For Your Consideration: Earth Minds are Weak #8
By Chris Beckett

One of the coolest mini comics being produced today, Earth Minds Are Weak is a vessel for whatever type of story Justin J. Fox wants to draw, and he’s decided he wants to create a long form science fiction tale. Issue 8 contains the first four chapters of Fox’s first serialized tale, and he hits it out of the park. Come in and check it out.


The 411:
Earth Minds are Weak #8
“Kaiju Jugoruma” ch. 1-4
Written & Drawn by Justin J. Fox
44pp. b/w with color covers
$3.00
Cliff Face Comics

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):


Jack is driving through District One, his hovercar sailing cleanly among the skyscrapers as his lizards and rats wander throughout the vehicle’s interior. He has no destination in mind until his mother calls him. She’d asked him to pick up groceries while he was out and he’d forgotten. Chastising him – she hasn’t the time to do it with Peter’s football practice, Marianne’s drum lesson, and Jack’s chess tournament – she reminds him once more of the items he needs to buy. Jack stops at a small shop huddled high in the air between these skyscrapers, but all he finds there is a can of Coke and the latest issue of Paparazzo Nudes. Not exactly a successful errand.

Driving on, Jack turns a corner and is confronted with the sight of five men falling through the sky – four bald men with white coats and dark glasses apparently trying to apprehend the fifth man who is dressed all in black with a signature Fu Manchu moustache fluttering in the wind. The man in black is firing a gun, taking out the other men, and Jack is paralyzed with fear. Unable to act, and probably unable to stop in the short distance between them, he ends up coming face to face with the man dressed in black when the latter lands hard on Jack’s hood.


Hanging on tightly, the man in black manages to make his way into the back seat of the car, releasing all of the lizards and rats in the process. Jack tries to ignore the man now sitting in his back seat but finds that an impossibility when the man speaks. The two of them talk around what just happened – Jack feigning ignorance of his passenger being the one with a gun, while the man in black admits to nothing – as Jack continues to drive. Soon, the man in the back seat asks Jack to take him to District Six on the edge of town. Jack tries to get out of it by telling the guy he needs to be picking up groceries, but his passenger won’t be denied. He wants to be taken to District Six, and the unspoken threat is that Jack could end up as the men in white did. So Jack acquiesces, nervous at the prospects of driving into the poorer part of town. And this is only the beginning.

Earth Minds are Weak is one of the coolest mini comics I’ve come across in the past couple of years. Justin J. Fox is experimenting with the form like few others and creating entertaining and thoughtful comics as he does so. He conceived Earth Minds are Weak as a place to draw whatever stories he feels like regardless of genre, format, or style. Up to this point, each issue has been self-contained, though some have included multiple minis under a single issue title. As an example, issue five included three mini-comics of varying sizes that dealt with perverted love, self-esteem, and saying good-bye all packaged in a translucent pink envelope to keep the “issue” complete. With this eighth issue, Fox is embarking upon his first serialized story, which will carry over into subsequent issues of Earth Minds are Weak. This initial issue of “Kaiju Jugoruma” contains the first four chapters of this futuristic, big monster serial, and it’s the largest single issue to date for Fox.

But Fox is doing more than experimenting with format and presentation. He is working to expand the medium’s boundaries with his offbeat and heartfelt tales. In the few issues I’ve seen so far, Fox has managed to create stories that make you think and stories that are exercises in farce and parody. Willing to take chances within his comic, Fox keeps his work dynamic while telling entertaining tales. This latest installment is a straight-ahead science fiction tale, and Fox ably conveys the futurism of this story through his images while providing just enough dialogue to lure readers into this world without giving too much away, leaving his audience with more questions than answers when they turn that last page.

Fox also sets up a nice dichotomy within this first issue that will no doubt have repercussions through the rest of the storyline. District One, the high-rise futuristic milieu where readers first meet Jack, is reminiscent of many large cities such as New York or Tokyo, obviously sans flying cars. But when the man in black tells Jack to take him to District Six, the poorer section of the city, Fox deftly creates a suburban landscape that would be familiar to anyone who’s grown up in a small town. It is a noticeable change from the first two chapters of the book that quickly gets across the differing class structure within this world without the need for tired exposition. It is a masterful use of one of the medium’s strengths, and the horror Jack encounters in this border district is all the more palpable due to this choice of setting.

