by Jarrod Jones. “I think [an] aspect of Night Hunters I’ve been the most consistently displeased with,” Dave Baker tells me, “[is] just how accurate it is to this specific moment in time.” I don’t have to ask him to elaborate.
I mean, just flip through the absolutely exquisite pages of Night Hunters #1, the neon-lit cyberpunk comic Baker has made with artist Alexis Ziritt, out later this month from Floating World Comics. It’s set in a world where oppression is the status quo. If you wanted to, say, actually advance in society, expand your rights even just a little bit, the only way up is to become a cop. And what do the cops in Night Hunters do? Oppress people, sometimes for fun, always for duty, without checks, without consequence. The scales might have been tipped against the common person a long time ago, but the weight has only gotten heavier as the years have progressed.
Living through the summer of 2020, pushing back against the unchecked police forces in virtually every single American city, only to have the streets fog with teargas and pepper spray and watch our fellow citizens get their asses kicked by the same cops with the same impunity these people were originally protesting against, yeah… no, I didn’t have to get elaboration from Baker on what he meant.
Night Hunters is a harrowing glimpse into an uncompromising future, but it’s also one that has spiked a vein in our very real and very current moment. Set 100 years in the futuristic (and fictional) Venezuelan city of Gran Caracas, even with such odds stacked against the people there remains a spark of hope. “The only mechanism I have for handling bullshit like this is to try and make art about it,” Baker says, which I’ll always maintain is precisely all it takes to change something, even if it’s just one thing, for the better.
Ahead of the dark and dangerous debut of Night Hunters #1 DoomRocket spoke with Dave Baker about the B-movie legends and real-word crises that influenced this gnarly cyberpunk wonder.
1. You’ve already spoken at length about why you and Alexis Ziritt wanted to make ‘Night Hunters’, but I’d like to ask you about how you’re feeling about the book’s release now that the U.S. in the aftermath of an incredibly tight election and people are really starting to lose their minds. Do you feel like presenting the worst-case scenario via a cyberpunk comic helps to mitigate your feelings about… well… everything, at all? Does it fortify your resolve to push back against the madness?
Dave Baker: We started Night Hunters in september of 2019. The world, while being still afflicted with the cancer of white supremacy and corrupt politicians was admittedly a very different place. I think that’s the aspect of Night Hunters I’ve been the most consistently displeased with… just how accurate it is to this specific moment in time. Night Hunters takes place in a fictionalized Venezuela, which was something that was very important to Alexis, as that’s where he’s from. But obviously, it’s also just a meditation on the corrupting power of authority, in general. And that’s something I think we’ve all seen run rampant in our country, as well as other places across the globe the past four years. To answer your question more directly, on a good day I think Night Hunters functions as cautionary, on a bad day it just feels like what’s happening right now.
2. That initial two-page spread in the first issue is so effective in laying out the stakes of your world, it really does. The stats, the murder rate, the average household income—knowing these mega-city prisons are stacked as high as they can go and still have prisoner waiting lists sent me reeling. (Makes you wonder where this police-state sends people when they can’t stuff them in prison.) And, contrasting this daunting imagery, the words: “The future is yours for the taking…” This is that “single spark can ignite a revolution” credo that we look for in our cyberpunk sagas, but it’s not without a sense of irony, isn’t it? How do you balance irony with optimism in a story like ‘Night Hunters’?
I mean… are you optimistic about anything these days? I’m sure not. Yes, I’m glad the election turned out the way it did, but I think the world has a lot of figuring out to do. But, you’re probably catching me on one of the aforementioned “bad days”. I think it’s more important to be fidelitous to the true nature of the characters, when you’re building a narrative like the one we are. If the characters deserve an ending that’s one way or another, that’s what’s more important to me than projecting an artificially inflated sense of optimism or pragmatism. But y’know the unofficial credo of the book is “Crime Only Pays If You’re A Cop”, so take from that what you will.
3. I want to talk about tone for a moment. The aesthetic of ‘Night Hunters’ screams ‘Universal Soldier’, but it’s so much smarter than that; it recalls ‘RoboCop’ but its tone has an urgency to it that Paul Verhoeven rarely brought to his films, I think. This is less “cultural satire” than it is an indictment on the United States’ historically permissive attitudes towards authority figures. When you were first piecing together this book with Alexis Ziritt, how did you view the tone of the book? Was there going to be more satire to it, humor? Is it because it’s impossible to laugh at the way the world’s swirling the bowl that ‘Night Hunters’ had to shift?
