Comics, Existentialism, and Wu-Tang Clan – An In-Depth Discussion with Jarred Luján
Jarred Luján has been writing comics for the past 5 years. He followed up his successful series Dry Foot with a successful Kickstarter campaign and a new series, Crash & Troy, from Action Lab.
He's here to discuss all things comics, including finding collaborators, lessons he learned running a Kickstarter, and what readers can expect from his new series, as well as his favorite Meryl Streep movie and how French existentialists have influenced his work.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Jarred, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. I know you have a lot going on currently. For anyone not familiar with your work, you were one of the winners of the 2019 Mad Cave Studios Talent Search, which led to your series Dry Foot. You have written short comics for several anthologies, including Project: Big Hype Vol. 1, A COLD, DARK UNIVERSE, Yule, and Off Into the Sunset. You just recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign for The Twin Blades, and your newest comic, Crash & Troy, published by Action Lab, will be in comic shops on July 21st. That is a lot of writing, and other hard work, in a short period of time. What led you to wanting to write comics in the first place?
JARRED LUJÁN: When you put it all together like that it sure does sound like a lot, and I’ve still got one or two announcements up my sleeve! I’ve had my foot in and out of comics since I was a kid. I’m actually a manga import in that I started reading manga and slowly moved over to western comics. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, even as a teenager, and I experimented with various mediums in figuring out what I liked from novels to philosophy to whatever, until I gave comics a shot. I think writing for a visual medium suits my style better and the collaborative part of comics just fills me with excitement. I absolutely love sitting down with a team as we develop different sides to a project, comics has it in such a unique way that was just the groove I fell into the hardest. Haven’t looked back since.
CBY: Had you written comics prior to entering the 2019 Mad Cave Studios Talent Search? Tell us how
you came to participate in that.
JL: I’ve actually been writing comics since about 2016. I found out about Mad Cave through Twitter and read some of their titles (Midnight Task Force, BattleCats, eventually Knights of the Golden Sun, shoutout to Mark London.) I actually entered their 2018 Talent Search,
lost, but just kinda kept writing in my own corner anyway. Anthony Cleveland, a 2018
winner himself and writer of Mad Cave titles Show’s End and Stargazer (both of those rule, by the way) and I were friends and he encouraged me to enter again. I put together a script in the last window, entered, and won. It’s kind of wild to think about that because it has been the biggest boost to my career.
CBY: Prior to writing comics, you were writing reviews and conducting your own interviews for Comic Book Yeti, and I’ve noticed a trend with writers who get their start writing about comics often end up creating their own comics. How do you think your experience with reviews and interviews informed your current creative process?
JL: Reviewing comics was a huuuuuge help. For one, it helped me pinpoint exactly what I didn’t like. Not necessarily in terms of bad comics, but in terms of styles I didn’t really
enjoy—books that simply weren’t for me. It helped narrow down what I wanted to really
write about and how I wanted to write it.
The second is that it helped me cement a place in the comics community. Getting to know
other creators and their processes helped me understand my own, but it also let me meet
people I really liked. I’m still friends with creators I met during that time period and we still
chat about what we’re working on. Very grateful for that.
Third, is that reviewing comics helped me ask the important question of Why did you like
this comic? Figuring out why you don’t like something is kind of easy, but closely examining
why you like a book, why it speaks to you, I think, is more difficult. It’s criticism, but it’s
also introspective, and it helps to carry that into creating a comic that you're passionate
"Our culture is either reduced to what has been commercialized as “Mexican Halloween” (it isn’t,) or we’re presented as criminals and foreigners (we aren’t.)"
CBY: Christa Harader interviewed you for CBY back in September 2020 just before the release of Dry Foot #1. Now that the series is complete, do you feel you accomplished what you set out to in telling that story, and do you think you might ever return to it?
JL: Absolutely. I’m so proud of Dry Foot. That book is right from my heart and I had the best team to pull it off. I’m not sure I could say much more than that. I wanted to deliver a story that felt fresh, that had a real, authentic latine voice to it, that didn’t shy away from the
harsh realities of poverty and violence, and I think we delivered 100% on that.
With that said, I wrote Dry Foot as a one-off. Maybe that’s not the best thing for your first
mini-series of your career, but I didn’t want to have any regrets about the book. To me, it
was more important to go out there, leave it all on the line, tell a story from start to finish,
rather than look back on it for years about the story I could’ve told if I had more issues. I
think there’s enough there to be a 2nd volume, but that’s really Mad Cave’s decision.
Truthfully, I think they’ve moved on and that’s okay! Stories should be allowed to end. I’m
just grateful for the chance we got to tell that story and for the support Mad Cave gave it in
the middle of all the craziness that was last year.
"The entire team for The Twin Blades is latine and they’re all talented as hell."
CBY: You followed up the success of Dry Foot with your first successful Kickstarter campaign for The Twin Blades, for which the idea seemed to start as a challenge on Twitter to write a comic featuring Mexicans with swords. Where did the inspiration for The Twin Blades come from?
JL: It came from a lifetime of having to see Mexicans portrayed as nothing but cartel,
immigrants, or somehow tied to Día de los Muertos. Our culture is either reduced to what
has been commercialized as “Mexican Halloween” (it isn’t,) or we’re presented as criminals
and foreigners (we aren’t.) I want to create stories that are fun, that are big in scope, that
are bombastic, and I want to do it with my people presented in ways they normally aren’t.
In short, we gave two twins big ass macuahuitl that have lightning and fire powers and they
fight a cyborg and, damn it, we did it for the culture.
CBY: The artist for the series is Julio Suarez, with colors by Rocco Langg and Gabriela Downie lettering. How did you find the rest of the team for this series?
JL: I found Julio on Twitter under the #LatinxCreate hashtag. I really wanted that manga-esque energy and Julio’s style/influences fit that perfectly. This is Julio’s first real comic and I cannot wait for people to see the heat he’s going to bring.
I’m actually a fan of Gabriela’s work. She’s done some great lettering for DC and is currently working on Helm Greycastle. She was my first choice and I was fortunate enough to know some people who knew her and was able to reach out.
Julio and Rocco are friends! They’ve collaborated on a couple pages before, so when I told Julio I was looking for a latine colorist, she was his first recommendation. Very lucky to have pulled that one off, Rocco has a very special touch to these pages that make them sing perfectly.
For those curious at home, yes, the entire team for The Twin Blades is latine and they’re all
talented as hell.
CBY: Was The Twin Blades always going to Kickstarter, or was there a thought to pitch it to a publisher?
JL: It was always going to Kickstarter. Not sure there is a publisher on Earth that would have
listened to this pitch originally. However, I think the success of the Kickstarter is a good
proof of concept. I’ve got a few things behind the scenes that I’m working on, but it’s
definitely possible that The Twin Blades winds up in a comic shop near you in the future.
CBY: I liked that the Kickstarter campaign had a section on pronunciation. Was that your idea to include that?
JL: It was! Names can be intimidating, especially just at first glance. I wanted to give people a chance to understand how to pronounce everything since seeing it on every page could get
a little frustrating. Most importantly, this is a part of the entire team’s culture that we are
putting out into the world and I wanted that to be respected as much as possible.
CBY: For any creators contemplating their first Kickstarter campaign, what advice do you have? What do you know now about self-publishing that you wish you knew then?
JL: In terms of the actual Kickstarter: Nobody who has done a campaign before thinks you're
annoying when you promote yourself. It’s okay. Sell your stuff, homie.
Self-publishing: Page sizes. Learn them and learn how to adjust them. I have never felt so
dumb in my life, but that was our first big hiccup. Sorry, Gabby!
CBY: How are things progressing for The Twin Blades?
JL: Super well! Julio just wrapped up inks. So, Gabriela is working on lettering those pages so we can just retrofit them onto the colored ones. I presume that means that we’ll be 90%
done with lettering by the middle of next week. Rocco, as of this writing, has 13 pages left to color. She’s killing it, too. Right now we are on schedule to have the digital version released in June, as planned. The physicals may take a little longer than we originally hoped, likely July, but if you backed it, you’ll be able to read it in June.
CBY: Your next series is Crash & Troy, published by Action Lab. I see you’ve posted on Twitter: “It's a humor-filled story about being your best self, masculinity, and Meryl goddamn Streep!” What exactly can CBY readers expect from this series?
JL: Cat videos. Meryl Streep jokes. Big action. BEEFY BOIS.
Seriously, though, you can expect a really action-packed book, filled with jokes, but also a big heart. So much of this book is about anger and how poisonous it can be. Besides that, it is just pretty as hell to look at. Kyler and Bruno made some really fantastic pages that I think people are going to really lose it over. I’m so excited for this damn thing to come out.
CBY: I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite Meryl Streep performance, but my favorite Meryl Streep movie is either Death Becomes Her or Defending Your Life. Do you have a favorite Meryl Streep performance, and is that different from your favorite Meryl Streep movie?
JL: I think my favorite Streep performance is Sophie’s Choice. Defending Your Life is up there though. In terms of my favorite Streep movie? The Devil Wears Prada which will become increasingly obvious after reading Crash & Troy. It just cracks me up every time I watch it.
CBY: The artist on Crash & Troy is Kyler Clodfelter, with whom you’ve collaborated before on the short comic A Son’s Legacy that can be read for free on your website. What led to your first collaboration with Clodfelter and how did that lead to Crash & Troy?
JL: That’s the funny thing: Crash & Troy IS the first thing Kyler and I collaborated on. Years ago I reached out to him to work together on this sci-fi prison break idea I had and it wound up morphing into what would be Crash & Troy because we loved the characters so much. Kyler and I worked together the next year on a pitch for a multiverse/kaiju story that didn’t wind up getting picked up, and that’s actually the universe that A Son’s Legacy is set in. We did everything backwards, ahahaha.
CBY: Speaking of finding collaborators and artists to work with, you teamed up with J. Paul Schiek for the Project: Big Hype Vol. 1 story “Terminal” and Kasey Quevedo for the A COLD, DARK UNIVERSE story “Interloper.” When you have a project that you’re working on, how do you go about finding collaborators and what do you look for in an artist/colorist/letterer?
JL: I almost always ask my friends for recommendations, but I spend a lot of time on Twitter
hashtags too. #VisibleWomen, #DrawingWhileBlack, #LatinxCreate, #PortfolioDay, and a
number of others have led me to team up with some wonderful people. Twitter is a fun
social tool, but I think it’s also one of the best ways to discover some really talented folks if
you’re looking for them.
So, first thing I look for in any collaborative partner is a portfolio with sequential work. I
can’t gauge your comics work on pinups. Second thing is ability to meet deadlines. Between
my day job and comics work, I’m pretty busy all the time and it helps to have some frame
of reference on when I can expect people to be done. Especially with stuff like the
Kickstarter one-shots I’m doing where I’m the person scheduling everyone to work on the
Otherwise, I want to see work, from every position, that I think reads the page well. Does
your line art/colors/letter capture the tone of the page? Does it work well to tell the story?
Does it make this moment, the one presumably in your portfolio, grab my attention as a
reader? I think that’s maybe a little vague, but not all stories are told the same and not all
art is the same, so the answer has to be a little vague. There’s obvious technical things that
I look for, but in terms of finding a specific collaborator for a specific project, that’s kind of
what I look at. Helps if your portfolio includes action AND quiet moments!
"It very much feels like I’ve been living in an RPG with this badass sword that I’m not the correct level for, but now I finally am and now I get to equip it while I wait to find an even more badass sword."
CBY: Both “Terminal” and “Interloper,” and Dry Foot as well, despite dealing with dark subject matter, all end on a very hopeful note. Is “hope” an important theme in your work?
JL: This is an interesting question. I think “hope” is an important theme in my work insofar as it is dirtied a little bit. Not everything works out so well for everyone in Dry Foot, there’s a
little bit of despair there as well. "Terminal" is hopeful, but probably not in the way most of us would imagine, right? When I think of “hope,” as a concept, I think of it as something that
comes at a cost—and the cost is usually what I’m actually writing about.
CBY: I don’t know how it feels from your side of things, but it appears you have had some great success in a fairly short period of time. Your success and positivity on Twitter, including tweets encouraging everyone to believe in themselves, are inspiring. Generally speaking, what advice do you have for any creators just starting out?
