2012 has been an extraordinary year for comics, and 2013 is shaping up to be even hotter. I've had my eye on a few projects behind the scenes, and this is one of my picks for freshest début of the year. Liberator, a new kind of hero, a hardcore Animal Man rooted in realism rather than superpowers, digging deep into the political power of comics and unleashing a new front for animal activism and sequential creativity.
Launched on Kickstarter today, the 4 issue mini has already recieved praise from Scott Snyder, Steve Niles, and Jimmy Palmiotti amongst others. All the info is at the Kickstarter page, so go and check it out! In the meantime, hit the jump for an exclusive interview with writer Matt Miner and backup artist Yasmin Liang - and take a note of that last name in particular, because she is a real rising star.
Matt, Liberator is your first venture as a comic book writer, and you've described it as a "mix of Mission: Impossible and the Weather Underground" - tell us a little about the book.
Matt: The book combines two of my biggest interests: my work on behalf of animals and my lifelong love of comic books. As my interest in animals grew into years of street activism I learned of the illegal animal rights underground - these are the people who wear all black and put on masks in the middle of the night and take direct action on behalf of abused animals. When I first learned about these brave men and women I thought "wow that's so badass, they're kind of like Batman but for animals!"
So the book follows a duo of animal rights campaigners as they wage a fiery war on animal cruelty, be that for sport or profit, but we avoid any pious lectures to the reader. We focus on telling a good story with compelling characters first, while incorporating real-world issues and staying true to the hell that animals endure at the hands of some very cold and evil people.
As with the vast majority of the real-world animal rights underground, the heroes of Liberator fight their battles while adhering to a non-violent code of conduct: they engage in controversial tactics, for sure, and employ the use of property destruction but they take all necessary precautions to ensure no human or animal is harmed in the process.
I've been active for animals for a really long time and lately I've been more heavily involved in animal rescue of abused and neglected pit bulls, and pit bull and bully breed advocacy. I spent years on the legal side of the animal rights movement, behind signs and bullhorns, in the streets, outside abusers' offices and homes, but I've always been a vocal supporter of the illegal underground side as well. The people who take those clandestine actions are misunderstood heroes willing to go to jail for their beliefs – Liberator is, among other things, my love letter to the movement and a nod of respect to friends behind bars.
Liberator's kind of a mix of me, my friends, folks from animal rights legend, and comic book anti-heroes like the Punisher.
Liberator is going to be funded via Kickstarter, and you have a publisher lined up. How did that all come together?
Matt: Liberator's been an intense project for about a year now, and it's been a crazy ride to the point we're at now, with a publisher on-board and a Kickstarter launching.
I wanted Liberator to be taken seriously because the subject matter is so important, so near and dear to me, so I've done everything I could to make sure the book is as polished and fine-tuned as I could get it. I cashed in my meager savings, sold off half my comic collection, and found a fantastic professional art team who really brought the book to new levels. I took out loans and studied under Scott Snyder, which is the best thing I could have done as it really brought my writing places I never considered going.
After this, we did a ton of research and found a publisher where we thought Liberator would fit well and so we pitched the book. Putting the book out there for other folks to see was nerve wracking and I didn't sleep much at nights while I waited for a response. But hey, soon afterwards I got the news that the message of Liberator resonated with the principals of the publisher and so here we are, readying a Kickstarter to pay the art team to finish up the series.
We need the Kickstarter funding to finish the book. Making a comic is so much work, and it's crazy freaking expensive – like most creator-owned deals nowadays, Liberator's only going to be published if we can secure funding to finish the art.
#1 Variant Cover by Yasmin Liang
Yasmin, your work is really incredible – how long have you been working in comics?
Yasmin: Thank you! If we’re talking "working in comics" like getting paid, then not very long. The variant cover for Liberator was my first cover job ever! I have to thank Matt again for giving me the opportunity because it’s been quite fun to do and he’s a great guy to work with. I have been trying to edge into comics and get work for a while now however, and it’s just starting to really come together for me. I’m working on something I’m not supposed to talk about just yet but here’s hoping I will be soon.
What was it that attracted you to Liberator?
Yasmin: Matt, fullstop. I don't think I've met anyone more passionate about their work and genuine. Liberator seems to come from his heart and I respect that hugely.
Liberator is going to be funded via Kickstarter, and it has a publisher lined up. Is this the first time you've been attached to a Kickstarter project, and how are you finding it?
Yasmin: I just came off of a very successful Kickstarter for an independent comic anthology called Before, After and In Between put together by friend Yuj Lee. It was astonishing how much support we received and I think Kickstarter is a great way to really get the word out about a project as well as fund it.
Matt, empathy for animals and a passion for animal rights are definitely key to this title. I guess the closest comics have come to addressing these issues before are in Grant Morrison's Animal Man and We3 but Liberator is perhaps a bit more controversial...
Matt: Man, I absolutely love We3 and I've got a set of CGC'd single issues framed next to me in my office. I just can't say enough about that series or Grant's run on Animal Man – it's absolutely brilliant stuff. I also love how he injects subtle messages of kindness to animals in even his very mainstream writing: Remember when Man-of-Bats beat up that dog abuser in Batman Incorporated? Man, what an awesome scene with a great message - it gave me goosebumps.
Liberator is only possibly more controversial because it's less fantastic with a little more real-life, unapologetic militant animal rights themes. Damian Wayne went vegetarian and adopted Bat-Cow, the animals of We3 escaped some crazy military testing and it was freaking amazing, but our characters will literally follow you home to find out where you live, visit you on a night you're out, and burn your fucking house to the ground if you're in the business of hurting animals.
