Steven T. Seagle interview

Steven T. Seagle has written numerous comics including Kafka from Renegade & Caliber, Uncanny X-Men and Alpha Flight for Marvel, and the critically-acclaimed House of Secrets and Superman: It's A Bird... for DC/Vertigo. This month he has a new series debuting from Vertigo, American Virgin. Westfield's Roger Ash contacted Seagle to find out more.

Westfield: How did American Virgin come about?

Steven T. Seagle: The biggest editor in comics (or is that shortest?!), Shelly Bond, asked me about doing a new monthly for Vertigo. I love working with Shelly so I pitched her a book called Virgin. It was shot down by the powers that be for various reasons and I let it go. A few months later, Shelly called back and asked me to pitch her something else. I pitched a totally different book... that was also called Virgin, and this one was accepted on the spot. Somewhere along the line we found out that Virgin (as in Virgin Records, Virgin Airways, et al) owns every single possible TM of the word "virgin", so the book made a title shift to American Virgin. American mores about sexual behavior play a huge part in the story, so that's all good.

Westfield: How did co-creator Becky Cloonan become involved?

Seagle: Weird. Becky was the first person I thought of for the book. Becky was the first person Shelly thought of for the book. We called each other and both said, "How about Becky Cloonan?" pretty much simultaneously. We'd loved her stuff in Demo and some other short stories here and there. But over the course of our phone call, we talked ourselves out of calling Becky because we'd heard through various grapevines that she was booked. We auditioned some great artists - even selected one - but the powers that be said "no" and we were back to square one. At this point Shelly pointed out that we never actually talked to Becky, we just decided she wasn't available. So we called our first choice last and she got the job after all! She's doing great work on American Virgin. Becky's the coolest.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the book and who are the main characters?

Seagle: The book is about sex and death. Adam Chamberlain is a very early twenties, super-charismatic, Christian youth minister who heads a national virginity movement. He's even written a book called Save Yourself To Save Yourself and he's traveling America signing up young people to a pledge of waiting to have sex until they meet the match that God has chosen for them. Adam practices what he literally preaches - he's waiting for his match, Cassie, to come home from the Peace Corps so they can get married and get busy. Something terrible happens to Adam and God's plan suddenly looks really tough to follow. Adam is cast out into dark corners of the world where his desires - sexual and otherwise - are put to all sorts of tests. Along for the ride is his white-trash step-sister Cyndi and a hyper-sexual Aussie mercenary man named Mel.

Westfield: A theme that runs through the first issue is how religion and sex are both used to control others. Is this something that you'll be exploring further in the series?

Seagle: That's the overall spine of the whole series. There's a kind of faith that drives people to answer to a Higher Power. And there's a kind of drive that pushes people to respond to their animal desires. Trying to balance those two instincts is rough for even the most driven of us. American Virgin is about how far you can go toward approaching one of those states of being without being hurled back toward the other. The first arc is a little more death than sex, the next two arcs are a lot more sex than death - out there stuff - the American norm is not the totality of global sexual practice and Adam's going to see that first hand.

Westfield: It seems to me that Adam is a virgin not only sexually, but also in how the world works. When tragedy strikes at the end of the first issue, we see his faith questioned and shaken. Do you see this as a sort of "coming of age" story as he learns more about the world and himself?

Seagle: Adam is given some hard moral choices, but despite his best intentions, that's not the only hard thing he has to deal with out in the world beyond his safe zone. It's easy to preach abstinence in a bubble, but it's a whole nother matter when you actually have some seething hot sensuality shoved up in your grill. There's a psych theory that traumatic events can hardwire totally unrelated experiences together in our heads. For Adam the events are sex and death - one leads to a fetishization of the other, and that propels Adam into some rough, kinky, brutal, steamy stories over the next year. Adam may be a virgin, but he's definitely losing it.

Westfield: Do you have any other upcoming projects you'd like to mention?

Seagle: In the spirit of It's A Bird... which I still think plenty of comics people haven't read yet, but should, I'm working on a couple of new original graphic novels. I'll announce them as soon as the ink is dry. And like last summer's remastered Solstice collection from Active Images, I've got another blast from the past about to clear the pipeline - Dark Horse has recolored and will soon release a remastered edition of The Amazon, a book I did with the remarkable Tim Sale some years ago about a missing American worker, an Amazonian tribal spirit, and the in-over-his-head journalist trying to cover both stories and make his career without getting killed in the process.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Seagle: American Virgin... because everyone remembers their first time...