Ten years after leaving the world of comics behind, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave, John Ridley, returns to the mantle of his turbulent, politically explosive comic, The American Way, with today's release of a new six-issue miniseries that follows his characters into the 1970s. Written by Ridley and illustrated once again by Georges Jeanty, The American Way: Those Above and Those Below is a sequel to the original, which follows an alternate American history in which a black superhero joins a team of white superheroes in the 1960s. By looking to the past, the comic tackles issues of race, class, and societal pressure.
"I was very fortunate ten years ago to have Wildstorm, a creator-owned imprint, even allow me to do this type of world-building with these kinds of characters, this kind of complexity," Ridley tells Creators of the original The American Way comics. "Individuals who were far from perfect, who were not only manipulated but manipulative. And really look at the world of the 1960s and look at race relations through a group of superheroes."
"But as soon as I finished the graphic novel series my professional life changed," he explains. Between the first run of The American Way and his current return to the series, Ridley adapted the script for 12 Years a Slave and created the TV series American Crime and Guerrilla, among other projects. "So finding the time and space to write another graphic novel, or continue this series, it just moved to the back burner. And ten years just passed."
Ten years later, Vertigo reached out to continue the series. "I was very excited at that point to do the story decade by decade, but at that point I really was ten years older, I had ten years of perspective," Ridley explains.
Both runs of the comic are politically charged, but "writing this story wasn't in reaction to any of the politics that are going on right now," Ridley says. "And much of the story, putting together the ideas and pitching them, took place before the election here. But I was in London when I was doing the writing concurrent with the Brexit vote."
"These kinds of stories, fortunately and unfortunately, are both timely and timeless," he says of the book's themes. "When we look at the issues of people talking about quote-unquote 'traditional values,' when people are seeking political gain through the demonization of traditionally marginalized people, when people are looking for a liberator and/or an activist when they been traditionally marginalized, that was true in the '60s, it was true in the '70s, the '80s, '90s, all the way up to today.
"I think there will be some people who come to this and go 'Oh John's talking about very specific politics that are happening right now,' and draw immediate conclusions but I think a savvy audience can already make those easy conclusions. What you want to do is write a very astute story, a very sharp story, a very aware story, and for people who are already aware, they'll get that timeless nature."
The first issue of John Ridley's The American Way: Those Above and Those Below mini-series hits comic and digital shelves today. Click here for more information.