INTERVIEW: Tokusatsu, Boarding School Dramas, & Superhero Comics Come Together in Mat Groom’s Inferno Girl Red

Inferno Girl Red in costume

In Inferno Girl Red, Cássia Costa needs something to believe in, especially after an ancient cult and their demon army steal Apex City, her home. Cássia discovers that she is the only person who can right this wrong with a mysterious and powerful dragon bracelet affixes itself to her arm. Now, as the only person equipped to stop the cult from offering up Apex City to their dark lord, she discovers that there’s just one catch: Cássia needs to believe in it, but as a pragmatic girl, she doesn’t have much faith to spare. Writer and co-creator Mat Groom (Marvel’s Ultraman) brings a long time concept to life, drawing on his love of Japanese tokusatsu, British boarding school dramas, American superhero comics. Groom teams up with artist Erica D’Urso (Captain Marvel, Xena: Warrior Princess), along with colourist Igor Monti, letterer Becca Carey, editor Kyle Higgins, and design group For The People to launch Inferno Girl Red on Kickstarter. Here, Mat Groom talks about what makes his new hero tick.

Inferno Girl Red in costume

Japanese tokusatsu, British boarding school dramas, American superhero comics — that’s an intense combination! How did you get into each of these genres? What were the titles that drew you in and what made you decide to wrap them all together in Inferno Girl Red?

With Inferno Girl Red, we had a story we wanted to tell about the nature of belief, and what it means (and what it costs!) to have hope in the face of darkness — and we figured out pretty quickly that blending boarding school drama, American superhero comics and tokusatsu would be the best way to do it. It might seem like a strange mix, but I don’t think that’s the case at all — although I think your use of the word ‘intense’ is spot-on. At the core, they’re all about heightened emotion, and dramatic expression of that emotion.

In terms of what drew me to these genres– they’re actually all ones I’ve grown up with. For tokusatsu, I grew up with Power Rangers — but in adulthood discovered shows like Kamen Rider Build, and am now exploring Ultraman in a professional capacity. For boarding school dramas, like so many people my age, I grew up with Harry Potter — and in adulthood discovered novels like Never Let Me Go and great comics like Fence (as well as had Harry Potter comprehensively ruined for me by its author). For superheroes, again, like many my age, Batman: The Animated Series was my gateway drug, which led me to comics which I’m obviously rather passionate about.

But I do think I responded to them all because of what I mentioned before, that expressive and explosive representation of ideas and emotions, and that’s what I wanted to bake into Inferno Girl Red, using all of these forms as inspiration.

Mat, you’ve been working on the story for three years… how did it first come to you and how has it evolved from those initial concepts?

As I mentioned before, I wanted to tell a story about the power (and danger) of belief — but also, to try and reconsider superheroes a bit? I think there’s been a lot of superhero deconstruction lately, a lot of extremely valid critique of super-powered beings who defend the status quo at a time when the status quo is quite bad for a whole lot of people. But rather than doing deconstruction, I wanted to do… reconstruction, I guess. To figure out my take on a superhero who fights for what could be, instead of to protect what currently is.

But that’s all quite conceptual. I had an idea of the characters and the world, but none of it felt real and specific and genuinely meaningful until Erica D’Urso joined me on the project, to co-create these characters and this world.

Erica’s passion and style and specificity of vision and unique perspective were truly transformative. I couldn’t have possibly imagined this version of the book, but I also couldn’t be happier with how it has turned out.

Inferno Girl Red in costume

Tell us a bit about who Cássia is and what she means to you? Is she inspired by anyone close to you?

Cássia’s a girl who never really had any opportunities to put down roots. Because of an incident many years ago, Cássia’s mother is (unjustly) treated like something of a pariah, so she and Cássia have had to move from place to place as get by as best they could. Which isn’t at all to say she’s a tragic character — her mother is a joyful and loving person, who helped ensure Cássia has had a largely happy life. But Cássia has also cultivated an understandably pragmatic view of the world.

So when she gets an invitation to a prestigious school in the progressive-and-futuristic Apex City, she’s a little sceptical that everything is as rosy as it appears. It seems like she’s proven right when the whole city is ripped out of existence soon after she arrives there, and she suddenly finds herself in a position where she’s the only one who can set things right — but only if she’s able to believe that she can.

Cássia’s not based off any one particular person I know… but I spent much of my childhood in Queanbeyan, which is a really working-class town down here in Australia… and I knew a lot of people who had been dealt a bad hand, and if you were to hear them talk you’d think they had a pretty pessimistic view of things… but they also possessed a truly remarkable capacity to bind together and help each other out in times of need, to make a lot out of a little. I gained an appreciation for how empathy and strength can be forged quite powerfully in hardship.

Now, that’s not at all to romanticize poverty, or anything like that — it’s not good that so many people in the world suffer and go without essentials. And it’s certainly not useful to generalize — people aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because of their life circumstances. But resilient optimism impresses and inspires me, and there’s a lot of that in Cássia, even if it’s buried a little deep.

Inferno Girl Red stands in a power pose with power circulating around her raised right hand
Cover by Nicola Scott

How did you come up with her costume design?

Oh, that was ALL Erica. We chatted a bit about potential influences — obviously there’s some tokusatsu in there, but also some inspiration from more recent America superheroes, too — but it was really just Erica designing a superhero she thought that people generally, but girls especially, could look up to.

The super sneakers, the energy scarf… so many great ideas, all Erica’s.

Tell us a bit about your creative process? Was there a lot of back and forth between the writing and the artistic work?

Very, very much, yeah! It’s really just a matter of bouncing back-and-forth and iterating constantly, to make sure we’re building off each other’s ideas.

I wrote an outline, which inspired Erica’s concept sketches and world design, which inspired my script, which inspired Erica’s line art, which inspired Igor’s colors and Becca’s letters — all of which inspired my revised lettering script. It’s honestly the best part of making comics, to me. I’m always amazed by the immense talents of cartoonists, people who are their own one-person teams in comics… but I’d never want that for myself. Starting with an idea and seeing how we all build on, layering our skills and perspectives… it’s a real good motivator to get out of bed in the morning.

Inferno Girl Red will be an oversized deluxe, 100-page hardcover, featuring a Kickstarter-exclusive cover and concept art, plus a Radiant Black/Inferno Girl Red team up print by Marcelo Costa and Erica D’Urso. The Kickstarter, which runs now until May 5, will also feature giclee art prints by Darko Lafuente, Doaly, Francesco Manna, Eduardo Ferigato, Dash O’Brien–Georgeson, Federico Sabbatini (with Martina Fari), Wil Sur, Kath Lobo, Serg Acūna, Eleonora Carlini, Tiffany Turrill, Nicola Scott, Nicole Goux and Valeria Favoccia.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.