Taking Aim: An Interview with Justin Richards, Writer of FINGER GUNS
Hitting shelves in February 2020, Finger Guns is the tale of two teens who find that they have the power to influence others’ emotions by, well, firing their own finger guns at them. How they got these powers? Why is it just the two of them? That’s a mystery we might discover at some point in the series.
Finger Guns comes to us from Justin Richards, Val Halvorson, Rebecca Nalty, Taylor Esposito, and Vault comics, with Adrian F. Wassel editing and Tim Daniel on design. Today, we’ll be interviewing Justin about the new series, working with breakout artist, Val Halvorson, and what he’d do if he could influence people’s emotions with his own finger guns.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Justin! Thanks so much for joining us and letting us ask you some questions.
Let’s dive right in: Our protagonists, Wes and Sadie, are both 13. Is this a YA comic? Why choose teens, especially on the younger end of the teenage spectrum, as our central characters?
JUSTIN RICHARDS: Thanks for having me! I'm excited to chat. I love your work on this site!
Thank you for asking a question that lets me say: This is NOT a YA comic. These kids are going through some things that are not very kid-friendly. I think there will become a certain age at which this book could be good for older kids to read, but not necessarily the age that these kids are at. It would probably be better for a 15-16-year-old at the earliest.
The choice to write them at this age is partially due to how the original idea came about (a dream in which I was around that age) and partially how the story has unfolded as it's been written. These kids make some bad choices (even Wes in issue 1 is seen being a little troublemaker) and them being the age that they are makes more sense when it comes to them not knowing better.
CBY: Wes and Sadie’s home lives are extreme examples in some ways (sadly, ones many kids do have to deal with). What made you choose to focus on these and not, for example, disaffected-yet-privileged youths without the parental issues you’ve presented in the comic?
JR: To be honest, I wrote what I know. Things are certainly sensationalized in this book, but a lot of it is based on real experience. I originally developed this book with my friend Sabs Cooper and we both had various levels of rough childhoods that left us with lots of scars and stories. I've seen some things that I wish I never had, but I know that there are lots of people out there who saw the same, or worse. To me, that's one of the most interesting things to explore in all of storytelling. I'll write my disaffected rich kid story when I experience it.😉
"I definitely dug into my own past. My young teen years were far from my favorite time in my life. I was not the most popular kid and was made fun of a lot for being overweight and liking nerdy stuff."
CBY: Speaking of Wes and Sadie’s home lives, I gotta say, man…it’s heavy. Yet, there are also some really funny, laugh-out-loud moments in here, too. How do you find that balance when you’re writing something like this?
JR: That is all a matter of feeling it out, trying different things and letting [Vault Editor-in-Chief] Adrian Wassel tell me when my jokes land or not. I like to think I'm a fairly funny person. My mom tells me I was always just shy of being the official class clown cause I knew when to stop so I wouldn't get in trouble. The balance is definitely by design though, so I'm glad to hear that both aspects came through in your reading. We don't want this story to be a total bummer and, like you said, there's a lot of really heavy subject matter. So, nothing to lighten up the load like some quality laughs and endearing friendship.
"Val would probably say he's drawing off of both his childhood and his current situation. He's getting the privilege of experiencing a sort of second puberty as a trans man right now and it helps him relate a lot to Wes as they're both, after a fashion, in very similar places in their lives."
CBY: Val Halvorson’s art is so expressive and brings a lot of life to the page. How’d you pair up with him on this project?
JR: Val's work has been nothing short of fantastic on this book! He's going to blow up after this and I'm so happy to share his talent with the world. I actually met him through a writing buddy who has some work coming up with Val as well. I hired Val to color a personal project of mine and after he killed it, I decided to look at his portfolio, which completely blew me away. I found myself very drawn to his style and thought he'd work great on Finger Guns. I sent him some info on the book and asked if he was interested. To my excitement, he said yes and after lots of patience and hard work, the rest is history.
CBY: Finger Guns captures what it’s like to be 13 in a way that feels really authentic to that time. How were you and Val able to portray that so accurately? Did you have to mine your own pasts? Interview a niece?
JR: Thanks for saying that! We're really aiming to capture that feeling of being a sad, angsty teen so I'm glad it came across how we intended it. For myself, I definitely dug into my own past. My young teen years were far from my favorite time in my life. I was not the most popular kid and was made fun of a lot for being overweight and liking nerdy stuff. While I was always decent at making a couple friends, I never really felt like I fit in anywhere. Val would probably say he's drawing off of both his childhood and his current situation. He's getting the privilege of experiencing a sort of second puberty as a trans man right now and it helps him relate a lot to Wes as they're both, after a fashion, in very similar places in their lives.
CBY: You and Val both are both self-confessed music fans. Have you made a playlist for Finger Guns?
JR: Music is something that Val and I both love very much, both as fans and musicians ourselves. It's also become quietly and unintentionally quite prevalent in Finger Guns. So much so, that the answer to your question is absolutely yes and you've already seen it. You just don't know it yet!
