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!”
With No One Left to Fight, Vol. 2 available everywhere, I’m pumped to share the second part in my longform interview with Aubrey Sitterson, where we discuss a multitude of things concerning comics—not least of which the fires that burn within Sitterson that compel him to make the kind of comics he wants to see in the world.
For part one in this interview series, click this.
1. Did you always want to write comics?
Aubrey Sitterson: It certainly feels like it but no, not always. Growing up, I always felt like an artist without a medium. I drew for years and years, played drums for years and years, and even messed around with prose but none of it really clicked for me. I don’t believe in the “natural talent” thing but, for whatever reason, I didn’t find any of the work itself enjoyable or rewarding enough to spend the requisite time to get truly good at it, especially since I was a bookish kid and very consumed by academics. When I moved to New York City at 18 and found myself, for the first time, within walking distance of so many truly excellent comic shops, that started to change.
Before then, I was mostly a newspaper comics strip kid and, not having put the work in to become an artist myself, that never seemed like a viable path. But once I had ready access to such a wide breadth of material, I started to fully wrap my brain around the fact that not only were there people who specialized in writing comics, but that the best of them got to act as a type of architect, developing the blueprints for their collaborators to then execute and elaborate upon. It was a way for me, a guy with no real skill at visual art, to still play an important, creative role in its production. And what’s more, with no special effects cost concerns and a relatively low barrier to entry compared to other visual mediums, comics came with the promise of a freedom of expression and exploration that you can’t find in film or television.
2. I started reading comics through the newspaper strips, too. Which strips caught your attention in the beginning? Why?
I read anything that was in the newspaper—Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side were favorites—but my number one with a bullet was Berkeley Breathed’s Outland. What grabbed me initially were probably the lush, fantastical color palette that the Sunday strips used and the fact that there were funny animals in it. But the more I read, especially once I found a stack of collections of Breathed’s earlier series Bloom County at Waldenbooks, I really fell in love with the omnidirectional satire it contained. Even when I didn’t understand the political and social references, which was pretty much all the time (even now I’ll learn something about the 1980s and will instantly, finally understand some old Breathed strip), I adored the sense of obstinate, willful anarchy that permeated it. But even as it manages to be so very harsh in its judgments, there’s also this sense of earnest sincerity. It was catnip for a kid that was sensitive and cynical. And that’s to say nothing of the pacing, which is something I think about a ton when writing comics now; Breathed’s comedic timing and how he’d build to gags was absolutely remarkable.
3. I love how you describe it as “obstinate, willful anarchy,” because that’s certainly how I find your work sometimes. That’s Beef Bros, that’s The Wrong Dudes—obstinate, willful anarchy. But the former is kind-hearted where the latter is decidedly raunchy. How did those elements originate in your growth as a writer, the sugar-addled kindness, the gnarliness?
Brother, first of all: Thank you. I love that you bring up Beef Bros and The Worst Dudes in this context because I really did see them as kind of companion pieces to one another. Beef Bros is about the best possible dudes and how they deal with a rotten world, while The Worst Dudes is about the absolute worst guys and the role their rotten world has played in that. It’s kind of a Goofus and Gallant thing, right? Genre, tone, and art aside though, I don’t see the two as all that different because, at their core, no matter how outrageous or gnarly they get, they still have a gooey core of emotional earnestness. That’s a conscious decision on my part because I find that, as a reader, there’s the things that make me enjoy reading something—outrageous visuals, big action, hilarious jokes; present in both, in my very biased opinion!—and then there’s the stuff that makes a work stick with me, and that always comes down to sincerity and a type of painful, even melodramatic honesty about inner emotions and turmoil.
4. This seems like a good place to talk about your current slate. Let’s start with Beef Bros. You just mentioned that gooey core of earnestness; I think Beef Bros might be the most earnest comic you’ve done yet, and that’s a tight race with No One Left To Fight. For one, it’s unrepentantly “leftist,” you even used that term when you were promoting the book’s Kickstarter. And the battles the Beefs take on seem deliberately pointed—politically, certainly. With that earnestness in mind, what are you trying to get off your chest when you’re writing Beef Bros?
I think Beef Bros is, above all else, a superhero comic. For Team Beef Bros, it’s the Platonic ideal of a superhero comic. It’s big and bright with outrageous physiques and, crucially, it’s aspirational, about actual heroes combatting true injustice, so it’s only natural that the politics of the folks involved start to come through. As they do in every superhero story to one degree or another, whether in plot and character elements or, as I believe to be more telling, the assumptions and worldviews that inform the work, especially regarding who the villains are and what kind of solutions the heroes offer.
Beef Bros is my most explicitly political work, to be sure—but it is, again, most importantly, a superhero comic, which means that it needs to be fun. That’s why the boys are always nice, always kind, always willing to give the benefit of the doubt, always willing to forgive and offer a second chance. It’s why they flex and ask questions instead of giving lectures and are not exactly the brightest of superheroes. This is why, when they’re confronted by the complications and difficulties that all of us face on our daily quest to behave in a moral and ethical fashion, they don’t just ignore the complications, they smash through them in glorious comic book action. How strong are Huey and Ajax? The Beef Bros are strong enough to do the right thing no matter what.
