Following the recent Advance Review of Image Comics newest sensation Shirtless Bear-Fighter, we caught up with the Jody LeHeup and Sebastian Girner, to discuss everything from influences, breaking into comics and various things in-between:-
Comic Crusaders: First thing guys, congratulations on a great book. Let’s start at the beginning, how did you two meet and more importantly, what made you want to tell the story of Shirtless?
Sebastian Girner: Jody and I met as fresh-faced assistant editors at Marvel Comics. Jody had a few months on me, but we started roughly around the same time. We were both in the X-Office at the time and quickly realized we liked a lot of the same things, comics (duh) metal, videogames, 80s action movies and all the good stuff. About a year in we became roommates as well, so we were in each other’s grills like 24/7. It was once suggested Jody carry me around in a backpack like Master Blaster. I don’t know why we never did that…
Jody LeHeup: By the time we left the world of work-for-hire editing we were pretty down on comics to be honest. Yet we had an enormous amount of creative energy. So we decided that whatever we worked on together would need to be a vessel in which we could pour all that energy and be a comic that made comics joyful for us again. We accomplished both those goals with SBF!
CC: How did you break into comics?
SG: Jody has a pretty cool globe-trotting story of how he broke in, but I literally just applied for a job at Marvel and got hired as an editor. Not too crazy! My path actually gets more interesting when I left Marvel after around four years and then broke back in again as a freelance editor and writer thanks to the wave of new Image books that were coming up (and in need of an editor) at the time. So I found a way to keep doing my job on different terms, and that rekindled my love of the job and my desire to try and put out some work of my own.
JL: Yeah, there’s a longer version to my story that’s pretty epic but the short version is that I was working in film production in Austin, Texas and then dropped everything to become an editorial intern for Marvel where they eventually hired me on full time.
CC: How does the writing dynamic work for you both? Is one the plot guy and the other the dialogue guy?
SG: I wish we were able to sparse things out so neatly. Our co-writing process on Shirtless was so we both ended up having a hand in everything, the creative decisions and general style and vibe of the book.
JL: There wasn’t really a separation of roles. We kind of worked all aspects of the book over together until we were both happy with the end result. Not the most efficient means of co-writing a book but that was our process and we’re really happy with how everything turned out.
CC: Who are your “writer” heroes?
SG: For my money Garth Ennis is the best living comics writer.
JL: Yeah, Garth and Alan Moore for me as well. Very different writers but when those guys are at their best no one else comes close.
CC: Both great choices. Influences and inspirations are dotted throughout the book, Tarzan, a touch of Wolverine maybe. How do you combat the overt influences?
JL: With Shirtless Bear-Fighter we set out to tell the story of an angry man that has to change in order to save the ones he loves, not homage anything specifically. Along the way we have a lot of fun riffing off certain classics like the ones you mention–and many others as well– because our world and characters and narrative presented opportunities to do so, but it’s all very surface and for comedic effect. Some aspects of SBF have certainly been done before…like a man raised by wild animals a la the Jungle Book…but we take those concepts to different places. SBF is very much its own thing as readers will discover.
SG: SBF touches on some of those classic myths and the hero’s journey, both in earnest but we also like to poke fun at these tropes. The classic angry fallen hero trope, for example, is both one we thoroughly enjoy, but also have a great time lampooning. I think that’s one of the strengths of comics, the ability to take the piss out of a character or theme that is also deadly serious at times.
CC: I was talking recently with a friend who dissed Flash #22 as Batman is hanging onto the cosmic treadmill by a bat–rope. This lead me to comment “that’s the only thing wrong with that scene??” How do you both manage to weave the absurd into the book?
SG: Absurdity is what comics have always been about to a large extent: to take the human condition out of the shrink-wrapped “real world” and toss it into the sandbox of imagination, fantasy and satire. Comics speak to me the loudest when they’re making a very simple and real point about how we live and who we are by using mutant space gorillas and radioactive Dracula bombs or something. The absurd goes hand in hand with the genuine.
CC: If you weren’t writing Shirtless, what would you be up to right now?
SG: I’d be (and am!) writing another project that is really close to being announced and which I’m really excited about. Very different from SBF, and it’s been in the works for a good while so I can’t wait to start spreading the word. I’m also still editing a bunch of creator-owned series published by Image like Deadly Class, Southern Bastards, Renato Jones and others.
JL: I’m also writing a couple of other projects. One of which we’ll be announcing (hopefully) in the fall. Going to be a huge project with an all star creative team. Very excited to share it with the world.
CC: What’s next for Shirtless?
SG: We have a ton of ideas for where to go next.
JL: Sky’s the limit. Stay tuned!
Thanks for taking the time out of your schedules to talk to me. Good luck with Shirtless, which I am sure will be a big hit.
Shirtless Bear-Fighter will be on racks late in August. Keep your eyes peeled!