by Jarrod Jones. Over the last half-decade or so the DoomRocket interview series, 10 Things Concerning…, became a personal source of pride for me, not because it allowed me the access to ask my favorite creators the kinds of questions I often sought, but because of the outright joy I got when I read their generous answers. These are the most thoughtful, interesting, funny, and downright best interviews I gave in 2020.
“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.'”
“Tate Brombal, the writer of Red Planet, might be a new name to you. But the Toronto-based writer has the full confidence of Lemire and has ambitious plans concerning Barbalien, whose civilian identity as a Spiral City police officer is about to collide with the social upheaval that came amid the 1980s AIDS crisis. I’ve read the first issue of Red Planet—it’s terrific, by the way—and while its story does (quite accidentally) share historical parallels to our own very real current moment, Tate’s story is more concerned with the United States’ history with AIDS and its treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. Barbalien: Red Planet is a story deeply rooted in the identity of Mark Markz, a gay man living with secrets at a time when keeping things hidden might have meant certain death.
“’My guiding principle became the protagonist and his journey,’ Tate tells me. ‘Here’s a character that is at the intersection of Martian Superhero/Police Officer/Closeted Gay Man with his secret identity being White. That’s a lot to unpack and is rife with tension, so I knew a major focus had to be the Police-Queer relations of that period, as well as queer BIPOC experiences. The majority of AIDS stories (and LGBTQ+ stories, in general) are White-centric, so I knew I didn’t want to feed that canon. As a result, the major contenders and supporting cast of the book are POC.’”
“Covert operations require finesse. Thomas River has it. Don’t bother with those “different kind of spy thriller” qualifiers when you talk about this new series from 12-Gauge Comics; Thomas River might tap into the same frenetic Jason Bourne action that film studios were absolutely in love with 16 years ago, only it’s made for now, today, modern in a way James Bond could never be. Speaking of Bond, Thomas River is also just as sleek as you’d want these types of stories to be and sleeker still because, well… this is Mr. Brian Stelfreeze at the helm, peak-Stelfreeze, bringing his own sharp-edged vision of the action/espionage potboiler to the fore alongside confidante, friend, and compatriot, Doug Wagner. Thomas River has a power to it that these stodgy Bond flicks could never have, because its eponymous hero is so unlike the martini-swilling, smooch-stealing, wry-smirking British hero.
“Thomas River is a man, a black man, born in Baltimore eons away from Bond’s high society but is no stranger to laying his adversaries low with the same level of finesse that only a world-weary superspy could possess. ‘I believe truth is a force multiplier for creativity,’ Stelfreeze tells me. ‘The more truthful the fuel, the more explosive the creativity.’”
“One of the great pleasures (and surprises!) of running a low-key comics site like DoomRocket is that I’m allowed to ask questions of fascinating creators. There are some artists and writers I speak with more than others, and some I’ve yet to speak with at all, but so far one of the most surprising and satisfying experiences I’ve had interviewing any creator has most certainly been my annual chats with the comics writing powerhouse known as Ram V.
“Ram’s been writing a lot, as he does, working on a diverse array of projects alongside an eye-widening line-up of artists and editors. 2020 has already seen some impressive outings from him, but I don’t think it’s controversial to say his most important and intimate work of the year is still to come.
“It’s an original graphic novel called Blue in Green, published by Image Comics, a graphic presentation of music, mood, and mystery. The type of music is jazz, a compliment to the rhythms adopted by Ram and artists Anand RK & John Pearson; it’s improvisational in places, crescendo spikes followed by tempo shifts, an arrangement of style and character and theme. As for mood, well. There’s a bit of horror in it, the personal kind, the kind that keeps us locked up in places far away from the love and understanding of others. Aditya Bidikar hand-letters every utterance and thought for this book and his font choices and placement create a smooth studio production feel before he yanks the cords out and all becomes distortion and unease. And the mystery? A photograph found by frustrated musician and teacher Erik Deiter just hours after the funeral of his estranged mother, a still image that sends Erik on a vertiginous journey to a past that no longer wishes to be ignored.”
“By rights, this story should be sending readers running towards something, anything, else. Somewhere safer. But this is 2020, nothing’s safe, and our phones keep on luring us to places we shouldn’t go. In effect, Lonely Receiver has struck a nerve and become one of the best-reviewed comics of the year, a response Thompson himself did not foresee.
“’Truth be told, I was terrified for folx to read this book because it was so unlike anything I’ve ever done that I was sure this was going to be it for me,’ Zac tells me. ‘I constructed Lonely Receiver almost as my ‘goodbye’ to comics. This book came to me at this weird point of exhaustion with the medium. I was put off by gatekeeping and I was at my wit’s end trying to make a career in this industry work. I wanted to create something that felt welcoming, accessible and weird in all these ways I didn’t see on the shelf.'”