5. Beef Bros is also aspirational in the sense that it rejects the status quo, where generally most superhero comics uphold it. There’s a real early Action Comics, Siegel/Shuster thing going on here. Landlords getting theirs, the downtrodden getting a helping hand. Was this a response to you reading other superhero books, a “oh, we have to do better than this” kind of thing?
I really appreciate the early Siegel/Shuster comparisons and I think that touches on something crucial: This isn’t something drastically new or different for superhero comics. But while Beef Bros is a throwback in this regard, we didn’t start from a place of wanting to respond to contemporary comics or bring them back to their roots or anything like that. Tyrell and I are big fans of 80s and 90s heroic action-adventure, whether its comics, movies, television, video games… whatever. But almost all of that stuff, with rare exceptions, has kind of ugly underlying politics; it’s all based on an assumption that the streets are awash with crime, that people are naturally violent and cruel, and that we need a hero to go out there and knock some heads together to protect the decent folks.
The thought experiment then became: How do we utilize everything we like about this stuff in a way that isn’t just politically neutral but actually speaks to what we think heroic characters should be doing? Beef Bros grew naturally out of that, with Tyrell and me layering in all of our favorite heroic action-adventure tropes, but tweaked to align better with politics that we actually feel good, even passionate about.
6. The visuals and panelwork of Beef Bros are chaotic in a frenzied, MAD magazine sort of way. It’s sort of like a neon-soaked Death Wish but minus the body count and people are smiling once the dust settles. I’m interested in your collaboration with Tyrell Cannon: How did you two end up working together, and how did you both work out the wilder aspects of Beef Bros?
Tyrell and I first started talking because of Grim Wilkins, who did a truly stunning, mostly wordless comic called Mirenda that everyone should buy and read. Grim knew that the Venn diagram of Tyrell and my interests was almost a perfect circle: Big muscles, explosions, 90s superhero comics, 80s manga, beat-em-up video games, action movies, and comics storytelling that keeps the visuals front and center, where they should be. We hit it off pretty much immediately and found that we also shared a lot of political and social beliefs. At that time, I’d been kicking around the idea of “Superheroes but with politics that don’t make me cringe” for a little bit and I quickly realized that it was something Tyrell could really sink his teeth into. From there, it was really just a matter of us bringing everything we love to the book, starting from a place of “This absolutely must look awesome.”
7. Tell me about your comics-making process with Tyrell.
When scripting, I typically do rough thumbnail layouts; not to send to the artist but just so I understand what it is that I’m asking for and to keep myself thinking about the page as a storytelling unit, not just a collection of panels. It’s also a great way to spot potential storytelling problems before they become an issue. Truthfully, it’s something every comics writer should do. In doing that, I often come up with pretty clear ideas, not of how a thing has to work, but a way in which it could work, so I’m pretty specific at the script stage. Fortunately, since Tyrell and I share so many influences, it’s really easy to call for specific shots or point to things as inspiration.
Even with all the overlap in that Venn diagram though, Tyrell and I bring very different aesthetics and perspectives to the table, making the final product a melange of influences, with Tyrell riffing on, building out, and tweaking my initial scripts. Through the entire process though, we push each other, whether it’s in terms of story beats, character designs, or absolutely anything else. One of the most fun things about Beef Bros is that there’s no such thing as too big, too much, too on the nose, too earnest, or too weird, in part because of the nature of the concept and in part because we do this thing on Kickstarter, so there’s no other stakeholders we have to appease.
8. I’m struck by the way Beef Bros approaches platonic male relationships. Here are these two gigantic gym-hunks, often seen hugging or patting each other on the back—punctuated by comic impact bursts courtesy of Tyrell—and they openly declare their mutual love and respect for each other. Completely removed from irony, and the way this series feels like it’s an antithesis of 80s and 90s action macho tropes as it is aesthetically indebted to them, I can’t help but think Beef Bros might be your treatise on toxic masculinity. What does friendship mean to you?
First up, I’m thrilled that you’re picking up on the disconnect between Beef Bros’ traditionally macho inspirations and the actual worldview it’s putting forth because that juxtaposition you’re describing was very much the genesis of the project. Buckle up, because I’ve got a lot to say on this one…
Like a lot of folks, I adore that 80s/90s wave of macho, authoritarian, one-man-against-a-world-gone-mad comics, movies, television shows, and, notably, beat-’em-up video games. But the worldview expressed in that material is so very ugly! It’s Hobbesian. Bellum omnium contra omnes: The war of all against all. The idea that humans, in their natural state, are cruel, vicious animals and the only thing that can keep those bestial instincts at bay is a (typically brutal) ruling hierarchy. So, I started thinking about what one of these things would look like without that depressing, ugly, and inaccurate assumption about human nature. Superheroes by way of Rousseau, not Hobbes.
