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Jen Van Meter on DC's Cinnamon: SBC Q&A

Posted: Wednesday, August 20
Posted By: Tim O'Shea
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The first issue of writer Jen Van Meter’s new miniseries for DC, Cinnamon: El Ciclo, went on sale today. Van Meter—who has also written two Hopeless Savages miniseries for Oni (with a third, Too Much Hopeless Savages, currently in progress/on sale) and DC’s recent Batman: Golden Streets of Gotham—took time out of her busy schedule to discuss her new DC five-part modern day Western miniseries. DC describes Cinnamon: El Ciclo as a “tale of revenge and honor told against the sun-bleached asphalt of the New West! Cinnamon's drifted for years as a hired gun along the Mexican border, but when a shady job takes her north, she must face up to the ghosts that haunt her dark past!”

Tim O’Shea: A story set in the politically, socio-economically and culturally complex dynamics of Mexico and California is not the typical landscape a writer would pursue. How did this story come together? Also while Hopeless Savages is far from academically rooted (as opposed to Batman: Golden Streets of Gotham, which as you admit in a Ninth Art/Andrew Wheeler 2002 interview was partially tied to your academic expertise), I was wondering how much research you did for Cinnamon: El Ciclo?

Jen Van Meter: Joan Hilty at DC and I had been wanting to work together for some time, but had had limited success putting together project ideas that could fly for one reason or another (mostly because we kept asking to use characters that were included in other writers' upcoming plans; one day, I woke up thinking about Cinnamon, whom we had discussed once but set aside for some reason I forget, and later that day she called wanting to know if I'd given any thought to doing something with Cinnamon. Weird. Maybe Kismet.

In any case, once we started talking about the character, we both felt that a modern Western, set in what the "old West" has become, had some great potential. From there, it developed out of two branches of knowledge on my part: the Western genre in fiction and film (which I happen to love) and the regional/sociopolitical stuff. I'm a California native, and started with some base-line information that didn't require much research, but when I decided that, structurally, I wanted that jaded-hired-gun-winds-up-protecting-innocents story I've always loved in the form, I had to figure out who would stand in for the 'innocent settlers' and who for the barn-burning desperados.

My academic research was on literature by immigrants to the U.S., so I was familiar with some work by and about illegal immigrants in California, and I started my new research there, looking into the coyotes -- individuals who make their livings moving people across the border for a fee -- and that kind of thing. I was reading about indentured servitude, prostitution, sweatshops, migrant labor, and drugs; all kinds of things that wind up being the work of the very poor, largely for the benefit of the very wealthy. Ultimately what I settled on was a web of criminal activity, largely being perpetrated by white U.S. nationals (the desperados) involving immigrants and runaway kids (the settlers). People have told me I'm drawing a disturbingly gritty picture of life in L.A. and the new West, but I haven't used anywhere near the most distressing stuff I came across, and I found it interesting that in putting this together I'd wound up with an inversion of the old Western cliche of scary brown people threatening innocent white folks.

TO: Cinnamon's early childhood trauma clearly shaped her present day pursuits. That being said, how hard was it to utilize the "adult dealing with childhood issues" plot element (both with Cinnamon and another character in the story) without allowing it to overwhelm the tale?

JVM: That part really hasn't been a challenge; I've used a few short sequences to explain what the childhood trauma is, and from there, the 'adult dealing' part really is so much a function of the tale, of who the characters are, that I don't think I've concerned myself too much with the notion of overwhelming anything. I suppose it does come into play in the sense that the the characters who are dealing with the childhood trauma have responded to said trauma in somewhat hyperbolic ways, making them a little implausible if compared to the 'real' world -- I think they're entirely plausible in the context of fiction, especially Western fiction.

TO: What was the most rewarding aspect of collaborating with the art team of Francisco Paronzini and Robert Campanella?

JVM: Francisco and Robert are doing fantastic, amazing stuff -- it's been terrific to see their 'actors' work with my script, on top of which, they're both lovely people to work with. Francisco, too, has made our Los Angeles a wonderful blend of the real and the imaginary, playing up the elements that, while real, look, under his and Robert's hands, look as vast and as 'in process' as the Old West does in movies.

This has also been my first experience with writing for an artist who speaks another language; my scripts go through a translator before reaching Francisco. I've been gratified to get terrific comments and assistance from the translator as well.

TO: If response was strong enough, would you be interested in doing additional miniseries with Cinnamon?

JVM: I'd love to. I think she, and the supporting cast I'm building in this series, would be great fun too work with again.

TO: What's on the horizon creatively in 2003 and beyond?

JVM: Cinnamon: El Ciclo is coming out about the same time as my third Hopeless Savages miniseries, Too Much Hopeless Savages, a comedy adventure romp set in Hong Kong. After these, I'll be taking a short hiatus to spend some focused time to plan my next comics projects, work on a novel, be with my kids and take care of some long-put-off domestic stuff.

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