Just over a week ago I had the chance to talk with some local talent about his latest comic book project. One of the things I love about Oregon is the indie culture you’ll find here. Art runs rampant along the Willamette Valley, and Justin Zimmerman is one of those artsy types that does way more than any single human being should. He did a book and brew at Vagabond Brewing in Salem, OR and I jumped at the chance to make a connection.
Of course I was nervous because walking up to people cold is not something I’m particularly good at. However, I downed a good portion of my On the Road Red (if you’re ever at Vagabond Brewing, I’d definitely suggest it) and walked over to introduce myself. Turns out Justin is one of the most down to earth people and loves talking about his work. It was not difficult to get a conversation going because once the ice was broken, we hit the road running.
We had a chance to talk about the local industry, as well as something we’re both passionate about: social issues. One thing I love about comic books is their ability to bring two seemingly different aspects of life together (art and a passion for social justice) into something that impacts people on a big scale. Justin was easy to talk to, eager to share about his passion, and he had a lot of great things to say about his latest project, SAFE, which currently has a Kickstarter project going for it.
After our discussion I proposed the idea of an interview and he graciously gave me a chance to pick his brain about his past work and his vision for future projects like SAFE.
What makes SAFE different from your other projects, like The Killing Jar and Other Worlds?
JZ: It’s in color. No, seriously. SAFE is exactly like THE KILLING JAR and OTHER WORLDS in that it’s a 100% independent, insanely cool, kick-ass and fun. The great thing about the SAFE Kickstarter campaign is that I have a limited number of TKJ and OW books as rewards too, so people can find that out for themselves.
Something I noticed when reading through The Killing Jar is that just beneath the surface of the storyline, you seem to be hitting on some bigger social issues. Is that on purpose? What inspires you to put a social spin on a horror storyline?
JZ: Absolutely. My MFA is in Film and I’ve made a career out of creating socially oriented documentaries. I also spent years as a caseworker and professor. I’d like to think that when I approach genre storytelling, I approach it from the point of view of how real people would react even in the most horrible of situations, no matter what storytelling realm I’m in. Besides, all my favorite sci-fi and horror reflects social attitudes and prejudices. That’s what makes genre work so freeing. It can be wildly subversive…something I certainly hope to be.
Your work seems to trend toward realism more than fantasy, in the way the characters are portrayed. What led you to put an even darker spin on the horror genre?
JZ: To me, honesty is key. When it comes to filmmaking, it’s trying to find the moments of truth in the performance. And when it comes to writing, it’s trying to stay true to the character voices and cadences. And sometimes that means even if a character is saying something profoundly upsetting or uncomfortable, you stand by him or her. No matter how dark.
Zombies are all the rage and zombie novels, comics, and movies are a dime a dozen. What makes your take on the zombie apocalypse in SAFE unique?
JZ: I can’t tell you, but it is! Not trying to be obtuse, but one of the great thing about inhabiting a genre is that you have an established framework that people have come to rely on and expect. And one of the great things about my zombie story is that it’s one of the more subversive things I’ve pulled off. Now, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Romero’s work and I find the concept of zombies fascinating, right now to the essays on the abject. But I wanted to tell a unique story and this “dime a dozen” framework fit the bill perfectly.
Talk to me about the art. You have some seriously talented artists who work with you on your various projects. How do you decide what sort of look you’re going for, and do you ever have difficulty finding artists willing to go off the beaten path stylistically?
JZ: With SAFE, I’m working with three folks I’ve worked with before. Russ Brown, who drew the entirety of the 240-page graphic novel THE KILLING JAR for me, stepped in on pencils, inks and tones. Matt Grigsby, who illustrated one of the stories in my anthology OTHER WORLDS, nailed the painterly colors I was looking for. And Tadd Galusha, who’s illustrated storyboards for me for corporate clients for over a year, created the wraparound cover. The great thing about working with independent pros is that you focus your collaboration on what works best for the story and presentation. SAFE is a perfect example of this.
I won’t lie, I loved The Killing Jar in large part because you made the leading woman a believable badass, and included characters with both physical and developmental disabilities. What inspires you to add these types of characters into your work? And will we see any characters like this represented in SAFE?
JZ: I won’t lie…I love that you loved THE KILLING JAR. Without writing an essay, I’ll say that TKJ is about the best and the worst of us. As people. And while Anna is certainly a strong female lead, you mentioned that she’s also believable. And that’s the most important thing to me. She makes mistakes. She has regrets. She has a disability. She even has to reload her gun. She inhabits a real space for me, and she’s inhabited a real space for you. TKJ isn’t Shakespeare, nor is SAFE. But while I don’t want to give too much away about SAFE, I will say that it follows the commitment to character that you certainly responded to in TKJ.
On your Kickstarter, you make the claim that SAFE is going to be a “bold new comic take on the horror genre.” That’s a pretty big statement to make. What can you tell me about it without spoiling the book?
You’ve also mentioned that SAFE is going to be printed locally and sustainably. What pushed you to go down that road instead of seeking out a bigger publishing company to back your project and do the printing for you?
JZ: I created an independent one-shot subversive genre story with incredible local talents and am pushing for a prestige presentation at a not only domestic but local press using the best paper and printing techniques available, including a spot-uv cover. This is a Kickstarter project through and through!
Alright, if you had to convince someone to contribute to your campaign for SAFE in three sentences or less, what would you say?
JZ: Probably “PLEASE.” Oh, I’d say they should check out the Kickstarter page and make sure to watch the motion comic trailer. The proof is in the pudding.
Do you have any other projects in the works after SAFE?
JZ: I am currently directing a feature length documentary, a short documentary and a short narrative film. Even though they all have different start times – the feature, for example, started over two years ago – they should all wrap in 2015. SO lots of film work ahead. I continue to do corporate work to pay the bills so that pops up from time to time on the ol’ interwebs. And I write every day, so who knows what’s next on the comic tip. Right now, though, I’m concentrating on boosting the signal for the SAFE campaign. I want to get it to the readers!
There you have it folks! One of the things Justin told me when we were talking at the brewery was that he wants his work to speak for itself, apart from him. Let me tell you: it does. He was kind enough to give me some of his work and I plowed through it the moment I got home. I couldn’t put it down. The art, the printing style, and the storylines are solid and exactly what I want out of a comic book.
What can you do to get some of his awesome work into your hands?
- Support his Kickstarter (Every dollar counts – plus you have a chance to score some of his previous work as a perk)
- Check out his website
- “Like” SAFE on Facebook
AS A SPECIAL BONUS: Justin has agreed to give away a signed copy of both THE KILLING JAR and OTHER WORLDS. That means two lucky readers have a chance to get their hands on some seriously cool comics. You can enter from now until July 18th. Check out the rafflecopter giveaway below to enter: