‘Wild Children’ asks burning questions about education

May 19, 2012 | 5:11 a.m.

Writer Ales Kot (“Batman”) and artist Riley Rossmo (“Cowboy Ninja Viking,” “Dark Wolverine,” “Debris”) may not advocate violence, but they are attempting to stir up the masses with their graphic novel “Wild Children” — and, yes, the revolution will be televised.  The book, on the surface, is about a group of high school kids who take their peers and teachers hostage because they’re upset with the education system. There’s also drug use (played out through the art as well) and much more to it. The graphic novel will be on shelves on July 11, but Hero Complex caught up with the creative duo for a few questions.

la times 3 Wild Children asks burning questions about educationHC: Would you say the characters in “Wild Children” are rebellious, or are they, as the title suggests, just wild?

AK: Wild Children definitely oppose the traditional 20th century school system that is still ingrained in so many of us. Wild Children also have guns. So, yes, they’re definitely rebellious as well as wild. They refuse to be tamed — Wild Children want to be themselves as fully as possible, and they want to spread their message. What the message is won’t be disclosed until the comic book comes out on July 11, 2012.

HC: What, if any, statement is being made about the education system?

AK: The education system is broken and it’s built to dehumanize us. It nearly broke me multiple times. It needs to be fixed and transformed or burned to the ground. The education system tried to make me think and feel in predictable, easily digestible ways. But I don’t want to conform to the norms of human behavior someone else imposes on me through a fossilized belief system — I want to take what’s best from what I see and feel and think and read and hear and touch. I want to make my own norms, and I want to impose them only on myself.

“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.” I read these words when I was about 12 or 13 and this Siddhartha Gautama [the Buddha] quote, together with an influx of new interesting music and books, rewired my brain. But in the six schools I went to, I never heard anything like that from a teacher.

page 8 Wild Children asks burning questions about educationOnce my young brain coupled it with Aleister Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” and “Love is the law, love under will,” and some astonishing life experience, I realized school was keeping me from becoming who I wanted to be. Not that I had a good idea of who I wanted to be — I just knew that spending my days being indoctrinated because “that’s the way things are” was not something I had any interest in. So I quit high school and things got better.

As for what kind of a statement the story tries to make — I’d like the readers to figure it out for themselves.

HC: You have been quoted as saying that comics have “transformative potential.” Was writing this story cathartic for you, given how you felt about high school?

AK: Absolutely. I cried a few times, both during writing and reading the comic. One of the key thoughts behind “Wild Children” is the idea of elusive fractal experience — the idea I received from works of art that have deeply influenced my life. I wanted to replicate that feeling, create something that will change its shape when you reread it. As I worked on the story, it definitely changed its body, sometimes bringing back memories I pushed deep into my subconscious mind.

Ales Kot. (Zoetica Ebb)

Ales Kot. (Zoetica Ebb)

I was bullied for a few years back when I was in my early teens, and being able to trace back certain pains and nerve twitches with more clarity than usual helped me with shedding some of the ballast. It’s hard to put the blame for bullying on the kids when you realize that school systems are usually built to make model humans and not real, multiangled human beings that are truly alive and ready to face the universe in all its heartbreak and glory.

HC: For Riley, you’ve said that the art in this book was an exercise in “cleanliness.” Do you have specific artists in mind as influences, or was it more of a philosophical change?

RR: As I developed the look of “Wild Children,” it was important to emphasize the institutional atmosphere of the narrative. The De Stijl movement kept coming to mind in the initial character design stage, and I looked at Robert Valley’s work. I also decided to remove all the spot blacks and go with a nearly ligne claire approach instead.

It was hard for me to let go of the color and tone, because I controlled almost all the visuals in my previous comics. Leaving the colors to another artist was a big leap for me.

HC: The Times has recently been looking back on the ’92 riots in Los Angeles from many angles. Can you take us through how real-life events like the riots and, more closely related, the Columbine shootings, shaped how you approached the project?

