Bitter Root

There is nothing better than a good monster hunting story. Image Comics has been on a roll recently with monster comics, and BITTER ROOT is shaping up to be one of the best ones yet! Written by David F. Walker and Chuck Brown with art by Sanford Greene, this story is sure to capture you the same way the Sangreye family catches monsters.

ComicsVerse was lucky enough to have a chance to talk to David and Chuck about their new series.

[Editors Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity]

ComicsVerse (CV): For readers who don’t know, what is BITTER ROOT about?

Chuck Brown (CB): It’s about the Sangerye family during the Harlem Renaissance. The family and their ancestors have hunted and cured monsters created by hate for thousands of years. Now the family is facing a new kind of threat.

David F. Walker (DFB): It is about a family of monster hunters, set against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance. Or at least that’s what we’re telling people it’s about…it’s really about so much more.

Bitter Root
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: Although the comic is a standard length, I felt fully immersed in the world you created. What does it take to create a fully realized world in such a short period of time?

CB: You have to make every moment count. You can relay a characters life story with just a few well crafted panels and dialogue.

DFW: It takes a lot of planning, and the occasional argument. Or maybe a lot of arguing and a little bit of planning. At this point it is all a blur. The key thing we all realized and talked about at length was that BITTER ROOT wouldn’t be like working on a mainstream corporate comic. You work on something like Batman or Spider-Man and you’re working on a series that already has its world built. Readers know the main characters and the rules, and so you can jump into the story. But BITTER ROOT is the start of something new, and we absolutely had to make sure the readers were able to understand the characters and the world from the start.

CV: One of the things that stood out were the names of the creatures Cullen, the story’s protagonist, was fighting. For example, Jinoo isn’t easily searchable and doesn’t seem to be in dialect. This makes me think it was created specifically for BITTER ROOT. Where does the inspiration for this word come from?

DFW: Jinoo is actually a word derived from the Mandinka language of Africa. In Mandikan it means devil, or evil person. When developing the language of BITTER ROOT, we thought it would be interesting if key words were derived from west African languages, the implication being that these words and concepts have been passed down from slaves. Even the family name Sangerye has an origin along those lines. The name is two Haitian Creole words smashed together to create a new term — Blood Warrior.

CV: The characters are fully fleshed out. I feel like I personally know the characters even if I only get a taste of who they are in this issue. What was the inspiration for each character? Did you have a particular person or people in mind when creating them?

CB: For me…each character represents an aspect of my personality. Cullen is the hopeful dreamer. Ford is a hardened loner and Blink feels confined by tradition and stereotypes.

DFW: Chuck came up with the original concepts for the characters. I came on to BITTER ROOT after most of the characters had come to life, and I helped develop them. I know Chuck says that each of the characters are aspects of his personality, and I don’t contest that claim, though I feel like the characters are aspects of my personality. Ultimately, well-realized characters need to come to life, and in them we all see aspects of ourselves.

CV: The relationship between Mama Etta and Blink seems complicated yet relatable. Cullen and Berg have a similar dynamic, a sort of push/pull type deal which creates a balance in their overall relationship. What was building the relationship between these characters like?

CB: It was very organic. As David and I tossed ideas back and forth these characters began to take on a life of their own. And again, we draw from our own relationships, experiences, and the world around us.

DFW: I looked at my family, and various work relationships, and drew inspiration from those. More than anything, BITTER ROOT is actually a series about family, and ain’t nothing more complex and complicated than family. Even though the series is about a family of monster hunters, every single family in real life is dealing with monsters. In the workplace, we are dealing with monsters. These monsters may take the form of family dysfunction or workplace drama, but they are still monsters.


Bitter Root
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: BITTER ROOT takes place during the Harlem Renaissance, where black music, art, poetry, and storytelling was thriving. Why did you decide to place a story about monster hunters during this time period?

CB: The Harlem Renaissance represent a time when African-Americans were over coming unimaginable obstacles and oppression to create wonders. They made the impossible possible. And I’ve always had the idea of black family doing the seemly impossible tasks of curing monsters. So I could not imagine a better setting for them than the Harlem Renaissance.

DFW: The Harlem Renaissance was the idea of Chuck and Sanford. I thought it was a great time period to explore because it provides a great backdrop in terms of creative and cultural development and evolution. At the same time, while all of this incredible art and creativity was be created by black folks in Harlem, there were black folks being lynched and murdered in the South. This was a beautiful time and ugly time to be black in America.

CV: BITTER ROOT addresses how America has treated people of color, focusing specifically on the 20’s. I know you all have worked on comics that tackle these issues in various ways. David has SHAFT, Chuck has worked on BLACK PANTHER: SOUL OF THE MACHINE, and Sanford has done work on BLACK PANTHER: A NATION UNDER OUR FEET, just to name a few comics. Were there any influences from those comics that you brought to BITTER ROOT?

CB: When I worked on BLACK PANTHER: SOUL OF THE MACHINE I had a chance to write the villain Machinesmith. I focused on the trauma that character experienced that lead him down the road of villainy. The trauma of slavery and domestic terrorism plays a big roll in the origin of our villain in BITTER ROOT.

DFW: The past always influences the present, but I can’t think of anything specific from other books I’ve done that played into BITTER ROOT. The one thing that I see in a lot of what I’m writing — from BITTER ROOT to SHAFT to POWER MAN AND IRON FIST is my love of Harlem. It is one of my most favorite places in the country. I was back in Harlem recently, and I kept thinking about what it was like in the past. I thought about what it was like in the 1970s when Shaft was running around, and I really tried to picture it during the 1920s, when it was the hunting ground of the Sangerye family.

CV: Aside from BITTER ROOT, are there any other works you guys have coming up that we should know about?

CB: My book THE QUIET KIND is in development at Dark Horse Comics. It’s about a group of lost, bullied, and forgotten kids that obtain all the power of reality. The more their minds unravel the more fabric of reality unravels. In stores July 17th 2019.

DFW: I have a new graphic novel coming out in January from Ten Speed Press, THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS: A GRAPHIC NARRATIVE OF SLAVE’S JOURNEY FROM BONDAGE TO FREEDOM. I’m also co-writing a new series with Brian Michael Bendis for DC called NAOMI, which is drawn by Jamal Campbell. That will also be out in January.

Be sure to pick up your copy of BITTER ROOT when it drops November 14th! Or click here to pre-order your copy today!

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