HEROES CON 2022: AN INTERVIEW WITH LAN PITTS AND JOE HUNTER
Fresh from Heroes Con, Comic Book Yeti contributor Alex Breen corresponded on the convention floor with Lan Pitts and Joe Hunter, writer and artist of the Sentai-inspired comic series Beast Heart! Strikers, to discuss creating comics for a YA audience, along with a list of their favorite Power Rangers/Sentai shows.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Okay. I'm here with Lan Pitts and Joe Hunter, writer and artist of Beast Heart! Strikers. So, I'm curious, obviously, since it's very Sentai and Power Rangers inspired, what's your favorite Power Rangers or Sentai-related show, for both of you?
LAN PITTS: Time Force. I feel like the combination of Time Force and the Lost Galaxy back to back is the best. Spoiler alert for a 20-year-old series, but the Red Ranger dies in the first episode, and it just gets baller from there. You have Jen Scott, the first Pink Ranger in a Power Rangers series, lead the team. First woman leader and she's great. She's one of my all-time favorite Rangers, next to Merrick from Wild Force, who is just a lovely himbo prince. We stan wolf people around here.
But yeah, it's definitely Time Force and Lost Galaxy, I feel like it doesn't get better from that. I think underneath that, maybe RPM, but I love Beast Morphers and I've been loving Dino Fury so far. Those are my favorite Power Ranger series, but If we're talking about actual Sentai, Kakuranger is whimsically chaotic. Dairanger's really fun. Ohranger's really fun. Jetman's fun. Liveman. Anything from Bioman to, I think, Ohranger, it's all bangers.
JOE HUNTER: As far as Power Rangers go, I think my favorite season would be RPM. It's just so good. It's not just a good kid show. It's actually good television, and it's just bizarre. As far as Sentai goes, my favorite is probably Go-Busters, which is just different enough from the usual formula that it was a lot of fun to watch at first, I guess.
CBY: Fair enough. I think if I were to say my own personal one, I don't know if it aged well, but I remember Space being a lot of fun.
"...we wanted to tell the story of everyone having their own personal journey... We have something for everybody. There is somebody on our team you can relate to."
LP: Yeah. Space is good, but you have the crossover with the new Ninja Turtle show, but Andros is one of my favorite Rangers. He and, as much as I'm not a huge fan of Lightspeed Rescue as a whole, Carter is maybe the best Red Ranger of all time.
CBY: Sweet, so given all the iterations of Power Ranger/Sentai type of concepts, was it difficult for you to find your own angle into it?
LP: I feel like now you'd have to do more than just homage stuff. When we were coming up with and relaunching Beast Heart! Strikers, the idea was sort of what if they're immortal? You've never seen that. You saw that kind of in Zyruranger, how they were just in sleep, but there were mortal warriors that got brought back to life in the present time. So it's sort of, how can you keep yourself a secret when you've been doing this for centuries?
So that was really the angle we wanted to present, and also not just the story about the strikers and their personal journeys, but also when we have our mentor, Khardia, and her sister, Ulrama, who is sort of our Rita Repulsa, but make it worse. Because she's a monster, and we wrote her as much. Rita's not really a threat. I consider someone who has constant migraines not really a cosmic threat. Like, "Sorry Rita, you sound like you have a personal problem. Please take some excedrin."
So we wanted to tell the story of everyone having their own personal journey. And you don't really get to see that. You get to see some examples in certain seasons, like, "Oh my dad doesn't like me. My dad doesn't understand me." And then it's like, "ah, son, I get you now. You wanted to be a comic artist" whatever the case because that was Trent in Dino Thunder. We have something for everybody. There is somebody on our team you can relate to.
CBY: This one does apply to both of you for the next one. When you're crafting a YA story, do you guys have internal limits set of how far you're willing to go in touching upon some heavier themes? I'm always kind of curious to see what that line is for a lot of people.
JH: Yeah. I think one of the things that I set up at first when we started fiddling with the immortality thing is that I didn't want it to turn into an Anne Rice thing where everyone was like, too sad, old, and gay to function. Stuff will get heavier, but it's not going to be like disembowelments or anything.
CBY: That's fair. Because that concept could easily go there if it was obviously a past YA, but it's kind of cool to see that addressed in a YA setting. I imagine it's like kind of walking a tightrope of like, "Okay, is this too far for this?
LP: Yeah. It's definitely about how far you want to go. Even if you see what we did for “First Strike”, which is what we're calling the new first issue, everything's kind of hinted at. There are definitely dead bodies. You do not see dead bodies. You don't see massacres or remnants of what happened after a great battle and stuff like that. So no, definitely keeping it YA, like what they could probably show on Steven Universe. We're keeping that, or like American Sailor Moon, we're kind of keeping it on that sort of thing.
