Citizen Jack: Welcome to Jack's America [Interview]
February 10, 2016
SAM HUMPHRIES: I had hit rock bottom. I was about to eat a bullet on the floor of my snowblower dealership, when a ten foot tall demon appeared and said, "You wanna be a comic book writer? All you have to do in return is...make me famous."
Everyone thinks this book is in reaction to Trump, but we started work on it long before Trump joined the race. This book came from a place of anger about politics from 1992-2015. It just so happens that we were on the mark.
TOMMY PATTERSON: This is Sam's baby. While Sam and I may differ on particular political points of view we have a general agreement the system is failing. I'll gladly join Sam in pointing this out and making...light? of it. Haha.
IC: CITIZEN JACK opens with a caption box reading, "Jack Northworthy wasn't always America's problem." Jack's kind of a scuzzy dude without the redeeming qualities that main characters often get in comics. How do you two see him? Do you think he's sympathetic?
SH: Oh yeah, I think he is sympathetic. When you strip it down, he's a guy who is too scared to face his own looming failures and finds himself in over his head. These aren't exactly positive traits, but who hasn't been the victim of their own fear, failure, and ambition? He buys into the fairy tale American dream—"anyone can be president"—and while that kind of naivete is dangerous, from a distance it can be endearing. And who knows? With the demon on his side, he might be right.
TP: Jack is the person we've all met that we like but they have issues. We all know someone that, when faced with trouble, doubles down at the table.
IC: Sam, how much are you pulling from your time in Minnesota for this series? Is starting out there a pointed move or a loving jab?
SH: Oh definitely a loving jab. California is where I live, but I grew up in Minnesota, most of my family is still there, and it remains near and dear to my heart. Besides the fact that it made my research easier, Minnesota has a long line of political outsiderism that fits with CITIZEN JACK. Jesse Ventura, Michelle Bachman, Paul Wellestone, Al Franken...just to name a handful of political loons who took flight. And, let's not forget, in the 1984 election, Minnesota was the ONLY state to vote against Reagan—for our hometown boy, Walter Mondale. One lonely blue state in a sea of red. Proud political outsiders.
TP: I watched Fargo seasons 1 and 2. I'm pretty much a Minnesotan now.
IC: CITIZEN JACK is weirder than the idea of a "politician sells his soul to the devil" story would immediately suggest. How weird is this America compared to ours? Are you two hewing close to reality or pushing hard for heightened reality?
SH: It's a balance. It certainly isn't a docu-drama. But if we stray too far into the fantastical, you lose that emotional connection to Jack, and Jack's America. It's gotta be grounded, otherwise it's a political story that doesn't feel relevant. I want people to watch the real-life election and feel Marlinspike the demon breathing down their necks.
TP: I'm putting faith in the universe and I think readers will feel synchronicity when watching the race. They'll swear we're in on it!
IC: Cricket, the reasonable cable news show host and also dolphin, is fascinating to me. Where did this guy come from? How come he gets no respect?
SH: Cricket is a tragic figure. He gets no respect on cable news because he is so reasonable. That is why Cricket the Dolphin is one of the most painful true to life aspects of CITIZEN JACK.
TP: It's frustrating to talk politics because people in general aren't willing to discuss politics until they're frustrated. Once people enter the conversation, they are in an emotional state instead of a rational state. Politicians and TV news feed off this. I honestly believe the most honest and reasonable politician would never win because you have to connect to people emotionally. That's why hucksters, cons, and psychopaths reach the top.
IC: Tommy, what's it like working with colorist Jon Alderink? Now that you're a fair few issues in, has your relationship changed much?
TP: I'm very hands off. I enjoy letting Jon do his own thing. He nails faces and that's the only thing I truly worry about with colors. He's a hard worker, too. I hope to meet him one day as I hike through the Michigan forests.
IC: You've got a designer and an editor on CITIZEN JACK, too, two positions which are increasingly common on creator-owned comics. What do Dylan Todd and Jeanine Schaefer do for you? What's that working experience like?
SH: I grew up loving the comics design work of Richard Bruning (two favorites: Watchmen and The Art of Walter Simonson) so I absolutely believe that good design is essential to a great reading experience. I've been working with Dylan since my first comic series SACRIFICE. He's very good at distilling the vibe of a book into a sharp look and feel on the page. (He also designed some in-world collateral for CITIZEN JACK, like signage and logos—fictional design, if you will.)
Likewise, I have been a believer in the power—and necessity—of a good editor since the beginning of my career and we are very grateful for Jeanine Schaefer. She brings so much experience to the table and she's got a high comics IQ—not only does she keep the books running on time, but she elevates the game of everyone on the team—from outlines through to the final product. Her instincts are razor sharp. CITIZEN JACK is a better book because of Dylan and Jeanine.
TP: Wow, these two are life savers. I tried my hand at managing the book. We had tons of lead time, but once it was crunch time I fell apart. Jeanine flew in and saved the day. Dylan does great design work and does so much dirty work within the book that I could never thank him enough.
IC: This is Deep Comics, but I was struck by the credits on CITIZEN JACK. Everyone from the writer and artist down to the flatters, the often unsung heroes of comics, is listed. You clearly care a lot about giving fair credit—can you break down why that is?
SH: It's a team effort! No question. When it was just me, all I had was a couple of paragraphs. Not fun or exciting. Now CITIZEN JACK is a real comic book, thanks to lots of people worked hard on it. They all deserve a chance to shine. They all have my gratitude and admiration and love. Thanks, gang.
TP: I've worked in a few print shops and the people at the top love to take all the credit. It was so strange to see production workers treated as replaceable cogs as though there is no sacrifice and you're doing them a favor by allowing them the work. While not as drastic in comics, I feel everyone brings an important part to the table. Everyone's creativity matters.
From CITIZEN JACK #1: