For roughly five years, I (along with collaborators Jeff McComsey and Geoff Moore) had worked on a graphic novel project about WWII and Nazis titled Son of Hitler. It's a fascinating story about a female spy handler who discovers the identity of Hitler’s illegitimate son and their journey to kill the Nazi leader. It featured some truly horrible villains that we were able to turn into fleshed-out characters, but it still seemed like a story so distant from the time I live in.
And then the Charlottesville riots happened.
Almost a year ago, I woke up to a news alert of a large riot in a normally quiet American city. And the images immediately shocked and disturbed me—images of white supremacists with torches spewing hateful words.
And suddenly our story about Nazis became much more relevant.
We had been playing around with a twist ending, but weren’t quite sure it would work out. But once I saw the images from Charlottesville, I realized how to make it work. More importantly, I knew we had to make it work.
So instead of ending the graphic novel in Hitler’s bunker (where the son ends his odyssey and meets his father), we decided to take the story beyond that moment. The eponymous son realizes that a new Nazi movement is happening elsewhere, and we rush the reader to a location that hasn’t been seen very often in these sorts of stories: the United States.
In the rewriting of our story I also wanted to explore one of the foundations that began in the post-war America that eventually would allow something like Charlottesville to occur. Like many of these stories, the finale features a villain with a grand plan. The villain is very scary but, to me, the scarier element is their plan. Because it’s a plan that’s being used today, and it’s one of the reasons why something like Charlottesville has happened.
Storytelling can be an enigmatic endeavor. As creators, we just don’t know when or where we’ll find inspiration. One year ago I experienced chills down my spine when I saw images from Charlottesville, and it urged my team to push ourselves and tell a more relevant story. And on the anniversary, I notice other creators are releasing stories that castigate and explore far-right, white supremacist activities—Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and Paul Greengrass’ 22 July are two examples. And hopefully there’s more.
And I hope that our projects shed light onto why these horrible events and organizations exist, and hopefully we can do whatever we can to stop them.
Because I hope I never wake up to see images of another Nazi-like rally in my lifetime again.