Sometimes, being a weekly comic reader can get a little heavy. Currently, with the exception of books like Skullkickers and The Goon (which in itself has gotten pretty dark), the best comics on shelves right now are extraordinarily dark or offer some type metaphysical commentary on the human condition that leave us, the readers, feeling very Kafkaesque. That is to say, most comics right now are kind of a bummer.
The End Times of Bram & Ben might just be what is needed to help shake off our collective 2013 existential comic crisis. Created by veteran comic writer James Asmus and actor/writer Jim Festante, The End Times… is a breath of light-weight comedic fresh air that couldn’t come soon enough.
The Rapture has come, and 20 somethings Bram and Ben were not among the lucky few to ascend to heaven. This of course, has left them dealing with life after the end times, which sometimes is a drag, but most of the time its business as usual. The mini series’ third issue drops on March 13, 2013 and will mark the second to last issue in this four part series.
Jim and James are two writers with an infinite love of comics. I caught up with the duo, who shared some insight into exploring uncomfortable territory like religion and working together as a comedic writing team.
First off, how did you guys end up working with each other and eventually Image Comics?
JIM: James and I met through a mutual friend in comedy while doing improv in Las Vegas and LA. We discovered a shared love of End Times stories and began collaborating on a web series that eventually became END TIMES. We originally sought to publish the first book ourselves, using Kickstarter to raise funds for an artist and printing, but were extremely fortunate to have interest in the book from Image.
Jim, you have a long resume as a host, actor and writer for television and the stage. Why comics?
JIM: I’ve written a lot of scripts for TV and web projects, but was always interested in comic books. Ultimately, the freedom to do whatever you want is a huge draw — an angel/demon fight that ends in an apartment building collapsing like something out of Rampage would require a budget. A very large budget. Also, it’s such a collaborative endeavor, since you have an artist interpreting your script to realize your world. My comedy training is based in improv so I’ve always believed that a give-and-take between several creative people can lead to something really amazing and unique — Rem Broo’s art for END TIMES, I think, proves that.
James, you’ve written on Dark X-Men and Gambit, how did you first get started in comics?
JAMES: I had been working as a playwright in Chicago, and once we took a crazy little show I wrote to the New York Fringe Theatre festival. I knew a few folks working at Marvel and invited them to see the show, just hoping I could geek out with them. Soon after, though, they offered me the chance to write a short comic for an X-Men anthology book. I guess they were happy with the results, and continued hiring me from there! I know it’s not the most helpful breaking-in story on the surface, but I think it still highlights what you need – the dedication to actually create work, initiative, and your own voice.
The End Times of Bram & Ben is written in such a way where religion, specifically, isn’t mocked for no reason. Why was it important to write this comic without falling into easy territory of poking fun at something that is arguably easy to poke fun at?
JAMES: To me, the whole benefit of exploring uncomfortable questions through a fictional narrative is that they (can) become wrapped in a coating that makes them easier and more appealing to engage in. The truth is, I want as many people to engage in this story, and the ideas lurking within it, as possible. The hope is, our different characters reflect different ideas – and the conflicts between them raise the questions that we find most compelling. Every character is going to have their blind-spots and foibles called out, but that (in my opinion) is when satire is at its best. If your lead character is just a cipher for your opinion, and he’s always right, then you’re just a bully. And not only is that not funny, but if you really did want get someone to consider a new idea – too bad, they stopped listening to you the minute you were kicking sand in their face. Besides, our beliefs in the unknowable Truth of Existence are so personal, that if I made a story about what I actually believed, very few people would agree with it. Instead, we can poke at the kinds of questions we think are important (and too often not asked), and it engages and has value to many, many more people. The sex jokes help with that, too.
Jim, as a newer comic writer, what things surprised or were tough for you when it came to writing a script?
JIM: The pauses! I love pauses, beats and silent reactions between characters, but you’ve just given up a panel of limited space to do so, so it better count. Also, learning how to structure your book properly, like setting up a page turn or landing on a good cliffhanger to keep the readers’ interest piqued. The arc of a mini-series is different than the arc of a TV show, so learning how to adjust your storytelling can be frustrating learning experience. Fortunately, I had James’ expertise to lean on and learn from. If you’re not reading his other books, you’re missing out — the guy is a fantastic storyteller!
James, both you and Jim are comedians, how did you get jokes into The End Times… that you were both happy with, but spoke uniquely to your own voices?
JAMES: I actually think there’s a very big overlap in our senses of humor. And the nature of improv is that you work to find the combination of your brains — not just trade off from one POV to the other. In the end, we both just kept flinging jokes until something genuinely made us both laugh.
JIM: We have a similar sense of humor, which lead to us wanting to work together. Writing the book was a blast — basically, whatever made the other person crack up was a good indication we were going in the right direction. It’s like getting an instant second- or third-pass on your writing, a constant punch-up for your jokes so they land strongly and clearly.
Any advice for aspiring comic creators who would like to put our their own creator-owned work?
JAMES: Especially when you’re starting out — make the thing you love, not the thing that you think will ‘sell.’ The truth is, your passion and idiosyncratic choices will be far more compelling to people than your thinly veiled Batman fan fiction. And by creating something no one would have, you define yourself so much more clearly. Especially early on, you’re better served by a smaller passionate audience than a larger, ambivalent one. Also — don’t underestimate putting your work online. Web comics, PDF sales on your site, or digital comics vendors are all great ways to get your work out and in many cases those get bigger audiences than a lot of stuff published and solicited to shops.
If someone hasn’t read The End Times… why should they start reading it now?
JIM: It’s a unique book and I’m so grateful that there was a publisher out there like Image willing to take a chance on it. I think it’s the kind of book you can read a second or even third time and get more from beyond your initial reading. So… you get your money’s worth? That’s a very grown-up reason! You can feel good knowing you’ve helped support independent comics and your parents can feel good knowing they raised a conscientiousness consumer.