John Wayne as a drugstore bandit | Books

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Award-winning horror writer Stephen Graham Jones discusses the graphic novel genre in Commemorative tower, a violent road story about an American Indian soldier battling an outlaw gang.

Commemorative tower (112 pages, $ 24.95) is the first graphic novel in a publishing partnership between University of New Mexico Press and Red Planet Books & Comics, the world’s only Indigenous-owned comic book store, located in Albuquerque . It is drawn by Maria Wolf, with letters from Lee Francis IV (Pueblo of Laguna), the founder of Red Planet. Jones (Blackfeet) got involved in the project as soon as Francis contacted him.

“I already had a script ready that I had written three years earlier,” he says. “I think I sent it to him the next day. We hit the ground running.






Author Stephen Graham Jones


The protagonist of the story is Cooper Town, a soldier in his mid-twenties who returns from the Middle East for his father’s funeral. He meets his girlfriend, Sheri Mun, and the two end up on the wrong side of the John Waynes, a notorious gang of artists pummeled in drug trafficking. Cooper and Sheri drive a Harley through the southwest, trying to outrun the danger that pursues them.

Jones notably renders authentic characters and dialogue, with excellent use of regional speech patterns in the people Cooper and Sheri meet in different states. Wolf’s drawings, which appear mostly in black and white, capture specific scenic locations with impressive precision, such as the precarious curves of Raton Pass on the highway between New Mexico and Colorado.

Jones is the author of 27 books, including My heart is a chainsaw (2021) and The only good Indians (2020), for which he won the Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Speculative Fiction. He received the Bram Stoker Award for Long Fiction for Mapping the interior (2017). He teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Jones chatted with Pasatiempo how he developed the story of Commemorative tower and how a graphic novel is formed.

Pasatiempo: What was the inspiration for Commemorative tower? Do you have a military history?

Stephen Graham Jones: My dad and grandpa were in the Air Force, so I grew up around the basics and all the jargon. But the story comes from when, about four or five years ago, I got really fascinated with John Wayne, watching all the movies I could, reading all the interviews I could. It’s not because I love John Wayne. It’s because John Wayne represents America. He embodies the cowboy of the Wild West, which is the basis of the American myth. I thought if I could understand the first cowboy maybe I could understand America. At the end of this process who knows what I got, but my head was really full of John Wayne stuff. So i wrote Commemorative tower with the John Wayne [as the outlaw gang]. In the original script, the John Wayne’s wore John Wayne’s slip-on masks, but I hadn’t anticipated how impossible it would be for an artist to draw John Wayne four times in each panel and tell them apart. How do you know who is speaking? So they wear the train robber’s bandana.

Pasa: In interviews you mentioned the John Wayne cowboy myth and how you approached the treatment of aboriginals within it.

SGJ: There’s a Charlie Daniels song with the lyrics, “It’s a shame old John Wayne didn’t live to run for president.” [in “(What This World Needs Is) A Few More Rednecks”]. I think there are a lot of people who still feel it. I thought it would be wonderful to show John Wayne what he really is by presenting him as a small group of stick-up drugstore artists. It’s fun and probably petty on my part too.

Pasa: Can you explain some of the conventions of graphic novels for people new to the genre?






John Wayne as a drugstore bandit: the

Memorial tower, art by maria wolf


SGJ: In the comics, you always stage your start page – which is a big picture – on a page turn, so you can surprise the reader. You don’t want them to see it coming. And with speech bubbles, if you have two people in a panel talking to each other, you’ll often place their speech bubbles so that a guy’s lip overlaps, and that shows the order in which to read them. . You read from left to right, top to bottom. You don’t have movement in these stills, so you make speed lines and movement lines, and ask the reader to complete the action between the panels. Like, you will have an action started in panel A and an action completed in panel B, and the player provides the middle, which is not drawn.

Pasa: You have to leap in your mind.

SGJ: Exactly. It’s really fun. Completely different from prose fiction.

Pasa: Have you written any other graphic novels?

SGJ: My hero, with Hex Publishers, in 2017. It’s much shorter and very experimental. There are words for art, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to people. If you want to have a bestseller, don’t make a comic book without pictures.

Pasa: Would you like to call Commemorative tower more general public?

Pasa: What was the process like working with comic book artist, Maria Wolf? Did you start with an overview of the story?






John Wayne as a drugstore bandit: the

Memorial tower, art by maria wolf


SGJ: The comic book writer writes a screenplay, notes for a production, not the final form. When i wrote Commemorative tower, I didn’t have an artist. I thought it wasn’t going to go anywhere, that it was just right for my needs, and the way I made it feel complete was that I overwrote it. I described everything that was going on in the panels, which is too much. It’s just using an artist like it’s an arm you have to draw. You have to give the artists their own room. Maria Wolf is a very good artist. Before she did the layouts, we went back and forth with miniature sketches of the characters, to understand what they looked like and to tell them apart. Once we got that, she gave me the whole book in thumbnail form, how each page performed best. Then she made the pencils [drawings], and we went back and forth with a few changes on those, and then she added the inks. Then Lee [Francis] came in and did the lettering.

Pasa: Tell me about Cooper. How are his relations?

SGJ: He is very distant from his father. When Cooper’s father dies, he is in jail, in this case, for hitting his commander. Cooper returns to the States, theoretically to attend his father’s funeral, but it’s really just to see his girlfriend for the weekend. But over the course of the novel, he is reconciled with the memory of his father. Many adult children end up reconciling with their parents when it is too late.

Pasa: Does Cooper regret joining the army and going to war?

SGJ: I don’t think he regrets being a soldier, but he probably will in 10 years when he’s haunted by what he had to do there. At the moment, he thinks it’s the only option he had.

Pasa: Is Cooper’s Girlfriend Sheri Mun a Warrior or a Woman in Need of Rescue?

SGJ: She gets hurt in the story, so she needs to be rescued, but she’s pretty badass. She always wants to get up. She doesn’t want to let an insult pass. She always wants to talk to someone about it. I think she’s engaged in a lot of fighting that didn’t have to happen. But we need people like that, who will push back even when it’s a small offense.

Pasa: What else do you want people to know Commemorative tower?

SGJ: Someone raised Commemorative tower for me to sign, and she had started coloring it. I would like people to know that they can color it if they want. Everyone will color it differently. This woman, she had made Sheri Mun’s hair turquoise, which I found wild and beautiful. ??

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