The glossy super heroes reflected in comic book tales’ panels are often exaggerated versions of the heroes walking among us in real life. However, it was real life that inspired Al Letson to craft a new kind of super hero, one who pushes back against the same insecurities and body issues we all face during our most harrowing adolescent struggles.
Letson, playwright, poet, radio host of State of the Re:Union heard on NPR, and self-proclaimed comic book nerd, is authoring the limited edition, four-part comic book series Imperfect: The Five Faces of Eve. A Kickstarter campaign is underway to raise the $15,000 needed to complete the project. The campaign ends August 15th.
“I love good storytelling, but I am also very much a comic book fan, so that’s what I’m trying to do: tell a really compelling super-hero story,” explains Letson. “This is not your typical super-hero story. The typical super-hero is chiseled and in spandex. That’s the exact opposite of Eve and the world she lives in. I don’t need a scantily-clad woman to tell a story that engages you.”
Eve comes to life on the pages of Imperfect through the “weird, dreamy” art of illustrator Pier Brito. Letson and Brito met two years ago while the two were standing in line at Comic Con in New York City. Brito showed Letson samples of his work, and “it was just so beautiful,” he says. “Pier is from Amsterdam, and they have a really different style of sequential art over there. I just fell in love with the dreamy quality and kept him in mind.” Brito has inked comic book covers and contributed to other series including Daredevil, Silver Surfer, Sabreteeth and Mystique, and most recently Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s Denver.
Letson says he worked closely with Brito on the first issue of Imperfect, and the artist responded in kind with some images that were so impressive that Letson says he was forced to rewrite some of his material. “It’s really a collaboration,” he says. “We just bounce off of each other.” With the first book completed and the second nearly finished, Letson says he is relying on the crowd-sourcing campaign to fund the final two books. He funded the first book completely out of pocket. Letson adds, “Kickstarter was the absolute last thing I wanted to do, but it’s the new way to get money in this day and age. You just have to suck it up and do it. It drives me crazy hoping people will donate. The joy in making the project is great, but it can be pretty stressful. This is my third Kickstarter campaign. I did two with State of the Re:Union and they were successful, so hopefully this one will be successful as well.”
The clever, compelling story is centered around Eve Barber, a young middle school girl in the throes of puberty, jealousy, loss, and an unrequited teenage crush. “Eve’s parents have passed away, and she has no one to help her through. She feels like she’s ugly, overweight, and disgusting,” says Letson. “In the midst of all this, she suddenly begins to generate these weird powers where these five different avatars come into her life and become her family.”
Each of the five characters represent various aspects of Eve’s personality, and while she is unable to control them, Letson says his reluctant heroine eventually learns to communicate with them. Two of the avatars are her parents and serve as her protectors, one is a best friend, the boy she is crushing on is her intellectual side and the last is a “blonde chick that she can’t stand and she doesn’t know why she’s a part of it,” he says. “The blonde chick is kind of like who she secretly wants to be,” explains Letson. “All of these aspects of herself are embodied in these characters. They can go out and interact in the world but have conversations with her in her head as well.”
Letson says he developed the concept after he realized that many of the current teenage struggles were not portrayed by the characters the comic books he reads, even when the heroes were teens themselves. “When my daughter was in middle school, I was reading a comic that had teen super heroes, and I thought it was strange that the things my daughter and her friends were going through were not really being reflected,” Letson says. “I wanted to find a way to tell a compelling story that captured what was actually going on with teenagers, typical stuff that I think everyone deals with at that age. Just trying to figure out who you are and being comfortable in your own skin.” Making things worse for teens is the intensity and lack of privacy that happens with unlimited access to social networks. “Everything is online. You put everything online and talk about everything online. Without anyone having any private space, it’s easier for people to be bullied,” Letson says. “Bullying has become a whole different thing with Facebook and Twitter, all these different ways people now torture each other.”
As Eve’s imperfect world unfolds, she must address the growing conflict between two radicalized science and religious groups threatening global devastation. Eve is forced to face her own fears and find the courage and strength to face the personalities warring within her. “I have faced my fears so many times. Failure is what keeps me going. If I fail at something, I go back and try it again,” Letson says. “So many people ask me why I do so many different things, and it’s just because I have to. Ideas come into my head, and I have to do them, so I’ve learned a bit about just jumping. Usually, if you jump, someone will catch you, and if you’re lucky, you’ll sprout wings.” To find and contribute to Letson’s Kickstarter, visit kickstarter.com and search “Imperfect” in Jacksonville, FL, comics.