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Interview: Joe Casey talks mystical fighting and magic realism in ‘JESUSFREAK’

The latest comic based on Biblical characters is out and making waves.

Here’s an update to the old adage: all is fair in love and comic books. That includes any number of Biblical stories, be they interpretations or new additions. That canon already includes Jason Aaron’s excellent The Goddamned, and soon there’ll be another addition featuring the Bible’s biggest character (and we ain’t talking that giant fish).

This week, Joe Casey and Benjamin Marra will release a new graphic novel via Image Comics called JESUSFREAK. You may have seen it making waves in preview pages for featuring Jesus Christ lopping off heads. Say what you will about Casey – the man behind who has penned stories for everyone from The Flash to Wildcats – but he doubles down with the violence at each turn.

I recently sat down with Casey to talk about the book, his inspirations, and much more.

AiPT!: I’ve had a chance to read JESUSFREAK and it’s quite exciting. Honestly, I’m not sure what the outcry is since Jason Aaron toyed with Biblical lore in The Goddamned! First question, what sort of research did it take to frame this narrative? I’m no Bible expert, but it appears to use locations and characters well known from the Bible, yeah?

Joe Casey: Honestly, the Bible was the last place I would’ve looked for anything to inform JESUSFREAK. I preferred to do much more legitimate historical research — of the time period, of the geographic location, of the pertinent sociopolitical movements taking place — to allow for a degree of verisimilitude that would help sell the more outlandish aspects of the story. The book is really magic realism mixed with historical fiction.

AiPT!: Are there specific fight styles Jesus uses or is this a brand new type?

JC: Between [Benjamin] Marra and I, we kind of invented our own style of mystical fighting techniques. It certainly works on the page and it’s not meant to stand in as any one discipline. We all know part of the fun of comic books is that we have occasion to make up cool s--t when we need to.

AiPT!: When did you first get the idea to do this story? It has a feel as if it has been honed for many years and only now being produced for comics.

JC: The initial idea — telling “untold tales” of Jesus when he was a young adult, and depicting his personal, spiritual “awakening” — came to me about 19 years ago, if I’m remembering correctly. I’d been writing mainstream superhero comics pretty exclusively for a few years by then, and I was itching to come up with a project that would take me out of my comfort zone, be very research intensive, and provide me with a unique creative experience. It was going to be a very expansive project, but then life got in the way, I got distracted with other things, and the project went into limbo.

Cut to fifteen years later. I’d met Benjamin Marra, we’d enjoyed a brief collaboration on another project and realized we shared quite a few influences. Namely, 1970s exploitation comics. That mix of the historical with the grindhouse vibe of something like the seminal MASTER OF KUNG FU series just seemed to make perfect sense when it came to finding the right aesthetic for this book.

AiPT!: Are there any movies that inspired any scenes or panels? There’s an image of Jesus peering out of water that screamed Predator to me!

JC: That was actually our Apocalypse Now moment. When I’m making comic books, once the basic concept has been fleshed out, I’ll pull from anything and everything. When it comes to what ends up on the page, all of the stuff — either good or bad — that I’ve seen and digested is fair game. That’s part of the fun of doing this… engaging that scratch mix mentality and hopefully coming up with something that’s much cooler than the sum of its parts.

AiPT!: Would you ever do a sequel graphic novel in the Biblical universe? What would be the topic?

JC: I feel like JESUSFREAK probably works best as a one-off. But I wouldn’t rule anything out. Marra and I had a blast and we’re insanely proud of the final result. Once this one gets out in the world and we see the reaction (if any), then maybe we’ll decide which is the best way forward.

You can purchase JESUSFREAK this week in comic shops and find it in book stores next week. Or just preorder it now!

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