[This interview took place at NYCC 2018 last weekend!]
Tito W. James: Talk to me about Jesus Freak.
Joe Casey: It’s the story of a young Nazarethian carpenter in the first century who is trying to discover who he is.
TWJ: Sounds like Jesus Christ: Year One.
JC: Sort of, we cover some defining moments of what was possibly his life. It’s a story, not history. We’re trying to entertain and have a good time. But it is fascinating subject matter and it looks fucking great!
TWJ: Now on the artistic side you’re dealing with a very iconic character, so how do you make him fresh while also remaining authentic to the character?
Ben Marra: Joe and I talked a little bit about the design of the character in advance. I think I may have made him a little more beautiful than Joe had originally wanted.
BM: It just happened organically for me. I did a few sketches in advance and then started drawing the book. Joe actually provided layouts to work off of. It was this new process that was really fun for me.
JC: I don’t know if I’d call them layouts. They were stick-figures.
BM: [Laughs] Yeah but I had a really good time. The design of the character happened as I was designing the pages themselves.
TWJ: I’m a fan of the more modern Biblical movies like Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings. How realistic is Jesus Freak going to be? Will there be any magic or miracles?
JC: Well let’s put it this way. We are treating this character as if he’s an emerging mutant, like he’s going to be in the X-Men. In the story we’re telling, there are forces that he’s still coming to grips with. The interesting part of the story is having him come to terms with what his potential is. He has no idea what’s going on when the story begins, but by the end of it, he has a slightly better grip on it. We played it from start to finish as very mysterious and supernatural, because that would be a more interesting story to tell.
TWJ: Anytime a story deals with religious elements, it’s controversial. What’s your approach to handling controversy?
JC: Well, for us, it’s not religious it’s historical. There is proven information about that time period. The politics, the lifestyle, that is where we went for inspiration. The religious aspects were a component of that time. They were important to everybody in the different strata of society. We chose to deal with that within the context of the story. In terms of trying to push a specific belief system… We were not interested in that at all. Like any story that requires reference, you pull the reference that services your story… and that’s what we did.
TWJ: You’ve created many commercially successful characters that have stuck around over time, Generator Rex being my personal favorite. That does seem to be something missing from indie comics. I do think indie comics are great at creating original characters, but they come and go every year. Do you have any advice for creating characters that stick?
JC: In north American comics, the superheroes have become so iconic that they’ve kind of taken over. So it is very difficult for indie comics to come up with that iconography that sticks. We take our shot and it’s up to the audience to decide what lasts. What usually comes out of indie comics are iconic concepts. The Walking Dead is a good example. That’s a concept that has stuck.
TWJ: It’s interesting that you say that. I’ve noticed that superhero comics are titled after the lead character whereas indie comics are titled after the concept. Indie comics are called, East of West or Deadly Class as opposed to Batman or Spider-Man.
JC: Characters become iconic when, for better or worse, they become commercialized. They wind up on underwear, bedsheets, and lunchboxes. Indie comics are so often so personal that it’s very rare that they go on to become mass-marketed like that. And I think that’s a good thing because, ultimately, it’s the story that’s important. It’s the stories that carry on, not the simulation of the icon that ends up on the dashboard of your car.
I’d like to thank Joe Casey and Ben Marra for taking the time for this interview. Look for Jesus Freak on store shelves late March 2019.