by Jarrod Jones. You can’t help but get caught up by the energy exuded by Aubrey Sitterson. The dude is a one-man thrill-makin’ machine.
As a comics writer, however, Aubrey can only conjure so much excitement on his own. His secret weapons, what puts his projects over the top, are the frightfully talented artists he allies himself with. Example: No One Left to Fight, that far-too short hadouken punch of manga influence and Double Dragon mayhem (published by Dark Horse Comics), became a visceral hit thanks to Aubrey’s collaboration with co-creator Fico Ossio. We covered it on DoomRocket, and you can go reacquaint yourself with all that neon-soaked havoc if you’d like; it’s still great.
What’s next for Aubrey is just as exciting. His latest project, this time with co-creator and artist Tyrell Cannon, is a ballistic strike of positive superhero vibes called Beef Bros, and it matches Aubrey’s energy with surgical precision. Still buzzing from reading No One Left to Fight? You’re going to go nuts for Beef Bros.
I’ll let Aubrey tell you all about Beef Bros (which will, for the rest of this interview, be stylized as BEEF BROS) in this handy-dandy Kickstarter video, because I can’t even touch this majesty with just my meager words:
But what has me most excited for BEEF BROS is what Aubrey’s attempting to say with it. Sure, BEEF BROS is gonzo action comics about two absolute units (named Huey and Ajax) and the good they do for their neighborhood, but more than that it’s a story that interrogates what masculinity means for the superhero genre and those who devote their lives to it. Says Aubrey: “BEEF BROS isn’t an exploration of toxic masculinity; it’s an antidote to it. When you strip away all the ugly parts of masculinity—the cruelty, the coldness, the aggression, the competitiveness—what are you even left with?
“That question is a big part of this project’s genesis, and the answer I landed on was this: Being a man is being strong enough to be kind. And that’s why Huey and Ajax are always—even when it puts them at risk, even when they have nothing to gain, even when it doesn’t even make any sense—why they are always, always, always kind.”
With two weeks left to the BEEF BROS Kickstarter campaign, which has already met its goal and is now pummeling away at its stretch goals because that’s what BEEF BROS does, DoomRocket spoke with Aubrey Sitterson about his beefy return to superheroes, what they mean in the year 2020, and making comics a better place by sheer force of goodwill.
1. ‘BEEF BROS’ was your first Kickstarter, but you could have fooled the hell out of me. Your video was bonkers, Aubrey; full-throated carnival barking shot and edited with Eric Wareheim mayhem. [Laughs] I watched it a dozen times, I swear. And, of course, you’ve already shot well over your initial goal. With weeks still left to go in your campaign, what can you tell me about your first Kickstarter experience? Would you have changed anything, despite the success you’ve already seen?
Aubrey Sitterson: Brother, I’m thrilled you dug the video! Tyrell and I knew it needed to be something folks would want to share around. What’s the point of doing it otherwise? Fortunately, I’ve got some super talented and generous pals: Steve Moreno was kind enough to shoot it, Travis Stevens allowed us to use the green screen at Butcher Bird Studios, and my mad genius best friend going all the way back to high school Sam Wilson edited the bejeezus out of it. To top it all off, Kyle Shutt of The Sword let us use his track “Set You All On Fire!” A truly bodacious assemblage of Solid Bros.
As for doing the campaign, writing comics and telling people about them are my favorite parts of the process, and Kickstarter strips everything else away. So what’s not to love? While this is my first Kickstarter, I used to run two different Patreons for my podcast, so crowdfunding isn’t new to me. And my co-creator Tyrell has run half a dozen Kickstarters in the past—not to jinx it, but we’ve managed to avoid all the common pitfalls. I’m sure I’ll find some things to do differently next time around, but with THANK YOU notes to send out to each of our 1,000 BEEFERS and counting and all these questions to answer from charming interviewers, my post-mortem will probably have to wait a bit! [Laughs]
2. I fully intend on letting your video be all the context my readers need for the story of ‘BEEF BROS’, so no need to pitch this sucker here. [Laughs] But could you elaborate some on where the first issue of this series might go? In the Kickstarter video, you allude to an impending altercation between our eponymous bros and a pair of ‘boot-licking’ rival superhero types. Will there be some not-so subtle commentary on the current state of the Big Two superhero output?
One of the big, guiding principles of BEEF BROS is that Huey and Ajax are simple dudes with a simple understanding of the world based on an even simpler idea: People are meant to work together and help each other. That’s the BEEF BROS ETHOS right there and we take it to its logical extreme, with Huey and Ajax finding themselves in conflict not only with the systems and hierarchies that keep us apart, but the people who have chosen to enforce and defend those systems and hierarchies.
And that brings us to another of our guiding principles: BEEF BROS is a return to superheroes’ original role: Populist champions of the working class. To drive both of these ideas home, illustrating how far we’ve strayed from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s original vision, we couldn’t resist pitting the BEEF BROS against a couple superheroes who embody the current approach to the genre.
