—–Jason: You are a writer/artist team, is that correct? Justin: Actually, James thumbnails things out, so I guess that makes us both writer/artists. Thumbnailing is not the same as art, Cathy Guisewite be damned. How did you fellows meet? Justin: Didn’t we both take some sort of animation class together down around elementary school? James: We went to the same high school, but maybe that was more like a coincidence. I don’t even remember. Justin: It just made you recognizable come high school. James: Then 3 weeks later we went to the same high school anyway. Justin: Yeah that was a weird coincidence. So you are childhood buddies. And how old are you now?
Justin: Well, I think James tried to think of a comic that he could have fun with on the Internet, and he came up with Newspaper Comic Strip… but I’ll let him verify or deny that.
James: Newspaper Comic Strip was an accident sort of. It was supposed to be a quick throwaway comic, but then it ended up being suspenseful.
The protagonist in Newspaper Comic Strip is a man who has discovered, in Twilight Zone fashion, that he exists in a comic strip. Do you find it more humorous or frightening?
James: I view it as both, unless I actually was Newspaper Comic Strip Guy, then it would be terrifying
Justin: Like the 80’s film Vampire’s Kiss, I’d call it equal parts humorous and frightening. I don’t know about James, but I love having a little homunculus to poke at.
Is Grant Morrison an influence on either of you? Will Newspaper Comic Strip Guy suddenly stare out of the screen one day and shout “I CAN SEE YOU!” ? Does he know he is being read?
James: I haven’t read The Invisibles yet, but Newspaper Comic Strip Guyseeing the audience is a possibility
James: He knows there’s readers, and he felt pressure early on but he’s completely forgotten about them since the wife showed up.
Justin: I heard about Grant Morrison’s pop chaos magick rap before I read any of his comics… I only discovered The Invisibles last year.
Justin: I have a triumvirate of influences in Dave Sim, Eddie Campbell and Alan Moore, so self-aware comic characters aren’t at all strange to me.
Justin: We did work a sigil into Newspaper Comic Strip’s Sunday strip header/logo though.
James: Yeah. But it’s not like we “charged” it. Just some weird thing we did because we needed an indecipherable cartoonist sig.
Justin: Yeah, there was no wanking involved in the creation of Newspaper Comic Strip.
I haven’t noticed any strips that feature “Riotfish”. Is he just your logo? Justin: Riotfish is sort of the ringmaster of the site… it wasn’t designed for any particular comic strip. Does he control the site? Does he control all of us? Justin: I haven’t thought about Riotfish much lately, so he seems like an absentee landlord if he is in control. Newspaper Comic strip was the first of Riotfish’s features. What made you choose to have such a variety? Was it your intention from the start, a potpourri of different stories? James: We submitted Riotfish to a crit forum, Penciljack and Eatpoo, and we got mixed reactions. James: We were new to Internet criticism… plus we didn’t think one comic was enough for a site. It was supposed to be a gateway experiment sort of thing. Then we started having more ideas- like Random Commerical Parody- to satisfy people that like their comics self-contained. Justin: I’d tried my hand at self-publishing mini comics before we set up Riotfish and launched it with Newspaper Comic Strip. Long story short, we both had comics done up before Riotfish came out. Riotfish is a pretty versatile set of comics. You run the gamut from cerebral to grotesque, poignant to lowbrow. Are you trying to hit a lot of notes, or does it just come out that way? Do you reserve certain sensibilities for certain features? Justin: Quite frankly I don’t know why we keep running the site… our readership hasn’t grown in almost 2 years, but we’ve got some sort of peer respect or something… I don’t know quite what to think about the whole experience. James: Like, both of us read Jerkcity. Justin: Yeah, I think Jerkcity is probably the best web comic there is. Justin: And personally, Cerebus is a big influence, and it definitely spans the spectrum, from cerebral to lowbrow; Cerebus being a 300 issue self published comic series by Dave Sim. Are you two on an epic quest of that nature? Justin: I thought I wanted to be, but God damn making comics is hard work. James: 1989 is 12 issues in scope, that’s the longest term goal I know about. Justin: I think something similar can be done with a variety of shorter, more self-contained works. Explain 1989. It seems at first blush to have a coming-of-age angle, maybe something torn from your real life childhoods. and then suddenly I am staring at a person with his skin missing and his fat dripping like soap suds onto the floor. Justin: Well, James isn’t really involved in 1989, so I’m mostly to blame for that confusing mess. Originally I wanted to do a dark homage to 80’s kid flicks, like The Goonies, Lost Boys, The Explorers… but it became something more surreal and hallucinatory than that. James: Wasn’t there some specific movie that came eerily close to 1989 that you found out about later? About a hole suddenly appearing in someone’s backyard? Justin: You might be thinking of The Gate, which stars a rocket/space travel obsessed kid who inadvertently opens a gate to hell in his backyard, which I hadn’t seen in my youth, but definitely knew about. I use large swaths of my dream journal for 1989 plot points as well, so that could explain its herky jerkiness James: 1989 is so early on its hard to know what you can say… there’s major reveals to come, something that ties it all together. Things like, the woman with the lollipop mirror ‘picking Ron’s brain’. Is 1989 an important year for some reason? Justin: Yeah, I had to create a scaffolding to hang 1989’s twisty-turniness on, so it didn’t totally mutate out of control– it’s a limited 12 issue book– each book, or chapter, takes place in a different month of the year. And the 12 issue book is split up into 4 sections… oh God here goes… and each section corresponds to a different season of the year. But not only that, on another layer, each section/season also corresponds to the four inner planets in the solar system, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, and as such each section has attributes that are associated with those planets. So the first three issues are mercurial, magical, and in short, mad. James: What are the next ones like? Justin: Issues four, five and six will primarily be love stories. The mechanism that drives 1989 may sound retarded and insane, but it works out fairly well. For instance, issue six, February, takes place on St. Valentine’s Day. and the Mars issues revolve around themes such as war and the desolation of a once living planet. I feel like 1989 has sort of an “Alice in Wonderland” quality too it, but more creepy and malevolent. Is it a coming of age allegory or more a story of weirdness for its own sake? Justin: It’s a coming of age story in the sense that Arthur C. Clarke’s novel “Childhood’s End” is a coming of age story. is any of it real? It’s very dream-like. Justin: which is why the story is ballooning out beyond the ostensible main character Ron, and focusing on his friends. I’m interested in the idea of synchronicity, which is when a motif or a theme seems to pop up into ‘reality’ of its own volition, causing reality to have a story or dream-like quality to it. James: I think that’s the trick with 1989. It’s mostly real. I think the only dream sequence is where Ron sees a cantina alien playing the trumpet and that might not even be a dream. Justin: Some readers thought Ron was hallucinating, but now the rest of the characters are experiencing weirdness, and not just alone, but as a group. So whatever has infected the world of 1989 is spreading.