Scott Kurtz and Aaron Williams | Truth, Justin and the American Way

Though both Kurtz and Williams have been unfairly stigmatized as niche artists, Williams assures that even the most jaded anti-geek will find plenty in Justin to chuckle at.

 

 

Newspapers have long stuffed their funnypages with strips that are as generic as possible, finding humor in funny animals and the foibles of the stereotypical American family. For those who want to give their inner geek a laugh, however, the Internet has become the venue of choice. Web comics have exploded in popularity in recent years, with some of the more popular series collected in comic form.

Two of the most consistently funny Web comics are Scott Kurtz’s PvP, which follows the trials and tribulations of the staff at a video gaming magazine that is released in print form by Image, and Aaron Williams’ Nodwick, a sarcastic send-up of fantasy stories released by Dork Storm Press and previously serialized in Dragon magazine. Now these two giants of comedy have joined forces for a new off-key superhero epic named Truth, Justin, and the American Way.

“Scott and I have been friends ever since his time at Dork Storm Press,” Williams explains. “We’ve always bounced ideas off of each other via IM, and that led to us throwing comic book ideas at each other. Scott and I are both big fans of the whole Stephen J. Cannell/Merv Griffin/Glen Larson era of ’80s TV, and we decided that they were due for an homage.”

That homage eventually became Justin, the story of a reluctant superhero who’s light years away from your typical muscle-bound, spandex-clad adventurer. “The simple version is, ‘Boy finds girl, boy finds super-suit, FBI finds boy, things go wrong from there,’” Williams summarizes. “Justin Cannell is a guy at that turning point in his life where he’s about to get married and needs to stop doing all of the ‘guy’ things that keep him from becoming a productive member of society and a boring adult. His friends are throwing him a final hoorah in the form of a bachelor party, and they stashed a special outfit in his car for the occasion. Unfortunately, a communist spy switches an alien suit he stole from the U.S. government with Justin’s ‘Kiss the Groom’ T-shirt in an attempt to throw off one Agent McGee of the FBI. Justin puts the suit on, thinking it’s for the party, and now he’s discovering it’s not something off-the-rack from the costume shop. Things also start going wrong on the wedding side of things, and his fiancée, Bailey, is starting to think divorce even before she walks down the aisle.”

Though both Kurtz and Williams have been unfairly stigmatized as niche artists, Williams assures that even the most jaded anti-geek will find plenty in Justin to chuckle at. “Humor is universal, it’s the subject matter that changes,” he explains. “PvP and Nodwick are accessible by any reader, I think. Adapting to ‘traditional’ comic writing [for Justin] was pretty easy; Scott and I both love superhero comics, and I’ve been writing and drawing a superhero kids comic, Ps238, for years now.” There is one joke, however, that Williams is desperate to squeeze into the series—if Kurtz ever lets his guard down. “I want a Justin-Mobile,” he jokes. “I mean, every ’80s show had a vehicle or something that just made the show for me: K.I.T.T., Airwolf, the A-Team van, etc. I’m holding out for something Scott really wants in the book and coming to ‘an understanding’…”

Aiding Kurtz and Williams on Justin is artist Giuseppe Ferrario, whose fluid, cartoon-y style fits the book perfectly. “Giuseppe’s artistic talent blows any we have out of the water, slaps it like a red-headed stepchild, and takes its lunch money,” Williams enthuses.

The initial Justin story will be released as a five-issue monthly mini-series, the first of which is scheduled to ship March 1. If readers receive it well, however, his creators are eager to produce more of Justin’s misadventures. “Scott and I really want to do more!” says Williams. “We’ve got more ideas for Justin’s future adventures, if the fans demand it…and if we don’t wear out Giuseppe’s drawin’ arm in the meantime.”

Complete Interview:

 

Tell us a little bit about the overall plot of Truth, Justin, and the American Way.

The simple version is “Boy finds girl, boy finds super-suit, FBI finds boy, things go wrong from there.” Justin Cannell is a guy at that turning point in his life where he’s about to get married and needs to stop doing all of the “guy” things that keep him from becoming a productive member of society and a boring adult. His friends are throwing him a final hoorah in the form of a bachelor party, and they stashed a special outfit in his car for the occasion. Unfortunately, a communist spy switches an alien suit he stole from the U.S. government with Justin’s “Kiss the Groom” T-shirt in an attempt to throw off one Agent McGee of the FBI. Justin puts the suit on, thinking it’s for the party, and now he’s discovering it’s not something off-the-rack from the costume shop. Things also start going wrong on the wedding side of things, and his fiancée, Bailey, is starting to think divorce even before she walks down the aisle.

