Justice Warriors — The Mega-Interview

I’ll get to the point: my new comic book Justice Warriors #1 is out in comic shops! I’m very excited and I hope you’ll go pick up a copy. This book represents a major shift for me in my career and while I didn’t draw the main art—that would be my collaborator Ben Clarkson—my fingerprints are all over the book from writing to lettering to back-up strips. If you’ve liked my political cartoons over the years, particularly my dystopian and futuristic stuff, you should love this book.

Initial reviews are good, with AIPT Comics declaring: ““This is the type of comic that comes around once in a while and reminds you what the form can achieve. Both creators deserve praise for what they’ve made here. It’s hard to believe anyone that reads comics wouldn’t enjoy this.”

After working in political cartoons for 18 years and dealing with the immediate response of constant publishing, for better and worse, it’s nice to hear some good things about something you’ve been quietly toiling away on for more than a year. I’ve done a slew of press for this series, with a lot of comic sites large and small interviewing Ben and I. I cannot fathom you’d want to read something like seven interviews with me, so instead I’m going to give you a little digest of some of the better questions and answers from this press tour.

Oh, and if you need any more convincing check out the five page preview of the comic here. If you do read it this week, I’d love to know what you think! I’m easy to find on social media—Twitter, Instagram, Facebook (Follow Ben while we’re at it)—and I send out a regular free newsletter with art, comics, and Thoughts.

All three variant covers for issue #1 from Ahoy comics: by Ben Passmore, Ben Clarkson, and myself.

CBR: What was your writing process like? How did the two of you collaborate to build the world of the Justice Warriors?

Clarkson: The writing process for us really starts with conversations. We try to grab onto ideas that keep us chatting or make us laugh. It’s really a stimulating experience. From those conversations, we piece together outlines, and Matt goes away and comes back with a script. We’ll then go back and forth on drafts, punching up jokes, changing whole pages. I once almost convinced him to tear out the funniest part of issue two, and through it, we’ve really crafted the soul of Justice Warriors.

Bors: Yeah, we build off each other in a great way. It’s a true collaborative comic with us both throwing in at various steps of the process. We’re always adding and building. Just look at all the small details Ben throws into each panel, the posters on the wall, signs, and graffiti. That’s all him. We have a lot of world-building in this comic — the city itself is a character — and ideas for many years of future volumes.

Get to your local comic shop and please be mindful that demand could outstrip supply.

VM: Tell me what interested you about these characters, Swamp Cop and Schitt.

MB: It’s the buddy cop dynamic on a lot of stimulants. Training Day, Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys. But worse, by which I mean better.

BC: Swamp started appearing in the sketch books a few years back, I had no idea who he was, or what world he inhabited. He was a cop in another comic world I was developing for awhile. He’s a really great character because he is pathetic, every slight or humiliation we can make him suffer we do it, because there’s something so satisfying about twisting the knife in such a self serious and damaged cretin. His deteriorating mental health is a big part of the book.

Schitt is a sweetheart, who happens to be made entirely of excrement. He’s brutal, cowardly, lazy, flippant, literally spineless, a regular joe.

This cop is a real piece of shit!

V1B: At the end of the first issue, you include a list of comics that blend superheroes and policing, from a Captain America arc to Gotham Central. Was creating a comic about police — even a satirical one — particularly challenging right now?

Bors: In one sense, it may be easier because views on police have started to shift to where more people get a critique of the institution. It would maybe be more challenging if we were specifically addressing the events of the last few years. That is in here, to be sure, but the relationship between the Bubble and the UZ is the core and that represents the policed and unpoliced communities, but also workers and owners, where goods are extracted from and where they go, and the organized vs. the chaotic, the straight and the weird. Cops are the jumping off point.

Cops have been such a big part of movies and popular culture. You stand back and really look at the whole, we’re clearly obsessed with it from Westerns on up through modern police dramas. It’s the place where you explore what is allowed in society and who is permitted to use violence.

Clarkson: I think the real challenge is will people feel comfortable with us really poking fun at cops. There’s very little media, or storytelling, out there that is truly critical of policing as an institution and its role in our lives.

Cops and their pivotal role in the social order are worthy of reexamination. It shouldn’t be controversial to point out that cops deal drugs, work with organized crime, and suffer from corruption at every level. We try to incorporate that stuff into how our world works, and poke fun at it.

The Chief, obsessed with her menchies.

WWAC: Do you ever wonder just how much your art imitates life and if that causes humor to fall flat or receive an interpretation that was unintentional? I’m reading this issue during the height of the U.S. baby formula shortage, so the sequence featuring an arrest over a heist of baby formula hits closer to home than it may have been intended.