Page from #1 by Joel Gomez and Beth Sotelo
Liberator has two lead characters, Damon and Jeanette, and I know that you were keen to get the representation of Jeanette in particular spot on, as well as addressing issues of sexism and misogyny in the comic...
Matt: It's pretty well known that there are some problems within the comic community when it comes to how the male majority treats the female minority and those problems are reflected within the pages of a lot of books as well. I believe strongly if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem so I wanted to be sure that the females within Liberator were fully developed characters and not merely eye candy for the stereotypical male comic book reader.
I also wanted to make sure the male heroes in Liberator treated the female characters like human beings. I'm not a dick and my heroic characters aren't dicks. My goal is to write women like people and give them personalities and identities beyond their sexy parts. I treat women in real life and in my writing with basic respect and it seems to work out pretty well for me.
Times are changing and tons of women and girls read comics and play video games and like the same nerdy things that guys do. Why the hell aren't we, as a community, more okay with this? Hey fellow nerds, why don't you want girls around? Why you gotta be a dick? It's baffling to me.
Yasmin: It is very refreshing to work with someone who makes a specific effort not to over-sexualise the female character and declare outright that they don't agree with how women are portrayed in comics. I remember reading the direction for the cover Matt wanted from me and just feeling really good about the fact that I wouldn't have to force myself to break Jeanette's spine in order to make her "sexy".
What I also really like about Jeanette is that she's a comic book reader! So rarely do I see comic book characters reading comics who are also women.
The lead character wears a costume of sorts, which harks back to superhero comics. What genre(s) would you describe it as?
Matt: I'd say it's a politically charged real-world superhero book without tights or capes or powers. The folks in Liberator considered dressing a more straightforward-superhero style but found they'd probably get less attention in the middle of the night without the spandex and garish accoutrements.
Yasmin: Real-life superhero? The costumes aren't even that wild compared to some costumes! They're very much outfits that anyone could make at home. I'm pretty sure Jeanette's costume is just a black hoodie and a scarf which isn't hard to find.
As with all comics, Liberator is a collaborative effort – how did your team come together?
Matt: Well, I met the phenomenally talented artist Joel Gomez through Freddie Williams II, whose work I love. I was getting a really gorgeous commission from Freddie and when he sent a scan of the roughs for approval I figured I'd go ahead and ask him if he had any buddies looking for work. He referred me to Joel and I was super impressed with his previous DC and Wildstorm work and thought he'd be a great fit. Turned out I was right. Collaborating with Joel makes every page stronger and better and he has some ideas that just blow my mind with the awesomeness.
Something I didn't know at that point was that Joel's married to one of my favorite colorists, Beth Sotelo. After a little shuffling while trying to find the right colorist for the book, Beth agreed to do the colors for Liberator. A great colorist can make or break a book and can bring a whole other level of meaning and emotion to the art, so I'm absolutely psyched to have Beth onboard.
Then I was at MoCCAfest last year and met a recent college grad named Yasmin Liang who caught my eye with prints of her stunning Elizabethan redesign of Batwoman. I took her business card and finally, when the time was right, got a hold of her and asked her to do a variant cover and some of the backup art in the book. You guys are going to be amazed with her work and I'm totally happy to be here at the beginning of what I'm sure is going to be a big career for her.
The editor and letterer is Vito Delsante, a friend I met during his days working at one of New York City's biggest and best comic shops, Jim Hanley's Universe. Vito's been a huge source of help, support and information for me in this endeavour and his lettering is fabulous. Like colorists, letterers don't get enough credit and a good letterer can help make a book shine.
Yasmin: I met Matt Miner in 2012 MoCCA festival in NYC. It was my first time tabling ever and I'm pretty sure Matt was the first person to ever commission me a quick ink/sketch at a convention. I wasn't even doing them (I don't think I even had a sign saying I was) but he came up to my table with his friend Warren and asked if I was. My memory is terrible now but I'm pretty sure that's how it all started. That was April and come August we were talking about Liberator.
From #1 - burn!
I've been really (happily!) surprised by how many people working in the comics industry are vegans and/or supportive of animal rights. With the number of alternative leaning comic fans, this seems like a really untapped market...
Matt: I think there's definitely a readership for politically charged comics like Liberator and there's certainly an existing vegetarian, vegan and animal rights following already within comic fandom that I hope will enjoy the book. I'm also hoping that my time spent in the animal rights movements, and my current animal rescue work, will help bring Liberator to new eyes that maybe didn't read comics before.
Yasmin: I've volunteered at a dog rescue in Hong Kong and was exposed to some of the abuse rescued animals suffered but that was a few years ago. When Matt brought me on to do the Liberator cover, I had a look around to read up on the more recent animal rights issues and it seemed all the more reason that Liberator needed to exist and be read.
For those comic fans who support animal rights, are there any organisations you'd like to give a shout out to?
Matt: There are so many, but the one that really has my heart and my undying love is SHAC, which stands for Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) is Europe's largest contract animal testing laboratory with two labs in England and one in New Jersey – SHAC exists to put an end to the terror HLS inflicts on animals for their filthy profits.
These people have been caught out in numerous undercover investigations mercilessly abusing the animals in their "care", like punching beagle puppies in the face and cutting open monkeys alive and without anesthetic. Not only that, they've been caught faking test results for their clients and claiming things have passed supposedly crucial safety trials when they haven't, just to keep their customers happy and the contracts coming in.
Huntingdon Life Sciences kills 500 animals each and every single day for bogus tests on shit like household cleaners, coffee sweetener, bleach, you name it. I think they're absolutely vile and evil degenerate scum and SHAC's sole purpose is to close them down and stop the killing. Check them out at www.shac.net