From chemical engineer to Eisner-nominated author, Ram V has stories to tell and has been making his mark since 2016. His critical and popular successes include Paradisio, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr, and an operatic saga in Detective Comics.
Complex characters and thought-provoking stories are a trademark in many of his works and V’s catalog of stories span different genres.
His latest project, The Vigil, is about metahumans who take on conspiracies in the world of DC Comics. Issue #1 dropped on May 16 and scored a 9.6/10 on Comic Watch—with a major appreciation being a fresh introduction of new characters and a dynamic story.
V was gracious enough to talk about The Vigil, music recommendations for when reading the comic, and the artistry of storytelling.
Curious comic readers are highly encouraged to pick up a copy at their local comic book store. The Vigil #1 is available on shelves and digitally and as of this article issue #2 is slated to be released on June 20.
On The Vigil
Seth A. Romo: The Vigil #1 was a great first issue and it’s exciting to see The Vigil enter the DC Universe. Now that it’s on shelves, what are you excited for readers to experience from issue #1 and the series?
Ram V: Looking at the reactions, it is every bit I had hoped it would be, which is: “This feels like a contemporary spy, action forward [comic] that is also focusing on mystery, power sets, and cool characters.”
The bit that has me excited is as the issues go on, [the series] turns into bizarre comic book ideas, multiple dimensions, and kind of bleeds into the real world–similar to books like Doom Patrol, Planetary, or Authority. I wanted to do a sort of “Warren Ellis” take where there are spies, action, guns and bullets, and real world spy craft; and then there are near cosmic multiversal problems with characters who are overwhelmed by the things they encounter.
Spy stories tend to have a lot of double-crosses, globetrotting, and twists. With cosmic travel possible, are they also going around the world?
All over the world, hopefully all over…multiple worlds [laughs]. Over these first six issues, it begins with a spy story, but by issue three you’re asking: How are these characters jumping across space and time? What’s happening?
By issue six you discover why The Vigil exists, but your understanding of it is reframed. People who you think were good are not necessarily good. You discover who the series villain is going to be, what their plans are, why certain individuals exist, and everything has kind of exploded and is up in the air.
Unlike some team books, readers don’t start off by seeing how the team is formed. Instead, there is a group that is already working together and has history. Does this mean they’ve had more influence in the DCU than we realize?
There’s certainly a set of events that have propelled or necessitated this team to intervene and start existing and becoming more active around this time. Yes, there is some history, but how long that history is hasn’t been told just yet. Also, the idea of history itself will probably be questioned by the time we get to issue four or five. Is it history if someone has constructed it or manipulated you into having it?
The team consists of Arclight, Dodge, Saya, and Castle. Each has their own power set or skills. What was the inspiration for these specific traits?
Arclight is the firepower, the leader, and the one everyone looks up to. He also has something in his past that means he is full of rage and can be triggered. Saya is the infiltrator. If you want someone to get in without anyone noticing, what better power than to put someone to sleep and mimic their face? This also comes with identity issues because he has forgotten what he looks like in the first place. The question of identity is really interesting. Dodge is the ninja—the agile one—when you don’t want brute force but instead need finesse. Castle is the chess master. He’s the guy who has already moved all of the pieces into the right place.
This group is very much a classic trope that you’ll see in film and TV that I thought was fun to work into superhero comics, and I think each of these roles reflect a personal motivation for each of the characters.
The Vigil is an all Indian team–an exciting addition to the DCU. Can you talk more about their roots in India and how it shapes the story?
We talk about Indian society, its tensions, and its balances of power. We talk about Indian history–there are moments that have defined how India looks at conspiracy theories and how India deals with this kind of notion that people in the seat of power behind veils and shadows can manipulate the lives of people on the streets and on the ground. Every society has these conspiracies and ideas, and India has them in very specific ways. I think having these characters interact with that and be part of that is important. At this stage, we are telling you more about characters in this context rather than society as a whole. We get into these individual motivations, how are they broken, or good, or bad.
On the topic of conspiracies. It makes sense that the world of DC Comics would have conspiracies about what’s actually going on. How many of the theories are rooted in DC lore or are they grounded to the world we live in?
At the end of Metal, everything has happened, all the characters who existed in any kind of non-mainstream storyline also existed in the mainstream storyline. That in itself should lead to so many conspiracy theories–the absurd amount of contradictions. I wanted to do a story that highlights all of those and goes: “That’s interesting, let’s look at that.”
