. "The Gnawing" was really a critical arc. A lot of things really came to a head, and it really set the stage for a lot of stuff going forward. Most arcs will not be as intense as that one, but there are more arcs like that one coming.

"Unwanted" is a very different arc because, I was just realizing the other day, looking back on this arc, there is no action whatsoever. There are no fight scenes or murders. There is a very low body count over the course of this arc, and I don't think anybody even gets punched in the face, which is unusual. The action in this arc is lots of character moments and characters talking. Lots of characters bumping heads verbally.

So it's a very different type of arc, but hopefully something that still reads as intensely and still gets readers charged.

Nrama: There's a new quote about Scalped floating around from Damon Lindelof. Where did that come from?

Aaron: That was from Twitter. I've never met him. But he was just touting the book on Twitter one day. I emailed him then and we exchanged a few emails, but it turns out he's a big fan, which is great.

Unfortunately, it was too late for me to use that as an angle to get any Lost secrets, because the show's already through.

Nrama: What you need to do is have him help make Scalped into a TV show, which I think most fans would love to see.

Aaron: You know, that may happen someday. There's interest and there's talk, and there are people who are actively trying to make that happen. Maybe someday it will. There's nothing definite in the works right now, but there is interest and there is talk.

If it did happen, I would be involved and would do my best to make it as great as I could. And I would be excited and eager to work on it.

But at the end of the day, I'm still happy if nothing ever happens and I get to just keep doing the comic for as long as I want to. That's really my main goal, and anything else is just gravy.

How do you think issues like this should be handled in comics?

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