How did the collaboration with Scott Kurtz come about?

Scott and I have been friends ever since his time at Dork Storm Press. He got me on MSN Messenger and we’ve been ruining each other’s productivity with that little chat program ever since. We’ve always bounced ideas off of each other via IM, and that led to us throwing comic book ideas at each other. Finally, when he was visiting my home on the way to a signing we were doing in Iowa, we sat down and hashed out Justin. Scott and I are both big fans of the whole Stephen J. Cannell/Merv Griffin/Glen Larson era of ’80s TV, and we decided that they were due for an homage.

What was the writing process like between the two of you? How did you share the responsibilities?

Typically, Scott and I both sit down and figure out how the comic is going to begin, and how it’s going to end for that issue. We always want to start and end strong, culminating in some kind of cliffhanger or “what happens next?!” scene. From there, we start writing scenes we’d like to see to get what we want accomplished. After that, I sit down and start fleshing it out with gags and dialogue, calling Scott for input and edits. When the whole first draft is “done,” Scott does one of the most important things, in my opinion: He gives it the “does it work?” edit. He goes through and makes sure that there’s action, humor, and service to the plot in every scene. If something’s missing, the scene doesn’t serve the book, and it needs re-writing. Finally, we both give it a read-through over the phone and make the last changes. In a pinch, we bring our wives in to read over what we’ve done to make sure it’s really good, and “not just us.” Kirstofer Straub [a Web cartoonist of “Checkerboard Nightmare” and “Starslip Crisis” fame] has also lent his editing skills to make sure we aren’t committing more than, say, five grammar and punctuation errors per page (we have standards, after all. We just don’t always know where they are).

Any jokes you really wanted to put in that he shot down, or vice versa?

Just one concept, but I think Scott will let me have it eventually. I want a “Justin-Mobile.” I mean, every ’80s show had a vehicle or something that just MADE the show for me: K.I.T.T., Airwolf, the A-Team van, etc. I’m holding out for something Scott really wants in the book and coming to “an understanding…”

And we’ve both agreed to take out gags that “seemed like a good idea at the time.” One was to have Justin catch a bullet in his teeth. It was a reference to a very old ’80s film that almost everyone who saw it caught it on HBO: Super Fuzz. The trailer had this famous scene where the title character (a cop with super powers) catches a bullet in his teeth and smiles at the camera, but in the end, it was deemed too obscure.

Both of you are best known for working on sort of “niche” comics, with Kurtz’s PvP aimed at gamers and your Nodwick for the hardcore RPG players rather than your typical comic reader. Did writing a more mainstream-styled book force you to change your style of writing?

Not really. Humor is universal; it’s the subject matter that changes. PvP and Nodwick are accessible by any reader, I think. Our comics are labeled as “gaming” and people who aren’t familiar with that segment of culture avoid our titles. I think I’ve only made one direct RPG reference in the Nodwick comic book, and Scott had all of his characters hold video game controllers for no apparent reason during his strips for a while because some readers said “PvP wasn’t about gaming anymore.” But adapting to “traditional” comic writing was pretty easy; Scott and I both love superhero comics, and I’ve been writing and drawing a superhero kids comic, Ps238 for years, now.

Both you and Scott are skilled artists in your own right. Why did neither one of you handle the art chores for this book?

Two reasons, really: Neither one of us had the time, and Giuseppe’s artistic talent blows any we have out of the water, slaps it like a red-headed stepchild, and takes its lunch money.

Where did you find artist Giuseppe Ferrario?

Scott showed me his work in the Image publication, Flight. Then we found Giuseppe’s website, www.giuseppeferrario.com, and we were further stunned by his abilities. Not only is he brilliant, he’s fast. He draws, inks, colors and letters a page about as fast as we can write it. I don’t think readers know the treat they’re in for.

What more can readers look forward to in the rest of the mini-series?

They’re going to see Justin’s first super-brawl, the origin and purpose of his super-suit, a twist on how that suit will operate in future comics, the reason so many arcades had Gorf machines, and at least one guy in orange sweats and sneakers. And if readers order now, I’ll try to throw in one Justin-mobile.

Is the series finite, or is there a chance that Justin might return again someday?

Scott and I really want to do more! We’ve got more ideas for Justin’s future adventures if the fans demand it…and if we don’t wear out Giuseppe’s drawin’ arm in the meantime.

 

 

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