by Jarrod Jones. I don’t think it’s a reach to call Aubrey Sitterson an iconoclast, at least as far as cape comics are concerned. He’s not here to build on what superheroes have become over generations. Sitterson is here to revitalize something that superheroes haven’t been since the genesis of superheroes. “Judging from the current landscape, it’s easy to assume that superheroes have never been anything more than corporate-owned supercops, reactionary power fantasies cloaked in liberal signifiers,” he wrote for Polygon back in 2020. He continues: “But that generalization obscures the truth: Superheroes used to be about helping and protecting people, not the systems and hierarchies holding them down.”
That piece was written just as his and Tyrell Cannon’s Kickstarted project, the “Leftist superhero” Beef Bros, was unleashed on backers and the general public alike. Beef Bros, a clear descendant of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s original “hero of the people” concept of Superman, signified an embrace of Sitterson’s ideologies and the kind of comics he wanted to make—unsurprising, given all this followed his short-lived experience scripting G.I. Joe for IDW Publishing. “The dream wasn’t working on G.I. Joe comics to benefit Hasbro,” he told The Comics Journal back in 2020. “That wasn’t the pinnacle for me.”
So an iconoclast, sure. And he’s a gifted writer, as well as a positive force for all things good and awesome in the comics industry. If I could distill all of this into a single word and couple that with having known him for years, I’d describe Aubrey Sitterson as a force. His energy is unbelievable. And as Aubrey ventures deeper into his current era writing viscerally joyous and energizing action comics alongside co-creators like Tyler Cannon, Chris Moreno, Tony Gregori, Fico Ossio, and others, he’s yet to display any signs of fatigue. This body of work—which includes No One Left to Fight, Savage Hearts, The Worst Dudes (all published at Dark Horse Comics), and Kickstarted projects Stoned Master and the aforementioned Beef Bros—feels like a foundation off of which Aubrey can build practically anything, including a template of clear-eyed, honest superhero stories for future writers and artists to study and embrace.
When I ask him where all this energy comes from, he cuts right to the point: “This is what I’ve always wanted. I didn’t feel I had any other choice but to make it happen!”
As the second volume of No One Left to Fight hits bookstores and comic shops everywhere, I’m excited to share the first part in a longform interview with Aubrey Sitterson, where we discuss a multitude of things concerning comics, not least of which the fires which burn inside Sitterson and forge the comics he wants to see in the world.
1. Over the last couple years, it has been a Sitterson Bonanza of creator-owned comics: No One Left To Fight with Fico Ossio and Raciel Avila; The Worst Dudes with Tony Gregori and Lovern Kindzierski; Stoned Master with Chris Moreno; Savage Hearts with Jed Dougherty and Kindzierski; Beef Bros with Tyrell Cannon, Ossio, and Raciel Silva—with Taylor Esposito lettering the whole lot. Forgive me for being glib, but where’s all this energy coming from, Aubrey? How does one harness such power?
Aubrey Sitterson: But wait; there’s more! There was also No Kings, No Masters with Goran Gligović, which ran as back ups in Savage Hearts! I had an absolutely colossal 2021 and it was all made possible by the first No One Left to Fight series, the success of which seemed to surprise everyone except for those of us working on it. Once that thing hit like it did, I knew it was now or never to do what I’ve always dreamed of doing: Furthering and exploring what I see as comics’ still-untapped potential. So, it became a mad dash to get other work out there, hitting the direct market as well as the crowdfunding arena, all the while trying to avoid getting pigeonholed by making sure that each book was in an entirely different genre, with a distinct tone, voice, and thematic undertones.
As for where the energy comes from… This is what I’ve always wanted. I didn’t feel I had any other choice but to make it happen!
2. Most of your recent work has been published through Dark Horse Comics. Can you tell me a bit about how Dark Horse became your de facto homebase, and how your working relationship with the company has been?
In a word? Great. Everything I’ve done at Dark Horse has been with the incredible Brett Israel and, more recently, with assists by Sanjay Dharawat. It all started a few years back, when Brett, being a big fan of the One True Sport, dug Chris Moreno and my The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling and asked if I had any fictional work to pitch. The first thing I sent him was Fico and my No One Left to Fight, with the entire first ten issues broken out beat by beat, and we were off to the races. The thing I love most about Dark Horse—and why I continue to do so much work there!—is the freedom they give creators to tell their story the way they want to tell it. The wide breadth of genres we’ve touched on already—fight comic soap opera, science fiction mystery, jungle fantasy romantic comedy—tells the whole story. Who else is getting to do such a wide variety of material!? I feel incredibly blessed to have an opportunity to get all this very specific, very unique stuff out of my head and into the world, especially with a publisher as renowned and, frankly, legendary as Dark Horse.
