Can comic books be conduits for social change? Should they be? The answer to both these questions is a resounding “yes!”. Not only can comics help to expose people to new ideas and broaden their horizons, but comics have always served this fundamental function. The genre’s first hero, Superman, was created as a vehicle for social change. Superman, as first conceived, was the symbol of the immigrant who ventured to the United States to reach his full potential. His first villains were not world destroyers or meta-humans, but instead, Superman’s original foes were most often corrupt businessman and politicians. He fought those who exploited the average man. This element recently returned in Action Comics #987, which saw Superman protecting immigrants from white nationalists. But Superman has not been the only vehicle by which comics have attempted to affect social change. Wonder Woman’s very existence is a commentary on gender equality. Marvel’s X-men has been a continuous appeal for the acceptance of those who are different. Spiderman is a message about how the marginalized amongst us can achieve great feats. The Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams were an attempt to influence readers and to encourage them to reflect on the world around them. Even today there are independent comics being published all the time that give voice to the previously voiceless. Comics have always been full of liberal ideas as all forms of art tend to be and, hopefully, will always continue to be. Continuing this most essential role of comics as social justice leaders is the new series, by Sean Lewis, called Coyotes. This lauded series is replete with ideas about the victimization of women and the importance of restorative justice.
For those of you who are not familiar with this phenomenal work, here is a short summary. Coyotes is modern fairytale about an old concept of the werewolves. Men become werewolves by wearing animal pelts. They also stalk women causing many to go missing within a border town known as “The City of Lost Girls”. This brings us to this series’ heroine, named Red. She is a thirteen-year-old girl who proves to be an answer to a prophecy about the one who will lead a group of warrior women in defeating the wolves. The story stretches back for generations as all great fairytales do. Got it?
I had the sincere pleasure of interviewing Sean Lewis.
What inspired the creation of Coyotes?
Caitlin and I started working on the book in 2015. I had done some work for THIS AMERICAN LIFE and they ran a story at one point about women going missing in Juarez. My wife is Canadian and she had told me about the trail of tears where Inuit women had gone missing. I started thinking of how many locales around the world were known for women going missing. How terrifying and real that was… when I thought about Juarez I started thinking of Coyotes- people who transfer people across the Mexican border- and what a strange phrase that was… I asked myself “what if they were actual coyotes?” The predation, the animalism, the threat… at that point the book started to take shape.
Coyotes has a definite mythical element to it. How does this element work in conjunction with the very real issues of women’s victimization that this series explores to enhance the readers’ understanding of the topic?
I love myth. I grew up Catholic but Bulfinch’s Mythology books might have been a more concrete bible in my childhood. I used to spend months with each story. I think human beings are really bad at getting out of their own way. I mean that for all of us. Our emotions and history, our baggage and point of view often obscure things that feel really obvious. Myth gives distance. Myth is this weird thing that we look at and say “oh that’s just a story” in some dismissive way, but we are always drawn to it. How did we get here? Who are we?
Women’s victimization isn’t new. We all know this but it doesn’t change. Why? Are we too comfortable with it? Simply used to it? I don’t really know. But I did think the harsh realities of the situation would make it hard for readers to take the story on in an open way. So myths… they give an entryway. They let you put your baggage down and enter the room with open hands, so to speak.
And Gods live in all of us. Gods are simply whatever we worship. And we all worship something. So having them in three dimensions brings those wants and needs of the women in my book fully to life.
The Grandmothers add a generational element to this story. What does their existence represent in the overall tapestry of this concept? Is there a message in making the youthful Red the hope for defeating the coyotes?
I like seeing multiple ages in books. I like a litany. In the first arc, I had conceived as the Abuelas as kind of first wave feminists. The Duchess and the Victoria’s represented a more militant post wave response and Red is at the center. A teenage girl, deciding who she will be in a very violent and woman-hating world. I think whenever the young are tasked with being the champion it has a simple message: we have hope for the future. We have to root for the future. The past has been victorious but it might hold lessons… and we might finally overcome this.
The women of Eleos have imprisoned men who have been Coyotes to seek justice. Are these men redeemable considering the acts they have committed? Is there closure in attempting this form of justice?
A great question. I’m really obsessed with restorative justice and even more so with the idea of forgiveness. (Note, not the act but the idea). I’m a lapsed Catholic. My issues with the Church are many but I miss the sacrament of contrition. Of sitting with a community member (the priest) and saying “I did this.” We live in a very aggressive age. Everyone is under attack at all times. Everyone feels the need to have a formed opinion, judgment and execution plan at the ready. And everyone always seems so angry.
I’m not happy with the world right now. I don’t know what to do. I think people are evil. And still I have this nagging thing in my brain… how do we remake communities when everyone is hurt? Can we forgive? Is that just stupid?
I did theater in Rwanda. And that country after the genocide- they reached out to perpetrators and said come to your villages, stand up in front of the people you hurt and admit what you did. And then we won’t kill you. They are a small country and the genocide was so far-reaching that if they didn’t forgive they wouldn’t have enough people to keep their very society running.
So, people admitted to murdering neighbors and then moved back home next to their victims. I don’t know if it works. Privately, when I was there, friends would tell me there was still anger bubbling. Other friends said it made sense. Others said it is tradition (tribal courts used to do this).
It’s a question: is forgiveness an act of absolution or an act of community? I don’t think you can wipe sins away and the world we live in right now would see that as a cop-out. But can it be an act of community? I honestly don’t know. It’s mainly what I am exploring.
Is the attempt at rehabilitation more for the benefit of the victim or the perpetrator?
It’s an interesting question. Do you mean in the book or in life? In the book, I think that it’s for the benefit of the community more than for the victim or the perpetrator. Some of the women leave because they don’t want to engage with it. Others work side by side with the men. There is no absolute.
Outside of the book, it’s a question that comes up a lot. And again, I don’t think it’s absolute. No one is owed forgiveness. I don’t believe you HAVE to forgive someone who has hurt you. But I also get scared of the language around it. “Who does it benefit”. I don’t mean that as an issue with your question. I think it’s how we’ve been trained to look at things. Benefit. Winners and losers. If I forgive this person did they win?
I think forgiveness isn’t about absolution. It’s about handling anger and rage. Some people hurt you so bad you need that rage the rest of your life simply to be safe. That is ok. Sometimes that rage eats you alive until you let it go.
In the book, both of these things are happening.
I think this book is going to teach me a lot about what I think on this.
Will the series be ongoing or is there a planned end point?
Oh, I’d write this book forever if they let me. I don’t know. You hate to say as long as its profitable but Caitlin kills herself to make the pages so stunning. So, I will write it as long as Cait can.
What can readers look forward to in future issues of Coyotes?
I think endless surprises. I don’t think the book ever plays the way you think it will. It’s going to be thoughtful and it is going to be challenging. If that is your bag then it’s a good book for you.