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The Many Deaths of Laila Starr’s Ram V & Filipe Andrade Talk Their New Boom! Series

While Ram V deals out plenty of magical mayhem with the Justice League Dark, but he’s teaming up with fan-favorite artist Filipe Andrade for a very different supernatural tale in the new BOOM! Studios comic book series The Many Deaths of Laila Starr. As humanity prepares to unlock the secrets of immortality, the personification of death finds themself in the body of a young woman in the streets of Mumbai, facing her own mortality and questions about existence in a thrilling look at life and death’s biggest questions.

In an exclusive interview with CBR, Ram and Andrade spoke about the big themes in their story, the departure in death’s depiction to most Western appearances and the beauty and color of life and death’s eternal dance with one another. Also included are the opening issue’s covers along with preview pages written by Ram, illustrated by Andrade and lettered by AndWorld Design.

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CBR: Where did the idea of framing this story about death within Mumbai for The Many Deaths of Laila Starr come about?

Ram V: Looking back, part of it stems from being younger and trying to write about death, [but never having] experienced anything of this gravity to be able to write with any kind of authority. And that I’m closer to 40 and lost people that I’ve cared about and experienced death personally and impersonally, I suppose I had to a lot to say about how we look at death, how death is a cultural artifact that is often unique to the places people come from. And India has a long tradition where the avatar of death comes to the mortal realm to mix it up with the mortals, every now and then, so it seemed an apt thing to do.

I’ve always been intrigued by the importance of geography in your storytelling, from Paradiso at Image and These Savage Shores at Vault to your superhero stories like Swamp Thing and Catwoman moving to a new part of Gotham. What is it about that theme you find intriguing and, Filipe, how do you visually bring that to life?

Ram: The way I look at place in storytelling, it’s almost like an ever-present character in your story and the only things that make us different are — not merely in terms of geography but psycho-geographically — where we come from. If you’re talking about things as big as death, mortality and immortality, then surely you must recognize those things mean very different things to people depending on where they come from. Filipe touched on this earlier, but he didn’t want to draw death as a black, goth figure as it appears often in American or European stories, and he wanted to breathe a little bit of life into it which I thought was beautiful because I think that touches a lot closer to the way people in India and Mumbai would probably think about death.

Filipe Andrade: Ram already set up beautifully all these gods’ worlds, so I was looking to things that could fit these designs: Sharp lines, Bauhaus styles, these kind of situations. And like Ram was saying, I tried to bring life with a colorful sky and light; even in the elevators and the corridors, everything is [full of light.]

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To you on the spot a bit, Ram, what made Filipe the perfect artist to bring this all to life?

Ram: I’m going to be very honest and say I looked at a lot of images, and then I came across Filipe’s Instagram that [senior editor Eric Harburn] sent over to me and I went “This is it! This guy is perfect!” I think it’s because those images had a sense of innocence; even though [he] was drawing big, mature things — sometimes superheroes, sometimes big cities — there is somewhere a little child’s hand at play drawing these things. I think that kind of innocence is very hard to develop, it’s inherent and part of your personality as an artist, and that’s what I saw in. I think innocence is very important to the kind of stories that we’re telling so I was just thrilled to see those first few images, and I told Eric we had had Filipe on this book.

To flip that, Filipe, what was it about Ram’s scripts that made you want to draw them and work on this book?

Andrade: First of all, it was challenging because I went to Mumbai and India 11 years ago, but it’s always a good place to think about because it’s so different. Everybody that goes to India says it’s like a different planet because everything has a different way of being and everything is so colorful. And in this year of living inside, thinking about color is everything: Color is life, it’s something that brings you joy and freedom and thought. This project came in at the right time, at the right moment, for this reason. The words in Ram’s script convinced me because it’s a different world and a really important subject to discuss. I think being with all these different backgrounds of life and death — I’m Portuguese, the story is set in India, Ram is Indian, and the story will go out in the U.S. — all these layers are felt from the beginning.

I love that this is a story that deals with something as big as life and death and yet it’s incredibly grounded, like, the only guarantee we have coming into life is death. How is it balancing these magical elements with the grounded elements?

Ram: I think you said it, the only grounding element you need is eternal knowledge that everything is going to stop at some point and we’re all born with that knowledge. To be honest, I don’t feel the need to marry the two things. I think death itself, as a fundamental concept, is so grounding that you could do absolutely absurd things with it. As long as you reflect back on life and death in some way, you can go as crazy as you want telling quite a poignant story. I think the amount of grounding we have varies story-to-story; I think Issue #3 is far more grounded than Issue #1, Issue #2 is somewhere in between, but they all have their own fantastical elements. I don’t think in terms of balancing — I’m talking about death, for god’s sake — I don’t have to balance that with the gravity of anything else.

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With the idea that you’re reinventing yourselves with each issue across The Many Deaths of Laila Starr, how challenging and exciting is that creatively?

Andrade: Yeah, it’s super challenging but in a really good way, because every story takes place in really beautiful, interesting places. For me, it’s a thrill to draw; the research and looking everything up is interesting. In the visual way I’m balancing the book, there’s debris and really clean things and you can see this in the covers, for example. This is something interesting for me to work on, because it’s such a big book and it allows me to play a little bit with balances in the issues.

Ram: I’m a fan of this format, you’ve seen it in some of my previous work, like Grafity’s Wall, where a different character takes on each chapter. I don’t want to repeat myself, but I also enjoy having each chapter feel like a completely different journey or experience. I’m not as much reinventing so much as just having fun how else can I tell a story. I think you’ll see the narrative form of it all being pushed each issue in a different place.

With this first issue out, what are you most proud about getting to share this story with readers?

Ram: The thing I’m most proud about is every time I see the art come out and the finished page in front of me, there’s this weirdly childish, dopamine rush where I go “Yes! I’m making a comic!” even though I’ve been making one every month now. But still, just getting pages in, is this joyous life-affirming, job-affirming, idea-affirming feeling. And to do it with someone like Filipe makes the process infinitely more beautiful.

Andrade: Thanks, Ram, for those words, I feel the same. It’s been great to work on this book because it’s a book that drives through the questions of humanity that matches the questions we’re having now. It brings a lot of color and a way of seeing the world a little bit different; I hope this book at least inspires people.

Written by Ram V and illustrated by Filipe Andrade, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr #1 is on sale now from BOOM! Studios.

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