This is our first interview with comic writer Steve Stormoen, and he sits down with me to talk about his series The Pros, whose second issue is currently in its Kickstarter campaign.
AP2HYC: Hello Steve. For the purposes of introductions who and want are/is The Pros? What’s the log-line?
Steve: The Pros is a comic about guns, spies, and privatization. Four special screwups become spies, working for an insurance company. They get stuck in the middle of a standoff between the FBI and a crazy, gun-worshiping cult that lives inside a 10 story handgun named America.
AP2HYC: Was its genesis always in presenting it as a comic or did you have this idea and needed to flesh out a more whole understanding until it was clear that comics were the only possible outlet?
Steve: In the past I’ve written for other forms–short stories, punk songs, web articles, but I’ve always loved comics. As soon as I had the idea for The Pros, I knew that it needed to be a comic book. It needs big flashy visuals and action scenes, and it needs a serialized story structure–the awesome thing about The Pros is that I can take these characters and this setup and bring them to any story. If we have the support, we could keep this comic going for a long time.
AP2HYC: What is your background outside of the comic book world? With the hard political intrigue and the subtle allusions to real world mega-organizations, there is satire and panes of hilarity. It seems like it would take a specifically unique individual to balance that scale.
Steve: Wow, thank you. A lot of The Pros comes directly from my background as an activist and community organizer of the last…jeez, 14 years? (I just turned 30 last week, and I’m feeling super old–forgive me). For example, the protest in Issue 1 is based directly off a die-in in front of Nancy Pelosi’s office on the 4th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. I got caught in the street when the police kettled us and almost got arrested, which would have been no big deal, because that protest was pretty low stakes. That same morning I’d watched some friends loop bike locks around their necks and lock themselves to the doors of UC San Francisco. That one was, uh, a little more intense.
As an activist I’ve tended to stay more street-level, to borrow a superhero phrase. I try to keep perspective of doing whatever I can from where I’m at. Usually that means ignoring big national campaigns, or finding an angle to work on them that feels more involved a more effective than changing my Facebook photo, know what I mean? When I was working on nuclear disarmament as a college student, I joined a campaign to get my university to stop managing the nuclear weapons labs responsible for their creation. Working for economic justice, I helped start a campaign to bring accountability to an evil local redevelopment organization.
Even though I work locally, where I think I can make a difference, I try really hard to read diverse voices and challenge my understanding of bigger issues so I can keep myself pointed in the right direction.
AP2HYC: Do any of your older or side projects leak into The Pros? Tex Moron perhaps? There’s a definite established quirkiness to your writing.
Steve: It’s funny that you bring up Tex Moron, which is a silly little web comic I co-wrote with a friend for back in college, in which we take over the newspaper soap opera strip Rex Morgan, M.D. and rewrite all the dialog and characters to make it as awful as possible. Tex himself is going to have a little easter egg cameo in Issue 3. I’ve already written the scene and Jelena’s drawn it, and it cracks me up just thinking about it.
As far as I can remember, I haven’t announced this before, so, uh, congratulations! It’s a AP2HYC exclusive!
AP2HYC: Do you feel that the comic medium, as opposed to long-form or journalism, helps in aiding the effectiveness of political messages? The ability to layer more metaphors and symbolism through static objects in the panes or to tell the reads, no this is what it looks like. Particularly in times like these where the ability to make a political statement, profound or otherwise, is readily accessible for the audience you’re trying to engage.
Steve: Oh god. If you’re asking me to stack Alan Moore, James Joyce, and Akira Kurosawa on top of each other and choose the one that’s most intertextual and thematically rich, I think I might take off my pants and eat them.
The thing is, I’m really not trying to make a political statement–or rather, I’m trying very hard to not make a political statement. I have no interest in being didactic or writing propaganda. I think it’s the unique quality of fiction that it can hold different voices and different perspectives, and political issues can be filtered through the lived experiences of its characters rather than some rant about the issues of the day.
All art is political, whether it questions the status quo or passively reinforces it. I want to approach politics and important issues in my writing by raising interesting, uncommon questions, not by supplying the read with answers.
AP2HYC: What was it like working with your illustrator Jelena Djordjevic, creatively and professionally? Her portfolio is astounding.
Steve: Jelena is an absolute dream to work with, especially since this is my first comic book. We met through the Digital Webbing forums, and I really lucked out–not only was she the best artist, she had the best feel for the tone of the story. We hit it off by email really quickly, and I’m a bit of an insomniac, so the time difference between here and Serbia wasn’t too big of a deal.
Artistically, I can throw anything at her and she’ll knock it out of the park. Big emotional beats, she nails the character’s facial expression on the first try. Big machiney tech like the innards of a 10-story handgun, no problem. Thousands of tiny people milling around a protest…yeah, she wants to kill me when she sees that in the script, but she still does an incredible job.
AP2HYC: What inspired you to make The Pros? Did anything during the process inspire that next page or a new character?
Steve: The idea for The Pros came out of a late night thinking about privatization, and how it could affect classic genre stories. I considered, for example, a courtroom drama set in a privatized DA’s office, or a for-profit police procedural, but a spy story felt like it had the most room to take it to whatever crazy place I wanted to go.
From there it was just a short hop, skip, and a jump to connect the intelligence industry to the insurance industry. They basically do the same thing. James Bond agrees with me, too–did you see the part in the new Bond movie where he identifies himself to the widow as a life insurance agent?
As far as the first story arc, I chose to write about guns right after the Sandy Hook Massacre, and the Isla Vista shooting happened just a few miles from me, in the neighborhood where I grew up, right before we launched our first Kickstarter. Those events really shook me, and I just needed to talk about them. But since I’m a damn writer, my way of talking about it is to make an 88 page graphic novel.
AP2HYC: I tend to play favorites in my own writing, who in The Pros do you love writing for? Have you/we found this character yet?
Steve: Ugh, yes. Sasha, always and forever. How can you not love a bodybuilding genius with the work ethic of a house cat, whose main purpose in life is to frustrate and confuse everyone around him with academic jargon?
AP2HYC: We have the Pros’ first job, the “gun nut cultists who live in a gun-shaped nuthouse,” where do you see the future for the Pros going from a moral standpoint? They’re not all great people but they want to do good-by others, the whole idea of catharsis; can they always do the right thing?
Steve: That’s really going to be the main conflict of the story for as long as it goes on. These are all very strong-willed characters, but they don’t all agree on everything. To add to that, they’re thrown into a job in which trying to do the right thing can be a huge safety risk. So far, Nass’s idealism is beating out Caitlyn’s pragmatism, Sasha’s nihilism, and cle’s sense of the absurd. I can’t say for sure that it will stay that way.
AP2HYC: How would you describe the group dynamic? They’re not exactly the “Expendables” so there isn’t a necessity for all-for-one, they can be selfish and distrusting.
Steve: The group dynamic right now is terrible. They’re total strangers who each took a morally dubious job for their own reasons, and only Nass’s reasons have yet to be revealed. A big part of this first story arc is the team learning whether or not they can trust one another.
AP2HYC: Thank you very much Steve for your time and input; you were terrific.
Head’s up Capers, the Kickstarter for the second issue of The Pros is coming to a close on Sunday, November 29th. Click the link and show your support for this fantastic and sharp spy comic.