It came to Olivia Cuartero-Briggs one night in a dream while she was in her 20s — she pauses — “I’m starting to sound like a bad musical,” she says with a laugh before going on to describe waking up on the floor of a building she didn’t recognize with strangers all around her. Workers moved around with flashlights and when she asked what had happened, they explained that she had passed on. For whatever reason, she believed them completely and listened to their instructions as the workers ushered people along, informing them that there were too many people on this particular floor and they needed to find a room for the night. They were led out onto a footbridge where she got her first glance of a sweeping city that she’d never seen before — and would never forget.
Welcome to Silver City. Welcome to a whole new after life.
Cuartero-Briggs’ dream continued on to reveal her new life to her, eventually introducing her to a baby that had also seemingly passed on to the Silver City, until one day Cuartero-Briggs discovered that the child was still growing, even in the afterlife. Which meant that this baby she was caring for was still alive on the other side — which meant this baby’s life was in very real danger.
Much evolved from that initial dream, Silver City is now reality thanks to AfterShock Comics, with the first issue available next month. Cuartero-Briggs is joined by artist and colourist Luca Merli and letterer Dave Sharpe, with covers by Roberta Ingranata with Bryan Valenza, to bring us the story of Ru. Raised in a string of unhappy foster homes, Ru is a fighter, a survivor, and, even though she’s wound up dead, she’s not going to let that stop her.
“When a young roughneck lands in Silver City, the gritty, purgatorial metropolis of the afterlife, she must adapt to her new existence, while attempting to uncover how and why she died. Her mission is derailed, however, when she rescues a newly dead girl from a mysterious kidnapping attempt, and discovers powerful, kinetic abilities.
“Welcome to Silver City, where the sun never rises and nothing ever changes…until now.”
Cuartero-Briggs woke up from her dream and the Silver City stayed with her over the next 12 years as she went on to master in dramatic writing. Her focus during school and now remains television and film writing. You can find her name on productions such as The Arrangement, Queen of the South, Peaked in High School, and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. Over those 12 years, she spent a lot of time tossing around ideas with her college friend and delving into concepts of the afterlife that would lead to the many levels of purgatory we will see in this story. Though she was not raised religious, it was Cuartero-Briggs’ curiousity and friends who introduced her to a wide range of beliefs that helped her develop the dogma that would manifest as part of the worldbuilding for Silver City. “I remember going to a Baptist church with a friend in Queens. I would go to temple a lot. A lot of my friends were Jewish. I’ve been to more Passover Seders than Christmas parties, probably, and my godmother used to take me to the ashram with her. So I got to experience all different types of religious practices and culture and learn about them in a really organic way just out of pure curiosity, with open and giving people beside me.”
“There was also the idea of souls reincarnating and travelling cyclically through various lifetimes,” she adds, “it made sense to me. And it was exciting to get to explore what it might mean to be the oldest soul.” Cuartero-Briggs’ mother is a proponent of reincarnation and the joy and purpose it can bring to life. Her mother believes there are indeed souls that we’ve met before and some that travel with us, and that we meet again and again. Cuartero-Briggs herself has been described by mystics as an “old soul” and, throughout many moments in her life, has felt like she met people she has known before. “I’ve always kind of felt like there’s wonder purpose to this whole experience,” Cuartero-Briggs explains, “I think we all have really big questions about, you know, what does it all mean? Why am I here? And for me, everything that I create starts with a question. And Silver City is my answer to that question.”
While finding her own spirituality, which Cuartero-Briggs describes as ethereal and earth-based, she also experienced the joy of shaping and growing these ideas for Silver City and it’s many layers. Because what we see in the first five books of this series are just the first of the eight levels of this world that Cuartero-Briggs has created, with the footbridge into the Silver City as just the beginning of this epic journey for Ru.
The world and story that Cuartero-Briggs has built are so immense that, she realized early on, film and television weren’t enough to contain it. Comics was not her first thought — she’d not read a comic since she was a kid who didn’t appreciate seeing the depictions of scantily clad women on the covers of the various books on the stands, though she did appreciate the relationship between Archie Comics’ Betty and Veronica. Moreover, science fiction and fantasy weren’t genres Cuartero-Briggs believed herself capable of writing. “[Writing fantasy is] difficult,” says Cuartero-Briggs, “It’s a really, really big job because you not only have to conceptualize the world visually itself, but assign all of the rules to it.”
