If you ask us, there aren’t enough comedic comic books – especially wacky ones. Enter Shirtless Bear-Fighter, a series that’s one part badass patriot and two parts insane ideas that just might make you laugh. We loved the first issue (and gave it a 9/10) due to its campy style and strong artwork. Shirtless Bear-Fighter #1 hits the stands June 21st, but before that, check out our interview with the writers below!
AiPT!: Thank you for taking the time, Jody and Sebastian! First off, how did this project start and were there shirtless men in the room when the idea came to you?
Jody LeHeup: We were definitely shirtless when the idea came to us. That’s pretty much how we rolled the entire time we were living together. Full beards, no shirts, no shoes … Needless to say we didn’t get a lot of service in those days. But we did eventually come up with greatest comic book known to man so I guess it worked out!
Sebastian Girner: Jody and I were roommates at the time and we spent many hours riffing on cheesy action flicks and just bouncing ideas off each other over cheap beers. One film we saw made one of us comment “that dude looks like a shirtless bear fighter!” and that phrase just somehow stuck around. We liked it so much we decided to try and run with it, applying all this creative energy and wild ideas we’d stored up over the years.
AiPT!: You hear about folks getting into comics via writing or drawing, but you might be the first I’ve heard to start as editors. How did that path start and any advice for folks who want to break in that way?
LeHeup: Writing was always the goal for me. Before I was editing I was living in Austin, Texas, at the time doing film production, writing spec scripts, and just generally studying storytelling. When I was offered an editorial position in the X-Office at Marvel, I jumped at the chance because I knew it would be an amazing opportunity to learn from some of the best editors and creators in the business. And it absolutely was.
But eventually I felt the call to return to the writing desk in a big way. When I did, I had all this great experience and training under my belt (some even what NOT to do) that I could apply to my own projects. So in that sense I highly recommend editing if you want to write comics. It’s really good training on many different levels and you’ll meet a lot of great people who can help you reach your goals when the time comes.
Girner: I landed in this gig both straightforward and ass-backwards, if that’s even possible. I’ve always loved comics but neither editing nor writing them really came to mind until I graduated uni and started applying to jobs. On a whim I sent a resume and cover letter to Marvel, and it just so happened they had a few assistant editor positions opening, and … I got in! After a few years there I left with an inkling that I’d go do something else for a while, but just around that time the Image boom of the past years really started to kick off, and suddenly there was a market for a freelance comic editor. That had been done to a certain degree before I did it, but I really leaned into it, and I’m heartened to see it becoming more and more common these days.
As for advice to anyone out there, I can only say that every single person I know who “broke in” did it a different way, and there are more ways than ever these days. Start small, dream big and be honest with yourself and others. Only you can make a comic made by you.
AiPT!: What made you fall in love with comics?
LeHeup: There’s so much to love about comics but one of our favorite things is the singular vision aspect of them. Comics are cheaper to make than television or film so the stakes are lower. Which means that there’s less hand wringing by comics publishers than there would be from … say … a big budget film producer. That ultimately translates (most of the time, though, not always) to more creative freedom and the voices of the creative team coming through more clearly. Another thing we love about comics is that they aren’t photorealistic. We love seeing different artists visualize narratives and characters using unique art styles.
Girner: And both of those things apply to SBF. In comics we have the budget to explore this elastic world filled with over-the-top characters and we’re not beholden to anyone to tell us what we can and can’t do. Then we get to see it all brought to brilliant bear-fighting life by our collaborators– artist Nil Vendrell, colorist Mike Spicer, and letterer Dave Lanphear.
Thinking back, though, I’m sure it was either a Spaceman Spiff strip from Calvin & Hobbes or the part in Prince Valiant where he fights Time that did it for me. Fell for comics hook line and sinker, and that’s never gonna change.
AiPT!: Nil Vendrell Pallach draws some truly tricky things in this series including the–what will be the most likely–much talked about pixelated crotch area. First off, how do you go about writing that (is it soft core level stuff?!) and how much leeway do you give Nil when drawing some of the crazy stuff in this series?
LeHeup: When Nil draws Shirtless in his birthday suit he draws in all his big swingin’ glory. Then it goes to colorist Mike Spicer who skillfully applies the dixelation™, which we love. Makes SBF look like he’s on an episode of COPS! But it’s also more effective from a comedy standpoint because what you imagine might be more outrageous than what’s actually there. That’s just horror films 101.
Girner: As far as how much rope we give Nil, we write detailed art direction so a lot of what you see on the page is in the scripts. At least in terms of the basic infrastructure of world elements, character designs, and how the comedic timing should work. But Nil’s the one that has to execute and sell it all and holy crap does he deliver in spades. Nil takes every mad idea we throw at him and turns it up to 11. And he’s so good at acting, cartooning, dramatic moments–all the other aspects of this book that make it sing. Then Mike Spicer’s hues tie everything together, really setting a beautiful animated tone for our little tall tale.
AiPT!: Before this I really only think Stephen Colbert perpetrated the lie that is killer bears out to kill us. Was Colbert’s bear hate on your mind when writing this and are there any forebears of comedy that inspire your humor?
Girner: Swear to god I’ve never heard that Colbert bit.
LeHeup: Same. I had no idea either until it was pointed out to us a little while ago. That man NEEDS to read this comic, though. We’d love to get it in front of him!
Girner: For me personally I’ve always had a revenge hankering on Kuma from Tekken (Jody is especially skilled at punking me with that cheating-ass bear!). But beyond that I think it’s less the bear-specificity that the humor stemmed from, and just how angry Shirtless is. It’s this world-ending, apocalyptic anger that we all feel every now and again, the kind that makes us want to punch walls and run into the forest, vowing vengeance for life.
LeHeup: Yeah, definitely. But we’re also having a ton of fun with genre in SBF. One minute we’re lampooning superhero comics, the next we’re taking the piss out of 80s action flicks and riffing off ancient myths. Tons of influences–comedy and otherwise–in this book.
AiPT!: There’s a lot of backstory and world building involved with this series. How much have you fleshed out what we will never see and does it involve alien bears?
LeHeup: Oh man … SO much backstory and cutting room floor material. And some of it we love and just got cut for time. But that’s what other adventures are for.
Girner: These five issues of SBF are the black angus beef of shirtless bear-fighting comics. Not a morsel of fat on there, we trimmed it all away. Any further adventures we did would require we meet the same high standard we set ourselves for this first adventure, but Shirtless is too big a character to stay down for long. Plenty of things in this world need punching!
AiPT!: Is there a part of the comic-creating process you love the best? And a part you don’t like?
LeHeup: Honestly, I can find something to love about all aspects of comic creation. My favorite would probably be the writing. Or getting pages in. So cool to see this thing you created with collaborators out of nothing becoming real.
Girner: I’ve found more and more joy in writing recently, when it actually clicks and you sail through all the landmines, it’s glorious. But in general, I love that moment best when you first read a lettered draft of a comic. No matter how good a writer or editor you are, and how thoroughly you can envision what the final product will look like, it’s really when the art and story come together for the first time that you really see what you have, for better or worse.
AiPT!: What is your favorite method of procrastination?
LeHeup: Pretty sure I can answer this for both of us and say Dark Souls, Bloodborne, or any FromSoftware joint by Hidetaka Miyazaki. We’re pretty obsessed with those games.
Girner: Oh yeah. If I ever do one of those b&w bio-comics it’ll pretty much be 80% Dark Souls and the rest is me looking for my glasses.