If you've been enjoying our Cryptid-Bits, then you're in luck, because Interview Content Editor Jimmy Gaspero chatted with Phil Smith about the current crowdfunding campaign for Brik Jones: Attorney for Earth, on Kickstarter until September 15th. As an attorney himself, Jimmy set out to see if Brik Jones' briefs will stand up in Court.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Phil, thank you so much for joining me in the Yeti Cave to talk about Brik Jones: Attorney for Earth. I’ve read that you have been building to this release and the current Kickstarter for over 9 years. Can you tell CBY readers what Brik Jones: Attorney for Earth is all about and the journey you and your collaborators have taken to get to this point?
PHIL SMITH: Thank you for the signal boost! Brik Jones: Attorney for Earth is the story of a selfish attorney who, through a strange twist of fate, must represent the Earth in interstellar court. The joke is, he’s saving us from the Alien Invasion…one case at a time.
As you mentioned, I’ve been working, developing and building Brik for over nine years from a pitch, to comic books, to promotion at convention appearances and more just trying to get it out there.
CBY: What’s your comic creator origin story, meaning when did you first get into comics and what was it that made you want to create comics?
PS: I got into comics in 2001 after four years in the Navy. I self-published three issues of a comic book with artist J.K. Woodward (Star Trek: Mirror War, Fallen Angel). I happened to show it to a friend who had a book at Top Cow. Through that connection I met Editor Renae Geerlings who, while she did not think it was my best work, saw I could put a book together, so she hired me as an Editorial intern at Top Cow Productions, Inc., the label of Image Co-founder Marc Silvestri.
I worked for about three years as an unpaid intern while getting my degree in Graphic Design and Illustration at C.S.U.N. One day President and C.O.O. Matt Hawkins asked what I was studying and when he found out he put me on to designing the trade paperback lines (which meant getting paid), which lead to editing the line, which lead to getting into Editorial of the day to day books, then designing and editing the day to day books and the trades. When my time came to a close after nine years at Top Cow I had the title of Managing Editor and unofficially doing production and design of all the books.
When I went freelance I went back to my roots self-publishing and I added Graphic Design and production artist to my resume and have done work for multiple companies including books for Image, products for Skybound, six weeks in house at BOOM!, a little for Valiant. I work the most now with Rocketship Entertainment and Black Mask and really like both the heads of those companies. From my working relationship at Top Cow, whenever writer Ron Marz (Witchblade, Green Lantern, Silver Surfer) needs production or design I am always happy to jump in. He is everywhere!
CBY: I'm a big fan of Ron Marz's Green Lantern work. Speaking of your collaborators though, Giuseppe Cafaro has provided the artwork, Bill Farmer the colors, and you are lettering. Sid Kotian did the artwork for issue #0. It’s a gorgeous looking comic with a mix of familiar and other-worldly settings. What are the strengths of your collaborators that have made this endeavor successful?
PS: I met Sid while at Top Cow (a recommended artist from Ron) and when I went freelance asked him (Sid, not Ron) to illustrate the first product for Brik Jones, the ashcan short story. Sid can do it all which is why whenever I would start a project, I would check his availability. I got to hire him for 16 issues of content for J. Michael Straczynski’s line of books at Image including Dream Police and The Adventures of Apocalypse Al along with Bill Farmer for most of that run. The word is out on Sid as he is now doing Gambit for Marvel with Chris Claremont.
Giuseppe I met the wrong way. Let me explain. Artists used to tag editors on social media with their artwork (likely many still do). This is generally frowned upon. Giuseppe tagged me with an image of a Top Cow character, after I was already working solo. Editors make an exception if the artist tagging you is good, then it's fine. Giuseppe was more than fine, he was amazing and I could not believe he had not already been scooped up. I passed him along to Top Cow editorial even though I was not active and asked Giuseppe what his rate was. With what he disclosed I asked if he would not mind doing 4 pages a month till we wracked up 5 issues. Three years later we were done with the line art for the five issues but it sat on the shelf for a while, until…
Bill I met at Top Cow and he was a pro. He had worked with/for HiFi and knew coloring in and out. Even the inside baseball parts of pre-press like proper color trapping, ink limits and so forth. Later I got to hire him for some of the freelance Image work I did, then he took a break from the industry, but when he came back he emailed me and I knew it was time to put Brik together.
CBY: There are plenty of examples of folks that became an attorney because one or more of their parents were attorneys, but the choice to follow in a parents’ footsteps is somewhat replaced by the concept of hereditary representatives. When we first meet Brik he’s struggling with the career choices he’s made. Were you looking to explore the concept of legacy, especially within the father-son dynamic, when you first began to put this story together?
PS: Yes, you pretty much laid it out exactly right. Part of the arc of the series is starting the interstellar legal system from a primitive point and watching it take shape case by case, interaction by interaction through the eyes of the Earth. Each species has their own way of doing things and before Earth came into the system, they did things in a very archaic way. Rather than a merit-based system of elevation or advancement things are won or taken by war, by contest or inherited. Earth’s introduction to the interstellar community will have a huge impact and we will see parts of our history, present, and future reflected in the species Brik interacts with. This is echoed with the Father and Son relationship in that Brik’s father has been influencing the Galaxies legal structure for the last twenty years and, well let’s say he had some archaic ideas of his own that Brik will have to deal with.
CBY: Can you tell me about the design for the characters, especially the Cetaceans and Liasians, as well as the sleek design of the space ships. Did you have an idea during scripting or was this all the work of Giuseppe Cafaro?
PS: It started with Sid with the ashcan, then Giuseppe got to make his mark as well. I gave Sid one paragraph descriptions or less of every unusual element and he would sketch it out either in the script or in an accompanying message. For example, Brik’s starship was described in the script as “The ship resembles a high speed Cigar boat but with 4 rocket boosters attached.” Sid took it from there and it turned out better than I expected.