It was her TV-writing colleague, good friend, and mentor, Adam Glass, who introduced her to the storytelling opportunity that comics could offer and guided her on the paths to help shape her world, which is something for which she is eternally grateful. They worked together on her first comics writing credit, AfterShock’s Mary Shelley: Monster Hunter, which earned a place on a few best of lists in 2019.
“Anyone who gets the opportunity to listen to Adam talk about story or to work with Adam on story — his brain just goes like 100 miles an hour and the stuff he comes up with is an exercise in mind bending sometimes. Sitting across from each other and shooting ideas back and forth like there was nothing that was too crazy to be considered. And when you find that in a partnership, or shift, hold on to it for dear life because that’s where the money is.”
That experience has resulted in plans for future comics projects between them, but also inspired a love for comics writing and gave her the confidence to take her dream to the next level — the first level of Silver City. She pitched the concept to AfterShock president Lee Kramer, thinking that he would ask her to flesh out the paragraph she’d sent him before agreeing. Instead, he called her and simply asked if she wanted to move forward with her literal dream come true project. The next step was finding an artist. When Cuartero-Briggs saw Merli’s work, she was instantly amazed. In a press release, she say “I felt like he was reading my mind throughout the entire illustrating process. He brings the city, the world, and the characters “to life” (no pun intended) in ways I could only dream of.”
“99% of the time he nails what was in my head,” says Cuartero-Briggs of her experience of working with Merli. “It’s kind of uncanny. I mean, sure, maybe like the angle is different or something. But the life of the characters — he completely nails, even their body language, like the way that he has Ru standing. There’s always a toughness about her. Her shoulders are always a little up. She’s always a little on guard, you know, because she is tough, but there’s also a sense of bravado about her because she’s guarding herself. That kind of female machismo that you can’t touch me — it’s very present in the character.”
The back-and-forth between writer and artist has been a healthy working and learning experience, Cuartero-Briggs says. “[Merli is] incredibly easy going and very adaptive. And if he feels strongly about something, he’ll come back, which I love. I think it’s never a good idea, as an artist, to work against your own interest, no matter who’s giving you a note. And I find that when you can engage in a healthy creative dialogue, even if you’re coming from completely different viewpoints, it’s always better to find the happy medium, because there’s a reason why he wants things his way. And there’s a reason I want things my way. And I think when we put our heads together, it’s worked out really, really well.”
Merli even surprised Cuartero-Briggs by granting a wish following the passing of her first dog, Snacks. “I don’t usually endeavour to have artists represent people in my life,” she notes, but she wasn’t ready to let Snacks go just yet and writing a book about the afterlife seemed like the perfect opportunity to swallow her self-consciousness over real life inclusions. “I created this little Dropbox folder for him of pictures of my dog. And I said, no pressured about this, but this is my dog Snacks, can you make Snacks [in the comic] look like him. And he did. And it was so gratifying and satisfying to get to see your baby again. And that’s what Luca did for me with Snacks.”
As for Ru, Cuartero-Briggs loves an underdog story. She describes her protagonist as someone who has been told that she’s worthless for most of her life, but still remains a fighter through it all. “She’s someone who’s on the extreme end of a painful existence where she was really under-appreciated, discovering that she’s basically the saviour of all mankind.” What Ru really wanted out of life was to find out where she came from, after being left on a doorstep as a baby. She wanted a sense of belonging and people who care for her which, in turn, would grant her purpose. She didn’t find that in life, but perhaps she can find that in the afterlife.
“It’s been a really charmed experience all around,” says Cuartero-Briggs about the process of working on her own dream comic with the creative team and her editors, whom she says have been really supportive and curious about the world of Silver City. “I always know that I can trust their feedback, and really have an informed back and forth with them about ideas and how to grow and how to make the best choices for the story.”
Though she never thought of herself as a fantasy writer before who could bring her own dreams to life, living across the street from Universal Studios’ Harry Potter World made her ask herself “why not?”
“I’m grateful for the road that was paved, because it’s given me the guts to put this cloak on of fantasy writer and see how it fits and see what I’m able to do. And it’s another muscle exercise in my my own personal epic adventure of of trying to gain immortality through my writing.”
See you in the Silver City next month.