top of page

STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART: AN INTERVIEW JAMES ASMUS

Fresh from Emerald City Comic Con, Comic Book Yeti contributor Alex Breen corresponded on the convention floor with James Asmus, writer of Rick and Morty Spring Break Special, Survival Street and The Somewhat Incredible Jackie-Boy Man to discuss writing with sincerity, along with his approach to writing for licensed properties.


Order Rick and Morty Spring Break Special HERE.

 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Okay. I'm here today with James Asmus. James, thank you for joining me today. I think you were the first person who reached out to me actually when I put this up on Bluesky, so I appreciate it. So, a question I've been asking everyone this weekend is, what was your introduction to comics?



JAMES ASMUS: Oh, gosh. I guess if I think about the first-first, it would probably either be something like newspaper strips, or maybe pack-in comics. Toys like He-Man would come with mini comics, or the DC Super Powers toys or something.


But once I got into comic books, I remember so vividly being at a market with my dad and seeing their newsstand with a Justice League International that had a cover with 10 different characters I recognized from the Super Powers toy line. And I was like, "They're in a thing? I want that," and harassed my dad until he bought it for me. And that was the first comic I had and took it home and read it over and over. It was either a perfect match and lucky find, or it really shaped my sensibility because that's that the kind of weird character humor comics that are what I love to make.



CBY: And branching off of that, as a creator, are there particular stories or creators that you feel have most influenced your style?



JA: Oh, yeah. In terms of comics, I think the first one that really hooked me to start collecting was the original Chris Claremont/Alan Davis Excalibur run. I think the warmth of those characters and the humor and the silliness that they weren't afraid to have in a superhero book, that really spoke to me. And I loved the balance of caring about the characters and then throwing in the big splashy, crazy ridiculousness. That's always been what I gravitate towards it and want to do.


The first novelist I really got into was Douglas Adams and reading the Hitchhiker's Guide series. And so I think that sort of sensibility has always cooked into my brain pretty hard. And then modern era, what transitioned me a little broader, Mike Allred's Madman was one of the ones that really got me branching out beyond just Marvel and DC. And even though it's superhero, it goes to philosophical places and other weirder places. His books have continued to be top of my favorites.


"...you either have to be very adaptable in your voice, your sensibility, your understanding of what makes each property itself and what makes it resonant to its fans. Or you have to know your own voice and limits and interests and just pick the stuff that you actually are a good match for..."

CBY: And then as far as your own creative process goes, I say this with a caveat of, I know each collaboration's a little different. But where you stand now, can you describe in a little detail what your current creative process is like?



JA: Yeah. I think for me, most of my stories start with a real thing I am wrestling with, and my brain can't stop chewing on. And I am thinking about an emotional issue or a dynamic in the world, or I am reading nonfiction and I learned something about someone's experience that is heartbreaking or is terrifying, or is hilarious. And I just can't stop thinking about what that must be like, or what is the consequence of something, or what if this thing comes true?


When I can't stop chewing on something or having real anxiety about it, like a grain of sand in an oyster, a protective shell starts to form around it that just starts to suggest some narrative like-- “well then, in this type of a world, it would mean this or in this type of a character's life, it would grow in this direction…” I get a lightning bolt of a fiction to marry with a real world thing that my brain and emotion need to exercise. And all of a sudden the story is forming that I realize will help me explore ideas and feelings and concerns I have in a way that's still interesting and not emotionally painful for me, and maybe exciting and maybe fun, and then the story goes from there.


But it's always about trying to explore a real anxiety or hope or something else. And then from there, it depends on, is this maybe something I want to pitch to a work-for-hire license that I work with, like Rick and Morty or something else, or is it I'm going to go create my own comic, in which case I've got to go find an artist, I've got to go find a publisher... That's a longer process.



CBY: That's a wonderful answer. And this is branching off of how you said that, but it sounds like a little bit of heart on your sleeve as far as how you write your stories.



JA: That’s probably true. I grew up as an actor, and that turned into doing comedy, which turned into playwriting, which turned into scriptwriting for other media. And I always loved comics growing up, but we had local theater and we didn't have a local comics publisher, so I didn't know how you go that pathway.


But spending 18 years as an actor, trying to share my emotions, my thoughts, trying to get my internality out to other people and have it be clear and emotionally effective to them, and make them leave thinking about the kinds of things you hope they're thinking about, that's core to why I want to do any story. And usually, I love to do that with dark humor and weird surprises and stuff like that too. It's hopefully fun and not just vegetables. But yeah, I don't shy away from trying to really share the experience I am thinking about, whether it's my perspective or what I recognize someone else is going through, and trying to capture that with respect and empathy.


CBY: So, on that note, do you find it difficult to transition to other projects?


JA: No. Well, I mean, it's just more helpful for my productivity to spend a week on a project if I can, but that's really just for momentum. I don't find it difficult to transition. I find it really helpful emotionally and psychologically to switch gears. All of us are rounded complex people and we need balance. And so really, living too long in one head space, whether it is just light and silly or bleak and depressing, whatever it is, I start to crave the other and to want to switch up. And for me, in my career, very often, I very deliberately am going from a silly book to a dark book to an all-ages thing to something very adult. And arguably, it may hurt my career in terms of making it harder for audiences to follow me from point A to point B on projects, but for me, it's very cathartic and necessary.



CBY: I mean, first and foremost it's got to be for yourself, right?



JA: To stay healthy, at least.



CBY: So, starting with one of the first comics you provided me with, for the ALTRVERSE and specifically your half of it, the Somewhat Incredible Jackie-Boy Man, which, is an incredible title. (Laughs)



JA: That was my pitch for the title, so I'm glad to hear it lands.



CBY: How would you describe your creative process as a writer? And can you describe the premise of both Jackie-Boy Man and also the ALTRVERSE as a whole?



JA: Yeah. So the ALTRVERSE a project that was born out of something YouTuber, Twitch star, Jacksepticeye been slow developing across his videos for years, which are these alter ego characters. He occasionally makes a video as, or peppers in bits of story into what are usually nonfiction, vlog channel posts. They built up a life of their own, and he and his producing partner really started building out mythology and wanting to do more with it. They started working with Bad Egg, which is a new publisher that works direct-to-consumer. So right now it's through their website, as opposed to in comic shops.


But their Editor-in-Chief, Robert Myers, I had worked with him before and he reached out to me. And watching these videos, I really loved Sean’s sense of humor (Jacksepticeye’s real name). I also really liked what they wanted to do with this particular character, Jackie-Boy Man, as the lowest level superhero.


He's slightly faster, slightly stronger, but he's not the Hulk. He can't shoot eye beams like any of this. And he's in a world without superheroes where he's just putting on some homemade spandex and trying to live up to the idealized versions of superheroes even though he's not there and that's not the world he's living in.


Also, his heart's on his sleeve. It really is an optimistic hero in the vein of so much stuff I love like Allred's Madman, like Superman or a Spider-Man, truly someone who wants the best and wants to be a better person. And that was really appealing to me after doing a lot of bleaker stuff (laughs).


And it's great to get in touch with that playful optimism with a character who still just can't stop stepping on rakes and slipping on banana peels, so to speak. And that is, coming from comedy, is just so wonderful to play with because he is someone you can easily root for and care about, but he's ridiculous enough that hopefully you can enjoy it when he gets a pie in the face.



CBY: Yeah, I think it's easy for that premise. And thankfully, I think you said it best - "playful optimism" because that premise could easily be very mean-spirited in different hands. And that story is fine too, but I think it's nicer that humor hits that balance.



JA: Well, thank you. And yeah, it's what makes me attracted to it and want my job to set him up and knock him down, but make him want to keep going. And finding that balance is cathartic in its own way because it's just reminding me of life. And hopefully, it becomes relatable for a lot of people because I feel like that's our subjective experience, just made more adventurous.



CBY: I'm just going to have to make the best of this even if I'm messing up on our, I forget if it was explicitly Uber Eats or if it was a derivative, but you know that thing, you have superpowers, you still can't deliver on time. (Laughs)



JA: Exactly, exactly. I think I named it Lunch Launch. But yeah, he's got to get by as a gig worker and there's ways in which having some super powers makes it easier, but also ways that make it not so great.



CBY: So, is this going to be like a monthly, is it going to be a miniseries?



JA: Great question. It's a very interesting release structure. So they're extra long issues. I think you read the zero issue. Currently the ALTRVERSE is two titles - The Somewhat Incredible Jackie-Boy Man I'm doing with Megan Huang (Star Wars, Godzilla comics) and Void Silver written by Alejandro Arbona with art by Suzi Blake (Rick and Morty). 


So, we started with a zero issue that gives you a short from each one, and theirs is set in a different world, and it's an urban fantasy. And I believe the release schedule now is every three months, there will be a new issue issue of each. They're 40-plus pages. And it'll be direct through Bad Egg or Jacksepticeye’s channels.



CBY: Excellent. And you also gave me a review copy of Rick and Morty-



JA:  Rick and Morty Spring Break Special. Yeah. That's coming out March 13th!


CBY: Okay, cool. Can you give us a some more details about that one?



