On The Ledge: With Mat Johnson, author of RIGHT STATE
When I was ten, I was walking through Center City Philadelphia with my mother, trying to make our way to the trains at Suburban Station and head home to Germantown. It was something we did every day, but this day was different: police officers lining the streets, barriers put up at intersections, large cranes looming above, massive trailers parked on the sidewalk.
“They're filming a movie,” my mother told me. It was such an odd thought, that the world that I watched on my black-and-white TV every night actually be based on my physical landscape. We sat in the crowd on the corner and waited for a scene to take place. A lady next to us said that a car would come speeding down the street and turn the corner. And that's what happened.
My mom took me to see the movie, Blowout. It was a political thriller starring a young TV star, John Travolta. I didn't understand most of it—I was 10—but I saw that scene that I had witnessed firsthand. It took 5 seconds. A car showed up, it turned a corner, and the movie moved on. Such a simple, pointless moment, but for me the act of taking down the thin membrane between fiction and reality was momentous.
The 1970s was the landscape of my childhood, but it was also the landscape of the Vietnam War, Watergate, rising gas prices, hostages in Iran, and the foundations of the cultural wars that are still raging in America today. Storytelling genres reflect the needs of their times, and the political anxiety of that moment translated into a slew of political films: Day of the Jackal, Three Days of the Condor, All the President’s Men. They spoke to their era. And with that tradition in mind, I created RIGHT STATE to speak to ours.
The art for RIGHT STATE comes from a crazy little Italian redhead who can create an image the way a Titan could create a sword: Andrea Mutti. He made this story come alive, with a realistic intensity that makes me look like a better storyteller than I am.
As a writer, I'm always looking for ways to explore the themes of the day in stories that are interesting and engaging and can run with the ideas of the moment. With RIGHT STATE, we take the genre into the modern era, something that speaks to the intense societal anxieties of our age. Creating RIGHT STATE was a joy and a thrill, and I hope the experience is the same for its readers.