It's going to be dramatic. There's going to be dramatic storytelling. There are going to be elements in there where it definitely pulls from the drama.
CBY: Thank you. So, Joe when you were crafting up the designs for the monsters and the suits, was that a lot of fun putting your own spin on that?
JH: Oh yeah. I just kind of set a goal for myself to make everything be like it could be a practical costume or effect or something like that, or a weird little puppet in the one kraken's case. It's just a lot of fun to come up with weird little monsters.
CBY: Yeah. I imagine that was half the fun of the original shows too, right?
CBY: Like, "Hey, what kind of weird suit can we make next?" Lan, did you have a specific approach for writing group characters versus a solo protagonist or is your process the same?
LP: Yeah, Scott Snyder is really good at kind of giving advice, and one of my big mentors when I first broke in was Ron Marz, and he's written everyone underneath the sun. And I mean that. He's written Batman to Predator, to Batman versus Predator. When I really started to get writing and everything, the team books, and basically how to basically distinguish how everyone has a voice. He was doing classes, and I took some classes with him, and then I took some classes with Scott Snyder too, just how to make sure nothing gets crammed, but everyone still has time.
But not everyone is going to get like five pages of dialogue or five pages of focus. When I write my scripts, I do my page breakdowns, so I'm going to make sure everyone gets who the story is focused on or at least mentioned. Because there's a few Power Rangers stuff, like there's an episode where Zack goes on a date finally with Angela, and it's just them. It's a Zack-focused episode, and so you don't see maybe one or two characters the entire time.
CBY: And then for both of you, can you describe what your collaborative process is like and how that's evolved?
LP: Chaos. There was that thing on Twitter where everyone's like, "What's your creative process like?" in a GIF, and I just posted Dennis from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. "Terrible. Take a lap." I feel like that because my process, our process is so just like, "Okay, well what do we want to do here? What's our story beats." But when we first met in person back in October 2019. I brought him to New York Comi Con, and basically, we broke down like, "Oh man, okay, well, what do we want to do, and how do we want to do it this year?" And I basically wanted to break it down like Venture Brothers, how Hank and Dean have their own stories, but the main story that people aren't focused on, but they are kind of like, "Oh, the real story about this is Rusty and Monarch." And when you hit that, when you see that coming, that's the whole thing.
But collaborating is fine. We have a veto system. If something doesn't work, we veto each other automatically, and then we give each other a reason why. So it's not just out of cruelty or out of like, "That's dumb." It's dumb because X, Y, Z, because we're already ABCing over here.
In terms of story, I'll turn to the words of Karl Havoc from I Think You Should Leave, "What does this do for the greater good?" We want to be on the same page as much as possible, and working with Frank Cvetkovic, our letterer, he also has great ideas. And he's like, "Well, what if we do this instead?" It's basically "Joe does the art, as much of the script as he can, but when you get it back, okay, well how this is going to fit?"
It's easier to redo my job than it is easier to do his. We have a shorthand in all of our scripts, I feel like. It could be like two sentences of a panel and Joe's like, "I got it." Every now and then, if he needs help with thumbs, I'll do the thumbs, and they look like serial killer drawings, but he has collaborated with me for so long, that he gets the idea.
CBY: The veto system's an interesting touch though. I got to give you guys that. You guys clearly talk a lot about this, so that's great stuff.
JH: Yeah, and we're perfectly okay with dumb. It just has to be the right kind of dumb.
CBY: Absolutely. Just off the top of your head, what are some of your favorite comics from this year? Just as a fan.
LP: Radiant Black, Rogue Sun, all the Power Ranger books. God, what else is really, really good right now? I'm excited for Chip Zdarsky on Batman. I've really enjoyed Joshua Williamson on Batman so far. Gardner by Matt Emmons. Dragon by Saladin Ahmed. Oh my God, Do a Powerbomb by Daniel Warren Johnson!
CBY: Sweet. Joe, who are some of your favorite artists then?
JH: Well, Shane Glines, Jeff Lemire, Rumiko Takahashi, Kenichi Sonoda, and Shotaro Ishinomori.
CBY: Where can we find you guys on social media?
LP: Everywhere. Oh, that was abrasive. Instagram. My Instagram is Lan Pitts, Twitter is @pittsed_off. Google me. I'm pretty easy to find. I'm everywhere. I don't hide.
JH: You can find me. I'm on Twitter as @Joe_Hunter. Instagram is joebloodyhunter.
CBY: Cool. And where can people support Beast Heart! Strikers?
LP: Us personally. We've been trying to get a store going since Comixology nuked us, but just hit us up and then give us money, and then I'll mail things out. We have to set up a store, but again, directly. Support us directly.
CBY: Awesome. Thanks, guys.
JH: Thank you.