Save Yourself | Steven T. Seagle tackles Sex and Salvation in American Virgin

virginAdam Chamberlain is a diehard Christian who was saving himself sexually for his true love. When she's brutally murdered, his faith isn't the only thing left on shaky ground. Writer Steven T. Seagle catches us up on what's happened so far and gives a peek into the book's third story arc, which kicks off this month.

 

 

 

 

 

American Virgin (DC Comics/Vertigo)

32 pgs monthly FC; $2.99

(W: Steven T. Seagle; P: Becky Cloonan; I: Becky Cloonan, Ryan Kelly; Covers by Frank Quitely and Joshua Middleton)

 

What if God himself told you that there was one person on this Earth who was meant for you? And what if that person was brutally taken away from you? Those questions are at the heart of American Virgin, the thought-provoking monthly series from DC/Vertigo just wrapping up its first year.

 

Adam Chamberlain is a televangelist's dream, a handsome young man with a deep personal faith and inimitable skill behind the pulpit. Adam heads a national movement to get teens to sign virginity pledges, swearing before God that they will wait until marriage to have sex. God told Adam that Cassie, his soon-to-be wife, is the woman he is meant to be with, and this knowledge is the only thing that keeps him going during their lengthy separation as she does charity work in Africa. When Cassie is kidnapped and beheaded by terrorists, however, Adam's world and faith are shaken to their very core.

 

So far, we've seen Adam struggle through Cassie's funeral before grabbing his stepsister Cyndi and heading off to darkest Africa in search of revenge. There, they met Mel, a mercenary with a secret hidden agenda who locates Cassie's murderer. The most recent issue reveals some of the Chamberlain family's dirty laundry and ends — as every issue has — with a cliffhanger ending that turns everything you know about the book on its ear. Steven T. Seagle (writer on such Vertigo classics as Sandman Mystery Theatre and House of Secrets in addition to runs on more mainstream books like Uncanny X-Men and Superman) keeps the pace brisk in a story that's packed with surprises, and Becky Cloonan's art (as seen in Demo, among others) has a slick, highly polished look with thick brushstrokes that perfectly complements Seagle's very untraditional story.

 

We caught up with Seagle shortly after the release of American Virgin #10 in January, which kicked off the book's third story arc, Wet.

 

You've just wrapped up Going Down, American Virgin's second major story arc. What would you say are the themes to each of the first two arcs that tie them together?

 

Thematically the book is about free will versus higher power. That plays out on a number of levels–religion, sexuality, independence, fate– and the first two books were very much about putting our lead character, Adam Chamberlain, in the tug of war between what he desires and what he feels is his true calling.

 

What can we look forward to in the book's next chapter?

 

The first book, Head, took Adam and his sister Cyndi out of their element and into the world of Cassie's final days (Cassie being Adam's murdered fiancée). This was important to show Adam that a lot of his views on faith and the afterlife are culturally bound. Even Christianity itself played differently in Africa than Miami. And Cassie's world seemed boundless compared to the confined structure of Adam's existence. The second book, Going Down, thrust Adam into the world of Cassie's killer, and once again, Adam was forced to see a world he wasn't even aware existed — the leather fetish circuit in Melbourne. Both of these experiences have begun to shape Adam, and the third book, Wet, places him back in his own world, Miami, and we see how what he's been through has altered what he's willing to do.

 

Much has been made in the media over the last several years of the so-called "evangelical Christian" movement and its influence on American life and politics. Were there any specific real world events that first got you thinking of setting a story in that world?

 

To be honest, American Virgin is not a skewer of Evangelical beliefs. If anything, Adam is the most solid character in the book and his strength comes from his belief system. I like that about him. I also like placing the biggest affronts possible to that belief system in front of Adam to see how he will respond. It was that conflict between beliefs from ‘on high' and reality that made me set up the book the way I did.

 

Do you think that the recent midterm election is a sign that religion's influence on the country is lessening or changing at all?

 

I don't think it's religion that American voters reacted against as much as corruption, dishonesty, double standards, and hypocrisy. And that's very much what Adam is up against, too. It's easy to talk the talk about a god-fearing life, but it's difficult to walk the walk. And one without the other is a bit meaningless, isn't it?

