For my “Monsters, Race, and Comics” class I’m teaching the first two volumes of Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander’s Killadelphia. Recently, I spoke with Barnes about the series. We talked about the ways that the gothic works as both a “politically conservative” for and as a revolutionary form, the role that history plays within the series, the ways that the powerful weaponize fear to maintain power, what hinders us from achieving our true identity, and much more. While I’ve been excited to teach Killadelphia since I constructed the syllabus and written about it here on my blog, my conversation with Barnes opened up various lines of inquiry that I am excited about pursuing with students this semester. Below, you will find my conversation with Barnes as well as the questions I constructed for our discussion.

Questions:

1. Robert Martin writes that “[t]he gothic . . . is most often a politically conservative form that gives expression to the anxieties of a class threatened with violent dissolution. On the other hand, the gothic can allow for the voice of the culturally repressed and hence act out a resistance to the dominant culture.” For me, Killadelphia embodies each of these poles. On the one hand, we see the “politically conservative” with the mayor and other powerful individuals. Conversely, those that attempt to take over society and shape it in their image are the “politically conservative,” preying on the repressed. While reading Killadelphia, I also continually think about John Jennings and Stanford Carpenter’s Ethnogothic.” As Jennings puts it, “the EthnoGothic deals with primarily speculative narratives that actively engage with negatively affective and racially oriented psychological traumas via the traditions of Gothic tropes and technologies.” Can you speak some about Killadelphia in relation to the gothic tradition that Martin mentions but also in relation to Jennings and Carpenter’s “Ethnogothic”?

2. Vampires have been part of gothic literature and art for a long time. They are intimate and domestic in the ways that they engage with their victims, and they typically represent contagion and disease. While most vampires represent the fear of the Other, the contagion unleashed by the Other, Killadelphia kind of flips the script. How do the vampires in Killadelphia serve as a counter to the “traditional” role of vampires withing gothic and horror?

3. Early in the series, Tevin splits with John Adams and Tevin’s grandmother, Estelle, passes away. As he sits on the bed after she passes and holds her hand, Tevin tells his grandmother, “The world did you wrong grandma. But best believe they gonna feel that shit. Each and every one of them motherfuckers is gonna know your name.” The next page shows Tevin, tears coming down his face, as he looks out of the window at Philadelphia and says, “They are gonna know your name.” Embedded within Tevin’s pronouncement is a comment on whose stories we remember. Who we deem worthy of collective memory. This is what Adams talks about too after seeing Hamilton. Can you speak some to the role that memory and the telling of stories works in Killadelphia?

4. The use of fear, as a weapon of control, is a theme that runs throughout Killadelphia. In a speech that Lillian Smith delivered to SNCC members on the eve on the Atlanta sit ins in 1960, she said, “The Devil knows that if you want to destroy a man, all you need do is fill him with false hopes and false fears. These will blind him to his true direction and he will inevitably turn away from the future and destroy those close to him. It is as true of a nation: fill its people with false hopes and false fears, and they will do the rest; they will go straight to their appointment with Death; and they will drag all nations friendly to them down into the maelstrom of their moral and mental confusion.” Can you talk some about the role of fear in the series, specifically the ways that John and Abigail view it as a weapon?

5. John appears idealistic in crafting a “true” democracy, but Abigail appears to eschew this vision in favor of maintaining power and position. We see this later, in “Burn, Baby Burn.” In “Sins of Our Fathers,” John says that he and Abigail “decided our new society would be a balance on the privileged and the elite. The underprivileged were easy to turn. Most submitted willingly. Anything to escape the lives they’d led. The elite required coaxing.” On the surface, John’s view seems egalitarian, and his statement about who willingly came along with him and Abigail hits home. However, John’s methods and overall approach reinforce white supremacy just as Abigail’s does. Can you speak some about how we see in Killadelphia that even “idealistic” views and plans continue to maintain the status quo and hinder movement towards a more equal and equitable society?

6. In the opening of issue #9, we see Jupiter sitting in a cell, shackles around his wrists and ankles and a spit guard on his mouth. It’s a five-panel page, and Alexander’s illustrations vividly show Jupiter’s psychological state. This page leads up to Jupiter telling us his history, how he arrived at this point, and the second panel shows him in silhouette, sitting in the chair, head down, asking, “What if one isn’t aware of who one is?” This question of personhood, and I’d say one’s identity, lies at the core of Jupiter’s story and the story of other characters in the series. Can you speak some about how this theme runs throughout the first two volumes of Killadelphia?

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on twitter @silaslapham.

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