“Starship Justice” Concept art by Sid Kotian.
When it came to the Liasians, the “villains”, I did not want them to look too different from a humanoid shape. I wanted them to be close enough for us to see ourselves in them. So, some Lizard texture on a human shape and some brow ridges and molting for texture and boom, done. In the script to Sid all I wrote was “The prosecutor is an Alien who resembles a humanoid reptile. When he speaks, forked tongue darts out. He is menacing.”
For the Cetaceans I did want a bit more. I wanted them to be more alien, but also familiar and wise so they have aspects of a Humpback whale mixed with a crab in an environment suit so they can interact in humanoid spaces.
“The Judge” Concept art by Sid Kotian.
Giuseppe got to design more aliens including “The Clerk” which I described as “She has a couple of styluses in more than one of her tentacles. Around her floats a couple of holographic screens she is tapping with the stylus as the screens float in the air. She has the appearance of a futuristic alien secretary always on the go, always working.”
“The Clerk” Issue #2, page 7. Art by Giuseppe Cafaro and Bill Farmer
CBY: There are so many books, shows, and movies about lawyers, and more often than not the lawyer isn’t depicted in a positive light. I say this as a lawyer myself. I do always think of the character of Fred Gailey though in Miracle on 34th Street, representing Kris Kringle as a notable exception. But a lawyer as the potential savior of humanity? Why make Brik an attorney?
PS: I watch or read shows like you describe but what I see is the incredible potential of the law, and the people who practice it as a force for good. I am starting Brik out as the stereotype you describe (think Jim Carrey at the start of Liar Liar) so that the process of being forced to look out, not for himself, but for humanity might lead him to become a better person. Along the way Brik will meet characters who do not take the higher road and the impact that has on their societies will be explored.
That being said, the premise does begin with Brik inheriting the position of Attorney for Earth and that will be a future story point where we discuss inherited wealth, merit in the eyes of society, class structure and the difficulties for those without inherited title, status or wealth to achieve positions of power. Brik will have to wrestle with this, and I plan to make it very uncomfortable for him.
CBY: One of the more interesting ideas is that a closing argument can be just that or combat. Was this a clever way to inject more action into the script or do you think there are some litigants, maybe a certain Liasian, that can only be opposed by physical force?
PS: All of the above, but in part it is meant to show how without the law we can be savage and resort to might makes right, though sadly that is where we are at socially it feels like sometimes. At the start of my story, some of the martial resolutions available to interstellar attorneys are loosely codified but it is still the law of the jungle, kill or be killed. It is the civilizing action of the law on the universe, reflecting how it could be for us, that I want the story to aspire to. Star Trek’s future represented a Utopian vision (after a long period of war and struggle) of how things could be if we work together and see each other as equals, letting what you make of yourself matter more than your pedigree. With this story I am trying to use the lense of the rule of law to do something similar.
CBY: What are the comics, books, tv shows, and movies that you are currently enjoying?
PS: Too much, that is my problem. With my wife we are watching Hacks and Outlander, plus I have seen VEEP 4-5 times and am finally sharing it with her. As a family with my thirteen-year-old we are currently (re)watching Lost, Schitt’s Creek and The Goldbergs plus on Friday’s I get to show them one episode from any era of Star Trek. We had to limit it to once a week or I got carried away. For my own entertainment, it’s got to be Better Call Saul, of course. Movies, I will watch anything with Nicholas Cage. While working I play movies or shows in the background I have seen a million times and just listen to them like radio over and over. My go to’s for that are: Battlestar Galactica (c2005), Aliens, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Unforgiven, Total Recall (c1990), The Grand Budapest Hotel and too many more (Starcrash c1979).
CBY: Tell me about any upcoming projects or friends’ projects that CBY readers should check out.
PS: For myself I want to get Brik Jones out there then do some more work on my all ages title I created with my daughter called Pineapple Sushi: Quantum Kitty Robo. It is going to be a webcomic to print which has an online placeholder HERE.
For friends' projects…
Anything from JK Woodward. He is an incredible painter who takes an amazing angle on any project he is involved with.
Black Mask and Rocketship Entertainment are both putting out amazing books. Black Mask has Godkiller from Matt Pizollo plus Gangster Ass Barista by Pat Shand. For Rocketship, Sid released his webcomic in print, Beneath an Alien Sky, which has an amazing slipcase and that company just has so much going on. I am currently doing production on Resolution: Battlespace with Ron Marz and Andy Lanning who are writing and it is going to be pretty rad. Jim Starlin has two items that I do not think are official so keeping my lip zipped there. I also work with some amazing indie creators like Omar Mora with his Sci-Fi line The Unearthians. I also edit and do production for Pat O’Malley’s Horror/Noir book Popscars. Rogue Matter is a new company putting out great books like Michael Dolce’s Time Trader which I do a little work on. I’m also very happy to still get to interact with the Top Cow crew. I got tapped by Marc Silvestri to do the line art scanning for the current Batman/Joker Deadly Duo and I send the scans to DC so I get to see the originals which are even MORE amazing than what you are seeing online. When it prints it will be a big day. If they do a line art edition, buy it!
CBY: Where can you be found online?
PS: The Kickstarter for Brik Jones: Attorney for Earth is live and going till Sept. 15th HERE.
In a few weeks I will get my portfolio site up at PhilSmithWorks.com.
Twitter: @Warp_Phil and @FightingLionCMX.
CBY: Phil, thank you so much for joining me today and good luck with the rest of the campaign!
PS: Thank you for sharing my ramblings. Live Long and Prosper.