Bors: That scene was written in 2020, early on in my partnership with Ben, and that 8-page sequence was our pitch to publishers. It serves as a cold open where you’re dropped into the world of Justice Warriors and immediately thrown into an over-the-top violent action scene. For me, 2020 began with the birth of my second child, who wasn’t gaining weight or thriving for weeks on end. We eventually discovered it was a milk protein allergy and we had to get him on a special kind of (expensive, locked in glass cases) formula so he wouldn’t die. The pandemic started a few weeks later.

So the inclusion of formula (slogan: “keep your baby alive!”) as a story element comes from my experience with it during the most stressful period of my life to date. Yet, in the comic, it’s all treated humorously and how things like this affect real people in our world isn’t delved into. That’s not really the world of Justice Warriors, which is a place where a mutant elk possessed by a parasitic starfish robs a food ration depot. But it was key to us in establishing some of the rules of the world and how property relations govern our lives and undergird the law.

Clarkson: If someone can’t joke darkly about the basic economic conditions of our lives, forced on us by companies doing stock buybacks and environmental mega-destruction, we really have nothing left.

The Starfish Gang raid the Ration Depot for Nutri-Lac.

CS: Structurally, your new comics has been described as “a collaborative art process involving both creators contributing to various stages of layouts”. Can you each explain how you work on the comic together?

Clarkson: We work back and forth on basically every aspect of the comic. The story of the comic is very collaborative, and we both work on the outlines. We’re both focussed on different questions too, I am a real nut for structure.

We have certain responsibilities for production, Matt will prepare draft scripts and do a lot of the heavy lifting on writing, I do a lot of the heavy lifting on art. The second those first passes are done we’re back in it together. I’ll add jokes and Matt will redesign layouts and panels. It’s a joy to work together, and when you’re both on the same page you can get so much more done. There isn’t a wasted panel in the series, and a lot have been reworked over and over for maximum joke saturation.

Bors: I really strongly believe that art is part of the actual writing of comics. It’s hard for me not to imagine layouts while writing and sometimes I’ll provide really specific ideas as sketches. But you also have to leave room for the artist to come back with better ideas once they’re solving this stuff on a page. In issue 3, Ben turned a splash page and following page with a few panels on it into this wonderful two page spread with a crowd scene with these inset panels connected in a really inventive way. Sometimes the writer and artist are really in their own lanes and everything works fine that way, but comics also allows for this closer kind of collaboration that I love.

Since we’re both writing and artists, we’re always collaborating and punching up the script or redrawing things. A perfect example is how we were both sketching out different versions of the police station design until we got it just right.

police station design we got just right. Colors on all these by Felipe Sobreiro.

OM: And, presiding over Bubble City, we have the mayor. Any contemporary equivalents you maybe challenging through this egotistical, money-driven character, or an amalgamation of a number of traits our current crop of politicians have on display? After all, Matt, your background was in political cartooning.

MATT: I think the two most current figures you can see clear elements of are Trump and Kanye, but it doesn’t end there. The Prince is less mean-spirited than both of them but more self-obsessed, if such a thing is possible. Everyone is working their angle in The Bubble. Visible public servants like Jen Psaki quickly parlay their public service into high-paying punditry gigs, while celebrities trade on their notoriety for public service — if only for a little while. In the US every few years we seriously flirt with whether Oprah or The Rock will run for office and simply become the next president based on overwhelming name recognition. Once someone famous enough makes that calculation, well, holding office is simply the best move you can make for your brand.

BEN: I always imagine the Prince as being like a Hapsburg, a real medieval sicko. A big part of his design is based off a cross between Charles the second of Spain, and Elvis. He’s one of my favourite characters to write because the entire drama of the city, from his perspective, is about him. He’s sort of this buffoon completely unconnected from the consequences of his actions, who’s actual agency in the forces moving around him isn’t absolute. So the joke of mixing an absolute monarch with a pill head pop star is pretty spot on.

The Prince in his tower with his economic advisors.

FOG: What are you currently geeking out over?

MB: I am geeking out over the materialist relations between megacities, their structures, inhabitants, and capital as it pertains to a world careening toward environmental disaster with no mitigation plan as told in Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change by Ashley Dawson. I’m also enjoying IDW’s Ninja Turtles run.

BC: I am reading the Three Body problem series by Cixin Liu, and it’s pretty outstanding. There are some mind bending passages that are both farcical and profound. It is a very different vision of human development and values than the ones presented in western fiction. I read some Pynchon before that, and before that a couple books on Chinese history. I go through a lot of books. I have a pile of comics that are all waiting for me to finish Justice Warriors.

It’s been pretty sparse for audio-visual media for me. I have a lot of drawing to do!

A cyborg rat economic advisor. Every mega-celebrity mayor needs one.

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Matt Bors

Cartoonist and editor of The Nib. Working on the comic Justice Warriors. Sign up for my newsletter: http://tinyurl.com/hpt7zve