American Virgin certainly has the potential to ruffle a lot of feathers among Christian readers. What's the reaction been like so far?

 

It's actually been positive. One thing Becky Cloonan and I are trying to do is tell the story truthfully, and the truth is that Adam genuinely believes what he believes. It's not a sham. It's not an easy out. He's a Christian. And he believes God spoke specifically to him and gave him a message about saving himself sexually and about waiting for his true love. It's just that somewhere along the way his true love was taken…or was she? That question is the core of the Wet story.

 

What do you think Christian readers who might be turned off by the book's nudity, violence, and sexuality could gain from reading American Virgin?

 

Well at this point in human history I'm finding it beyond absurd to think that we still have issues with nudity at all. That's "how God made us" after all, isn't it? There's just not that much difference, one human to another. What's the shock value there? Violence? Have you seen the news lately? We are ankle deep in violence all in the name of freedom. Religions are historically violent in times of expansion, so that's also a non-starter for me. Sexuality? No sex, no reproduction. No reproduction, no humans. We all have some kind of sex. We all think about sex. And we should be open to talking about sex, it's a basic human function. It even has a place in a religious life, and that should be examined in an open fashion. That's what Adam is finding out.

 

In the second issue, Adam is reeling from the news of Cassie's death when he says something that seems rife with meaning: "Why would God let this happen to me? …I mean her." What were you trying to communicate about Adam's headspace with that particular choice of words?

 

Well, for Cassie, death would be, in the Christian faith, the end of human suffering and a passport to God's grace. And yet Christians are often extremely mournful. I think that has to do with a certain narcissism — that the death is more consequence to the survivors than the departed. Otherwise we'd have a world full of people who celebrate each death with a "Hallelujah! They're with the Lord just like they always wanted! Start the party!" kind of ritual instead of the somber funerals we currently have. Adam was a wreck at Cassie's. His grief led him to hump her coffin. That's messed up.

 

Two mysteries are bubbling just below the surface on the book: the origin and motivations of Mel, the mercenary who has started to help Adam on his quest, and the story behind the attack on Adam's stepsister Cyndi's apartment that first pushes the pair on the run in the first place. Can readers look forward to finding out more on these two subjects in the near future?

 

Wet spills the beans on both. And Mel's secret is a doozy that's going to really upset the status quo of the relationships in the book.

It's hard for writers not to project at least a bit of themselves into the characters they write. Are there moments where you identify with Adam, or any moments where his reactions are the complete opposite of what your own would be?

 

The part of Adam that I feel the most tied to is that I try to stay in a very truthful place with people. And I find that people often prefer false niceties to uncomfortable truths. Other than that Adam is very much outside of me, and yet, I really am a sucker for him. I am amazed by the strength of his convictions. His choices often surprise, but he is still a human being.

 

At what stage in the process of creating American Virgin did Becky Cloonan hop on board?

 

Becky was our [editor Shelly Bond & I] first and last choice. We both brought her name up on day one, but talked ourselves into thinking she was unavailable or wouldn't be interested so we never called her. We then auditioned a number of artists and when none reached a consensus with everyone in the loop, it dawned on Shelly and I that we had never actually contacted Becky. We called, she was into it, and the rest is in the books! She's great! And gets better each month.

 

How do you think her artwork has shaped the book? What does she bring to the table that might be missing with another artist?

 

I very much wanted a woman to be part of the creative team, especially as artist. We have a guy who can talk women (and men) into refraining from sex, and I thought a woman would know how that kind of guy would look/act/move much more than a man would. I also think Becky's youth and energy just rip through the pages. She's Adam's age and lives in the world he lives in and that shows.

 

You've said that American Virgin is an ongoing series, but one with a planned ending that could wrap up the story at any time. How far ahead do you have the book planned, and how long could you conceive the book lasting now that you've started the story moving?

 

The themes of sex and waiting and desire for sex or revenge or love are limitless. The tolerance in the market for non-superhero material is not. We'll see how long we can play the one against the other.

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