Wild Children - the coverAK: The ’92 riots weren’t something that was in my mind while writing “Wild Children,” but I can see some of the connective tissue. The frustrated masses push against the wave of oppression and hate and things break. Both the riots and the school shootings seem to be different shapes of the same thing — they’re radical reactions to what’s wrong with our society.

In the case of the ’92 riots, we have the very high unemployment, racial segregation, bad living conditions, police abuse and a state that doesn’t care about you unless you make some noise. That creates resentment, resentment turns into anger, anger turns into hate. The Los Angeles riots of ’92 are a clear example of what happens when we create a poor segment of society and then abandon it completely.

In the case of the Columbine shootings, we have school systems teaching you that thinking for yourself is good only as long as it’s within lines created by other humans, and that focusing on finding yourself through anything other than widely accepted cultural roles is lazy and/or criminal. That’s the same castration of self the perpetrators of the ’92 riots usually went through before all hell broke loose.

What eventually happens is this: We stop caring. We stop seeing other human beings as human beings because other humans stopped caring about us a long time ago. So we burn things — and if people get hurt, so be it. This is how the world finally notices us again, we assume. If you’re not treated as a human being, why should you treat the others differently than they treat you?

If the school system was worth a damn, it would give us an answer to that question every day,  because, regardless of what you’re being told on a daily basis, love and compassion make the world a better place.

la times 1 Wild Children asks burning questions about educationHC: “Wild Children” was also described as “Natural Born Killers” meets “Bowling for Columbine.” Are there any prospects/hopes for a movie deal to be struck? Any casting ideas?

RR: I really love comics as a medium, so the comic comes first. If someone will want to adapt “Wild Children” as a movie I’ll be OK with it — especially if it’s going to be Tarsem Singh or Danny Boyle.

AK: If the right creator or studio come calling with a nice offer, we’ll gladly talk to them. The story would need a massive rewrite because it uses the comic book format in ways that are quite hard to transfer to the screen. “Wild Children” is, among other things, my love letter to comics — and it shows.

That said, I’d love to work with Bobcat Goldthwait and/or Richard Kelly one day soon, be it on a film reworking of “Wild Children” or something completely different. I just saw “God Bless America,” and it’s my favorite film release of 2012 so far. So much heart, so much bravery — it’s not always technically impeccable, but the film made me feel and laugh and think in ways that are too rare today. It made me question myself and our society, it amused me, it horrified me, it made me feel things.

That’s all it comes down to for me right now; making stories exactly the way I want to make them, and hopefully changing the world, page by page, screen by screen.

— Jevon Phillips


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4 Responses to ‘Wild Children’ asks burning questions about education

  1. bchacon66 says:

    I think some of Kot's comments are pretty lame – blaming it all on the school system. Schools have drastically changed and there is a burgeoning school reform movement that is really being seen, especially in inner-city charter schools. But that's beside the point. We all went to the same schools, and by we, I mean the collective population of students who just didn't and don't belong in a traditional school setting. Yet, most of us came out of this experience with a more tempered sense of how the system had failed us. But to have to protray that dissatisfaction with characters that are so angry they need guns is a sign of weakness, in my opinion; and that weakness is horrbily misdirected; it could feed in to the feelings of youth's dissatisfaction in a negative way; plust it perpetrates one of the greatest con games in all of history: mass media and its endless glut of gratiuitous sex, violence and mindlessness that the it has become. Sorry Mr. Kot, but your method of rebelling against this repressive system has manifested itself into a "fractal" of that which you are trying to battle. It seems that you, even after breaking away, are still a victim of the system.

    • Ales Kot says:

      The story might surprise you, then. It comments on the issues you have with your expectations of what the story might be.

  2. Mr. Sherman says:

    bchacon66 Let's read the work before we criticize it. Fair enough?

    • bchacon66 says:

      Fair enough, but somewhat irrelevant because I was responding to the comments and premise of the novel that Mr. Kot put forth in the Times' article. I'll tell you what, though, his comments in that article did not compell me to read it. Maybe I will, though, if I can borrow a copy.

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