What I’m doing with The Vigil is mainstream espionage, spies, DCU superheroes, but also it has the ability to step outside of that and ask: Isn’t it absurd what we do for a living? Isn’t it weird that we live in this world where characters who died have now miraculously come back somehow?
Behind [those questions] is an interesting story to tell, and The Vigil is the kind of book that has the capability of going into metaphysical territory or tongue in cheek commentary.
As a storyteller of this type of narrative, how do you balance what you define as true, false, and what threads are worth pursuing?
I think you have to come at the question the other way around. What if someone could promise you that every conspiracy you want can be made true? Is that not the most dangerous person possible? How do you combat someone who has the ability to say: “You want the earth to be flat, I can do that.”
And that right there is The Vigil’s long-term villain.
Let’s talk about your ability to create the truth. Who is the truth for? The readers? The DC Universe?
The Vigil is about humanity’s relationship with the truth and how it has changed over time. We went from a society with little access to the truth, to a time where information doubles, triples, quadruples, over seconds and everyone has access to the truth. And yet, the truth is subjective and the responsibility now falls upon you to decide what truth you’re going to believe. That’s frightening to a lot of people.
On a fun note, do you have music recommendations for when reading The Vigil?
[Laughs] We’d be here for hours if I discussed the whole playlist, but I will happily give you an image so people will know. (See below for the set list.)
When it comes to storytelling, do you have a message you want conveyed in the story or do you have a final destination and a journey you want readers to experience?
I don’t think it’s quite as binary. What you want to say is never more important than someone experiencing the conflict and tensions the characters go through. The moment you talk about what you want to say, you are muscling into the reader’s territory.
The reader is reading because they want to take away something from the story, and you can never define exactly what they will take away from it. If you can, then you’re not trying hard enough, because then you’ve given someone something that is so mundane and stereotypical and formulaic that you could predict exactly what every reader’s reaction is going to be.
So I think artistic expression comes out of a need to say something, but also out of a need to say something that is nuanced and complex, and impossible to articulate in some ways. It is a feeling, a thing that you are wrestling with, as you write the story.
I think the joy in reading something is experiencing the expression from an artist, writer, or filmmaker, and then seeing what you take from it. A film that is infinitely sad to someone can be excruciatingly funny to someone else.
[When it comes to storytelling] You have to approach it with the humility of knowing that whatever you have to say is probably entirely meaningless to someone who reads that story—they’re reading it to take away whatever they’re going to take away from it. The Many Deaths of Laila Starr in many ways was a funny book, but it was also a sad book, and also a life affirming book. [Storytelling] has to be all of these things because of how human beings are.
As a creator, how does inspiration manifest itself, especially when there are multiple projects?
I kind of believe in the serendipity of ideas. You have to be tuned in to what you’re doing, but you can’t be tuned out of everything else. I remember this really lovely quote from Murakami where he said: “If you’re reading what everyone else is reading, then you’re thinking what everyone else is thinking.”
As a creator, you don’t want to be thinking what everyone else is thinking. You want to be thinking about new things, about interesting things.
As a storyteller, can you talk about the craft from your own personal history? Your background wasn’t originally in comics, so I imagine something kicked off this path.
I may be going against the grain, but I think there is a certain level of talent [to writing]–storytelling is intangible. I moved to the UK to study creative writing even though I was a chemical engineer who had no intention of turning to writing. When I asked the professor why the class was picked he said, “because you all have in you the stuff that I cannot teach.”
I now understand [what he meant]. I used to get in trouble for lying as a kid. None of them were lies such as, “Oh, my dog ate my homework.” No, it would always be like, I didn’t do my homework because my house flooded in the morning because this guy was trying to repair something. None of it was true, but there was always a narrative to it, and because there was a narrative it was believable. And because of that, I got into a lot of trouble because I told very believable lies. But I realized that it was just my brain wanting to tell stories–there was always some sort of an inclination to tell stories.
There are a lot of very talented people, but if you don’t work hard then the talent is entirely useless. In terms of crafting something interesting, something readable that resonates with the reader, a lot of it is hard work . But also, a lot of it is just humanity, and you letting your inner storyteller enjoy themselves in a lot of ways.
For more on Ram V, visit www.ram-v.com or follow him on Twitter (@therightram) or Instagram (@ramvwrites). This interview was edited for clarity.
For future reviews on The Vigil, be sure to follow Comic Watch. Issue #2 is set for release on June 20, 2023.
RAM V Discusses THE VIGIL and the Craft of Storytelling
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