3. What puts Dark Horse over the top as a creator-owned hub for you—over, say, Image Comics, or Substack?
I see Dark Horse and Substack—or Dark Horse and Kickstarter, for that matter—as being pretty apples and oranges. They’re both ways to get comics out into the world but the similarities end there, with the biggest difference being that Substack is a digital comics platform and Dark Horse, while it does make comics available digitally, is primarily a print comics publisher. That’s key for me because the books I’m doing are meant to be read in print. This isn’t a criticism of digital comics but, rather, an acknowledgement that every medium should be used to its fullest and the fact that Aubrey digital comics would function and operate very differently than Aubrey print comics do. My Dark Horse books are meant to be held in your hand and pored over, in large part because of how incredible my artistic co-creators are! They’re designed to make you want to flip back to previous pages to catch things you might have missed or just to savor specific moments because I know that’s how I like to read comics.
As for the difference between Dark Horse and Image, it’s a little more subtle and inside baseball. Both publishers come with tremendous legacies and are incredibly well respected in our industry but the deals they offer are wildly different. While I can’t speak for anyone else, what’s made my relationship with Dark Horse so valuable and rewarding is how they’ve willingly and generously invested in me as a talent. In addition to providing editorial, marketing, and distribution services, Dark Horse, seeing the potential of the work I’ve been bringing to them, has put up money to fund its creation; books like No One Left to Fight, Savage Hearts and The Worst Dudes simply wouldn’t exist if not for Dark Horse and I can’t overstate how grateful I am for their taking a chance on our work.
4. One thing that stands out to me is how expansive all these worlds you have co-created are. The gnarly sci-fi noir or The Worst Dudes, the rambunctious fantasy romance of Savage Hearts, the sweeping worlds and familial strengths of No One Left To Fight—so much detail for such a large and growing body of work.
That’s so nice of you to say. Thank you!
How does a story begin for you? Are you charting out complete story/character bibles?
I think what you’re picking up on is a byproduct of how my co-creators and I go about building these projects. What the initial piece is—a character, a visual, a joke, a genre—varies book to book but what comes next is always the same: a conversation. I’m not terribly interested in making assembly line comics; actual meaningful collaboration isn’t just what makes this work so much fun, it’s what makes a comic truly special and more than just the sum of its parts. That’s why all of the books you mentioned are true co-creations, with Tony, Jed, and Fico acting as equal partners over the course of countless conversations and discussions. And when you get two creative people excited about an idea, there’s no really turning off that faucet, which means that, inevitably, we end up with way more pieces than we can actually cram into five issues. Instead of seeing that as a limitation though, I look at it as a challenge: convey as much information as we can in as little space and as visually as possible. It’s a mindset that’s central to my approach to storytelling as well as my theory of comics as a medium.
5. What’s proven to be the most unwieldy project for you so far, in terms of scope?
Oh man, that’s easy: The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling. Don’t get me wrong; Chris Moreno is a consummate professional and I adore working with him. The unwieldiness of the wrestling book had nothing to do with him and everything to do with all of the added requirements of doing nonfiction. Wrestling is something I love and I knew that we had the opportunity to make something really special, something that doesn’t exist in comics or any other format, a definitive, comprehensive history of The One True Sport, so I spent a ton of time doing research and getting outlines together before I started writing the first page. But even then, I still wasn’t prepared for how much fact-checking I needed to do with regard to dates, locations and other specifics. Plus, there was all the reference gathering to make sure that hardcore wrestling fans didn’t get pulled out of the narrative by a wrestler wearing the wrong colored gear at a specific event.
When I started writing TCBSOPW, I had a general idea of how long it took me to write a page of comics, but after I wrote the first three pages, I looked at the clock and said, “Oh noooooooo.” It required some heavy rescheduling and shuffling around on my end to make sure that I could make that thing as rigorous and exhaustively and exhaustingly researched as I knew it needed to be. It was my first and last nonfiction work!
6. Are there any subjects left that you might consider writing a nonfiction book about if the opportunity came along? Or is that all the way off the table?
Brother, they’d have to back the Brinks truck up. I’m not interested in doing Wikipedia theater or stuff that’s just pure anecdote or a list of things that happened. I went into The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling as a very well-informed wrestling fan but I still had to do an immense amount of research in order to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and also develop what I refer to as the books thesis statements and then confirm that my theses actually hold up; to me, that’s what makes truly substantive nonfiction work, what elevates it from anecdote to an actual narrative with ideas to convey about a subject. And then, on top of that, there were all the requirements in terms of things that absolutely had to be in there and working with Chris to find ways ways to convey all of this information in as visual a way as possible.