JL: Ha! It certainly hasn’t been short. I’ve been writing and working on comics for just over five years now. It has been tremendously difficult to balance a day job, a life, and also this kind of strange second job for five years, but I’m tremendously grateful that this year everything kind of landed well. It very much feels like I’ve been living in an RPG with this badass sword that I’m not the correct level for, but now I finally am and now I get to equip it while I wait to find an even more badass sword.
The best advice I can give is the one I put on Twitter all the time: believe in yourself and do
the work. If that means scripting your first story, putting together a pitch packet, critiquing
your work to make it better, entering a talent search, then do it. Make the effort. Take a
chance on yourself because you are dope as hell and you need to realize it.
I’m always afraid my Twitter presence is going to make people think I’m some kind of Fyre
Festival influencer who is selling you something, but I’m just someone who was never
supposed to do anything with my life. I was really supposed to be dead or in jail at this
point. Everything I’ve accomplished has been on the back of betting on myself, hard work,
and a lot of luck. You can’t plan for luck, but if you have a one in a million chance to
succeed…you just have to do the damn thing a million times, right?
"Believe in yourself and do the work. Make the effort. Take a chance on yourself because you are dope as hell and you need to realize it."
CBY: Are there any comic creators working today whose work inspires you?
JL: I’m a huge Vita Ayala fan. They are brilliant. Ever since Submerged I’ve read pretty much everything they’ve written and are likely my biggest modern inspiration. Henry Barajas is another one who has written some really fantastic work like La Voz de M.A.Y.O. and his
most recent Helm Greycastle. Michael Moreci, who is apparently a typewriter made flesh –
everything he touches bangs. Mags Visaggio, Ram V, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Rosenberg,
Alex Paknadel come to mind. OH MAN. Can’t leave out the Home Sick Pilots combo of Dan
Watters and Caspar Wijngaard. I think Tamra Bonvillain might be one of the best colorists of
all time. Okay. I think that’s enough, ahahaha. I like a lot of comics people.
CBY: What are your long-term comics goals?
JL: Big 2 work that translates into Big Creator-Owned work that translates into a Wu-Tang Clan Comic.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
JL: These Savage Shores because I think it is the perfect example of what sequential art is and has a masterful command of storytelling in the medium. Infinity Gauntlet because it has that peak LSD sci-fi ridiculousness that comics was built on that I absolutely love. East of West because I love it and it’s my museum, man, you can’t tell me what to do here!
CBY: You graduated cum laude from Angelo State with 2 Bachelor of Arts degrees in Philosophy and Political Science and your website lists one of your interests (we’ll get to the others shortly) as
Existential Philosophy. What is it about existentialism that drew you to it, and has that influenced your comic work at all? Are there any films/tv shows/books dealing with existentialist issues that
JL: To be specific, it’s more the work of mostly the French existentialists (Fanon, Camus, de Beauvoir, and Sartre) and Søren Kierkegaard. Existentialism’s concept of radical freedom, of
radical responsibility, speaks to me as someone who has had a rather volatile life at times.
It has absolutely influenced my work. I think "Terminal" and Dry Foot deal with my existentialist roots most directly, with me toying with the concept of choice and
responsibility in each one of those. I think you should go straight to the source. I’m a huge fan of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and The Ethics of Ambiguity, Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and Existentialism is a Humanism, as well as Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus essay. I read Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks once a year in February and it is as poignant and relevant as ever.
CBY: Your website lists your other interests as: cooking, biking, and the Wu-Tang Clan. I am not a great cook, but I think of myself as one of the world’s great eaters, if I may be so bold. I am jealous of anyone with any cooking ability. If you were making dinner for someone that you wanted to impress, what are you going to make?
JL: I make a mean ancho-chile flank steak with a cilantro-based chimichurri that’ll rock your
world. It’s going to smoke up my entire damn apartment, but it’s going to taste amazing.
CBY: I won’t be so cruel as to ask you for your favorite Wu-Tang Clan song, but do you have a top 3?
JL: To narrow this down, I’ll exclusively stick to actual Wu-Tang albums. Protect Ya Neck, Impossible, Bring Da Ruckus.