Welcome to Graphic Novel Weekly, a new column that will bring you exciting graphic novel content each week. I’m kicking things off by looking at Last Pick from Jason Walz, and then having a conversation with him about Last Pick and what he has coming up. In future weeks, I will be featuring lots of reviews, along with more interviews as opportunities crop up. Stop back every Thursday for your weekly fill up!
Now, on to Last Pick!
When aliens come to Earth, they are far from friendly. They set out to capture all people who are over 16 and are able to work, leaving behind those who are too young, too old, or “disabled.” People struggle to get by under this new alien regime, with food becoming scarce and cities left as bombed-out wrecks.
This is where siblings Sam and Wyatt come in. Left behind on Earth after their parents were taken by the aliens, they aren’t content to sit back and let the new alien overlords dictate their lives. They’re ready to fight back. But when they gain a little too much attention, they have to run for their lives if their going to keep their rebellion from dying out.
I loved Last Pick. As a whole, it is a fast-paced, engaging story that I absolutely blasted through. Walz definitely excels in exploring the human element of his scenario, with the relationship between Sam and Wyatt a highlight. They make mistakes and struggle, but their support for each other and their strong sense of family was a breath of fresh air in a medium that frequently focuses on the dissolution of relationships. The action is deftly handled, and never feels gratuitous. Walz also does a commendable job making the art an equal partner in telling the story.
It looks like there is finally a new science fiction thriller for young adult readers on the market!
I wanted to learn more about what Walz is working on, along with his thoughts on the development of Last Pick. I’ve included the interview transcript below. I hope you enjoy!
Graphic Novel Weekly: Sam and Wyatt are wonderful characters. It is always nice to see characters with such human backgrounds placed into these extreme scenarios. You mentioned at the end of the book that you’ve been a teacher for 16 years, and have worked closely with students on the autism spectrum. How did that experience play into your presentation of Wyatt?
Jason Walz: Creating Wyatt was always a bit tricky for me. I never specifically mention in the books that he has autism because I didn’t want the reader to bring their own preconceived ideas about what that means. I think that many of us believe we know what it means to have autism, but the reality is that though there are certainly common factors within the autism community, the differences are from one person to another are profound. We’re all human, and being human means experiencing the world in your own unique way. I needed to let the reader see Wyatt as a full human that just so happened to have a “disability”.
I’ve been lucky enough to have known some amazing students in my time as a teacher, and I’ve tried to pull from my experiences with those students when writing and drawing for Wyatt. If I’ve done my job well, you’ll care about Wyatt because he has been created with some fantastic people in mind.
GNW: It would be pretty fair to call this a story about people deemed misfits. What drew you to these characters?
JW: As a teacher in special education, you are often placed where the work is needed. This means that from year to year, I always worked with students on the autism spectrum, but the particulars of that work often changed. During the last five years of my teaching, I worked in a transitions program to help students gain and develop job skills and to help them find and keep employment when possible once out of high school. Of all the positions I’ve had as a teacher, this is the one that I found most fulfilling and most frustrating.
I honestly believe that most people have the best of intentions, but we quickly found that the workforce as a whole is not setup to be adaptable or flexible when it comes to giving people on the autism spectrum meaningful employment. It seemed that even the smallest of adaptations proposed to the work environment would either scare employers off, or would need to go through so much bureaucratic red tape that employers wouldn’t even want to tackle the problem. These frustrations (and many others) were the seeds that grew into the story of a group of people deemed “misfits” by the world as a whole.
Oh…and I was also REALLY nerdy growing up when being nerdy wasn’t really a thing people wanted to be.
GNW: What are your thoughts on representation of characters on the autism spectrum in fiction? Other than Atypical on Netflix and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I don’t believe I’ve seen too many high-profile protagonists such as Wyatt on the spectrum.
JW: I think that it’s still difficult to find those on the spectrum represented in fiction (movies, television, books) as fully formed characters. Often, as soon as you are introduced to a character with autism, you soon realize that this person’s narrative struggle will revolve around how he/she deals with the autism, or how the world at large deals with this character’s autism. Many times this means that the character will be little less than a series of stereotypical tropes used to move the narrative along.
My goal for creating Wyatt was small. First and foremost, I wanted Wyatt to be a teenager with the same joys and struggles that any other teen his age might have. Beyond that, I wanted to always keep my students in mind when writing for him. A question I would often ask myself was, “Would Wyatt really say/do that, or am I falling back on autism cliches that are tired and occasionally untrue?”
