We’re so excited to feature a fellow Yeti’s project in this interview - Andrew Irvin joined us to talk about his current Kickstarter campaign, Land of Danger. We chat about global awareness, creating a universe for other artists and writers to tell stories, and the power of history.
Comic Book Yeti (CBY): The campaign page talks about how the project came to be, but can you tell me more about why it’s important to you?
Andrew Irvin (AI): This comic has been a few years in the making. I started working for the Micronesian Center for Sustainable Transport early in 2019, and took a much more active role in supporting the policy directives of the Marshall Islands government.
I was thinking about how most Americans couldn’t say where or what the Marshall Islands are, and of those that could, most could only mention it in the context of the Bikini Atoll detonation and the US nuclear program. When visiting my mother’s side of my family in Massachusetts in 2019, upon reading a collection of letters my grandfather, as a teenager, had written to his mother during his stint in the Navy in 1946 just after WWII ended, I was able to infer from information he included that during his deployment to Kwajalein as a radio operator he was present in the Marshalls Islands for the Bikini Atoll test.
He’d died when I was only about 10, and had been sick for over a year beforehand (he’d also spent much of his career in the Pittsfield, MA General Electric plant, where carcinogens were prevalent, so he had plenty of environmental factors working against him in his battle with cancer). As a kid, it wasn’t something that ever came up, and apparently he’d never made mention of it to the rest of my family, and didn’t explicitly mention it in the letters, so there was clearly a pall of secrecy over the whole incident in his mind.
By that point in 2019, I was already working on behalf of the Marshall Islands, and knowing his small proximal role in the horrific nuclear legacy of the country, I began thinking of ways to do something in some small way to create a positive legacy. I don’t have the wealth to set up a philanthropic fund, but with my time and energy, I was able to initiate a form of what my wife has been referring to as “creative reparations.”
On March 1st, for Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day, I’ve been the only American present at the commemorative events held by the Marshall Islands Student Association at The University of the South Pacific, and the US government still has not formally apologized for the nuclear bombings it orchestrated and carried out, knowing the potential devastation to the Marshallese people. As an American, it’s an enormous point of shame, and the power imbalance between the Marshallese and the US Government in the occupation of Kwajalein (the world’s largest atoll) has led to a longstanding, absolutely appalling, apartheid state being effectively created for the Marshallese living on the nearby island of Ebeye. With over 15,000 people on 80 acres, it is one of the most densely populated communities in the world, and the United States has long neglected to provide timely infrastructure and social support to the community they rely upon for land (for their weapons testing) and labor. It’s an absolutely sickening display of imperialist oppression which never should have arisen in the first place, and should have been resolved with formal apology, return of the land, and unending material reparations on the part of the US government for the unfathomable war crimes committed against the Marshallese people during peacetime.
CBY: What made you decide to put this comic together?
AI: Since I’m not in charge of US foreign policy, and I cannot provide proper recompense for these intergenerational crimes, I am doing what I can to help bring attention to these issues and help support creative writers and artists in the Marshall Islands amplify the work they’re already doing. Honestly, I’m just trying to hold up the bullhorn in a different direction to help an audience outside the Pacific catch wind of what is being done by one of the most progressive nations in the world in terms of leadership on a just and equitable transition toward a decarbonized planet.
I shouldn’t even be the one you’re interviewing - Danity Laukon, former president of MISA, is an educator who has addressed the UN General Assembly, Wayne Kijiner is a brilliant young engineer from the same family as the luminary poetic voice, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, and Sharla DeBrum is part of the family legacy of the monumental statesman, the late, great Minister Tony DeBrum, without whom we would not have seen the 2015 Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC come together in the manner it did.
I’ve gotten to know all of them through my work with the Marshall Islands Embassy in Suva, Fiji, where I’ve lived since 2012, since my wife (who is Fijian) convinced me to move down, and I convinced her to marry me. The Hon. Ambassador Albon Ishoda, who is now leading the RMI Embassy in Korea, became a good friend over my years at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the Embassy was a sort of home away from home for Marshallese students at the University of the South Pacific. Hence, he inspired the naming of Alex’s dad in Land of Danger, and he and the awesome team at the Embassy helped connect everyone who worked on the book and made it what it is.
CBY: What are your plans for the next installment? You mention how you’re creating a world that other artists can play in - what would you like to see in the next iteration?
AI: My plans, personally, are to step my honky ass right out of the way. The idea, as with my other projects in the Pacific, is to provide support, and pull my voice out of the conversation as quickly as I can, stepping back into an editorial role providing encouragement and guidance where I can. My goal was to demonstrate a blueprint for launching this narrative world and creating a communally owned intellectual property arrangement, which the College of the Marshall Islands has graciously incorporated into its operations to manage. I’ve committed myself to provide pro bono curriculum support to CMI indefinitely to help with courses working on creative projects, and the recent batch of projects from the Children’s Literature class has been really exciting to see come together.
Now, for issue #1, I’d hired Nico Toran on a commission basis just to demonstrate what was possible with the comic medium, and we absolutely lucked out that he proved to be an incredibly thoughtful, fastidious, and conscientious illustrator, who did his absolute best to incorporate all the cultural sensitivities and motifs we shared with him. However, with the CMI department chairs, we’ve discussed some of the particularities of Marshallese culture only people from the Marshall Islands would be able to capture, and to that end, the MISA crew had tapped Tiare Halferty and Debby Schutz, who along with their friend Giovani Johnson, are planning to triple-team the pencils, inks, and colors for issue #2, which is already outlined.
There’s a proposed 13-issue arc, but the brilliance of Alex Ikari’s powers, and the temporal space created in issue #1, is the wide-open world, largely unconstrained by location and distance in plots, which is available for any Marshallese writers and artists to explore - if someone wants to do an early childhood book before her powers emerged set in Majuro where she’s playing with her family and hearing old Marshallese folk tales from her grandparents, or if someone wants to explore her turbulent adolescence, or take things deeper into a speculative future when she’s older than she appears in issue #1, all of those options are open now, and I’ll make myself available to along the way in whatever capacity is requested of me. To put things into analogous fandom terms, I consider myself owing a Chewbacca-caliber lifelong debt of service to the Marshallese people, so I will always provide support in every way I can.
I will say, the more support this Kickstarter campaign pulls in, the more we’ll be able to resource for Tiare, Debby and Giovani to work on issue #2 and support the Children’s Lit. students at CMI and subsequent creative writing & art classes in realizing their ideas, cultivating their skills, and building their portfolios, so I implore everyone (particularly all the Americans out there who have enjoyed a lifetime of relative geo-political stability built on the nuclear legacy delivered at the expense of the collective safety & security of the Marshallese people), please support this campaign in every way you can. Not least of which because I’m proud to say it ended up being a really unique, well-crafted narrative introduction to a world unfamiliar to the broader global comic audience.
Christa, I want to thank you and the rest of the Comic Book Yeti team for making the space for this entry into the comics landscape, and more broadly for the welcoming space in the comics community I’ve found writing for the site in the past year. It’s been enlightening and enriching in countless ways.