3. The visual similarity between ‘BEEF BROS’ and ‘No One Left To Fight’ is obvious, and I think it’s meant to be. There’s neon everywhere, and Tyrell Cannon’s ferocious panel work in the former is evocative of what Fico Ossio brought to the latter. And, speaking of, Fico’s coloring ‘BEEF BROS’—was there an unanimous decision to have the two books visually sync up in such a way?
Believe it or not, there was no conscious effort made to emulate No One Left to Fight (NOLTF)! I think what you’re picking up on might just have to do with who I choose to work with. [Laughs] I like big, bright, dynamic, action-packed pages; both Tyrell and Fico excel at that and love to utilize panel layout to squeeze the maximum drama out of every inch of page real estate.
The other thing is that, as you noted, Fico colored both books, with assists from Raciel Avila on NOLTF. Fico has a truly revolutionary approach to color that fully embraces everything that digital coloring makes possible; in the year and change since NOLTF came out, I’ve already seen colorists at Marvel, DC, and elsewhere start to take pages from his book. I think there’s a power to Fico’s colors that makes the book stands out more than another colorist’s might, and makes both works seem of a piece.
Then again, I’ve got color pages coming in for two of my unannounced 2021 books right now that are from an entirely different color artist, and they’re also eye-searing and gonzo and neon. So, maybe it’s just my personal preference that everything look like a Lisa Frank binder. [Laughs]
4. When I last interviewed you for ‘No One Left to Fight’, you told me: “A lot of my work deals with fighting and combat; I truly believe that it’s the best, most visual, visceral way to communicate and explore deep, inner truths about your characters.” I think it’s safe to say there’s gonna be plenty of fisticuffs in ‘Beef Bros’, so my question is: What are you and Tyrell attempting to communicate with the various physical brouhahas of ‘Beef Bros’?
I thought a lot about this to make sure that BEEF BROS isn’t just “NOLTF but with superheroes.” In NOLTF, we use fighting and combat to let readers into our characters’ emotional states, their past, their struggles, their hopes and dreams; all of that informs not just who they fight but, crucially, why and how they fight. It’s a soap opera, but the best kind of soap opera: One with earth-shattering punches and energy blasts. [Laughs]
Meanwhile, BEEF BROS isn’t a soap opera at all; it’s a parable. While Huey and Ajax both have fully fleshed out characters, you don’t have to delve all that deep to figure out what they’re about. And that’s by design, because in BEEF BROS, fighting is a way to simplify things, to cut through all the confusion and misdirection and lies and false binaries and pointless hierarchies, to explore and promote a fundamental truth. It’s a parable about how much we can accomplish if we recognize that our natural state isn’t competition, but cooperation, and then start acting accordingly.
5. ‘BEEF BROS’ is being presented as “an antidote to toxic masculinity,” which I feel is less political posturing than a reminder that the depiction of masculinity in media matters. I often think about the impact media would have had on us kids back in the 80s and 90s had our idols been allowed to let their machismo guard down once in a while. I remember being a kid and seeing fucking Rambo sporting bazookas on lunchboxes, I swear. [Laughs] This makes me think about the response to your run on ‘GI Joe’ and how resistant people were to your take on these characters. How much of a difference do you think it would have made for us if “masculine” characters had been allowed to show kindness or vulnerability, something that’s far more pervasive in media today?
It’s impossible to overstate how insidious and deeply engrained popular conceptions of masculinity are. I even struggle with it it myself while talking about BEEF BROS! It’s changing for the better now, but growing up when we did, being hopeful, optimistic, kind, generous… these things were all positioned as weakness and typically gendered as feminine. As a result, when trying to explain Huey and Ajax’s point of view—which is my point of view as well—I start feeling awkward and embarassed because we, as men, have been socialized to think this kind of stuff is frivolous and stupid and weak. How terrible and sad is that? Just an intolerably cruel box to place boys and men in; it’s yet another thing that keeps [us] apart, another of the oppressive hierarchies that the BEEF BROS are fighting against!
But BEEF BROS isn’t an exploration of toxic masculinity; it’s an antidote to it. When you strip away all the ugly parts of masculinity—the cruelty, the coldness, the aggression, the competitiveness—what are you even left with? That question is a big part of this project’s genesis, and the answer I landed on was this: Being a man is being strong enough to be kind. And that’s why Huey and Ajax are always—even when it puts them at risk, even when they have nothing to gain, even when it doesn’t even make any sense—why they are always, always, always kind.
All superhero stories are power fantasies, right? So imagine being so powerful, so strong that you can let absolutely anything roll off your broad, rippling back with a big old cheesey smile on your face. That’s the ultimate power fantasy. That’s true masculinity. That’s BEEF BROS. Striving for it is the BEEF BROS MOVEMENT.
6. You’ve said that ‘BEEF BROS’ is “a return to superheroes’ original identity as working class champions,” like Superman tossing slumlords out on their asses and the like. Let’s talk about what superheroes represent right now in this social moment. After WWII it was clear that superhero stories had shifted to more fantastic, sci-fi elements; during the Reagan era superheroes morphed into anti-heroes, and there was a spell in the early Aughts where they were presented (especially in DC books) as demigods. How would you classify today’s popular superheroes?