If I’m honest with myself, I can see some of the ways in which I didn’t always meet that goal, and I’m trying hard to improve with each subsequent book. That said, this is a good time to give a massive “shout out” to the #OWNVOICE movement that has been growing throughout the years. I don’t have autism, and much of the stories involving characters with autism are created by those without autism also. We as readers, writers, and publishers, need to make sure that we are demanding room in our media for those with “disabilities” to create authentic works from honest perspectives.
GNW: Your art style seems to comfortably ride the line between animation and realism. What inspires your art style in Last Pick?
JW: Whenever I’m asked a question like this, I sometimes give a very literate response that draws a clear line that connects different styles of art and how they have all informed my own work. I envy and I’m not so secretly jealous of Craig Thomspon (Blankety, Splace Dumplins) and Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise, Motor Girl), and I’ve spent years trying to figure out how they make it look so easy.
But sometimes, when I’m feeling a bit more humble, I give this answer. My art style is a combination of knowing how to draw some things well and other things not so well.
I’ve been drawing and making comics for most of my life, and I continue to grow and develop each time a tackle a new project. However, I will always struggle with different aspects of drawing a comic. I often talk to kids at schools and many of them are quick to tell me they like drawing, but they’re “not that good at it”. I try to find ways to let them know that most artist feel the exact same way. We all have things we wish we were better at, but sometimes those are the things that eventually help define your style. We find ways to compensate and adapt, and eventually our strengths grow in unexpected and unintended ways.
GNW: Last Pick is clearly the start of a series, based on how things wrapped up. What’s coming next for Sam, Wyatt, and the world? Do you have an idea of how long this series will be, and when we can expect the next volume?
JW: Last Pick is a trilogy of books. The next book is coming out October 8th of this year and I’m so excited for everyone to read it! It’s called Last Pick: Born to Run. This is where we really get so see Wyatt shine on his own and start to become the hero his sister began to see him as. We also get to see a lot of new alien worlds and learn a lot more about the mutation/sickness and the overall plan that the aliens have set into motion. I’m really proud of how the series is tuning out, and I think book two in particular is a really wild ride.
GNW: You’re alien designs were really fantastic. Did you have any particular inspirations for them? A nightmare about green gloop, perhaps?
JW: A few people have mentioned how some of the aliens seem to resemble the aliens in the Simpsons. That certainly wasn’t the intention, but since I grew up looking forward to every Simpsons Halloween episode, it might be hard for me to argue against it.
Since the aliens come from many different planets, I certainly wanted them to look as diverse as possible. I also wanted to walk the delicate line of having them look scary while also making sure they weren’t too scary. Even though these books are targeted toward a YA audience, it was important to me that it could be enjoyed by a younger audience also. I believe that some of the themes within the books (tolerance, acceptance, self-worth, etc) are important for people to be considering and grappling with at any age.
GNW: I really love your webcomics. “Fortune” in particular grabbed me. Are there any plans to do more short-length works?
JW: Thank you! The webcomics have kind of a strange history. After my first graphic novel, Homesick, came out, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do next. I decided that stretching my drawing and writing skills a bit might be the right choice, so I decided to do a series of online comic anthologies call Crap Shoot. Each issue was held together by a theme (Love, Loss, and Lies) and included two short comics by myself, an original comic by a guest creator, an interview with a comic creator that I really admired, and a music download. As I put each one out into the world, I prepared for the accolades to come pouring in.
And then I waited some more.
To say the least, Crap Shoot did not set the world on fire. I’ve always had a soft spot for the work we did there, but I never really learned how to self-publish effectively, so they pretty much went unread. All that to say, it’s nice when the short comics I created for the series are found online by someone.
GNW: I loved the alien in the electronics store in Last Pick. Please tell me we’re going to see him again!
JW: I love that guy too! He is definitely back in the next book and he takes on a really surprising roll in the series as a whole. If there are any Buffy fans out there, I thought a lot about Spike when thinking about his overall arc in the story.
GNW: Thanks again, Jason! Anything else you’d like to close with?
JW: How about some shameless begging for fan art? Since being published through First Second Books, my work has reached a much wider audience than anything I’ve done before, and I gotta admit, it’s really fun. I’ve been fortunate enough to have received a few drawings of some of my characters from Last Pick over the past year, and it always makes me so happy. Just know that if you ever send me something like that, it will get printed and taped over my drawing table, and it will be bragged about online relentlessly. I LOVE it!
I hope you enjoyed this look behind the scenes of Last Pick! I’ll be back next week with reviews of five exciting new science fiction, fantasy, and horror titles. See you then!
Luke Forney and/or GeekDad received a copy of Last Pick for review purposes.