Warning: Long article ahead because I just had too many good things to say about Primer!
Get ready to fall in love with a brand new superhero! DC Comics just released a new graphic novel, called Primer, which introduces us to Ashley Rayburn, who just so happens to be the colorful, teenage superhero that the world desperately needs right now.
Ashley Rayburn is a 13-year-old foster kid who seems to have trouble finding a home that sticks. She’s an upbeat, positive girl, who somehow always seems to end up in trouble. Her father is a federal prisoner, and Ashley struggles with being stuck in his shadow. However, We enter Ashley’s world on an optimistic note as she is welcomed into a new foster home. We get to meet Ashley’s new foster parents, who are Kitch Nolan, a laid back artist, and Yuka Nolan, who works as a geneticist for a high-level tech company. We also meet her new best friend, named Luke, who dreams of becoming a hairstylist.
Everything seems to be going well in Ashley’s new home, when she stumbles upon one of Yuka’s top secret projects that she was working on for the military, which is a set of body paints that gives the wearer super powers depending on the colors they pick. Since Ashley is an artist, she assumes the paints are a gift for her upcoming birthday. It doesn’t take long before Ashley discovers the secrets behind the paints. Although Ashley intends to use her newfound super powers for good, others are not so keen on this plan and it puts everyone Ashley loves in danger.
Amazon has included Primer in their best books of June, and I can totally see why. I’m not usually a big fan of reading comics as I’m typically drawn to more traditional novels, but I could not put this graphic novel down. I finished it in one sitting and I think it’s the best graphic novel I’ve ever read.
Primer is extremely well written, and sucks you into the story on the first page. At moments, this graphic novel had me laughing out loud with some of the puns and witty dialogue. It’s extremely in tune with modern pop culture, and has well defined, relatable characters. Plus, the art is gorgeous and helps bring the story to life right before your eyes!
However, there is just so much more to this story than what I can convey in a short, spoiler free summary. While maintaining its uplifting vibe and strong sense of humor, Primer comments on some very real issues in society. If you look beneath the surface, you will find messages about girl power, inclusion, diversity, and valid commentary about the foster care system.
Primer comes to us from the creative minds of writers Jennifer Muro (Writer for Star Wars: Forces of Destiny at Lucasfilm; Writer for Lego DC Super Hero Girls) and Thomas Krajewski (Headwriter for Buddy Thunderstruck; Writer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and is beautifully and vibrantly illustrated by Gretel Lusky. I was lucky enough to ask Muro and Krajewski about their writing process, and gain more insight into what makes Primer as incredible as it is.
How did you think of the concept for Primer?
A: We were sitting around one morning just trying to think of a new superhero! We love cool superpowers, so we thought, “Why limit a hero to just one? Or a few? Let’s give her a ton! But how?” We also love cool costumes, so we thought, “What if her costume always changes, so she never looks the same twice, but always looks cool? But how?” The idea of super-powered body paints came up, and we realized the paints solve both problems — Primer gets to choose which powers to use in each fight, using the corresponding color to paint herself in any design she chooses, so it becomes her “costume”. It’s one reason we made the character of Ashley Rayburn (Primer’s secret identity) an artist. So, with her creativity she can always think of a cool design. And we personally love seeing lots of vibrant colors.
How did the concept change and evolve from development to execution?
A: The concept of Primer’s character didn’t differ too much from the original idea. We think DC really liked her because she’s simply fun and visual! At first, the storylines involved other DC heroes interacting with Primer, but we thought it’d be a lot cooler if we focus on just Primer and really let her shine. We focused on creating a more relatable story for readers. One in which Primer has more of a “coming of age” kind of arc. A kid who, although is a lot of fun, also has problems she’s troubled by and needs to figure out. That’s how we conceived the idea to make Ashley a character with a dark past. Something that gives her more depth.
Our artist Gretel Lusky is brilliant, so we were very lucky that DC brought her to us! When we told her what we wanted to see, she knocked it out of the park every time. We all wanted to really explore the many possibilities of what Ashley/Primer could look like. Every step of the development and execution was a blast! DC was incredibly supportive, and they gave us a lot of freedom.
Given your backgrounds in entertainment, would you ever adapt Primer into a movie or TV show?
A: Yes! What we love about DC is that a lot of their characters make frequent appearances across media in many different iterations. We love seeing how a hero will appear in their own live-action movie, while also guest appearing on a different TV series in a new way, while also having their own animated series or animated movie! We look forward to seeing how Primer will be depicted across these platforms. Take Harley Quinn for instance. She appears all over the place, and it’s so fun to see her depicted in family friendly shows and more adult shows and movies. So, we shall see what happens with Primer!
What’s your writing partnership like? Do you have any fun stories to share from working together?
A: The most fun part of the writing process was when we tossed around ideas for the character and the story. We love using our imaginations to solve the puzzle. When we first thought of super-powered body paints it was like an epiphany. It just clicked and we immediately knew we had something special — it’s hard to explain but we felt like there was a mini brain explosion of awesomeness in our heads. That excitement fueled the fun of the rest of the process between us as we wrote. Just thinking of possibilities was the best part. And our partnership is very supportive. We’d pitch ideas to each other and discuss whether they made sense, or how they could change and becomes something new or more fitting, more organic to the story. So, it was fun to put the story and script together!
What are the main takeaways you hope readers get from Primer?
A: That you do not have to be defined by your past, or what others think of you. In the graphic novel, Ashley likes to cause a bit of trouble, and that’s because her dad is a horrible, horrible crook. She feels that if her dad is such a bad person, then she must be, too. Ashley acts out and can be mischievous, believing that she does not possess any kind of good qualities to ever be a hero. She’s too damaged by her past. So, the story is about her really trying to break away from her birth dad telling her that they are the same evil people, and that she can’t escape it. The main question presented is: Will Ashley be able to fight these internal demons in order to become a hero, or will she allow herself to become like her dad? So, without spoiling anything, we want readers to learn from her journey, and to realize that they can change for the better.
Why do you feel this story needs to be told now?
A: Because we could always use a fun and positive character! There’s a lot of darkness in the world, and Primer is literally and figuratively a very bright and positive character. Who wouldn’t want to escape reality for a little bit and tag along on her adventures? The book is meant for readers of all ages, but we feel that it’s the perfect time to inspire kids with new heroes that they can relate to. We think some kids feel like they’re weird or misfits, and that other people are “perfect”, all of which just makes those kids feel like they’re not special. Well Ashley is weird and she’s a misfit and she is far from perfect, but she shows that there’s nothing wrong with that, and that she is special! And in this day and age, we like that Primer sends a positive message and gives readers a chance to have some fun for a bit.
Why is Luke the perfect friend for Ashley?
A: Luke is the perfect friend for Ashley because they both feel like outsiders, but they also complement each other. Have you ever met someone and just had an instant connection with them? That’s what happened with these two. And Luke is perfect for her for a lot of reasons. Yes, they have fun together and they love joking, but Luke offers Ashley something she doesn’t always express: the voice of reason! Ashley can be a wild child who leaps before looking. She can make choices that aren’t the best for her, so Luke often offers her a different point of view that can be better or safer. He’s just looking out for her, and naturally she looks out for him as well. In fact, their first meeting happens when Ashley stops some bullies from giving him a hard time.
What are your favorite qualities that Ashley has? Do you identify with her in any way?
A: We love that she’s independent, a free thinker, sticks up for the less fortunate, and has a great sense of humor. The latter is probably what we identify with the most. She rarely takes anything seriously and she’s constantly cracking jokes, so it’s great to see her insult the villains she’s fighting. And even with those inner demons she’s wrestling with, she’s generally fairly positive and light-hearted. She’s the kind of person we want to hang around with because she’s fun and accepting.
Is there a character from the story, aside from Ashley, that you identify strongly with, and why?
A: We identify with her foster father, Kitch. He’s an artist, and he freely admits that his wife is smarter and physically stronger than he is. But we identify with him the most because we’re both laid back and chill. We both basically act like children in adult bodies – we both watch morning cartoons while eating cereal.
Tell me about the art process. Since you’re LA based, what was it like collaborating with Gretel Lusky, who is Argentina based?
A: It was surprisingly easy! we think that’s because Gretel is just so talented, with great instincts and the ability to interpret our ideas exactly as we had envisioned, or sometimes better than we had envisioned! She was open to a lot of ideas and brought many of her own. She loves Ashley as much as we do. We love that Gretel took a lot of pride in helping to make Ashley/Primer look perfect!
Was the art done in tandem with the writing, or was the story completed first?
A: Originally we just had our two-page pitch of the character and story. DC asked Gretel to start thinking of designs just for Ashley/Primer based on that, since we all knew that Ashley/Primer was going to be a teenager with body paint. We gave Gretel a little more direction on how to design her, then she went to work on that while we continued to explore the outline stages of the story. As we wrote more of the outline, more characters and locations were created, and then Gretel would start working on those as well. And then when the script was being written, we’d hand off chunks of finished script pages to Gretel to get working on as we continued writing more. The script was 134 pages long so it made sense to get her working as early as possible. So yes, the art was done in tandem with the writing.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about Primer?
A: Yes! We have big ideas for the future. So, if any fan out there loves Primer and wants to see more, then spread the word and maybe we’ll see more of her in the near future!
To buy your own copy of Primer, click here.