Interview with Filmmaker & Author David Towner.
Combining moralistic themes and a slew of fascinating characters, David Towner, filmmaker, and author, brings forth a new graphic novel series, Aztec Warrior God. Weary of the same recurring plots and themes, Towner wanted to see the novelty in the superhero realm. After an informative and enlightening trip to Mexico, the ideas came to him. Below, he speaks about the successes and difficulties in executing this series, and how he hopes to use his platform for change, inclusion, and representation for others.
Where did you gain inspiration for the series? I was in Mexico in 2009. I spent a lot of time there, but I had an opportunity during a very unusual, free weekend. I was just looking for things to do. I saw this advertisement for what they were calling an Aztec journey. I went on it, and it turned out to be an archeological dig. It was amazing. It was something most people don't get the opportunity to experience. There was a guide who was explaining to us the rapid rise and decline of the Aztec empire. In the course of 200 years, the Aztecs rose to an empire of 7 million people and then collapsed with most of the inhabitants disappearing. The decline was explainable through certain events like the Spanish invading and smallpox and the other Indigenous tribes that they were warring against, but it didn't explain the almost complete disappearance of seven million people. So, the mystery was always, where did these people go? Did they travel and go to other cultures? In my mind, I created a fictional narrative— because it's what I always do—that the Aztecs didn't disappear at all. They were withdrawn into the underworld, by their god of war, Huitzilopochtli. He gave them a 500-year directive to become better people, less violent, more inclined toward compassion and service to others. While I was doing research, I came across a prophecy by the Lakota warrior Crazy Horse. He spoke of a time in seven generations when all “red” tribes would unite to make the world a better place for all people— not just Indigenous people but for mankind. He specifically spoke of the knowledge that they would bring that would deliver mankind from a time of illness. He said it would be a blessing for a sick world. I took that to mean literally “sick”, so I had our heroes emerge during a pandemic. Ultimately, I combined the Aztec warriors with other indigenous tribes to utilize Crazy Horse’s philosophy. I read that the majority of your 13 ensemble characters are women. Why was it important for you to have women represented? It wasn’t actually intentional. However, I was raised by a single mom with only a sister in my household; so, I have tremendous respect for women and their strength so it never occurred to me that women shouldn't be superheroes. It was a natural thing to me. Also, an interesting point is that the Aztec culture was very progressive when it came to women's rights. They [Aztecs] existed at the same time as London, England, for example, but they were much more progressive. In London, a woman couldn't own a business, couldn't be a soldier. The Aztec culture was much more progressive when it came to gender equality. Women could own businesses. Women could be soldiers. Women could be heads of the household. Women could be supervisors in jobs and trades
… I do think that as writers, we have an obligation to create opportunities for people that don't look exactly like we do. The phrase I always use is, if a white male writer only creates white male characters, then he's only creating future opportunities for other white males. I think that's homogenous and irresponsible. Additionally, it's creatively stifling … People say, write what you know. I think that’s bad advice. I think the greatest reward in writing is writing from the perspective of somebody who is different than me. I love exploring another culture, learning other languages, learning new things in general. Writing can be a learning process and a journey if you allow it to be. I think it's very lazy to only write from your own perspective. Look at other categories in academia; you wouldn't tell a physicist to only solve equations they already know, or a mathematician only solve problems they learned in school. Or even art. Do people criticize painters who experiment in sculpture or decide to paint other cultures? Why are people telling writers to only write what they know? I have written characters that reflect my background, but at the same time, it's an exploration. I'm writing a story, but I'm also exploring the world at the same time. What superhero stories did you enjoy growing up, if any? I collected comic books as a kid, but I think the content got stale. It started to decline a few decades ago. Comic characters are being recycled. There is no innovation. There is nothing organic happening in the industry. The big announcements in the mainstream comics are related to costume modifications. I mean, really? this is what you are going to give us? The world is ready for what we're doing, and our popularity reflects it. We all grew up with the same characters that were either 500 pounds savages, characters who were the result of bad science experiments, laboratory experiments that have gone wrong, insect bites, etc. There really haven't been any organic characters developed in the past few decades and there have never been any that were plausibly derived from real mythology. They all got a little bit one-dimensional for me in the 80s and 90s, and I lost interest in all of them.
Were there any challenges that came up in executing the series? I had trouble finding illustrators. It took three years but I finally found a great brother and sister team in Mexico to illustrate the project. We started working together in June 2020. But the most significant obstacle happened two months after we started working together. I had an absolute timeline of August 13, 2021, to release the first novel so I wasn’t going to let anything stand in our way. Literally, two months after we started, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I never mentioned it though. I didn't want to create any creative problems or logistical problems for the project. All of my appointments, scans, and everything I worked around my communication with my artists in Mexico. Pretty soon after that, my wife was diagnosed with an illness that required surgery. My mother, the same week as me, was diagnosed with breast cancer. All of these things we managed internally, and I didn't let them affect the project. I scheduled my surgery for
November 11, which is my anniversary. There was a holiday here. I used that as an excuse not to be working on Veteran’s Day. And, ironically, I had my surgery at the VA hospital. I wouldn't miss any communication with my artists. I actually checked myself out of the hospital that following morning. I won't say it was easy. It was a rough few weeks, but from their perspective, we didn't miss a beat ... the project did not suffer one bit. What kind of impact do you hope it will have on the audience? I hope the theme of the series about becoming better people and more compassionate becomes parallel to society. I think we're losing our humanity, especially in the United States. For some reason, collectively, we lack the ability to empathize with other people. We lack the ability to appreciate the struggles and experiences of other people. If I see a woman walking through the desert from Central America with her children, just trying to get to the US border, that is heartbreaking to me. I don't become angry at that, but some people do. That baffles me. Imagine being so desperate that you would grab your children and walk through a desert with nothing but a backpack. It's an incredible sacrifice and risk for a human being. Their whole life is just survival at that point. And Americans say “let them stay where they are” or “they should come legally”—which is the most absurd comment ever because there's no viable path for that. But even aside from that, let's say you didn't think that they should be allowed access to the US, then any compassionate human being would say “we need to do something for her to stop her suffering, there's got to be something we could do”. Political ideology has eliminated their humanity and their compassion. They can only see things in myopic terms. It's really sad to see not only the people being dismissed, but also the people whose minds have become so toxic, that they view suffering from no compassion … I'm hoping that people see the benefits of a society that's driven more by compassion, cooperation, social interaction, and tolerance … that's my goal. Sounds like the core of that is just also empathy. Right? I think that when you can place yourself in a position to understand that there are experiences that exist beyond yours … When you can empathize with another person, it helps all of society and also helps us heal internally. Nothing is more liberating and rewarding than being free from hate and anger.
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