INTERVIEW/REVIEW: Static: Up All Night – One Wild Night With Virgil and Friends in Dakota
Virgil Hawkins makes his Young Adult graphic novel debut in this raucous, hilarious, superpowered packed story: Static: Up All Night. Written by award-winning writer Lamar Giles (The Getaway, Not So Pure and Simple) with art by Paris Alleyne, the title gives you the exact premise of the book. Static and friends stumble from one silly yet dangerous situation to another.
Featuring Hawkins, his best friend, Richie, his work bestie, Rocket (Raquel Ervin), and Isadora, the teens start their night doing semi-normal kid things, which quickly devolve into superhero chaos. From music festivals to star stalking to lectures from Icon to getting shot at by thugs, the kids go through it, all while learning valuable life lessons.
I got the opportunity to ask Lamar Giles some questions on the book.
“…wanting to show a Black boy being vulnerable without going to a super toxic place.”
Vanessa: This was a fun book, a wild ride that had me laughing a bit. What made you decide to set the book over the course of a single night?
Lamar: First of all, thanks for reading the book. I am delighted you had fun and laughed because that was a primary goal. When I was in the initial talks about potentially doing a Static (STATIC OMG!) YA graphic novel, I was asked to come up with something unexpected from the start. Immediately, I thought, let’s avoid the save the city/world/universe kind of stakes. I love those stories and have read them my entire life, but I understood I had an opportunity to find the story and humor in a super relatable life event—like a breakup.
With lower stakes, I reasoned I should compress the time the story takes place to ramp up the tension, so once that decision was made, it became a question of how. How has this sort of thing worked well before? I immediately thought back to the absurdist One-Wild-Day/Night teen comedy films I grew up watching that you don’t see much of these days. I’m talking Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, House Party (1990), Adventures in Babysitting, etc. With those touchstones in place, one night only became the only feasible/fun way to go.
Vanessa: Virgil is very insecure throughout the book until various unfortunate events force him to step up and re-evaluate how he does superheroing. Can you talk more about his journey to being a little more confident by the end of the book?
Lamar: Sure. In Virgil’s case, he is very much on his game most of the time. He’s very good at Good-Guying—something like a superhero prodigy. But I feel like he gets shaken by two jarring events—an unexpected breakup and seeing the person move on when he’s still processing—in close succession that his powers can’t help him with, and he doesn’t know how to handle it. This may be the first time he’s dealt with this specific emotional earthquake—the kind necessary for maturing and stepping into the adult world. His feelings are hurt. He’s trying not to let it show. He’s wearing a mask without wearing a mask, but an emotional mask clouds his vision and judgment in a way a superhero mask doesn’t for a few hours. Part of that was me wanting to show a Black boy being vulnerable without going to a super toxic place. But at the same time, never losing track of who Virgil is. Because while he may be off for a while, when it’s time for real action, Static will be Static because he has to be.
“Black conservative partnering with a Black progressive”
Vanessa: The inclusion of Icon was hilarious and a great way to highlight how different Augustus [Freeman] is from the teen heroes. Why did you decide to write Icon like an overbearing stepfather?
Lamar: I wanted to honor each Milestone character by leaning into the personality traits that stood out to me when I was first introduced to them. With Icon and Rocket, my read was always a pairing of a 1990s Black conservative partnering with a Black progressive. I was a teen in the 90s and remembered the often ridiculous things my more conservative relatives, teachers, and such would say to me. Pull up your pants. Get a haircut. YOU’LL NEVER GET A JOB IF YOU DON’T DO THESE THINGS! I recognized, even then, that it was coming from a place of love, but it was still annoying as &$%#. So, I wanted Virgil to experience what I experienced. I guess I was writing MY overbearing stepfather. Good catch.
Vanessa: Isadora is a budding villain, right? I’m aware of her origins, but her moral corruptness was wild to witness. Her boundary-crossing, consent-blurring powers provided a lot of dynamic visuals that move the story along. And at no point did it seem like she was going to change her ways. What was the reason for including her and making her an unapologetic sometimes-antagonist?
Lamar: Having her powerset and history with “obsessive borrowing” provided an x-factor that I wouldn’t get from Virgil, Richie, or Raquel—I knew I’d be able to give Paris some WILD stuff to draw based on her alone. Isadora was another example of me trying to honor my interpretation of her from my initial introduction as a member of the Shadow Cabinet. That team feels like the scariest government agencies, the kind we might not even know exists and given the amoral areas those sorts of organizations operate in, I don’t think she’d see a reason to change. People like her, who do the kind of work she’d likely be required to do, will always find justifications for their actions. Their ability to do the unthinkable is seen as an asset, but primarily only to them. That being said, I loved writing Isadora. I don’t agree with hardly anything she does, but she keeps the rest of the crew on their toes.
Vanessa: I thought it was interesting to focus so little on Daisy and Virgil as a couple and more so on the aftermath of their breakup. It was pretty clear they both wanted two different things but still liked each other. How do you balance writing from Virgil’s perspective vs how Daisy feels about it?
Lamar: Being with Virgil through the aftermath of the breakup, I felt it was necessary to establish a couple of things so it (hopefully) doesn’t come off as a situation where our beloved hero has somehow been betrayed. One, there’s no moment where Virgil’s pushing for him and Daisy to get back together because he KNOWS it doesn’t work—she was just the first to admit it. He bumps up against some boundaries (which is wrong, and his friends check him immediately) because he’s young, he didn’t see it coming, and he’s trying to process the complicated emotions of having romantic feelings for someone you shouldn’t be with—the breakup just happened that morning.
Two, in having the crew check him and getting perspective from Raquel, I hope it’s clear that Daisy did absolutely nothing wrong. She’s not wrong for wanting out of the relationship. She’s not wrong for going on a date with New Guy to celebrate her birthday the way she wants. All that’s there, but I suspect some may miss it because we live in a pop culture landscape where some readers (the same sort who might’ve watched Breaking Bad and seen Skyler White as a villain for not fully supporting her Meth Kingpin Husband) will automatically see Daisy as a villain in her own right. I’m here to refute that in advance. No, she is not. I tried to provide the context. I hope it lands for most.
Vanessa: I appreciate Raquel still being a teen mom superhero student in this book and her general vibe was deeply relatable. She’s around Virgil’s age but it miles ahead in terms of maturity, how much of that has to do with her being a mama to Auggie or her being mentored by Icon?
Lamar: I think it’s mostly being a mama to Auggie that’s matured Raquel. Icon’s mentorship is incredibly valuable; having him in her corner will certainly help Raquel do incredible things. Still, I don’t think anything sharpens your decision-making like a sick baby waking you up at night and deciding if it’s time to break out the infant Tylenol or get to an Emergency Room.
Vanessa: There were so many fun easter eggs (Trigon, Etrigan, Bruce Wayne/Batman) but my absolute favorite running joke was Static’s heroics being attributed to Black Lightning with the extra gag of Jefferson showing up at the end. Were you able to get all the references and eggs you wanted in the book?
Lamar: I got in every DC Universe reference I wanted, but one Warner Brothers reference got struck down by whatever internal legal forces decide such things. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say, so I’ll give some clues and let you work it out. There’s a musician in the book who wears a wolf’s cloak. When he first started, it wasn’t an actual wolf. It was, in fact, the pelt of a particular desert predator who has an unhealthy obsession with road runners. I’ll leave it at that.
Come for the Static shenanigans, stay for the heartwarming lessons and hilarious gags. Static: Up All Night is available everywhere November 7, 2023.