By Jarrod Jones. There’s more to life than what we already have in IDW Publishing’s Hot Damn. In Hot Damn, there’s an afterlife, and geographically it’s just as advertised, in that confining Catholic sort of way. There’s a Heaven up there for the faithful and generally really decent people, and for the rest of us, there’s a Hell down below. Here’s the twist, though: both are awful places, like a phantasmagoria of the worst parts of the DMV, Burning Man, and your grandmother’s funeral, filled to the brim with the sanctimonious and the pious alike. And, somewhere, Gandhi.
In between is Earth, where 7 billion souls just kinda hang around in blissful ignorance, not really aware that our planet is just a form of Purgatory, there but for the grace of whoever’s watching while they scratch their ass. It’s a comic about lost weekends and Paradise lost. Heady stuff.
“That’s the crux of it all, the butt of the joke,” Ryan Ferrier told me not so long ago. “It’s never over, and you’re kind of stuck with everything you’ve ever done, be it good or bad. When you really look at the way the realms operate… be it Heaven or Hell, the lines between what’s good and bad, moral and immoral, are totally blurred.”
That’s probably why Hell feels more like a hot summer night in Wrigleyville than anything else, a poorly policed cesspool of vomitous cretins barfing their way through the afterlife, only briefly pausing to wonder what the hell any of this is supposed to mean. And Heaven? That brand new Whole Foods, built over the bulldozed ground where happy families used to dwell, governed by a guy who is at once for everything and about nothing.
This is the world of Hot Damn. And it’s a hell of a thing. So I asked its creators a few questions about IDW’s hot-blooded mini-series, if for no other reason than to come to a better understanding of the philosophies of two creators who just crafted one of the craziest stories I’ve read in recent memory.
1. This is one helluva wild story. What secret demons are you exorcising with ‘Hot Damn’?
Valentin Ramon: I wanted to exorcise all of them; the secret ones and the not so secret ones. Not just mine, everyone’s demons, because everyone is guilty of something.
Ryan Ferrier: I think some of the demons (not the literal ones) in Hot Damn are far less secret than others. Obviously, we’re deconstructing the concepts—culturally and otherwise—of institutional religion. We’re not entirely satirizing or taking a stance on this one way or the other, but we’re certainly taking all of the pieces of a concept that’s been translated for generations and putting our own filter over it. The beauty of Teddy Graham’s demons, the one he is exorcising, is a stark realization that he’s lived a terrible life as a terrible person, and death is not the end by far.
2. In ‘Hot Damn’, both God and Satan are depicted as sanctimonious, self-absorbed assholes. If other mythological deities were to pop up in this world, who would they be and how would they act?
RF: I think if other deities showed up, they too would be sanctimonious, self-absorbed assholes. It’s kinda the qualifier to get the job. But, beyond that, just like God and Satan, I think they would be far more relatable to us as humans than their scriptures present. Whether it’s a deity, a human, or an animal, one thing rings true: we all just want to feel good.
VR: I think Ryan is totally right about this one; any other deities would behave like assholes. I’m guessing that behaving like an asshole comes with the territory. The more powerful you are, the bigger asshole you become. Like in real life.
3. Your own personal version of Hell, please.
RF: Forced to live in a Tommy Bahamas store with endless top 40 radio playing and nothing but milk to drink. And you have to go to the dentist three times a week.
4. The three planes of existence in ‘Hot Damn’ — Heaven, Hell, Earth — feel like three versions of the same place. If Earth is just a playground for angel-mandated demon possession, doesn’t that make life and the afterlife a circuitous form of Purgatory, regardless of how good you are? Are we not, in a sense, damned — no matter what?
RF: Yep! We really are. That’s the crux of it all, the butt of the joke, and the driving factor for Teddy’s atonement—it’s never over, and you’re kind of stuck with everything you’ve ever done, be it good or bad. When you really look at the way the realms operate in Hot Damn, be it Heaven or Hell, the lines between what’s good and bad, moral and immoral, are totally blurred.
VR: Totally agree with Ryan’s last line. There is not much difference between them, and we are totally fucked regardless of what we do. This is why we wanted Hell to look, somehow, like the coolest place of the three. If I had to choose between Heaven, Hell, or Earth to have a couple of crazy nights, I would definitely go to Hell.
5. When was the last time you told somebody to “go to Hell?”
VR: Oh man, almost every time the TV is on. Or when I listen to the radio. When I check Facebook. I just can’t stop it. Luckily for everyone I don’t use Twitter.
RF: “Go to hell” is such a great scolding. I really need to bring that back. I’m a pretty tolerant, non-confrontational guy though, so I’ll probably just be slinging it at inanimate objects, or in the privacy of my car.
6. Satan seems particularly good at his job — there’s a functioning hierarchy, really awful people are thrown to the Lake of Fire for the slightest offenses, Hell gets its shit together far more efficiently for the Second Coming than Heaven. Would it be fair to say that the motto of ‘Hot Damn’ is, “better the devil you know than some phony?”
RF: Absolutely. I’d rather go down in a burning ship than get lost at sea with an inept captain. I guess it’s all about what you make of the situations you’re in. I’d stick with consistency, so Hell it is for me. I don’t do so good in heat though.
VR: I think Satan has always been doing a better job than God. Way better. Look at the world. It really looks like no one apart from Satan has been doing his homework. I mean, God has a really old book talking about his deeds but Satan has his deeds shown every day, 24/7, on newspapers, TV, radio, Internet…
7. Your personal version of Heaven, please.
VR: A place with no people at all (you know, Hell is always the opposite).
RF: Everyone cancels every social plan ever. It’s perpetually a long weekend. I can eat all the sushi I want and not get fat. My deadlines are a week away. I have coffee.
8. Teddy Graham comes back to Earth and has an epiphany — with that name, he was doomed from the start. No divine intervention, no demonic possession… Teddy lived a shitty, self-serving existence because of Teddy. Did I read ‘Hot Damn’ right when I walked away from it thinking redemption only comes when we get our shit together? That we’ll be better people only when we’re ready to take responsibility for ourselves?
VR: Yep, it sounds about right.
RF: Absolutely! That’s the real Hell for Teddy, the fact that he totally realizes who he is and what he’s done, and that he can’t do anything about it. He can’t control how other people in his life feel, or were affected by him. Teddy blaming his situation on his parents naming him was the last act of a desperate man. It was only once he realized how ridiculous that was—the last person to blame other than himself—could he actually start atoning for his sins through actions. Strip away the Heaven, Hell, and talking dildo pig cops stuff, and I think that’s a pretty poignant message.
9. You’re forced to room with one famous person in Hell. Who do you hope it will be? Who do you hope it WON’T be?
RF: I hope it will be Elvis. I think he’d be a pretty supportive, easy going roommate. I hope it won’t be Johnny Depp. Like, really stop and think, and imagine what it would be like to live with Johnny Depp in close proximity for all eternity.
VR: [Laughs] Ryan you are really something. Elvis, in? Depp, out? *tsks* I would stay with Johnny Depp in the room next door to Ryan’s, just getting drunk, smoking like there is no tomorrow, and crashing Elvis’ parties. I wouldn’t stay with Mother Teresa.
10. You go to Hell. You get one album. Which is it?
VR: Lateralus by Tool.
RF: The fact that I can only choose one album is an absolute hell in itself. Fiiine, force me to do the impossible. Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul, by Otis Redding.
‘Hot Damn’ #5 is available now.