I guess I shouldn’t entirely rule out doing more nonfiction work but right now I’m much more interested in exploring ideas through fiction, where I’ve got more freedom to do so while really making the most of the comic book medium.
7. On that front, you seem to work with a recurring crew of folks on your projects, almost as though you and your fellow creators could launch your own comics imprint. Is this a ride-or-die kind of situation?
It’s nothing as formal or defined as all that; it’s really just a byproduct of how these books come together. These aren’t situations in which I come up with a story and then an editor or publisher assigns other folks to work on it, you know? So, when it comes time to figure out a team, it’s only natural that I’d go to people I know share my vision of what comics can and should be, folks I trust to not only do excellent work, but to get it done on time so these things can come out when they’re supposed to. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the people I’m working with create the best-looking comics in the industry!
8. Creator-owned is a serious hustle. Kickstarter campaigns are intense. How do you manage your day-to-day? What in your work takes precedence over everything else?
I’m very much a planning and process guy and I pride myself in my ability to prioritize appropriately. But even with all that… Kickstarters are all-consuming in a way that absolutely no one is prepared for and, in my experience, tends to be different each time I run one; you’ll figure some things out or establish a process for them and then there’s a whole other issue that gobbles up your time. Add fulfillment on top of that, which I’ve always handled myself, and man… it’s a bear, to be sure. The way I look at it though, is that this is what I’ve always wanted—the opportunity to tell these stories, explore these ideas, in the comics medium—so now that I’ve got these opportunities, I’d be a fool not to seize every single one of them. I make time for everything, I prioritize, I sit down and get to work because I don’t really have any alternative. I’ve hit enough roadblocks in my career already; I’m not going to let an unwillingness to bust my ass be an additional one.
As for what takes precedence… it’s whatever someone is waiting on me for! Given how much more of a time commitment comics is for artists, I firmly believe that it’s a sin for a comics writer to keep an artist waiting on them.
9. Do you enjoy the process of Kickstarting your projects? I’ve seen a lot of campaigns come through in my time doing this DoomRocket thing, and some seem like they come with a ludicrous amount of work.
In my experience, every crowdfunding campaign comes with a lot of work. If you want to do it right, that is. I see crowdfunding as a contract with the people who appreciate my work so much that they’re willing to support it financially before it even exists; I can’t imagine doing anything to betray that trust. Or to squander this incredible privilege I’ve found myself blessed with: a way to fund my work without giving up an ounce of control or ownership. So, in order to guard that trust, to protect this incredible outlet I have for my work, there is a ton of work that absolutely must happen, from initial planning, budgeting, and scheduling to the full-court press marketing campaigns to all-consuming fulfillment frenzy. But the truth is that I don’t mind it; the same way I don’t mind going full carnival-barker mode at conventions. The point of creating art is for people to see it, so I’m more than happy to do whatever I need to do to get my work in front of folks.
10. They say that in order to be a happy writer, you should write the things you want to read. Scanning your recent bibliography, it seems that energized, fuschia-saturated power fantasies are at the forefront of your thinking. What’s important to you right now, in terms of making comics?
Comics’ categorical imperative is that they must, absolutely must, be visually compelling, arresting even. For years, comics was where you went for visuals that you couldn’t see in other mediums; then CGI started to catch up. Comics still had canon and huge interlocking, ongoing narratives but now the big multimedia companies have gotten hip to that too. What comics still has left and what we as comics creators must utilize is the page as a storytelling unit. That’s my starting point for every book I work on: How do I make sure that every single page of this thing absolutely demands that people stop and appreciate it, instead of just scanning captions and dialogue as quickly as they can. That’s the overall strategy, with tactics that vary based on the specific strengths of my co-creators—I always prioritize lobbing softballs to artists, stuff I know they can absolutely knock out of the park—as well as the specific story being told.
But regardless of the larger themes being explored, I always, always, always want my work to look delectable, which is why so much of it veers into that Lisa Frank aesthetic. It’s a refutation of the muted, muddy, earth tones and desaturated colors that, for so much of comics, have come to signify “SMART, SERIOUS COMICS.” I don’t buy into the idea that fun or exciting or colorful means slight, disposable, or stupid. I know for a fact that this hypervisual approach causes some folks to look down their noses but, to your original point, these are the comics that I want to hold, read, and experience. It’s a visual medium, so I can’t really fathom why anyone would want comics that prioritize writing that feels smart when they could have a comic that, instead of fighting against the visual elements, positions the art as the centerpiece of the reading experience.
The DoomRocket interview with Aubrey Sitterson will continue in Part 2.
No One Left to Fight II is available now! For ordering details, click this.
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