E Pluribus Duobus – An Interview with DAN MEMBIELA about Under God
Comic Book Yeti Interview Content Editor Jimmy Gaspero returns (did he go somewhere?) to chat with writer and artist Dan Membiela about the current Zoop campaign for Under God, which is either a fascinating exploration of the dangers of weaponizing the future or a true account of what will happen because Dan is a time traveler.
We'll just have to wait and see.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Dan, thank you so much for joining me here in the Yeti Cave to discuss Under God, for which the Zoop campaign is live until June 10th. How have you been doing?
DAN MEMBIELA: Firstly, thank you very much for making space for me on your website, I very much appreciate it.
I am doing well and spending most of my time screaming on Twitter about my Zoop crowdfunding campaign for Under God at zoop.gg/c/UnderGod
CBY: If you have a “day job” other than creating comics, what is it you do?
DM: Ah, I do have a “day job,” and it is unglamorous, cube-farm, clerical work. I’m happy there…it’s a living. I often say that 8-5 is the fantasy, and the real world starts when I can work on fiction.
CBY: Isn't that the truth! I get it. What is the "real world" / Under God all about?
DM: Under God is about a near-future America, where big, beautiful walls have gone up, creating a new border between what once were called Red States and Blue States. This Holy America values charity and, on Almsgivings Day, a select group of high-achieving graduates are honored to be part of a charity caravan to the other side of the wall. Once there, things quickly go wrong, and one of these golden children finds her values and her beliefs in conflict as she tries to survive among the Othersiders.
CBY: Were there any particular real-world events that inspired/influenced you to create Under God?
DM: Oh, sadly, yes. I started creating comics again in 2016 and there was this thing in 2016…an election: it was something. The initial incident of Under God comes from the weaponization of religion that is rampant on the right currently. The cognitive dissonance of people of faith voting their conscience in so many hateful ways. You may have noticed a paradoxical point in the description of Under God above, where an apartheid wall is built, and yet charity is given. The religious right is steeped in that kind of paradox. As a Catholic, Under God is my way of processing the reality around me. I struggle to see how I and some other people can call ourselves the same thing when we have such different values.
CBY: You’re a first-generation Cuban-American originally from Miami, Florida, and your comics often explore social issues. How much, if any, of your interest in exploring social issues in your comic writing and art is influenced by being a first-generation Cuban-American?
DM: I want to be clear, I am a first-generation Cuban-American, I am Latinx, and I am also white. So while I am definitely the son of immigrants from Cuba, I do not want to give the impression that I should take space in marginalized spaces. Having said that, the boy is definitely father to the man and my perceptions in South Florida have made me the writer I am.
CBY: What is your comics origin story as a creator? How did you get started creating comics and what are the comics that made you want to make them?
DM: My brother was ten years older than me, and he was into comics and SF, so the comics were in the house before I was.
The dream was always to make comics. I used to send art and writing samples to DC and Marvel (all those rejection letters on cool letterhead are lost to time now). In the '90s (Note to reader: the wave of nausea you are feeling after noting that this is written by an old will pass. Please do not close the browser.) I found several paying gigs at some indie publishers. Unfortunately, it was not the kind of work I was interested in. As much as I tried to elevate the material, the publishing houses kept making sure it stayed on-brand (“sexy”). Around 2000, after getting stiffed on an invoice for a novelization of one of the comics I wrote, I decided to stop trying completely.
CBY: Yes, I read that you left making comics for quite a long time, what drew you back to it?
DM: In 2016 (Call back!) I tried out for the DC Writer’s Workshop. What an experience! Did you know a recommendation letter from a collaborator/publisher (from 16+ years ago) was required for the application? Oh, the self-humiliation, the groveling: super-fun! DC decided against offering me a spot in their workshop, but the excitement that thinking about making comics stirred in me was too great to ignore. And in 2016, making your own comic was made so much easier with Comixology and other new websites. So I started working on my comic Good Agent (available now on Amazon/Kindle) in late 2016, and oh boy, were there many, many issues in my brain that needed processing. What better way to work through them than have my street-level vigilante fight re-skinned social issues? White supremacy became a sorceress cult leader, the NRA and gun control became a berserker gang member, protected hate speech became a werewolf, the broken concept of police became an origin story, and so on.
When the idea for Under God struck me, I put Good Agent on pause to complete that story. Once done, I’m returning to Good Agent.
CBY: That's awesome. Are there any comic creators working today whose work inspires/influences you?
DM: So many. Artists are the biggest group: Tonci Zonjic, Chris Samnee, Mitch Gerads, Evan Shaner, Matt Smith, Tommy Lee Edwards, Greg Smallwood to name a few. As far as writers, I am a huge fan of Tom King. I also thoroughly enjoyed Al Ewing's Defenders recently.
CBY: What comics/books/tv shows/movies are you currently enjoying?
DM: So, making comics has this strange “monkey’s paw” effect that seems to be common among indie creators. Wishing upon the paw to make comics grants your wish, but the cost is that so much other media, all purchased and waiting, is very slowly consumed. The best comic I’m reading now is Human Target. The best show I’m watching now is Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
CBY: I, too, am a big Tom King fan and love what he, Greg Smallwood, and letterer Clayton Cowles have created.
If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
DM: Wow, what a question! I’m going to assume this is asking about single issues.
(I have reached for a binder I have of special issues to answer this properly.)
1. Action Comics #775: What’s so Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?
Easily one of the top 5 Superman stories ever written. A touchstone for how to get Superman right.
2. Secret Origins #39: Animal Man & Man-Bat
The first time I saw a Kevin Nolan Batman (Sploosh) and I’m a huge fan of Morrison’s Animal Man.
3. Marvel Tales #100
This is a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #123, lusciously heavily inked Kane Romita art with a neat Hawkeye back-up, but the pièce de résistance are the Steve Ditko back-up pages about Spider-Man’s powers, costume, and tools. I had this issue as a child and it was the height of comics to me.
CBY: Any other projects CBY readers should check out?
DM: Well, as mentioned above, issues 1-7 of my comic Good Agent are available here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09GYNXW4M?
CBY: Where can you be found online?
DM: Anyone can read my very entertaining Twitter feed for FREE by following @HalRoth
CBY: Thank you so much for joining me, Dan, and good luck with the rest of the campaign.
DM: Thank you, for having me on, and making space for me here on your site! I truly appreciate you being here.