Perhaps the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but what if a powerful storm sweeps the fruit away to a new orchard? Will its seeds bear the same fruit as its progenitor if planted somewhere else? Or can it possibly grow into something different—something stronger, rooted in a richer soil?
In, Middlewest, a new series from writer Skottie Young (Bully Wars, I Hate Fairyland) and artist Jorge Corona (No. 1 with a Bullet, Goners), the creators explore a volatile parent/child dynamic and the storms that emerge when high winds and dark clouds descend on lonely, isolated plains.
“The Midwest is a crazy place for weather,” Young explains. “We experience it in the harshest of ways. For some people, growing up and dealing with certain aspects of family and anger is also experienced in the harshest of ways.”
Middlewest, whose first issue debuts on November 21st, reveals the fantastical—and harrowing—adventure of Abel, a sensitive boy living with his abusive father in a trailer park planted in the middle of nowhere. Abel’s life is dire. His dad delivers ruthless punishments for foibles like oversleeping and taunts his son, claiming he made his mother run away. Corona’s vivid landscapes of violent weather and small-town stillness present a contrast Young knows well. The comic also features intoxicating covers by Mike Huddleston, a surreal color palette courtesy of Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and lettering from Nate Piekos.
“I grew up and have lived in the Midwest most of my life,” Young says. “It’s a strangely quiet, eerie place, from the flat landscape that seemingly goes on forever to the odd abandoned barns in the middle of fields.”
Though Corona is originally from Venezuela (and recently moved to the American West), he’s had no trouble reconstructing the barren expanse described in Young’s tale. “When I was a teenager, I used to join my dad on some of his work road trips and travel all across Venezuela,” he recalls. “Back home, we call the plains ‘Los Llanos,’ and when Skottie was talking to me about the feel he wanted to have for Middlewest, it kept coming up in my head that it was what I felt when driving with my dad back in those days.”
Beyond the tone of Young’s setting, Corona carefully renders the body language of Middlewest’s turbulent family, contrasting Abel’s gentle demeanor against his father’s rage. “Abel is trying to escape his situation but also escape that sense of inevitability that you are a product of your upbringing and you are destined to repeat history,” he says. “When you put them side by side, you can see that Abel is a softer version of his dad—fewer straight angles. The general shape of their bodies was meant to contrast their characters.”
As bleak as Abel’s situation might appear, a redemptive spirit arrives in the form of fantastical elements slinking through his world, including mysterious clear tanks filled with pink gasoline and a mystical, talking fox.
“Foxes and coyotes are pretty common in the Midwest,” Young explains. “I knew Abel needed a sidekick, his own Jiminy Cricket, but I didn’t want it to be his moral guide. I wanted a figure to challenge Abel and teach him what it takes to live in the real world. I figured a fox fit that role very nicely as a clever, sly character.”
While tornadoes ripping through small towns and sending an angsty young protagonist on a magical journey might conjure comparisons to The Wizard of Oz, Young relates the dark adventure at the heart of Middlewest to a work ’80s/’90s animator and director Don Bluth would create.
“I love the balance of darkness and adventure in a coming-of-age story,” Young says. “The movies [Jorge and I] grew up with played a role in our inspiration: Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Neverending Story, The Secret of NIMH—all those adventure/fantasy stories were really dark and heavy.”
Corona agrees: “I grew up watching all those animated movies, and a lot of my aesthetic comes from them. I wanted to pull as much as I could from animation backdrop designs when working on the scenery. I love the shape-oriented approach in old Warner Bros. animation designs and incorporated it as much as I could.”
The resulting first issue introduces a dazzling story that moves as swiftly as a fox and produces as much haunting anticipation for the next issue as an adolescent might feel on the eve of their 13th birthday.
“I hope people connect with Abel’s story and struggle, but most of all, I hope people get swept up in the adventure,” Young says. “Despite some of the heavier stuff we’ll be dealing with, there is a lot of love, friendship, and fantastical adventure to be experienced.”
Middlewest #1 releases in comic book shops on November 21, 2018.