guest post (and interview) by A. David Lewis
Even in a world of superpowers and arch villains, healthcare can still be fraught, frustrating, and even futile. In Matthew Klein and Morgan Beem’s series Crashing (IDW Publishing), Dr. Rose Osler must push against her hospital’s policy of refusing treatment for “Powered” individuals, even if it costs the doctor her hard-won sobriety. Klein was kind enough to answer some questions about his book, particularly how addiction and workplace burnout might function in an admittedly fantastic, but recognizable, setting.
A. David Lewis: Why set the story in Boston?
Matthew Klein: I thought Boston would be really appropriate for a number of reasons. First off, it’s got a reputation as a working person’s city. It’s a city of people who hustle and grind every single day, which I thought would be really fitting for someone like the main character, Rose, to be within. Rose doesn’t make excuses, she just throws herself into her job, regardless of what’s happening in her personal life. She doesn’t take sick days. Doesn’t believe in time off. She just grinds and moves forward, which felt very Bostonian. Second, we have a running subplot about the Powered citizens having their rights to basic services being threatened. It would be the first city in the country to enact legislation against people with powers and for the historical purposes of such a political event Boston also felt like a great fit.
ADL: Were there any other superhero stories on addiction that inspired you? For instance, Iron Man’s “Demon in a Bottle” storyline or Green Lantern & Green Arrow’s Speedy.
MK: I mean, I’ve read those stories and the Harry Osborn addiction tale in Amazing Spider-Man #96-#99. That last one I believe was requested by President Nixon’s administration and was not approved by the Comics Code Authority. So, addiction’s been dealt with in various ways over the decades in comics. It’d be awesome if Crashing will get to be included in that lineage someday.
The biggest inspiration for the story, though, was watching first responders’ testimonials at the height of the pandemic. You saw these doctors, nurses, EMTs, posting about how they were overwhelmed, having panic attacks before their shifts, feeling so alone and helpless, then gearing up for another twelve-hour shift. I got the idea for Rose Osler at that point as an everyday hero who was in an overwhelming world, but instead of a pandemic it’s superpowered patients, who if she’s not careful could kill her or her nurses and attendants if she guesses wrong on how to treat them.
For the addiction, I mean, it’s just so rampant. I wanted Rose to be trying to cope with this increasingly complex world. The average person tends to put doctors on pedestals because we trust them with our health, with our lives! Yet, they’re as flawed and fallible as anyone else. Over 100,000 people died from overdoses in a twelve month period last year, the most on record. Every community is dealing with it, no matter if you live in a big city or a small town. I wanted to bring a spotlight to that because I don’t see it being dealt with anywhere else in comics.
ADL: How much of the story is autobiographical? That is, do you have close friends or family members in the healthcare profession?
MK: Nope, nobody in the healthcare profession in the Klein family. My mother is an addictions counselor and psychotherapist for forty years. I’ve known a lot of addicts; I’ve followed different therapies and the evolution of treatments. I am, however, a big medical drama fan!
ADL: What makes up Rose as a character? That is, are any real-life people an influence in her creation?
MK: As I said earlier, she’s born out of the testimonials I saw from doctors and nurses during the height of the pandemic. I can’t pinpoint her being based on one person so much as she’s an amalgamation of many of them.
ADL: Do you have any hospital experiences that inform Crashing’s story or tone?
MK: I feel like as I got into my thirties I started going to doctors and urgent cares a lot more! The day before Thanksgiving I went into a private ER in Texarkana, TX because I found out I had COVID and needed to have a work up of my heart done. I wish I’d gone through that before writing Crashing, I’d have a whole new subplot! Hopefully, if we get a sequel, I’ll be able to incorporate it.
ADL: Who is your target audience for CRASHING? Have any healthcare professionals offered feedback on it?
MK: It’s been a really rewarding response. I did signings at about a dozen shops across seven states. At almost every store I met someone who was either a nurse or a doctor or an EMT who thanked me and the team for putting together a story that showed them in a more realistic light. Someone asked me how I’d measure if the series is successful. To me, healthcare professionals liking it and finding does their profession justice is one of those ways. The other has been the people in recovery who’ve come up to me at signings and conventions to tell me how much they feel seen, heard, and included because of the series. That’s also been incredibly rewarding. I don’t care how much money it makes; that’s success.
ADL: Is there a message about the pressure of and perils for overworked doctors and clinicians at the heart of the story?
MK: I think readers can totally take that message from Crashing. I think there’s a warning in here about self-neglect. I think there’s a question about when you’ve crossed the line and reached burn out in your work life. I think it’s about people in high pressure professions whose job is to help others but don’t know how to ask for help themselves, who don’t even recognize when they need help. All of that, and probably more, can be taken out of Crashing. At the end of the day it’s a story of a woman who is addicted to saving everyone else, who never had anyone save her when she needed it early in her life. I think that’s something that’s universal in this day and age. I hope that readers will take from the series that it’s okay to put yourself first sometimes and that healing yourself will allow you to provide a stronger support to others. We’re taught in this society that sacrifice is noble, to be completely selfless is a virtue, and to work yourself beyond your limitations is an achievement. I want this series to challenge those assertions. Take care of yourself! That’s the message I take from Crashing. Once it’s in your hands though, it’s up to you to decide what message you receive.
ADL: Powered individuals make up a separate class of citizens in Crashing and can be refused medical care. In reality, do you believe that everyone, down to the worst criminal, deserves medical care?
MK: Absolutely, everyone deserves medical care, regardless of criminal status. It’s not a doctor’s job to dole out criminal punishment, they take an oath to do no harm. They’re trained not to discriminate and I think that’s extremely noble about the profession. There are other institutions whose responsibility is to administer consequences for criminal acts and rehabilitations for criminals. Doctors are there to help, period.