That thought experiment informs absolutely everything that made it to the printed page of Beef Bros, including the love that the leads, Huey and Ajax, have for one another and its central importance to the series. I’m far from the first to note the perceived sexual tension that can be found in 80s/90s macho action genre material; it’s been mocked, lauded, and ruminated on for decades now. But what I think there’s been a dearth of discussion about is why this stuff is perceived as being omnipresent in the material. Explanations for this perceived sexual tension typically chalk it up to either sublimated desires or intentional queer subtext, usually based on a combination of the commentator’s own worldview and their view of the art’s creators. Oftentimes, however, I think those explanations are actually yet another expression of the root problem, just like when well-meaning progressives describe professional wrestling as inherently gay, assume that there’s a romantic or sexual component to any loving male relationship depicted in art, or lobby for there to be one. It’s a flattening of the male experience, a reductive assumption that the only way that men can appreciate the male form or even show affection for one another is in a romantic and/or sexual manner. I adamantly reject that notion wholly and completely.
A few years back, a dear male friend of mine, unprompted, said to me, “I love you.” Not a drunken “I love you, man” but an honest, sincere declaration of his love for me. I was floored, taken completely aback, and didn’t know how to respond. It stuck with me and I kept thinking about why I was startled by it, why it felt weird, especially because the truth of the matter is that it was wonderful to hear and I love this man back in a profound way. The more I thought about it—and I thought about it a lot, even after I called the friend out of the blue to address this moment from weeks prior and declare my love for him—the sadder it made me. What a horrible thing! A type of relationship, a type of love, that men wall themselves off from. Again, it’s a flattening of the human experience and a brutal thing that we subject boys and men to from the day they’re born to the day they die. That’s why Huey and Ajax love each other, why it’s front and center in Beef Bros, and, what’s more, why we never make light of it through jokes or implications that it’s sexual or romantic in nature. It’s deeper than that, more profound, agape not eros.
To finally get around to answering your question: What does friendship mean to me? Friends are the people you choose to love. I think there’s something powerful and revolutionary in that, which is why it forms the bedrock of Beef Bros‘ politics.
9. I would like to take this opportunity to say that I appreciate you, Aubrey, and after an answer like that, it’s likely that a severe platonic love for you is growing in my heart.
Brother, I appreciate you! The support you’ve given my work and admittedly idiosyncratic view of comics over the years has been tremendous and has not gone unnoticed. More and more, I’m of the opinion that anything I have to say that’s worth saying is too complicated to be expressed in 280 characters, too complex to be opened up to out-of-context, uncharitable, or straight-up bad faith readings, as statements on social media tend to be received. So, as I find myself increasingly exhausted and frustrated with social media and the fact that it’s the only outlet left for most creators, I become more and more grateful for sites like DoomRocket and folks like yourself who are eager to engage with comics beyond an initial take or snap moral judgment, especially comics outside of major corporate-owned IP. And what’s more, you’re amazing at at it; interviewing is a distinct, difficult, rare skill that involves going beyond standard press rounds questions, and actually grappling with the material and its implications as well as the answers to questions themselves, and you absolutely kill it each and every time we speak. All of which is my characteristically long-winded way of saying: Thank you for this opportunity to babble about my work and approach in an extended fashion that allows me to bust out not only Latin but Ancient Greek as well.
10. We’ve spoken about the influences that have informed Beef Bros—specifically, you clocked “90s superhero comics, 80s manga, beat-em-up video games, action movies”—so I’m curious: what kind of stuff were you and Tyrell sharing with each other when you were building this comic? I see Streets of Rage, the gonzo mercenary work of David A. Prior, the beefcake stuff of Stephen Platt, so much more. Anything you want to name-check here?
Tyrell and I have a truly alarming amount of similarities in terms of our interests and aesthetics; credit goes to Grim Wilkins for grokking that, introducing us, and suggesting that we collaborate. As a result, a lot of the deeper, conceptual influences were things we were both already both heavily engaged with, so there was no real need for either of us to turn each other onto, say, Final Fight or various superhero books as concepts. Instead, a lot of the back-and-forth we engaged in was about aesthetics and visuals. Anyone with eyes to see can spot the inspiration Tyrell takes from 90s Image stuff, specifically Dale Keown and Sam Kieth, and we set up a shared Pinterest board early on that has everything from the Steiner Brothers to Pauly Shore, early 90s surf shop t-shirts to Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and, of course, a boatload of bodybuilder content. What continues to blow my mind about Tyrell’s work though, is how he takes all of those things and combines them into a cohesive whole. Even with all of these wild, disparate influences, some from him, some shared, and some from me, the work never feels disjointed, always feels like a distinct, fully realized world. It’s a testament to his tremendous talents and I’m so excited for people to see more of them on display in his upcoming work.
The DoomRocket interview with Aubrey Sitterson will continue.
Beef Bros #1 is available now. To snag a copy of your own, contact your local comic store for options.
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