So, when we were first talking about making Night Hunters Alexis had some character ideas, a setting, and he knew it should be a cyberpunk epic. All of that I loved. But the tone was a direct reaction to the drawings he was doing. He was making these amazing cyborg cops and badass police dudes and I was like if we keep going down this direction this book is going to be one thing… Copaganda, which I don’t want to contribute to. Which leads us to the reverse, what if we made the most anti-police comic ever, but with Alexis’ badass police officer drawings? I really liked the tension between those two ideas. And also, I probably just have a very bleak sense of humor which is where “Crime Doesn’t Pay Unless You’re A Cop” comes from.
4. You mention in the first issue’s afterword that ‘Night Hunters’ once went by a different name. Can you tell us what it was before, and why you and Alexis decided to change it? (‘Night Hunters’ is an amazing title, by the way.)
At one point it was called King Killer Squadron 606, which was kind of an homage to Cyber City Oedo 808. But it was kind of a mouthful, and we just kinda decided to change the title back to Night Hunters, which was Alexis original working title.
5. As you mentioned, Alexis is from Venezuela, a country that’s been mired in economic and social crisis for some time. There are elements in this book that feel taken from the daily reports from that country and, it must be said, from our own. (The “only one in five police altercations end in death” propaganda mural at the beginning of this issue was especially pointed and shocking.) How have you and Alexis distilled your social anxieties of this current moment into a working narrative in ‘Night Hunters’?
That’s an interesting question, and quite frankly I think a large part of it is literally just being alive at this time. Regardless if it’s reading about other places that are objectively more screwed up than we are, or if it’s living in the American Experiment… which feels like it’s failing more and more everyday, there’s just a sense of dread that exists in the world now. The unthinkable is not only thinkable but probable, these days. And the only mechanism I have for handling bullshit like this is to try and make art about it, which is how you get “peace through superior obedience” and shit like that from the book.
6. I think one of the most striking things about ‘Night Hunters’ is that it quickly establishes an authoritarian hell on earth, then jumps ahead 20-odd years and shows how things can always, always, get worse. But, at its core, it’s a story about two brothers who take dramatic detours on their respective paths. What does this relationship between Ezekiel and Julian mean in a world like ‘Night Hunters’? More pointedly, what does brotherhood mean for you?
I don’t have any brothers, I was raised with sisters. And at various points in my life I’ve felt like I’ve found “adoptive” brothers and for whatever reason… those people turned out to not have my best interests at heart. Which is something I’m loath to admit, but I feel is germane to this discussion. There’s something about when you form a bond that seems unbreakable and completely indestructible with someone, that then it deteriorates is just very sad to me. There’s a loneliness in broken brotherhood. There’s an isolation that’s worse than being alone because it stems from decisions made by individuals. There’s an emptiness that I find very compelling in that idea. Which I think is an interesting metonymy for the act of constructing an athorian state. These large mechanisms of social change and oppression start with simple decisions. Minor betrayals evolve into larger ones. So, in some ways the relationship between Ezekiel and Julian is the stand-in for our relationship with our fellow citizens, and one that inevitably is rooted in betrayal and loss.
7. I wanted to touch on Alexis’ design for the cops in this book. They’re gnarly, a twisted amalgam of a green army man figure and the Borg, looking like they were hot-glued together with props from that early-90s Richard Stanley flick, ‘Hardware’. What were the discussions between you and Alexis like when you were swapping ideas for the look of ‘Night Hunters’? Were you both throwing D-movie lists at each other or what?
You hit the nail on the head. Alexis and I love B-movies, so there was a lot of discussion about movies like Nemesis and Cyborg and Cyber City Oedo. But also Alexis came to the table with lots of visual reference of real life totalitarian state police in places like the Philippines and South America that I hadn’t seen. And he was like, “We’re gonna do this.” To which I responded, “FUCK YES, WE ARE.” I wish I could claim more ownership visually, but the majority of the designs and aesthetic of the book flows right from his mind.
8. Generally, I like to end these interviews with a dweeby softball about what the creator would do if they lived in the world of their books, but… [Laughs] Instead, what comics are you reading right now? Who are the creators that are currently giving you life during this moment?
Oh, man, yeah… if I could avoid living in the Night Hunters world, I’d very much like that. I’d preffer to live in the Fuck Off Squad or Action Hospital world, if I could. The best comic that I’ve read in ages is Grenade by Will Kirkby. It’s got a similar vibe to some of the things we’re doing in Night Hunters, so I bet the readership crossover would be pretty high. It’s awesome. Highly recommended.
‘Night Hunters’ #1 (of 4) infiltrates comic shops on December 16. You can pre-order ‘Night Hunters’ directly from Floating World Comics now.
Read the DoomRocket review of ‘Night Hunters’ #1 here.
Check out this 5-page preview of ‘Night Hunters’ #1 (of 4), including a variant cover by Alexis Ziritt & Vanesa Del Rey, courtesy of Floating World Comics!
More comics interviews to get those synapses firing…