U.S.A. Today recently named Justin Jordan the best new talent in comics. His breakout book, The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, published by Image Comics, has been a critical success. CBNAH got the chance to have a chat with him about fame, Luther Strode and the state of the comics industry. Enjoy.
CBNAH: Hey Justin! You were recently named best new talent in comics by U.S.A. Today. What’s it like to be a critical success?
JJ: It’s good! Weird, but good, which is sort of how the Luther Strode thing has been in general. It’s funny, because we’ve been really successful in a lot of ways, but from the day to day nothing seems all that different, you know? But I’m really glad people like the book. You never know until you put stuff out into the world.
CBNAH: The characters in Luther Strode are very real – Luther’s mom reminds me so much of my own mother – she’s pretty much my favourite character! Did you draw inspiration for your characters from your own life?
JJ: I do, but in an indirect way. Luther’s Mom isn’t, for instance, too similar to my Mom (who is awesome, but in a different way) but she does have character traits that are drawn from real life. Same with everyone else – Luther, for instance, isn’t much like me except that the rhythms of his speech are similar.
CBNAH: The character relationships are also very real and powerful. What were the easiest and most difficult relationships to get right?
JJ: The character relationships actually came pretty easy, thank god. Luther and Pete are really easy to write, and Luther and his Mo are pretty easy, as well. Luther and Petra, on the other hand, takes more work.
This is partly because their relationship is developing over the course of the story, so I had to work hard to show that evolution, whereas Pete and Luther are already established before the book begins.
The other thing is that Petra is a really aggressive personality, and it’d be really easy for her to just take over any scene she’s in. Which is fun to write, but not necessarily good storytelling.
CBNAH: We’re halfway though Luther Strode and some pretty crazy stuff has happened so far. What can we expect in the last three issues issues?
JJ: Insanity. At the end of the last issue, the Librarian and Luther finally meet, bringing those plots together, and the overall plot kicks into overdrive from there. The first three issues take place over the course of a couple of months. The last three take place over a couple of hours. Issue four is the issue where you get an idea of what is going on and why, for people who’ve been wondering if we’d ever get to that.
CBNAH: Tradd Moore is a perfect fit for the book. What was your reaction when you first saw completed pages?
JJ: Holy shit! I’ve talked about this in a lot of interviews, but Tradd is a tremendous, ridiculous talent, and I am hugely lucky to have grabbed him at this stage of his career. When I approached Tradd, I knew he was good, that he had a Ryan Ottley type energy and flow to his work, which is what I was looking for.
What I got when the pages started coming in was all that AND truly great storytelling on the page, and a great way with body language. You could strip out all the dialogue from the book and still be able to get most of the story, and that’s pretty much down to Tradd.
Plus, we think along the same lines, which has made for a great collaboration. That’s all true of Felipe, as well – his colors have really helped make the book what it is. So I got lucky, which is good.
CBNAH: What have you got planned post Luther Strode?
JJ: Bunches and bunches of stuff. We’re going to be doing The Legend of Luther Strode later in the year (and, hopefully, The Legacy of Luther Strode in 2013) so I’m working on that. I’ve also got a good six projects that I’ll be pitching in the next couple of months, so hopefully one of those gets the greenlight. And I’m working on some work for hire stuff that I can’t talk about but is very cool. So 2012 is busy.
CBNAH: Throwing in a curly one, what do you make of the comics industry today? It seems comics are driving pop culture, but people just aren’t buying them. What are your thoughts on the health of the industry?
JJ: We’re in a weird position – comics, or at least the ideas behind them, are more popular than they’ve ever been. But the actual books themselves are dying on the vine. Even looking at the New 52, the numbers they’re hitting are still not even what some Top Cow books were hitting at the tail end of the nineties. Trades have helped, and digital probably will, but I think it’s a pretty clear indication that the readership is not growing. Which is a problem. When I was a kid in the early eighties, comics were everywhere. Grocery stores, gas stations, convenience stores. In the (very small, very rural) county were I live, there were a dozen places to get comics when I was a kid. Now, it’s basically zero. There might be comics at the Wal Mart, but I work hard at never going there.
And comics are a medium where being exposed to them as a kid is probably pretty important. Books, movies, television – all of these are so ubiquitous in our society that you can’t avoid them. But comics? Comics are probably more like poetry, in that it’s entirely possible to get to adulthood with out reading much, if any, and you have to work to get to it. I love comic shops; I drive an hour to get to mine. But for the most part, if you’re not already into comics, you’re not going to go into a comic shop, if there is one near you to begin with. That’s not to say that new people don’t wander into the trade section of Barnes and Noble or a comic shop, but pretty clearly, there aren’t enough of them doing so to replace the people that are leaving.
Digital is not, I think, going to be a panacea. E-books are grown at ridiculous, enormous rates these last few years, going from a tiny part of the market to being on the verge of being the dominant part. I think a lot of people expect the same sort of thing to happen to comics, which I don’t think is realistic. What’s happening with e-books is not that they’re creating new readers, for the most part. The number of people who say that didn’t purchase a book at all during the year has actually risen a bit over the last few years. What things like the Kindle do is make it really easy for people who are already reading to purchase more books. Part of this is the desire to have something on the e-reader, and partly because you can have the book instantly.
The problem with comics is that the readership is small, and while digital does make it much easier for people to get something, you don’t have the base of people to convert. So if digital is going to “save comics” it’s going to be over a much longer time period. I do think digital comics will expand the readership eventually; the trick is getting from here to there. Comics are dependent on the direct market to stay alive. The direct market probably is threatened by digital comics – at this point I think you’re more switching readers from one format to the other rather than growing. I think digital comics could be good for retailers, if they can survive the transitional period. There will always be a place for specialty stores, and if we expand the readership by ten fold (which would probably still be less people than watch Two and a Half Men each week) there will be more business for them. But getting there is the trick.
Ack, I’ve written an essay. TL;DR version: Comics are in a rough period, but if we hang on, things should get better.
CBNAH: What comics are you currently reading?
JJ: Let’s see: Spaceman, Daredevil, Green Wake, Skullkickers, Blue Estate, Infinite Vacation, Hack/Slash, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Witch Doctor. There are others, but those are the ones that pop into my head.
CBNAH: Finish the sentence: Comic book nerds are hot because…
JJ: …of the beards. Definitely the beards.