Earlier today at the Comic-Con International in San Diego, DC Comics/Vertigo announced a new monthly series from acclaimed writer Steven T. Seagle and penciller Becky Cloonan, entitled "American Virgin." His past works in the imprint, specifically "Sandman Mystery Theatre" and "It's a Bird …" have garnered critical acclaim and fans were excited to learn of another brainchild of Seagle's inhabiting the Vertigo stable. CBR News spoke with the scribe and learned more about the series in which a devoutly religious man finds his faith questioned after the brutal murder of his fiance.
"'American Virgin' (which I just call 'Virgin' for short!) is a new ongoing Vertigo monthly about sex and death and how long you can live in the shadow of one without retreating to the other," explained Seagle. "It's written by me and drawn by multiple Eisner nominee and all-around hippest woman in comics - Becky Cloonan. 'Virgin' will do for global sexual myth, history and practice what 'Preacher' did for gross-out action and 'Hellblazer' did for demonology.
"Adam Chamberlain is the figurehead for a national chastity movement. He's like a neo-Christian rock star -- this really smart, fun, good-looking young guy who's got a message for the youth of America -- 'Save yourself until you're married, that's what God wants, He told me so.' Adam's beliefs are strong and he's got no problem sharing them with the teens and twenty-somethings who are looking for guidance. Adam's also part of a powerful Miami television evangelist family that has political aspirations for young Adam if he can hold it all together long enough to become the 'star' they think he can be. But he's also a young man in a world full of temptations ..."
There's a long-term plan to the series -- which makes comparisons to "Preacher" apt -- and Seagle says it might not be what you think.
"It's a long term story because events in Adam's life force him on a quest. The main purpose of the quest is to right a wrong that is done against someone he loves. But servicing that quest diverts him into situations of a sexual nature that force him to consider his pledge to the Almighty. His motivations cause a fetishization of sexual stimulus that becomes increasingly hard for him to ignore. The deeper he goes into setting his past right, the closer he comes to making a 'wrong' choice for his future. It's long been said sex and death are two sides of the same coin, and 'Virgin' is the book that's going to see if that's true or not. This is a book that's strong on moral compass, but at the same time strong on sexual content -- it starts tame, but by the time the first year is done, Adam will have seen some things I didn't even know existed until I started working on this book!"
If the timing of series seems almost too good to be true, with Christianity in the headlines for a number of reasons, there's a reason for that: Real life inspired Seagle.
"This book came right out of the headlines, as will be quite clear in the first issue, in terms of what gets the story moving. The Christian chastity/sex angle came from both my own history -- my family was raised in a very hellfire and brimstone Southern Baptist church environment -- and a lot of articles I'd noticed about the number of kids leaning on the 'God talks directly to me' line, which might be true, but if it is, there's a lot of latter-day Joan of Arcs out there who might find themselves put in quite a bind when the Word Of God and real life come into terrible and permanent collision, as they do for Adam Chamberlain. I always like ideas in opposition in a story, so this is a story of, 'What if you make a deal with God and then something happens to make that deal impossible to honor?'"
While the content may sound controversial to some, Seagle assures readers that he's not targeting any one religious group, nor is he trying to discredit religion.
"I have very strong personal beliefs that I don't feel could be shaken by any competing belief," Seagle said. "I think that's the real core of spirituality: Do the work personally, ask the hard questions for yourself, come to a conclusion that is yours. Tradition is a crutch. You can come to the same conclusion as an organized religion, but it should be your own work, not the dogma, because that's just fallacy of tradition waiting to happen. I think I know my place in the universe. I also accept anyone else's personal views about metaphysical matters so long as they apply them only to themselves. I think people who yell loudly about other people's beliefs are, often times, subconsciously nervous that they haven't got it 100 percent right. They're looking to make as many people jump on their bandwagon as possible because it adds credence. Otherwise I feel they'd be content. Faith is personal, not a mass market media campaign.
"This is an action-adventure book where the action and adventure revolve around sex, God, and death. It's also a talking heads book where the talking heads are talking about sex, God, and death. Most of my friends spend a lot of time talking about all three. I finally decided to do a book about it. I've constructed a cast to express all sides of the issues, because that makes for good character conflict. I don't think anyone will agree with all three lead characters, but I'd bet they'll identify with one of them and find the other two to be troubling ... but intriguing alternate voices to their views."
Becky Cloonan is most famous for the breakout indy book "Demo" and Seagle couldn't happier to work with here, citing her as his top pick.
"You know, the weirdest thing was that when my longtime editor, Shelly Bond, and I first talked about it, we both came up with lists of who we thought should draw it, and Becky was, no lie, top of both of our lists. But for some reason, we convinced ourselves she wasn't available. So we moved on and tried out a number of really talented people, even agreed on one in particular, who we then weren't able to hire. So I said, 'Why did we never check with Becky Cloonan?' And Shelly said she'd give her a call, and Becky was on board just like that. I really love her work. She has an amazing energy to her storytelling. And there are so many women in this book, I think it's fitting that a woman get to draw them all."
When asked about the long-term outlook for the book and if there's an end point in mind, Seagle smiles and responds, "'American Virgin' is an ongoing book, which means it goes on as long as people are into reading about interesting, obtuse, offensive, and just plain out-there sexual practices going on around the globe. It goes on as long as people are intrigued by how a conservative Christian responds to the kind of stimuli he's been sheltered from his whole life. It goes on as long as people are hooked into our road-adventure-revenge story. As long as they are, I have stories to tell about Adam Chamberlain, because it's the balance between oath and temptation that this book is actually examining, and not just sexual temptation. The nice thing about the over-story that propels AV is that it can be concluded -- decisively -- at any time."
CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland contributed to this story.
Full coverage of the Vertigo panel follows later today.