By Jason Delgado
Red Border by writer Jason Starr and artist Will Conrad is an exhilarating, page-turning, horror-infused thrill ride of a comic book. I eagerly awaited each upcoming issue about a Mexican couple who is trying to escape a cartel and cross the border, only to find that life in the States isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
It makes sense that I found the book so riveting, since Jason Starr is an international best-selling author of crime novels such as Cold Caller and The Follower, as well as having experience in the comics world with The Punisher, Wolverine, Ant-man, and Gotham. Starr was kind enough to go in-depth with me on some of the main issues that are tackled in Red Border.
JD: The topic of illegal immigration has been a hot one, especially in recent years. What made you decide to use that issue in this story?
Starr: The backdrop felt like the absolute perfect milieu for an of-the-moment horror thriller comic. Personally, I’m extremely concerned, angry, and horrified by what’s transpired on the border in recent years, but I felt that the best way into a story like this is to do it in a character-driven way. For me, it’s always about dramatizing the issues—showing, not telling—or else I’d be writing non-fiction. It’s also all about the characters and their beliefs and objectives, not any particular political opinion. So I wanted to come up with a situation that had the highest stakes imaginable, to get readers to identify with the plight of the characters, who are then plunged smack into the nightmare situation at the border. So I asked myself: what’s worse than having to escape your country only to wind in another country where things might be worse? The answer: having to escape your country with a cartel chasing you and having to seek refuge with the family from hell.
JD: I think that your main antagonists are quite charming, even though they’re despicable human beings. How do you go about adding those extra dimensions to villains?
Starr: One of my main objectives as a writer is to write the type of stories that I like to read. One of my big influences in my crime writing has always been Elmore Leonard, especially in the way he deals with good and evil. His villains are never wholly bad and his heroes are never wholly good. This always keeps the reader engaged, on edge, and guessing. In Red Border, there are two major antagonists—Colby and Javier—and it’s true they both have a lot of charm. I wanted them to have characteristics that engage the reader, but it’s also true that psychopaths often have a lot of charisma and charm, and I wanted to be psychologically accurate. Conversely, the heroes in Red Border aren’t always flawless. I’m always looking for these shades of gray in my characters.
JD: I’m intrigued with how the main protagonists are questioned about their roots of being Mexican, since they are told that they “don’t look it” by a hillbilly-type character. The explanation in the book is that they have ancestors from Spain. I actually get this question myself a lot, because of my surname, and I happen to also have ancestors from Spain. Did a personal experience shape that part of the story?
Starr: In all the discussion about illegal immigration and border issues, I think one issue that doesn’t get discussed enough is the diversity and class issues in Mexico. I lived with a Mexican family in Guadalajara in my twenties and some of these issues came up. In Red Border, there are Mexican characters in the story from different backgrounds. I wanted to get into these issues and conflicts in an organic way that didn’t come off as preachy or detract from the main thriller elements of the story. Also, I wanted there to be layers of conflict in the story. Yes, it’s a thriller about a couple on the run, fighting for their lives, but there are these other conflicts, bubbling under the surface, that I hope add even more tension and suspense to the plot.
JD: Would you ever consider doing a story based on the child separation aspect of immigration?
Starr: For me, it’s all about the story. If there’s a way into it, from the right point of view, I would definitely be open to telling it.
Thank you to Jason Starr for this interview, and for the amazing work!
The Red Border Trade PaperBack Collection is available in stores on October 7th – Order Code: AUG201213.