Keryl Brown Ahmed Is Reinventing Archie Comics’ Jaguar For A New Generation

Jaguar Interview

Keryl Brown Ahmed is probably best known for Archie Comics‘ hit series on Webtoon (and subsequent collected editions), Big Ethel Energy. It focuses on Ethel Muggs, often a background character in other stories, and gives the Riverdale gang a more modern sheen. And now, Brown Ahmed is bringing the same (big) energy to another part of the Archie Comics universe with The Jaguar, a one-shot thrusting the classic Archie superhero into the modern era, as well.

Big Ethel Energy is very much about Feelings and picks apart social interactions with a fine-toothed comb, and The Jaguar engages in more high-octane intrigue,” Ahmed Brown told Comic Book Club over email. “The overlap between the two projects is that both protagonists are pretty neurotic, which probably says plenty about my own nature!”

To find out more about what went into making the new one-shot, which joins Bob Phantom and Darkling in Archie’s slowly expanding line of modern takes on classic superheroes, read on.

Comic Book Club: This is a pretty big change from Big Ethel Energy… What was it like switching over to the superhero side of Archie?

Keryl Brown Ahmed: For The Jaguar it was weird not constantly thinking WWED? (a.k.a. What Would Ethel Do?) and instead planning highly visual action sequences. BIG ETHEL ENERGY is very much about Feelings and picks apart social interactions with a fine-toothed comb, and THE JAGUAR engages in more high-octane intrigue. It was fun to write a lot of action and I felt like I was providing more visual variety than Ethel has, which is often scenes of back-and-forth conversations (albeit with amazing and ever-changing fashion, dished up by talented artist Siobhan Keenan). The overlap between the two projects is that both protagonists are pretty neurotic, which probably says plenty about my own nature!

Broad question here, but what do you think makes an Archie Comics superhero — versus, say, other publishers?

I find the Archie superheroes tend to be very character-driven—I didn’t feel the need to make many references to the Archie superhero universe in order to write a compelling story that still felt like it belonged amongst the other Archie titles. Not that references would be a bad thing—as I learn more about the characters and stories, I look forward to finding cool ways to make them interconnect!

Given the character has been around since the 1960s, how beholden did you feel to the history there – versus doing your own, clean take?

My editor didn’t ask me to include Ralph Hardy [the Silver Age Jaguar]; I did that because I wanted to honor the history of the character. And there’s of course even more that I didn’t touch upon in this issue. In a way, I feel like Ivette—Archie Comics chose me to be the steward of this character, and part of earning that privilege is ensuring that the roots aren’t forgotten. I really like the idea of powers being handed down or bestowed upon someone by a mentor who knows them and has deemed them worthy of the role. Plus, it helps with structure—I didn’t want to do a full origin story for this one, and I think it would’ve taken too many panels to explain why Ivette has the helmet if I didn’t have the quick reference to Ralph. I’m also a big fan of reading the second or third book in a series and then going back to the start, because I tend to get a better sense of the characters when they’re already doing their thing. A lack of exposition when it’s needed can be distracting, but too much exposition can bog down a story. Showing Ralph is an easy way to remind readers that there are other stories featuring this character, and if they want more Jaguar, they can find it (and hopefully get even more in the future)!

The Jaguar Cover B Murakami

You don’t give us a straight origin story here, though there are elements of it. Talk me through that choice, versus your classic, “With great jaguars, comes great responsibility.”

I think it didn’t help that I read and reread a ton of old Jaguar issues before I got started on my story, so in my mind there was already an origin story and I didn’t need to beat a dead horse, but as this is a different iteration of the character, and the history is slightly different, I certainly COULD have gone with a fresh origin story. Except I wanted to jump right into the action without a ton of exposition because I had a very clear idea of the main conflict and was super excited to write it. I generally like introducing characters without too much exposition and then going back later and filling in more details about their past. I’m an avid reader and I find that I’m most invested in characters when I meet them first in the middle of whatever they’re doing, which makes me curious about their backstory, which makes me invested in finding out more about them. This probably doesn’t make much sense; my brain works in a very weird way! Point is, I’d love to write more Jaguar issues where I explore her history, including a true origin story where I expand on the flashback page in this one-shot.

This is the stupidest possible thing to ask, so get ready: why is she protecting Pampas cats, instead of Jaguars?

It’s not at all stupid! Two primary reasons: first, the Moche people, where Ai Apaec originates and this story is set, lived on the northern coast of Peru, and jaguars reside primarily in Peruvian Amazonia; second, apropos of the mystery set up to draw Ivette down to Peru on the research trip, I don’t know if a hawk could kill a jaguar, whereas Pampas cats are smaller and could ostensibly fall victim to a bird of prey. (Zoologists, please don’t fact-check me on that.) Plus, look up images of Pampas cats if you haven’t already. They’re deadly, don’t get me wrong, but also SO cute. Small but fierce, as they say.

You have a really elegant throughline here about our main character accepting her heritage – what drew you to that emotional theme, in particular?

Thank you! My mother is from Kenya, but I’ve never lived there and I don’t speak Swahili or our tribal language, Somali. On the other hand, my dad is American, I’ve lived here for most of my life, and my paternal grandparents happened to be fantastic family historians who passed their enthusiasm onto me. Although I do feel connected to my Kenyan heritage in many ways, I also feel like a bit of an outsider when I’m there. I have to remind myself that I am just as much Kenyan as I am American, it just takes more effort to maintain my connection to Kenya because I’m physically far away. Ivette feels even less connected to her parents’ home country than I do to mine because her only familial link to Peru was broken when her parents died. Even though English is a national language of Kenya, I often have moments of insecurity where I think, “Am I really Kenyan or Somali if I can’t even understand the languages?” I know that my American friends whose parents are Spanish speakers feel similarly, so this was a way for me to remind them—and myself, I suppose—that they shouldn’t doubt their cultural identity simply because they speak the language of the country they grew up in and not the one of the country their family is originally from.

The Jaguar Cover A Sanapo

Archie has been laying in new origins for their various superhero characters for the past few years… Are there any in particular you would like to see Jaguar cross paths with?

I would love to see Jaguar and The Web featured together in a story! I thought Ivette and Wyatt had fantastic chemistry in THE NEW CRUSADERS, and his powers intrigue me. Plus, he’s a nerd, I’m a nerd; she’s shy, I’m shy—I think I’d have a lot of fodder for storylines based on their personalities alone. I also think the visual contrast between Jaguar’s red and gold and Web’s electric blue would be rather striking.

I also really enjoyed the DARKLING one-shot that came out last year, and I think if Ivette and Darla crossed paths they’d get along. Well, they’re both loners, so maybe it would take a minute for them to recognize the potential for friendship… but once they do, and once they compare notes on powers—Ivette has a whole world in her helmet, Darla has a portal through her cape—they could definitely kick some serious ass together. Or get on each other’s last nerve. I could see that, too. Maybe The Web gets caught in the middle and feels super uncomfortable about it. I’m getting very excited about the potential here. Brb, going to go outline some stories!

…And how would she do in the world of Big Ethel Energy?

Archie would have a crush on her for sure. She and Ethel are both super awkward, but she’s shy and Ethel isn’t. I think Ethel would find her fascinating and want to do a big story on her zoology work and Ivette would be all, “I’m totally down to bring you along on a research trip, but how about we not publish the fact that I’m Jaguar? Thanks girl!” And because Ethel’s a total professional she’d omit that in her article but also probably definitely still tell Seth and Betty that she’s friends with a superhero.

The Jaguar #1 is in comic book stores now.

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