Today, we bring you a new spotlight interview. In this session, we spoke with comics writer Justin Jordan.
Justin has been a professional comic book writer for over a decade now and is the co-creator of fan favorite indie comics The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, which has recently been optioned as film by Allnighter, and Spread among others. He has worked for DC Comics and Valiant Entertainment as well as other licensed properties while developing his creator owned comics.
In collaboration with artist John Amor and letterer Micah Myers, Justin has been publishing the webcomic Urban Animal on Webtoon.com for a couple of years now. He and John are bringing the webcomic to print through a kickstarter campaign in conjunction with Rocketship Entertainment. The campaign has hit its initial funding goal already and there are over 10 days to go before it ends.
We had a great conversation about the origins of Urban Animal, and his career. We talked about how this year has been different for everyone. We transcribed a good portion of the interview below, but there is plenty more in podcast.
You can find the audio recording of our discussion below. We hope you enjoy the conversation.
PopCultureSquad: Let’s talk about the kickstarter for Urban Animal. What are you looking to accomplish and how does that work with Webtoon, who publishes the digital comic on their platform?
Justin Jordan: Well John Amor and I do a series called Urban Animal over at Webtoon.com. It’s about Joe Gomez who thinks he’s an ordinary kid until one day he turns into a sabre toothed tiger and finds out his life gets a whole lot weirder from there.
It’s been doing well for us there. We have like 475000 subscribers and we have 80-100000 people per week reading it. By direct market comic book shop standards. That is an enormous readership and by webtoon standards, it’s kind of mediocre.
We are currently in season three, and we are a featured series for webtoon. That means that webtoon pays us a license fee to it and we make money from the get go. That means that they have an exclusive digital license for three years, and they have a print exclusion on that for eighteen months.
Which brings us to the kickstarter. Our eighteen months from when season one launched are up, and we are actually able to print. There are a few ways that you can do that. We chose to go with Rocketship Entertainment. We will be the tenth thing that they have brought from webtoon into print.
It’s a fairly low-risk kickstarter because all the content exists. We will have 200-odd pages of stuff in the print edition.
PCS: The project has you writing, and John on art with Micah Myers doing the letterting. How did the idea come about?
JJ: You know it’s funny. John and I have been friends for at least fifteen years. So we go back to before I had broken in to comics. I honestly do not recall how we met online. We still have never met in person because he lives in the Philippines and I do not.
We have been working on stuff and pitching stuff for a long time and in fact we did a full issue of a comic called Overthrow and It has never been published. Overthrow is notable because that is one of the things that I sent to Tradd [Moore] to get him to do Luther Strode. So without John, I would maybe not have a career.
John has been successful in his own right. He has his own career going. I started talking to the Webtoon people at cons and managed to worm my way into going to dinner with them, and I got them to let me pitch them. I came back to John and actually Urban Animal was not the first thing we pitched. The first thing we pitched was series called Traveller. It was really cool and they liked it but they felt that it was not right for the Webtoon format, and they were absolutely correct.
So, I went back to John, and he had been working on Urban Animal as a concept for years. He suggested we retool that and take the characters and the basic concept and add this mythology to it. I liked that idea. I reverse engineered how to do webtoons, and we pitched them that. As is typical of me, a lot of the rich mythology that you see in the series was in the document that I sent them, and they really liked it and greenlit it. It is pretty much exactly what I pitched them.
So that is how we got to Urban Animal specifically. It was kind of a windy road, as was this answer.
[More about the genre and uniqueness of Urban Animal is in the audio recording]
PCS: You are a fountain of ideas. Anyone who follows you on social media can see that you are constantly coming up with new ideas. What was it about comics that drew you to the medium as a writer?
JJ: When I say that I have been reading comics all my life, I am as literal as can be. One of my earliest memories is “reading” a Popeye the Sailor comic. It was before I could actually read, and I never got away from it. I segued from that into reading the Stan Lee Spider-Man strip that was in the Electric Company magazine.
From there, I was just the right age when Image Comics came around. I was thirteen in 1991. If you are a thirteen year old boy, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, and Jim Lee are just the shit.
All along, I had liked writing, and eventually I lit on writing as what I wanted to do. I think the reason it ended up being comics in particular is that it was something that I had always loved, and I am a visual kind of thinker in a lot of ways. Not necessarily in ways you think, but I do tend to think in ways of what you can see and hear on the page, rather than internal dialogue. I think that tendency really lent itself well to comics.
[There is a discussion of Justin’s concept of Ideatober writing prompts that he initiated this year]
PCS: You’ve written for the big 2, and done your own creator owned print comics as well as webcomics. How does the satisfaction of publishing in those those various markets differ?
JJ: It is different. With Webtoon, they allow commenting on the comics. The either have a moderation team that works like ninjas or the crown is genuinely good or both, because there are very few crappy comments on there.
PCS: I agree with you. I see very few negative comments on there. To me it doesn’t make sense to comment how you don’t like something. Just move on.
JJ: I mean, you would think that, but the rest of the internet would indicate otherwise. I don’t know how Webtoon manages it, but we get like 500 or 1000 comments on stuff, and they are not always happy, but it’s never rude. It does give you instant feedback in way that you don’t really get from print comics, both in terms of the quantity of it an the speed of it.
We are ahead obviously. We are not finishing the comic the week it goes out, thankfully. So, you do this thing and you put it up, and you immediately get this response. It’s not like putting something out through the direct markets, where you finish the book and there is a three month solicitation cycle and then it gets on the stands, and then maybe someone tweets at you. That part if very different.
The flip side of that is that, man, there is something about a physical book. I have been doing this professionally for ten years now, and when I get comps and bust them open, there is that new comic smell, and there is no other way to describe it. That is still pretty great. That is not the main reason we are bringing Urban Animal to print, but I gotta tell you, having something I can put my hands on is a big part of the appeal to having it in print.
[Justin and I talk about his comixology original book Breaklands and how it out performed House of X. Check out the audio for that.]
PCS: How has this year been going for you? Obviously, it is a different year for everyone on the planet. Has the lack of cons been traumatic financially or emotionally?
JJ: Ah, so financially it works out very well. It’s actually been a pretty good year. I don’t know that 2021 will necessarily be the same. In the last few years, I have very intentionally diversified out. I’ve done some graphic novels. I’ve done digital firsts. I do a Webtoon. I am also writing the digital comics included in the Call of Duty Mobile game. All of which are stuff that are in addition to direct market work. So, I am doing stuff that is not dependent on comic book shops, and that has worked to my great benefit this year.
As it goes with cons, I usually break even over the course of a year. I am a writer; so, I am not selling original art, and I don’t have prints. Honestly, without the travel expense and stuff like that, it sort of worked out. But on the downside, I do still live in very rural Pennsylvania, and between the not having cons, which is were I see a great deal of my friends, and the general Covid-ness of the whole thing. It has been lonelier than usual.
So basically since I went on vacation in February, I have only seen any of my friends in real life three times, and it is the same friend, in eight months. That is the least I have seen her in any time since we met. That is difficult.
Having said all that, and it does suck still, I had a pretty dark March and April. From May on, I have been pretty good mentally.
PCS: When you were growing up? Did you have a favorite genre of comic book that spoke to you more than others.
JJ: I was very much a superhero guy. In addition to superheroes, when I was about thirteen, there was a local bookstore that started stocking comics and they had a magazine of new comics coming out and that kind of blew my mind. Even in the superhero experience, it wasn’t the normal superhero experience for someone of my age. By not realizing what they were, my family had bought me The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing when I was like eight. That is WAY TOO EARLY for that Swamp Thing. That did a number on my dreams for years.
With that proto-previews book, I was exposed to a whole new realm. I was reading a lot of the black and white, indie boom stuff. I read [Teenage Mutant] Ninja Turtles and Cerberus and that kind of stuff. However, I was primarily a superhero guy, which is interesting because things have changed quite a bit.
I still conceptually love superheroes. So, when a new MCU movie or superhero streaming thing comes out, I am all about it. At the same time, I read very few superhero comics now, mostly because they are now designed for an audience that isn’t me. They require me to have a depth of knowledge that I just don’t have. That is not good or bad, but it has left me outside the superhero market.
PCS: Lets recap the kickstarter. It has launched, and you can get to it here. It ends on November 18th. Thanks for doing this.
JJ: Yeah, Thanks so much for having me.