Ethan Young was born in 1983 in NYC to Chinese immigrant parents. The youngest of 3 sons, he took to drawing at the age of 3. His first graphic novel, Tails: Life in Progress, was named Best Graphic Novel during the 2007 Independent Publishers Book Awards. His works include Tails, Comic Book Tattoo, A Piggy’s Tale, and NANJING: The Burning City, winner of the 2016 Reuben Award for Best Graphic Novel. In addition to comic book work, Young is also a prolific freelance illustrator.
His latest work is ‘The Battles of Bridget Lee: Invasion of Farfall’ which we’ll be talking about today. I think fans of space marines and dystopian futures are going to love what he’s put together on an Earth that is clearly no longer our own and is described as: “There is no longer a generation that remembers a time before the Marauders invaded Earth. Bridget Lee, an ex–combat medic now residing at the outpost Farfall, may be the world’s last hope. But Bridget will need to overcome her own fears before she can save her people. Her legend begins here.” As a bonus, we also have some preview pages of the comic to share with you at the end of the interview!
Science Fiction (SF): Ethan, thanks for joining us today. First, if you could tell us a little about ‘The Battles of Bridget Lee: Invasion of Farfall’?
Ethan Young (EY): Hiya, and thanks so much for having me. The Battles of Bridget Lee is a sci-fi allegory of the Mulan folktale, albeit a loose one. It’s the journey of the reluctant warrior, with the backdrop of a large scale occupation by an alien force called the Marauders. The book is a bit of a genre blend, but the heart of the story lies within the larger themes of self-determination, bravery, and resistance.
SF: What inspired to build an Earth where the surviving humans are of a generation which has only known war?
EY: In essence, it wipes the slate clean and detaches us from anything contemporary. We’re so far ahead into the future that we’re no longer required to detail exactly how we got there. We’re more free to create as we please. A good example is Firefly. Right in the intro, you’re told that Earth was ‘used up’. It’s vague, but it tells you everything you need to know. If there’s an entire generation that has only known war, you know that life has drastically changed on Earth.
SF: The Marauders are a very warlike species, what drew you to create a species that wanted to enslave mankind and not exterminate it?
EY: The humans are essentially living under occupation, but the war is at a stalemate. If the Marauders were more concerned with exterminating humans, then our setting would be much, much darker. Even though there’s a human resistance against the occupational force, there’s still a sense of life. It’s bleak, but it’s there. There are glimmers of hope.
SF: Bridget Lee is an amazingly resourceful character. Is she at all based on anyone that you’ve known? What specific trait do you believe is her strongest one that makes her so well adapted to this world?
EY: The fact that she genuinely cares about those she looks after. And that’s not to say that the other characters are heartless, but they have to make tactical, strategic decisions that might come across as cold. That’s one of the reasons Bridget is a nurse, a profession that requires a great deal of selflessness. My wife is a nurse, and my mother worked in medicine back in China. Even though this story takes place in a sci-fi world, I think it’s important to portray nursing as the noble profession it is. Of course, I’m being a tad biased, but I’m allowed to be.
SF: What real life experiences did you draw upon when creating the world of ‘The Battles of Bridget Lee: Invasion of Farfall’?
EY: I’m a first-generation Chinese American. My parents grew up during the communist takeover of China, and later, the Cultural Revolution. My mom impressed upon me the daily hardships of life in China. And when you’re immersed in that constant hardship, your family is essentially all you have. The extended family unit is a key to surviving. I used these stories as the backbone to the fictional community in the book. I wanted all the characters to feel like a tight surrogate family.
And because of the constant threat of a Marauder attack, the people within the story are always on alert. I was living in the financial district when 9/11 happened, and my family and I were 6 blocks away from the towers. We couldn’t get back into our home for weeks. I still remember the day after: my brother and I took the subway back into Manhattan and we saw some folks jogging. At the time, it was such a bizarre sight. Like, how could someone jog after what just happened? But as time went on, I realized that everyone needed to cope in their own way. We all had to adapt and navigate a new understanding of the world, and it was scary at times. I tried translating that feeling to the characters on the page, the best I could.
SF: “Her Legend Begins Here” is a part of the description when it comes to Bridget, do you have more of her tales in store for us?
EY: Definitely, if I can get to them. Like anything, it all depends on the reception of this first entry. But I’m very confident in this character and the world I’ve built.
SF: Much of your work is in black and white, was there a conscious decision on why you decided to go with color on ‘The Battles of Bridget Lee: Invasion of Farfall’?
EY: When I first started self-publishing, color printing was astronomically more expensive, especially on a tight budget. Doing comics in black and white was the default, so I worked within those limitations for many, many years. With Dark Horse, I didn’t have to worry about the budget, and a YA sci-fi tale seemed more appropriate in color, so I wanted to give it a shot. I had colored other projects before, but Bridget Lee meant more to me as a personal project, and not a freelance project. I wanted to prove to others that my coloring could hold up with my draftsmanship.
SF: War seems to be an ongoing theme in your work as ‘NanJing: The Burning City’ was also about those involved in a war. What about the topic resonates with you?
EY: It’s funny you mention that, because I wasn’t really aching to do another war story after NANJING, which was a different undertaking altogether.But since Bridget Lee is a soft allegory of the Mulan story, there needed to be a conflict that warranted a ‘rise of a warrior’. From a storytelling standpoint, the backdrop of futuristic war immediately establishes conflict and high stakes, so it heightens the tension for the reader.
SF: As both an author and an illustrator you must have a huge variety of influences, which really stick out as the major ones whose work you always seek out?
EY: I try to take a bit from everyone I admire, whether it’s a comic, movie, or book. When we’re talking about major artistic influences, that could vary depending on the project. For NANJING, I referenced Otomo and Moebius a lot, to get a sense of how they tackled mood and texture. For Bridget Lee, I referenced Fiona Staples and Frank Quitely a lot, while carrying over the previous inspirations as well. Although all these storytellers have wildly different artistic approaches, they all have qualities I wanted to emulate.
When I’m drafting a story, I tend to be more visual. I pace around my room and try to picture the scenes connecting to one another, like the flow of film. When I polish my dialogue, I think of plays and the economical use of words. Stephen King talked about developing all your tools for your toolbox, and that’s probably the best advice any young creator can keep in the back of their mind.
SF: If I may ask, what else do you currently have in the works?
EY: I’m a little more than halfway through my digital project, Pilgrim Finch, for STELA. It’s the story of a cute, fuzzy space explorer who gets stranded on a strange planet, and the comic is almost completely silent. After that, I’m debating which direction to go next. I have a few options, but nothing really concrete yet.
SF: Thank you for taking some time to talk to our readers today. Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
EY: Thank you all for reading, and thanks to Sciencefiction.com for having me today!