In a not-entirely-unfamiliar world harshly divided along class lines, where elections are cancelled and the wealthy keep a tight hold on power, a young basketball star who just happens to be descended from the legendary rebel queen Boudica decides enough is enough. That’s the set-up for Ho Che Anderson’s new novella Stone, featuring gorgeous illustrations by the author.
io9 is thrilled to be debuting the cover, four illustrations, and an excerpt from Stone today. “The notion of revenge is exciting on a visceral level,” comic creator Anderson said in a statement. “Who among us hasn’t had the fantasy of exacting payback against those who have wronged us? And who among us doesn’t enjoy seeing that fantasy played out by onscreen proxies? But the reality of that cycle of violence in the real world is ugly and messy. I wanted to look at revenge at a deeper level to see how it actually affects those who perpetrate it and those who are affected by it.”
He was influenced by a variety of sources that share similar themes. “In writing Stone, I took inspiration from many books and movies — among them Billy Jack, Rolling Thunder, and Death Wish,” said Anderson. “I was especially influenced by the work of Chester Himes, Donald Goines, and Iceberg Slim, three African American writers who were operating from the ‘40s to the ‘70s, and who told socially conscious stories that still delivered on a hard-boiled genre level. Stone examines conservatism run amuck, allowing us to shine a cautionary light on where we have the potential to wind up. And as an equal opportunity commentary, we delve into the shortcomings of a smug and liberal left.”
And, of course, Stone is ultimately a very timely tale. “In the summer of 2020 we’re living in a time where the mainstream’s eyes are opening to the brutalities of the state,” Anderson said. “But the human temptation toward complacency is strong. If I have my way and we’re given the chance to tell further stories in the Stone universe, both in print and on the screen, we’ll have the opportunity to keep these realities alive in the discussion.”
After Stone, Anderson has a follow-up titled Rizzo coming later this year. But first, let’s take a look at the reveal of Stone’s striking cover:
Next up, here are four spot illustrations by Anderson from inside the novella, also making their debut here on Gizmodo.
And finally, here’s an exclusive reveal of Stone’s third chapter, in which heroine Graciela “Stone” O’Leary decides she’s reached a particular point of no return.
La Paz, barely visible behind the boxes of detergent, is giving herself a bath. Tortoiseshells are my favourite, but I’ll be honest, this cat’s a bit of a bitch. I’m sucking back blood from the scratch she gave me on my finger when a kid in a red hoodie saunters in.
From up the hill. You can just tell. Making sure you can see his labels. That swagger, based on nothing. You can’t even grow pubes, kid, that shitty facial hair you’re attempt- ing’s a dead giveaway. Looking me up and down before sucking his teeth and walking along the cooler aisle like he pays rent on the place.
“Yo — you carry malt?” he says. “Old E?”
Eight-thirty in the — “Sorry, no,” I say. “We don’t get that in the flats. Bud, Bud Light’s about it. Sometimes Coors.”
“Ain’t got no malt? Damn, son....”
An old lady in a faux-fur coat hobbles in, bee-lines for the counter. Nods at me, starts rifling through the lottery tickets, like she’ll recognise a winner when she sees it. I try to go back to finishing my final civics paper.
Another kid walks in, also in a hoodie, brown this time. Avoids my gaze. Glances over at Red Hoodie, still checking out the cooler. Red Hoodie glances back.
La Paz leaps from her perch beside the detergent and strolls over to the old lady. Rubs against her leg.
“Hello, little precious!” she says to the little bitch. Bodega cats, always a hit with the punters, as Papi would say.
Brown Hoodie says: “Yo — you carry malt?”
I stare at him. Brown Hoodie stares back.
I look over at Red Hoodie. He’s holding a knife, shining a crooked grin at me.
I look back at Brown Hoodie. Holding a gun on me. An expensive Heckler and Koch, clattering in his shaking hands. “Empty the fucking till, bitch,” he says.
There is a weird pause between the old woman seeing the gun in all its glory and the drawn out “AAGGGHHH!” that erupts from her.
Maybe it just seems that way because I’m watching this all in slow motion. It’s happening outside me, like the last play with eight seconds left on the game clock and down by one. Maybe it’s because I’m sick of hill rats coming down to play gangsta among us gutter dwelling flats folks, knowing that all they gotta do is get out the door and they can hide behind a wall of lawyers and friendly cops, prosecutors, judges, all in thrall to daddy’s money. Maybe it’s because just like in ball, you don’t steal from me, I steal from you. But my hand is reaching out and grabbing the gun and pulling it and his arm behind me before I even realise I’m doing it.
The gun fires, I feel the kick, my bones feel for a second like they’ve turned to powder, and still I don’t let go. At the same time, I’m pulling the aluminium bat out from behind the counter where we always keep it and — I’m positive — fracturing Brown Hoodie’s skull. I look down at him on the floor clutching his broken head, and there’s already a blood pool forming underneath it.
The old lady is screaming even louder now. La Paz starts licking up Brown Hoodie’s blood.
I look over at Red Hoodie. His eyes are saucers. I wonder absently what my eyes look like right then.
I walk out from behind the counter, holding the bloody bat. I’ve still got the gun in my hand, and probably I should point it at him, but in that moment, I forget I’m holding it.
Red Hoodie takes two steps back. “Yo, this — this was his idea,” he says, choking out the words.
“OK,” I say, walking slowly toward him.
He looks at the weapons in my hands. Drops his knife. Turns and sprints out of the bodega, the place my mother and her parents built with their own hands, the place my father sweats and bleeds over daily, honouring her memory, honouring the neighbourhood she swore to serve. I watch him go.
I look back at the old lady. She’s stopped screaming now. Instead, she’s looking at me with an expression I’ve never quite seen anyone look at me with before.
Is it awe? Or is it fear?
Excerpt and art from Ho Che Anderson’s Stone reprinted by permission. Copyright NeoText.
Ho Che Anderson’s Stone will be available digitally on September 15; visit NeoText to learn more.