In Self/Made, Mat Groom and Eduardo Ferigato construct a winding fantasy/sci-fi hybrid that follows Amala, a warrior thrust from her realm to meet her unexpected creator.
When the debut issue of Self/Made opens, infantry warrior Amala Citali and the undernourished army of Arcadia, streaked in blue face paint, confront an overwhelmingly powerful foe—Teronak, a villain who reconstitutes himself every 1,000 years to wreak havoc with the aid of barbed, red tentacles flowing from his torso. But Self/Made isn’t a series content to revisit familiar storylines; Amala’s quest will take her far from home after an unexpected encounter with her creator.
The resulting tale from writer Mat Groom and artist Eduardo Ferigato twists and pivots in unexpected directions, playing with classic fantasy staples before folding in science-fiction flavors with a healthy dose of existential philosophy. This ambitious storytelling makes Self/Made a difficult narrative to easily summarize, especially without giving away the mind-melt surprises that punctuate its first issue.
“The next convention I go to, I’m going to track down all of the creators working on new creator-owned series, and I’m going to shake them and yell, ‘Don’t create a high-concept series where the high-concept is a secret. It will be impossible to market!’ right at them,” Groom laughs. “Politely.”
But for the Australia-based writer, the daring of the narrative has been a satisfying tradeoff for the secrecy. “I love having surprises in the chamber for the audience,” he says. “And it’s really important to me to protect the integrity of the reading experience. If we’re not in this to take the audience on journeys they’re not expecting, what are we doing?”
Self/Made offered a delicious challenge for both the writer and artist. “Eduardo and I have a very collaborative process,” Groom says. The pair converses via Skype after Groom sends Ferigato, who’s based in Brazil, the initial script for an issue. “It’s really important that everything is up for discussion, because Eduardo is absolutely the driving force in designing these worlds.”
Those worlds veer from besieged, stone-walled cities to curving temples clustered in desert wastes, as well as a jade-colored chamber (evocatively rendered by colorist Marcelo Costa). But the most interesting facets of Self/Made don’t necessarily occur in the panels; Ferigato and Costa string their gutters with plot-specific jolts of electricity, signifying developments that will become more tangible as the series progresses.
Ferigato relished the opportunity to dive into these diverse worlds. “The scope of this universe and the variation of themes is amazing,” he says. “I feel very fortunate to work with [Groom], because we think very much alike, making it easy for us to work together and come up with these crazy ideas. After that, I spend some time collecting visual references, making a few studies, and then I proceed to layouts.”
Ferigato also cites editor Kyle Higgins—the writer behind such Image titles as The Dead Hand and Hadrian’s Wall—as a liberating force to make the comic as unique and expressive as possible. “I used to try to alter my style based on what I thought the expectations of others might be,” he says. “But on Self/Made, I felt very free to cut loose and do things my way—and it feels great.”
As Amaya moves from a fantastic realm filled with dragons and warlords to somewhere far different, her look also evolves—a shift that provided more challenges for Ferigato. “We worked hard to create visual forms for Amala that are distinct and interesting, while still keeping elements that would distinguish her,” he says. “I hope we succeed.”
The cross-genre nature of Self/Made positions the title in an intriguing, postmodern sphere within the world of comics. As Groom notes, “Amala is someone stripped of her purpose and wandering far from home in search of a new path.” He cites both East of West and Saga as touchstones that straddle high concepts with deep emotions.
For the more mysterious and philosophical elements of the book, Groom pulled from unexpected film sources: the Pixar staple, Toy Story, featuring a collection of inanimate objects achieving self-realization, and Michael Mann’s cabbie-hijacking thriller, Collateral. “I certainly wouldn’t point readers towards them as a tonal or visual reference for our series, but they’re both stories about two wildly different people (or toys, I guess, in the case of Toy Story) who have a chance encounter—and the unexpected relationship that develops between them totally changes the course of their respective destinies,” Groom explains.
“The relationship between Amala and her God is the beating heart of the book,” he adds. “I wanted to get it right, and those films were really useful reference points.”
But Amala has to navigate more than sucker-punch plot pivots and divine encounters in Self/Made; early in the first issue, the warrior reluctantly joins forces with a toxic prince named Brycemere—a vain, entitled figure who proclaims that his family has kept the villainous Teronak in check for years. Brycemere, aided by a silent Firemancer named Tomlin, spouts condescending (and coded) rebuttals at Amala, including, “I will not have my judgement questioned. Particularly by someone with such a minor role to play.”
That relationship invites urgent real-world concerns of misogyny and class struggle into a world one step removed from our own.
“I’m not out to write a polemic—and nobody should be coming to Self/Made looking for an in-depth deconstruction of toxic masculinity or for solutions to it,” Groom says. “But in its most primordial stages, that book was about someone who, because of the circumstances of their birth, is stuck in a situation where they have no control over their destiny, and they’re forced to deal with the inescapable, constant dehumanization that stems from systemic injustice. The female experience isn’t the driving force of the narrative. I’m not going to tell that story, because it’s just not my story to tell,” he adds. “But toxic masculinity is (at least so far) universal, and pretending it’s not a core pillar of inequality would be less realistic and believable than the Ghost Kings and dragons and flying cars we have in the book.”
Ferigato revelled in the chance to work on a fantasy and science-fiction hybrid that embraced more than escapism at its core, joining the legacy of socially minded works from China Mieville and Ray Bradbury. “I think it is very important to talk about these things, and that's the kind of science-fiction tales that I like—the ones that serve as a deconstruction of the issues in our society. I hope the book helps people consider these issues (while they’re enjoying the great adventure we’ve prepared for them). Nina Simone once said: ‘It's an artist's duty to reflect the times,’ and I’m glad that, on the top of doing a good comic, we get the chance to do that.”
Self/Made adeptly explores one character’s journey through a tiered cosmos while venturing into questions of justice and injustice. It’s a book unafraid to grapple with big ideas, even as it balances them with visceral thrills. The result is an innovative dive into the annals of genre fiction buoyed by expressive art and svelte characterization.
Self/Made #1 is available now.