The plight of children in foster care is not often centered in middle grade graphic novels, but this is what actually makes DC’s Primer so special. Co-written by animation writers Jennifer Muro (Last Kids on Earth, Lego DC Super Hero Girls, Star Wars: Forces of Destiny) and Thomas Krajewski (The Fairly Odd Parents, Max Steel, Star Wars Forces of Destiny, Spiderman), Primer offers readers the opportunity to step into the life of Ashley Rayburn, an extremely creative, precocious, and bold 12-year old who has been in five different foster homes in the past two years.
But after being adopted by an awesome interracial couple Kitch and Yuka Nolan, Ashley begins to find the space to heal. All is well until Ashley gets access to her new foster mother, Yuka’s top-secret science lab chemicals that have regenerative powers, and a superhuman affect on the human body.
Ashley comes to realize that this “box of paints” give her different superpowers based on the different color combinations she uses on her body, and this is when the real drama ensues.
Primer is an engaging read from start to finish. From talk of telekinesis, sonic blasts, and scientific invulnerability to providing a voice for the voiceless in the foster care system, to carefully depicted the pain and residue of childhood trauma; Primer gets it right with its inclusion message and positive depiction of a non-traditional family.
Moms.com recently had the opportunity to speak with Jennifer Muro, who has lots of experience writing nuanced characters, about the superhero Ashley Rayburn, childhood trauma, foster care, and more.
(Moms.com): With Primer, you’ve centered a young woman who’s marginalized. With her story, you’ve given a voice to the voiceless in foster care. She’s very multidimensional. What was your “Why” for Primer and what was the inspiration behind the superhero Ashley Rayburn?
(Muro): From the beginning, I think we wanted to depict a strong, independent girl, who also had a realistic body shape as well. We wanted her to have very varied interests. Not every girl has to be a ballerina. With Ashley, she really likes football, but she also loves art. She loves beautiful, pretty things. She’s a mix and a very diverse individual, and that was important to us. Also, there are older kids in the foster care system as well. So, it was important for us to show an older preteen in the system too. We wanted to show that she had trust issues to0, because that is very real for those who have grown up in the system.
(Moms.com): In one sequence, she states, “I wish that a superhero would save me.” What’s the correlation between oppression and the fantasy of a super power?
(Muro) I think that for Ashley, it’s very freeing and it gives you hope, and space for dreams and expansion. I think it shows someone being free from that which is oppressive and confining, but also in a very positive way. The superhero qualities depict deciding to do things and take action to do good.
(Moms.com): What are you hoping that preteens and teenagers will learn from Ashley Rayburn specifically?
(Muro): I think it’s to have a sense of humor. Ashley hides a lot of her emotions through her sarcasm, but she is also very open. She definitely sides with the marginalized. I think she’s a good role model for that. I hope that teens take away the fact that she does not allow her personality to be pigeonholed into a stereotypical personality.
(Moms.com): How deliberate were you about depicting childhood trauma through Ashley’s interactions with both her birth father and her foster father, Kitch, who genuinely loved her?
(Muro): It was really important for her to finally have a positive male role model in her life. Of course, at first she thinks she’s going to be rejected. So, she runs away and she’s like, okay, I screwed up, and for him to be gentle and understanding and to speak to her on her level and her language is super important. Luke, as well, is a positive male role model. It was important to show people who are inclusive, understanding, and patient. I think she’s always had a lack of patience in her life from people around her. So, showing the different relationships and their effect on her was very important and real.
(Moms.com) While reading the graphic novel, I appreciated the theme of inclusion. Oftentimes, when we hear about inclusion, we hear about ethnic diversity or social economic diversity, but in this book–I noticed the absence of a female presence. You see a lot of her birth father, and her amazing new foster dad, Kitch, but I noticed the absence of her birth mother and I wanted to know what that connection was?
(Muro): That’s something I think we’re hoping to explore if we get another book. I think that’s something we’re going to dive into. We kind of didn’t want to give everything away. But her mother and that subject matter will absolutely come, if there’s a future for the series.
(Moms.com) Did you start out with creating graphic novels or was it something that transitioned from you writing for the screen and television?
(Muro): I personally started in writing for television. This is my first time doing this kind of medium, though it’s not that different. I think you can maybe tell from the book that it comes from a very visual and motion-based perspective. It moves a little differently, but people seem to be responding well to that very well. So, that’s great. I think all of my past experiences writing for film and television have informed this graphic novel, which makes it a little bit more unique.
(Moms.com): I can see your writing experience for the screen deeply influenced the layered characters and themes. There’s so much embedded the scientific themes, the talk of telekinesis, providing a voice for the voiceless in foster care, and childhood trauma. I immediately noticed that her foster parents are in an interracial marriage.
(Muro): It’s funny, because Tom’s [the co-writer] sister-in-law is Japanese and we were married for many years. So, it was nice to pull from that and it was just a normal thing. Hopefully it comes off as normal, because it was for us. So, that’s where that came from.
(Moms.com)What are some of the steps in the creative process when creating a young adult graphic novel? Do the pictures come first or does the story come first, and then the pictures manifest?
(Muro): For us, the story absolutely comes first. I’m sure there’s absolutely artists and writers that work in a certain way, but for us it was the writing that came first. And then we started working slowly in chunks at a time with the artist.
(Moms.com): Did the team do any research on the foster care system for Primer?
(Muro): For Ashley specifically, we researched a friend of Tom’s [the co-writer] to make sure it was correctly depicted. We wanted to be accurate and we wanted it to be a non-stereotypical trope presentation of it. We wanted to know what it was really like for foster children. I came from divorced parents, who divorced at a very young and an immigrant family on one side. So, I could identify with that kind of being pulled in directions that ranged from happiness to sadness. I understand Ashley’s need and ability to be able to maneuver and go through this obstacle course of life, and having to see where she fits.
(Moms.com) The visual arts are a big theme in Primer. What’s your perspective on Arts & Education curriculum?
Oh my gosh! It’s so important to me personally, because I’m also a musician. Having that as a kid, was a huge outlet for me as a result of the separation of my family. It made such a difference. It was like night and day, and I’d realized how much I was missing before the opportunity to have music classes. I think it’s super important!
DC’s Primer debuted on June 23rd, 2020. You can preview 10-pages as well as purchase the book HERE.
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