Corporate-owned supercops, defenders of the status quo. I think the touchstones you pointed out are accurate, but for me, the most significant shift came in the 1960s. Post-war liberalism was triumphant, the Red Scare still had people, well… scared, and there was no longer any room for the type of radical, populist politics embodied in early superhero stories. That’s when superheroes really started to become part of existing hierarchies instead of defending people from them. Since then, superheroes have become more militant, more rigid in their morality, more committed to a view of the world based on competition, on might makes right, even as they’re cloaked in progressive values and signifiers.
7. Are there any superhero books that you’re reading right now? If not, why?
The last superhero book I read was Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s Green Lantern, not only because I love their work but because it confronts the very issues I’ve been ranting at you about! It’s great, thought-provoking, exciting stuff, and I love the hard turn that Liam’s made into lurid van-art aesthetic.
Other than that… nothing really? I spent most of my childhood reading superhero books, and then years working on them at Marvel, during which time I read pretty much everything they and DC published, while also delving into the back catalog. Now I’m enjoying filling in gaps in my knowledge, finding other genres and mediums to pull from. I once heard Ralph Bakshi say that, paraphrasing, you can’t find your influences in people working in your genre and medium, because then you’re condemned to being a mimic. I think about that all the time and it’s why BEEF BROS, even though it’s a superhero story, pulls from bodybuilding, professional wrestling, side-scrolling beat ’em ups, seinen manga, Renaissance sculpture, and more.
8. What would Aubrey Sitterson’s take on, say, Batman be like? The Punisher?
JARROD! You did this on purpose! A rich guy out to save the poor from themselves and a dude who extrajudiciously murders criminals! The most authoritarian, hierarchical, reactionary characters DC and Marvel have! [Laughs] It’s funny, man, if you’d asked me this a few years back, I’d have rambled at length about all the stuff I’d do, hoping for a job. [Laughs] Like all edgy teenage boys, I adored the Punisher and I still think the Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon Marvel Knights series is a subversive, hilarious work of genius.
That said… I couldn’t even tell you, man. I’m so fortunate to have three series launching next year, in addition to sending out at least, I dunno, 1,500 copies of BEEF BROS and some still-gestating future Kickstarter plans. So, not only would I not have time to do work-for-hire books, I don’t really have any desire to. When you’re blessed enough to be able to tell your own stories exactly how you want to while connecting directly with audiences… why would you want to turn around and get willingly exploited by a massive media conglomerate? Those guys are rich enough already without profiting off my ideas. [Laughs] They’d really have to back the Brink’s truck up for me and let me do stuff that most definitely wouldn’t align with their corporate strategy.
9. What’s the pie-in-the-sky goal for ‘BEEF BROS’? Does this book carry into an epic-sized, Larson-on-’Savage Dragon’ or Kirkman/Ottley-on-’Invincible’-style magnum opus? As ambitious, norm-breaking superhero tales go, how do you think ‘BEEF BROS’ compares to those two examples?
Tyrell and I always stop ourselves from extrapolating too far out. Without a doubt, we want to do more BEEF BROS and it’s abundantly clear that Kickstarter is the right platform for it. Right now, with the first issue funded, we’re focused solely on hitting our first stretch goal and getting the entire team raises. After that, we’ll see if we can raise enough dough before Thanksgiving to cover the creative costs of BEEF BROS #2! Tyrell and I are both pretty data-minded dudes, so we’re going to need to do some number crunching in to chart out the best course for BEEF BROS, and it’ll all be based on how how many BEEFERS join the BEEF BROS MOVEMENT this time out.
As for the Savage Dragon and Invincible comparisons, I take them as a massive compliment! They’re two of my all-time favorite books! It’s funny, because I’ve often thought of Invincible as one of the last of its kind, an independent superhero book that ran consistently for years upon years. I’m still skeptical about whether it’s something that can be replicated in the direct market, but the success of the BEEF BROS Kickstarter definitely has the gears grinding away in this brain of mine.
10. I’ve been enjoying your Twitter presence of late. You’re constantly QT’ing other people’s thoughts, jokes, hot-takes, etc. with the righteous affirmation, “Amen, brother/sister.” Where did this come from? Are you assembling a zen garden from your various Twitter experiences?
Brother, you hit the nail on the head: It’s a righteous affirmation and who doesn’t like that? Working on BEEF BROS has made me reassess a lot, especially when it comes to my interactions with other people and times when I’ve failed to live up to the BEEF BROS ETHOS of kindness, generosity, and loyalty. If you know what you’re supposed to do, but you choose not to do it… what kind of man does that make you?
“Amen sibling/brother/sister” grew out of that; it’s a way to stay active and engaged on a profoundly toxic platform, without getting sucked into the mire. It’s fun, easy, and it makes both the giver and the recipient feel good. I highly recommend that everyone start doing it with me. It’s part of the BEEF BROS ETHOS, man: If you keep acting like a nice guy, and you do it consistently, over and over again, if you keep getting your reps in, eventually you just are a nice guy.
Check out this 5-page preview of ‘Beef Bros’ #1!
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