JA: Absolutely. So Rick and Morty Spring Break Special, it's a 56-page oversized standalone adventure in an “annual” format. So we got a 46-page main story, 10-page backup, and then about 10 pages of pinups in the 90's Marvel Swimsuit style, but of Rick and Morty characters. So it will be just as weird as you might expect.



CBY: Like having the Vindicators in it or something. (Laughs)



JA: (Laughs) Yeah, exactly. Exactly. But the primary story is Rick and Summer lie to, and drag Morty to, a spring break planet, just hoping for him to be their safety protocol in case they party too hard. He's very bitter about this, and instead tries to high road them about the questionable morality of a third-world world being exploited as other people's vacation destination. Meanwhile, Rick is competing for Mr. Spring Break. And so all of that goes as wildly off the rails and takes several dark twists that you might expect - though, hopefully in ways you don't.


But it was a total joy, and when I'm coming off and on of Rick and Morty, I'm always happy when we get back notes from the editors and the people that we have to sign off on it, and they're like, "Oh my God, this one's great,"


Originally doing comedy in front of live audiences, you know when something works or not, and then going to the world of comics and you're trying to do comedy and you're just like, "I'm trusting my instincts of 15 years of live performance," but it's helpful when the people who get a ton of it are like, "Oh, this really made us laugh." So it makes me feel more confident in saying, "Hey, pick it up."



CBY: It sounds like you're comfortable with the Rick and Morty property in particular. So is there a certain adaptable quality you have to have to work in the IP space?



JA: Yes. I think you either have to be very adaptable in your voice, your sensibility, your understanding of what makes each property itself and what makes it resonant to its fans. Or you have to know your own voice and limits and interests and just pick the stuff that you actually are a good match for.


The years I spent acting was all about trying to find ways to bring something of myself to someone else's words, to try to bring something of myself to a predetermined tone or emotional reality or what the director wanted for the whole piece. And I have come to find that writing license work draws on that instinct and skill set and adaptability as much as my years of writing made me build up what I have to say and what I want to do. But it's a question of can I take on the role of the identity of Rick and Morty? Can I take on the role of My Little Pony meets Transformers? (Laughs) You know what I mean? Whatever the thing has been, and still bring something in myself and my intention and my emotional investment to it.


And sometimes you say yes to something and you start working on it and you're like, "Oh, you know what? I don't plug into this properly." But usually I feel like I know that ahead of time. And I've definitely been offered stuff where I'm like, "It's for the best for both of us that I say no because I don't think I'm going to deliver what makes this successful as a property."



CBY: I imagine that's an element of being successful in a freelance field too, is having more of that instinct to know, "Okay, this is a right fit,"



JA: Yeah. I mean, (Laughs) everyone's career is a sliding doors situation where who knows what would've happened if I said yes to something I said no to or whatever. But in general, I hope editors appreciate when I spare them the bad version of something and a lot of pushing something uphill. I haven't had to say no too often, but I hope they appreciate it when I do. I hope it means I'm not put on a do-not-offer-jobs-to list, but who knows?



CBY: So if people enjoy your Rick and Morty work and The Somewhat Incredible Jackie-Boy Man, what are some other comics of yours that you recommend they check out?



JA: Well, one of the things I've been most proud of and has really resonated with people is the creator-owned book we did with Dark Horse, Survival Street, which especially resonated for Rick and Morty fans. It also grapples with dark stuff in a big, crazy way. And a lot of it's about living in modern, late-stage capitalism and all the anxieties and demoralization and dehumanization that can come from that, but with the forces fighting back in it, being living puppets.


So it was sort of born out of pandemic, our creative primal scream of just trying to think of a series that would let us address anything and everything that is freaking us out. So we wound up thinking about a world where corporate lobbyists get everything they want and they privatize all of America and strip mine it for parts, and company-owned towns mean they set the laws where they can own us and demoralize us however they want.


It was a joke at first - that one of the things to happen is they'd close PBS and the very real creatures that make children's television would be out of a job. But then we were like, "Oh no, that's the heroes in that world - characters who stand for empathy and sharing.” They just happen to be colorful ‘puppets’ with their own weird psychological quirks.


I know on the surface it seems like it's just a gag, but it allows us some craziness and some very specific weird jokes about living puppets. But it also has a core of characters that really mean something to us and stand for something. Getting to bring, I think, surprising depth and sincerity to it is why it ended up being so successful. And a new miniseries will be starting in September, so that'll start pre-orders this summer.



CBY: Where can people find you on social media?



JA: I left Twitter so you can find me on Instagram and it's James_Asmus and I am on Bluesky at just JamesAsmus.



CBY: James, Thank you so much for your time!



JA: Thank you.





28 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page