Comic book writer and novelist Mat Johnson is no stranger to talking about race and politics in America. Johnson’s previous Vertigo Comics graphic novels include the post-Katrina heist story “Dark Rain” with artist Simon Gane, and segregation-era noir “Incognegro” with artist Warren Pleece and have dealt with such topics as identity and violence.
In “Right State,” Johnson’s newest graphic novel featuring art by Andrea Mutti, the writer turns his eye towards a new topic: the influence of the media on politics.
Centering on conservative media pundit Ted Akers, the graphic novel follows Akers as he goes undercover in an extremist militia group to ferret out an assassination plot against the second black President of the United States. With “Right State” slated for release in August, right in the middle of the 2012 presidential elections involving America’s first black President, CBR News spoke with Johnson about the book, touching on everything from the criticism “Right State” is already receiving to race and identity in the White House.
CBR News: “Right State” deals with the investigation into a possible assassination attempt against America’s second black President, and it’s coming out just in time for the election. What’s the genesis of this story? Did you begin writing it with the intention for it to be released during the 2012 election?
Mat Johnson: No, that’s more the publisher, which understandably wanted it to come out in a topical way! I came up with the story three years ago as I was working with my editor at the time, Jon Vankin. We basically followed each other on Facebook and we were looking at a lot of the militia stuff that was happening and finding it interesting, and we started coming up with the idea there. The book was written over two years ago, but they delayed it coming out until around the elections so it would be more topical.
Mat Johnson and Andrea Mutti’s “Right State” follows a journalist as he goes undercover in a milita group to expose an assassination plot against the president
You rely extensively on research. While you were looking at American militia groups did you spend a lot of time researching the explosion of hate groups that appeared after Obama’s 2008 election?
Usually my research is based around stuff that I’m already doing. Instead of coming up with an idea and then going and doing the research, usually I’m reading tons of things and that’s when I come up with an idea. I was reading stuff on this and checking the press reports coming out of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which follows different hate groups, and I was interested. But I didn’t want the book to be some sort of left-wing polemic. The thing that interested me the most about the militia groups is they represent a political ideology but in physical form. The ideas they represent — some of them are extreme, some of them are less extreme and their representation of them are extreme — but they give kind of a physical form to those ideologies. So if you’re writing an action story, and the stuff I’ve done with Vertigo has been stuff that mixes history or contemporary politics with genre writing, it seemed the perfect story to do something like that. And I always loved ’70s conspiracy movies like “The Day Of The Jackal” and half the movies Gene Hackman was in, so to be able to write that type of story seemed like it would be fun. click to continue