“It might have been enough to put together a graphic novel about these dinguses, take the easy pot-shots and call it a paycheck. Dead Dudes isn’t that kind of comic, however; it goes further because this is Christopher Sebela and Ben Sears we’re talking about here, two creators whose individual bodies of work blatantly illustrate both the deep wells of inspiration they work from and their general sense of joy creating in this field. So, when Christopher and Ben finally got their chance to team up, going the simple route with this goofy premise—what if TV ghost bros died chasing ratings and actually became ghosts?—simply wouldn’t do.
“I mean, Dead Dudes is still goofy as hell, but it’s sharp. Barbed in places. Smarter than your average indie OGN, and it looks terrific, too.
“’I spent many years with ghostbros living inside [my head] with zero payoff except stoned laughter and a tremendous misuse of my free time,’ Sebela says. ‘So, writing the book was my slow goodbye to that time spent with this weird niche culture of guys in Affliction shirts yelling challenges at ghosts. This is them paying rent for all that living in my head they got away with.’”
“David Pepose is the king of high-concept mash-ups. His province? The gray areas that exist between the known and the unknown.
“Take Spencer & Locke. A comic series featuring a hard-boiled detective and his imaginary stuffed panther. Calvin & Hobbes and Sin City, an equation that adds up to a veritable storytelling goldmine. High concept, simple math, sounds easy. But David Pepose digs deeper than that, achieves more in his narratives than what his meme-able elevator pitches might suggest. Pepose is more than the kind of writer who sees a workable concept and thinks, ‘What if that… but darker?’ He’s a damn fine storyteller, one that’s never staisfied with the surface-level.
“Which brings us to The O.Z. If you know David at all, you might have already surmised its premise: Life in the wonderful world of The Wizard of Oz during wartime. It’s simplicity itself. But, true to form, David digs deeper, breaks the crust, navigates the mantle, mines the richness of the core of his concept. I’ll let David elaborate:
“'[The O.Z.] follows Dorothy Gale’s granddaughter and namesake, a disillusioned Iraq war veteran, as she finds herself swept up by a tornado and dropped into the magical battlefield of Oz. Suddenly confronted with her grandmother’s unwitting legacy, our new Dorothy is going to have to confront her past as well as her grandmother’s former friends if she ever hopes to bring peace to the Occupied Zone… or, as the locals call it, The O.Z.’”
“Alex de Campi knows how to spin a yarn better than most, and now she’s finally cutting loose in the pages of 2000 AD.
“An example of de Campi’s prowess: Full Tilt Boogie, a sci-fi entry from this year’s Regened edition of 2000 AD where Cadet Dredd stomps about in boots just a bit too big for his wee fascist feet. It was here where we met the character Tee, a bounty collector who scoured the spaceways looking for loot in a starship populated by her grandmother and, naturally, her pet cat. (‘Every spaceship needs a cat,’ de Campi says. ‘It’s how you keep the space rats away.’) All-ages appeal, certainly. But de Campi never goes halfway.
“Look to the first two pages of “Full Tilt Boogie, Part One”, which dropped weeks ago in 2000 AD prog 2185, and be awed. de Campi knocked out the set-up—fleshing out the backstory of Tee’s universe with a galactic dust-up, rendered in dazzling sequentials by artist Eduardo Ocaña—and then… BOOM.
“She blows everything up. Just to get things started.”
“Outside the walls of Mega-City One lies the Cursed Earth, a wasteland of lawlessness and brutality where once you’re outside—you’re outside. A precious few approach the city walls and expect a warm welcome.
“One day, however, rides a pilgrim. Carrying a big sack. Psi-Judge Anderson demands this stranger be allowed clearance. Why? What in grud’s name is going on? What’s in that sack? That’d be telling. But know this: Anderson’s decision kicks the venerated Judge Dredd strip into overdrive with what is likely to be the most insane story Rob Williams has written for 2000 AD yet.
“He’s calling it ‘End of Days’, a Wild Bunch type of team-up that sends Judge Dredd and a motley crew of backup out into the war-scorched hell of the Cursed Earth to put a stop to the apocalypse—which has taken the literal form of the Four Horsemen of said calamity. Failure means the absolute decimation of Mega-City One… and the planet it happens to be sitting on.”
“Tartarus #1 is a thresher for your senses. From the jump, this 44-page debut, out February 12 from Image Comics, tosses you headlong into a fracas you’re simply not going to be prepared for. There’s energy, intrigue, catharsis—then Tartarus taps the brakes, lets you catch your breath. And then it steals it all over again.
“’We wanted [this debut] to be BIG,’ writer and Tartarus co-creator Johnnie Christmas says. ‘Not to feel like we’re playing it safe or saving stuff for some massive payoff way off far away. Don’t get me wrong, we are saving stuff for massive payoffs along the way, but it should never feel like that. It should feel like the story we’re telling in any issue is of utmost importance.'”
For more terrific DoomRocket interviews, click on this.
More from the 2020 YEAR IN REVIEW: