"...But Then Came a Full-@$$ Superhero Universe" – An Interview with ADAM BARNHARDT
COMIC BOOK YETI: Adam, thank you so much for joining me here in the Yeti Cave to discuss Moonspawn and the Defenders of the Dark #0. How have you been doing?
ADAM BARNHARDT: I’m doing great, man! I’m here talking to you on this fine morning, so I could be doing much, much worse.
CBY: For anyone that might not be familiar with your work, can you tell me about your “day job” when not creating comics? Along those same lines, I know that previously you worked for several professional football teams, both minor league and indoor, including for the North Iowa Knights, Bemidji Axemen, and Cedar Rapids Titans. How did you become involved working for those organizations and, as someone that thinks we need more sports-related comics, when can we expect an Adam Barnhardt written football comic?
AB: By day, I’m an entertainment journalist for ComicBook.com, covering film, television, comics, fast-food, and whatever else the people want to read. I’m most certainly blessed to be in a position where I’m surrounded by pop culture both professionally and when it comes to writing my own projects.
Arena or indoor football is a blast, if you’ve never attended the game. The shortened field combined with the padded dasher boards results in a high-octane, high-scoring football game. Combined with a similar atmosphere as the St. Paul Saints, Savannah Bananas, or other independent baseball teams put on, it’s hard to find a better value than that ticket price.
As to how I got started, I was in a fantasy football league when I was probably 12 or 13 at a time when message boards and forums really started to take off. Because it was the dawn of a digital age, I opted to treat my fantasy football team as if it were a real team and craft press releases for signings and releases, game recaps, and the like. Way too much effort for something so trivial.
But that allowed me to hone my craft and I landed a job a couple years writing while still in high school covering sports for the local newspaper, with a whopping circulation of probably 2,000 to 2,500.
Anyway, while all this was going on, I was heavily invested in web and graphic designs and was working my tail off through Dreamweaver on the side. That combined with the fact my family frequently attended local arena football games, I was able to cross-pollinate between by two hobbies. I was making websites for my favorite arena football players, and I was volunteering for arena football teams in doing their communications.
A few years after high school, I was offered a full-time position in the land of arena football and I took it as quick as I could. Spent a handful of years doing work around those parts before I got where I am today.
But enough of that, back Moonspawn and the Defenders of the Dark #0 already!
To finish your question, I’ve always thought the world of arena football, and on a wider scale, minor league sports, was rich for storytelling. Will Ferrell’s Semi-Pro earnestly isn’t far from how a lot of these teams operates. I wouldn’t be lying if I said a scenario is completely possible a star player is traded for cash consideration so that the player’s former team could pay even the slightest towards their overdue lease with their home arena.
A workplace comedy would be delightful, and could be quite charming. If I’m being honest, though, I’d NBA Jam-ify the story and give the football players some superpowers or abilities to make things interesting.
CBY: That's fair. I find that fascinating that you turned that fantasy football hobby into a full time job. I also agree that with sports like arena football, it's a great value and a lot of fun. I saw my fair share of Philadelphia Soul games (2008 ArenaBowl champs!). The stories from Moonspawn are set in the Sh*tshow Universe, which has so far consisted of Sh*tshow #1-#3 published by Scout Comics and Sh*tshow Shorts #1. When folks ask, how do you describe the Sh*tshow Universe and how do the 5 short comic stories fit into that world?
AB: It’s funny. When I was looking to start writing comics, most “breaking in” panels at conventions or online classes always advise to start small. Write a one-pager, pitch an anthology, start small. I had done I think one eight-page story and the first issue of a mini-series I wanted to pitch around…but then came a full-ass superhero universe.
I’d say this world, at least at this stage, is geared towards producing adult-oriented, character-driven stories. As you’ve seen with SH*TSHOW 1, the story is very much R-rated. Our first spinoff, Keepers of the Cosmos, skirts that line as does Moonspawn and the Defenders of the Dark. Neither really push it as much as SH*TSHOW does, though.
Truth be told, I’m already working on developing a brand/identity for the world itself so we can expand even a little further. Despite having a story titled SH*TSHOW as its base, I have some stories in mind featuring characters like Frigid Brigid that’d definitely be geared to a younger, all-ages crowd.
Moonspawn fits into this world and its a foray into horror and the macabre. We got a tease of it with Macabre Mel, but Moonspawn and the Defenders of the Dark #0 sets up our universe’s first horror-centric team.
CBY: You are working with several different creators for the stories in Moonspawn, and creators different than those that worked on Sh*tshow Shorts #1. How did you go about recruiting folks for this and why did you think their particular art styles were well-suited for the Sh*tshow Universe?
AB: A lot of the creators working on Moonspawn are ones I’ve worked with before on some background stuff. Nicolas Santos, the artist on Moonspawn’s Sting Like a Bee short story, as an example, is taking over art duties for SH*TSHOW 2. Rolands Kalnins, the artist on The Woods Know You’re Here and colorist on Day and Night is doing art for my next Kickstarter…another in-universe story featuring Macabre Mel and her adventures into Hell. Jerome Gagnon of Orange Cone fame lettered a few of the stories within, and we’re already working on some other projects that’ll be revealed before too long.
Social media is integral to the development of any comic book. Hell, it’s one of the largest parts of our lives these days whether we want it to be or not. Most of the creators on Moonspawn #0 are ones I met through networking on social media. Either way, I was fortunate enough to have awesome creators in my circle that matched each of the looks I was hoping to go for.
When writing Day and Night, as an example, I envisioned a weird hybrid Jim Lee and Mike Mignola style for the exceptionally gritty story. As you can see, that’s practically exactly what San Espina was able to do on that. That just trickled down from there into the other stories, getting collaborators whose artwork not only matched the story at hand, but were also excited about the script.
CBY: You were kind enough to send along a preview of a few of the stories in Moonspawn and what I appreciate about it is that it allows for a variety of different genres, from superhero to horror to comedy, although I will say there is a certain sense of humor that shines through in all the stories. What are your biggest influences when it comes to comedy? What are the things that really make you laugh?
AB: Remember when the Barenaked Ladies sang about a guy who laughs at a funeral? Yeah. Humor is how I deal with most situations, whether serious and traumatic or not. It’s a blessing and a curse. I’m not sure why I’ve been that way since we’ve yet to reach that breakthrough in therapy.
But I really do think humor can be seen in most everyday. Any one of our world’s–or the entire world, given the current news cycle–can end at any moment, and I’ll be damned if I go out mad at somebody on Twitter who’s yelling at me for writing about Taco Bell on a comic book website.
As for inspirations, my comedic tastes are greatly varied. I love, love, love a good stand-up set. You’ve got the icons like Mitch Hedberg who can provide extremely quotable one-liners for even the most mundane of situations. Then there are comics like Mike Birbiglia who combine comedy with more dramatic storytelling. His What I Should Have Said Was Nothing special is one of my favorites of all time, followed by My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.
Then there’s the fact that I love movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Young Frankenstein just as much as I like Step-Brothers and Bio-Dome. Two of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen are relatively recent releases–Good Boys and Game Night.
CBY: You mentioned 2 of my favorite stand-up comics. The best night of live comedy I ever saw was Mike Birbiglia, Mitch Hedberg, Lewis Black, and Dave Attell at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, PA. Fantastic, funny night. When reading “For Sale: Haunted House” I was wondering if you watch a lot of HGTV because it feels like that’s the main reason anyone knows the word “shiplap”?
AB: I don’t actively watch HGTV, no. I do, however, know enough about shiplap. So much so, apparently the introduction of one single shiplap accent wall makes the value of the home skyrocket. That is, after all, why the housing market is through the roof right now, right? My fiancé and I, two millennials, are forever doomed when it comes to getting a home because of a bunch of wall planks.
I blame it all on shiplap. #ShiplapIsOverParty
CBY: At what stage in the process are you with the Moonspawn and the Defenders of the Dark mini-series and what can you tell us about the creative team and what can fans of the Sh*tshow Universe expect from the new series?
AB: We’re still relatively early on the process. I can tell you I’m going to be working on it with Nic Santos once we get SH*TSHOW 2 and an anthology project out of the way.
As seen in Moonspawn #0, our protagonist Zaria Moonspawn finds out her father Rip–the world’s leading monster hunter–has traveled into an alternate dimension called the Terrorscape, a certain death sentence for any group of people, nevermind a frail old man.
The mini-series features Zaria’s adventure into the Terrorscape alongside the Defenders of the Dark she manages to wrangle up through our #0 issue. Truth be told, it’s probably the most serious thing I’ve written yet. Sure, you still have the quips and one-liners (largely throughout the story’s B plot), but it’s largely dramatic.
Without spoiling too much of the story itself, it was largely inspired by an illness in the family. Another tease would be along the lines of, you know, God Country.
CBY: God Country is great! Regarding the Kickstarter campaign itself, there are some fantastic cover options by some amazing creators. Can you talk to me about the different covers and what type of guidance, if any, did you give to the artists you worked with to create the covers?
AB: I’m a sucker for good ol’ portrait covers. Even more so because these are all-new characters nobody has ever seen before. Let’s get their faces out there and recognizable to the masses. That’s really the only advice or pointers I gave to artists; otherwise, they had completely free reign to do whatever they wanted.
Cover A is from Stefano Cardoselli, an indie powerhouse who often does work for Scout books. But he’s all over the place, it’s a badge of honor to get a Cardoselli cover for your project, and I’m super blessed he was able to make something work for this campaign.
Cover B is by Drew Pritchett, another artist I met through Twitter. Drew’s style is quite light, and I thought it would be an interesting contrast featuring the book’s darkest character.
Cover C and our special campaign-exclusive metal cover are done by Juan Angel, a frequent collaborator on my books. At this rate, I’m pretty sure he’s done more than 30 pieces or so for me. If there’s any comic whatsoever with a “Written by Adam Barnhardt” credit, it’s pretty safe to say there’s a Juan Angel cover with it somewhere. He’s an incredible artist and despite not being “from comics,” he loves the medium and is an incredible creative.
Last but not least is Cover D by Samir Simao. You know Samir as the cover AND interior artist on SH*TSHOW 1. He also did the cover featuring our pulp team on SH*TSHOW Shorts #1 and I’m definitely going to try getting him to do something for Keepers of the Cosmos #1 as well.
CBY: As a journalist, writing about shows and movies that could or do have toxic fans, have you ever had difficulty navigating that along with the need to be online/on social media to promote your own work?
AB: YES! Did I say that loud enough? I’m not sure what it is about pop culture or now, maybe it’s just humanity as a whole, but toxicity is everywhere. Social media is the place where you can share your opinion, and then someone that agrees with you is furious that you happen to share the same opinion.
There are a few subjects I’d rather not write about and platform, solely because of how the fan bases react–even to positive news. It’s already difficult being on social media the way it is, let alone having a project to promote.
The algorithms penalize stuff it feels should be pushed through as paid ads, and promotes some of the most hateful messaging. It’s getting to the point where you’re nearly forced to be a door-to-door salesman through direct/private messages so that people–even family members–see your stuff.
Making a single sequential page is hard work. The fact that anyone, at any given time, can get together a team and produce a full comic book that tells a story is an absolute miracle. Then beyond that, the idea that some are able to take that comic book and successfully fund it–sometimes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars–is just unfathomable. It’s a large part of why most comics I read now come directly from Kickstarter campaigns.
CBY: What comics/books/tv shows/movies are you currently enjoying?
AB: I’ll read whatever Black Hammer comic is released. Not only is that my favorite comic series ever released, it’s only my grail writing scenario. Jeff, if you’re reading this, please let me pitch you some ideas.
TV-wise, we just started watching New Girl. My partner had never seen Seinfeld, so we made a deal. We watch Seinfeld, and then she can choose something I’ve never seen. As it turns out, this deal has resulted in us absolutely falling in love with each other’s shows. Now I hear nothing but Seinfeld quotes from her, and I can’t stop watching it. All of the characters on New Girl are masterfully crafted, with Nick Miller probably making my sitcom character Mount Rushmore.
My movie-watching days are made up of either comic book movies at the theater or true-crime documentaries at home. Nothing too substantial there.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
AB: That’s an excellent question. Off the top of my head, I’d have to give Immortal Iron Fist, or at least the first two arcs one of the spots. Danny Rand is my favorite superhero, and Immortal is probably the best Iron Fist story we’ve gotten yet. It’s always hard to top that, for me.
I want to say something like Saga and Born Again, but I feel like either of those are also probably the answer of most others as well. For my final two, let’s go with Black Hammer Vol. 1 (always gotta play to the favorites), and anything Tradd Moore’s ever done. Just because I hope the museum is preserved enough, some futuristic civilization finds his comics in 3,000 years and thinks that’s how the entire medium looked.
CBY: Any other projects CBY readers should check out?
AB: I’m a sucker for some good world-building, and White Ash is a pretty good class on that. Charlie Stickney’s latest campaign is in its closing hours, or it may have just wrapped up, depending on when this is posted. So either back it on Kickstarter, or go through the BackerKit or whatever Charlie is using.
Other projects I’m backing in their closing days include Frankenstein the Unconquered from Dalton Shannon, Wells Thompson, Mary Landro, Dahlia Maha, and Nathan Kempf. Another is Sacrifice, Lauren Valles, Uj Chen, Ichsan Ansori, and Lucas Gattoni.
I dream of the day I get to work on a project with Lucas Gattoni–seriously one of the best letterers in the game right now.
CBY: I interviewed Lucas for CBY's The Letterer of the Day is...series and his work is fantastic. Where can you be found online?
AB: I’m on Twitter and Instagram as @AdamBarnhardt. I also develop self-published books and sell them under my own banner called Lunchroom Riot. You can find more about that at www.lunchroomriot.com. Then, of course, we have Moonspawn and the Defenders of the Dark #0 funding until May 9th. That can be seen at www.moonspawncomic.com or, if you’re freaky, www.bigscary.monster
CBY: Thank you so much, Adam, and good luck with the rest of the Moonspawn and the Defenders of the Dark #0 Kickstarter campaign.