Alibi V.27 No.44 • Nov 1-7, 2018 

Culture Shock

Infidel and Inclusivity

Image title raises the bar for mainstream stories

Infidel
Infidel is a comic that is stretching what has long been the dominant narrative in comic book culture
Image Comics

Through Pizzagates and Shia LeBeouf-happenings, ART and much more, Burqueños share a sense of we’re-in-this-togetherness which triumphs over xenophobic attitudes and cultural homogeneity. Yes, our little-big city has its ups and downs, but there is a warmth to bumming a lighter from a stranger. Small moments that make up the material of our lives can overcome the pervasive sense of fear creeping into the nervous system of our country.

Naturally then, leave it to a Burqueño and a long time Vertigo editor (publisher of all comics progressive and intellectual during the '90s) to bring inclusiveness to the front of our lobes with Infidel. In this comic, local Aaron Campbell along with writer Pornsak Pichetshote bring us a twist on the familiar haunted house tale, which expertly demonstrates how diversity and inclusiveness is the only way forward for comic readers and creators. While a few small minded criers have bemoaned some titles' positioning of minority characters as leads in the Marvel and DC outings of the 2010s, it is evident that the trend of media representation is anything but a fad, in fact, has been a long time coming.

Infidel is a horror story about racist ghosts. This is obviously an over-generalization, but it’s not a lie either. The characters who are privileged enough to not be subjected to the hate of the aggressing apparitions find them invisible and end up questioning the sanity of those affected. You, the reader, will watch ghostly horrors (brilliantly and disgustingly brought to life by Campbell’s multimedia approach) physically and verbally assault the book’s central protagonists as a means of haunting a subsidized apartment building where God-fearing, low income, white folk live in fear of their equally disadvantaged Muslim neighbors. Never has there been a clearer allegory for the privilege of ignorance in the comic book world.

That said, Infidel makes its stand first and foremost as a bone-chilling ghost story with tension so masterfully paced, you will be hard pressed to put it down. Each character’s motivations come forward as the plot unfolds, bringing with them the hidden prejudices we carry with us. Even the antagonists are written from a deeply human place of empathy and understanding, careful not to stuff and burn a strawman when real-life examples are so close at hand. This is character drama on a par with “Breaking Bad,” accompanied by visuals more disturbing than those found in “American Horror Story.” These moments of expertly applied craft highlight the effectiveness of the medium as a visual art, with all the pace and referential advantages of literature.

interior page of Infidel
Interior pages from the recent work of local Aaron Campbell and writer Pornsak Pichetshote
Image Comics

At the end of Infidel, I was struck by a sensation of complete embarrassment. The story of a haunted house is nothing new and horror comics have been extremely trendy over the last decade, yet I simply hadn’t previously read anything like Pichetshote’s masterwork. At best, echoes of Alan Moore’s work on Swamp Thing penetrate Infidel’s ethos as thoughtful horror, but truly the credit is deserved by Campbell and Pichetshote alone. By positioning their characters—of racial and cultural backgrounds too often relegated to a cast of supporting characters—as leads, and presenting the audience with their perspectives, the pair invoke a graphic novel work that feels utterly fresh despite its roots in some of the oldest comic book stories ever told. The fact that what feels like a renaissance comes from something so simple as a Muslim lead and her agnostic black American friend feels a bit shameful for comic book fans who have only been primarily reading the work produced by the dominant publishers (by proxy, telling the stories of the dominant culture).

Marvel’s recent shake-up of their main roster feels a bit like a Band-Aid on an enormous wound. For a while there, Sam Wilson (better known as Marvel’s Black superhero, Falcon, portrayed by Anthony Mackie in the films) was Captain America. His stories focused largely on his outsider status and the people’s resistance to him taking (white) Steve Rogers’ place. These stories mirrored a real-life vocal minority of comic book readers calling foul at the perceived PC cash-grab. The pervasive thought being that diversity among Marvel’s headliners was an insincere attempt to cash in on good will, turning political correctness into capital, besmirching the perceived legacies of these white male leads.

At the end of the day these stories benefited few, because after a few short years, Steve Rogers was returned to his position as Captain America. Captain America is no more black today than he is a werewolf. (This also happened, look it up.) The same can be said for when Thor was replaced by a woman (Jane Foster, portrayed by Natalie Portman in the films) and what will assuredly happen to black teenager Riri Williams aka Ironheart, currently Iron Man’s stand-in while he’s in space, or dead, or an A.I. or something.

While well-intentioned, Marvel’s approach has yielded little in the way of actual change. The future of comics does not lie in a repackaging of Captain America, but in all new characters and stories yet to be told, featuring humans and mutants of demographics long suppressed by the mainstream. Championing the voices of creatives in this field to author their own stories in the medium, as well as recognizing that the stories of POC are a reflection of actual comic book readers is vital for the form to stay relevant. Meanwhile, Campbell and Pichetshote don’t care who cries foul at their diverse and inclusive comic book because it is so evidently the way of the future and a rich tale which deserves to be told.

In fact, everyone’s story deserves to be told, and it should never have taken us this long to come to that conclusion. Image saw this need when they decided to publish Infidel. In a move that should surprise no one, TriStar Pictures has identified this need as well and has already optioned Infidel for a film adaptation. If you are of the aforementioned vocal minority of comic book fans who see this all as a marketing ploy, I urge you to pick up a copy of Infidel for yourself. I urge you to embrace the points of connecting, like sharing a lighter. Or laugh together over that time Susana Martinez got white girl wasted and said the word “pizza” a dozen times on the Santa Fe 911 line. Discuss Infidel or take a friend to our local comic book store Red Planet, where Indigenous and POC voices are amplified.

It's not just work like Infidel and retailers like Red Planet that put Albuquerque at the forefront of the industry. We also serve as host to Indigenous Comic-Con, (this weekend Nov. 2 to 4 at Isleta Resort and Casino) an event which merges comic book and geek culture with the art and perspectives of Native creators. The continued growth of this event indicates only positive change and greater access to more diverse stories.

Infidel can be found at your local comic book shop, and in all major book retailers. Find out more about Indigenous Comic Con, and grab tickets at indigenouscomiccon.com.