For anyone looking to get in the mood to write a fanfic of Finger Guns (which I'd die to see happen), I'd say it's a lot of punk, grunge, a particular (secret) '80s track on repeat and whatever the saddest music you can think of is.
"I learned a ton from my friends and what made stories tick for them as well. I think it can be the best tool in a writer's utility belt if used properly. I consistently find myself ditching ideas that I remember seeing falling flat in another book, or gravitating toward an idea 'cause it's something I know I haven't personally seen in comics."
CBY: You were a comics critic for a few years, right? When did you make the jump to creating comics? Do you feel like your experience as a critic helps inform how you write?
JR: I was!! I hope none of you find it, but I reviewed comics on the internet, with my friends, every week for 3 years (it adds up to over 600 reviews). I made the jump when we were all kind of feeling like it was coming to the end of our time doing the reviews. We had a blast doing it, but it takes a LOT of work (my wife's most of all) and we were all burning out a bit toward the end of our run. I knew this would grant me more time to focus on writing, which I had been wanting to do as I was already knee-deep in developing Finger Guns at the time.
I absolutely believe that my time looking at comics with a critical eye has helped me with my storytelling immensely. I've always had a knack for writing since I was a kid, but I never put pen to paper really until I started realizing what it is that I like to see in a story. I used to read a comic and consider it pretty good if the art was dope and the story wasn't anything too egregiously awful. Over time, however, I discovered how to identify things that I do and don't like in a story better. I learned a ton from my friends and what made stories tick for them as well. I think it can be the best tool in a writer's utility belt if used properly. I consistently find myself ditching ideas that I remember seeing falling flat in another book, or gravitating toward an idea 'cause it's something I know I haven't personally seen in comics.
CBY: Did you take any inspiration from other comics for Finger Guns?
JR: Not to sound pretentious, but not really. What I would say is that I may have used other comics more as inspiration for what not to write if that makes sense. One of my favorite things about Finger Guns is its uniqueness. It truly doesn't really fit the mold of other stories I've read and I really hope to keep it that way the whole way through. I would say if you're looking for another book kinda like Finger Guns, the closest I've found is We Can Never Go Home from Black Mask Studios written by Matthew Rosenberg and drawn by Tyler Boss. It's a great book about a couple of troubled teens with powers they have no business using in the ways they end up using them.
"I feel nothing but blessed to be able to do this job and I couldn't do it without the support systems I have in place from my family and friends. My wife is my rock and she has a lot to do with you all getting to enjoy this book, cause I couldn't do it without her and her support."
CBY: So, you’ve said elsewhere that the concept for Finger Guns came to you in a dream, right at a time where you were wondering if you should consider a career in writing comics. Now, you’ve got a comic being published by Vault Comics, with issue #1 hitting shelves in February. How are you feeling about your career choice today?
JR: Fan-freaking-tastic! I'm pretty candid about my struggles with anxiety and depression. Part of the reason I am comfortable doing so is because I've managed to get somewhat of a handle on it (most days) ever since I took that plunge. There's been a number of BIG changes in my life that this career path has led me to and I feel so thankful for it every day. I was working a job I didn't care for as I felt it taking years off my body from all the manual labor, stress, danger and long hours involved. I feel nothing but blessed to be able to do this job and I couldn't do it without the support systems I have in place from my family and friends. My wife is my rock and she has a lot to do with you all getting to enjoy this book, cause I couldn't do it without her and her support.
"When the time came to decide where to pitch this story I knew Vault was where I wanted to take it first."
CBY: Speaking of Vault, how’s your experience been working with them throughout the creative process?
JR: Vault is an amazing company to work with. What Vault lacks in size they always make up for in passion, talent and hard work. The whole team is so talented and the work they pull off with such a small crew is nothing short of miracles sometimes.
I knew the Wassel brothers and Tim Daniel from my reviewing days. I knew back when I met them at their first comic con (ECCC) and I saw their passion and love for comics that they were gonna do special things. When the time came to decide where to pitch this story I knew Vault was where I wanted to take it first. I know this book landed at the right home and is in the right hands to be elevated to a place I couldn't take it on my own.
CBY: So, before we go, I have to ask: if YOU had the power to influence others’ emotions via finger guns, what’s the first thing you’d do with this strange, new power?
JR: If I had the ability to manipulate emotions, the first thing I would do is turn it on myself and see what I could make myself feel. More than I would ever care about controlling someone else (I'd get around to it I'm sure) I'd want to learn to control my own emotions cause I don't know about you, but I suck at it.
CBY: Justin, thanks again for letting us talk with you about Finger Guns. Where can folks find you on the Worldwide Web?
JR: Thanks a bunch for having me! I really appreciate your time and your questions. If people want to see book updates, my sweet hot takes on pop culture, lots of gifs and puns, and pics of my adorable dogs they can follow me on the tweet machine @EmoComicWriter. Thanks again for having me and Happy Holidays to you and yours!