Fox’s art style is also unique in the typical cookie cutter world of comic art. Clean and loose, his brush flows smoothly over the images, creating characters with a natural roundness to them that is very appealing. This looseness imbues the people in Fox’s comics with an inherent motion that is difficult to attain on the printed page. His style allows his characters to breathe and inhabit their two-dimensional world in a manner artists who meticulously render their panels cannot. It is an aesthetic that is easy on readers and does not distract from the story being told.

Something else that should be noted within Fox’s comics is that he does more with lettering than almost anyone else since Dave Sim was creating Cerebus on a monthly basis. Hand lettering his books, he allows the dialogue to sing and take on a life of its own. Whether wrapping through panels and around characters in a sing-song manner or tilting a word balloon that incorporates a smaller, less bold font to signify a whisper, Fox utilizes this hidden aspect of comics in a manner that is both liberating and exciting. Too many people ignore this portion of the comic page, disregarding the inflection and emphasis that can be achieved through a thoughtful employment of lettering. It is yet another way that Justin Fox is attempting to imbue his comics with a freshness that should be applauded and exploited more often by comic creators.


If you’re looking for something new, especially as regards science fiction, then you need to seek out issue 8 of Earth Minds are Weak. For the same price as a mainstream book, one can get the first four chapters of a new sci-fi tale that promises to be an exciting romp through the future.

An Interview with Justin J. Fox

THE PULSE: I really love the design of issue 8 of Earth Minds are Weak, particularly the covers. Do you have any background in design, or is it a matter of using your artistic instincts to design the book?

JUSTIN J. FOX:
Thanks for that. Issue 8 was the first issue I really tried to do something different with my covers. Part of my desire was to create a sort of 'trade dress' so that each issue in the serial would fit together and stand out from previous issues.

My design background is really just a combination of some courses taken at art school and then soaking in as much as possible from what's around me. I've also spent close to 10 years working for marketing and ad production agencies, as have a number of my friends. That makes it easier to tap into that side of the brain. It also helps that we live in such a media-saturated environment, that every day is like a design course if you take the time to figure out why something works or doesn't work. And that's where the instincts have to take over. Which is why self-publishing is nice, because it really is the artist's instincts seen in every aspect of the work, without all the artificial constraints brought on by the clients my friends and I work for.

So, those things and lots and lots of books.

THE PULSE: Kaiju Jugoruma is your first serialized story in Earth Minds are Weak. How long do you see this story running, and are you working any differently from how you have for the shorter stories?

FOX:
I wish I could say for sure how long the story is going to run. Most of my shorter stories pretty much came to me whole-cloth. I knew in advance what nearly every panel would be before I started drawing it. This is a lot easier to do when you're only working with 8-16 pages. With Kaiju Jugoruma, what I had in my head was just a series of moments. One of the first was a man falling out of a building. He was being pursued by a group of anonymous men. It was sometime in the future. I had no idea what this was about. Then, other scenes started forming, and I realized that there was a story here.

So, I had a bunch of scenes that all added up, but I didn't have the meat or the connective tissue that would take them from a skeleton and turn them into a body. For a while, this story was supposed to start in issue 5, but it took over a year to find the right entry point. To find the thing that would get the pencil moving. That thing turned out to be flying cars. Now, the story isn't about flying cars, per se, but that let me know where and when this was all taking place. And it gave me a way for my falling man to interact with the world. And once he could do that, then I knew where the meat was.

Unfortunately, this body is turning out a lot meatier than I imagined. An intended first chapter became the second chapter. The intended second chapter is now in the fifth. What happened was, once I got my guy interacting with the world, I found myself needing a world for him to interact with. I've never done world-building on this scale before, and it's tough to not let minor characters take over the whole thing once they find their voice. It does keep me from getting bored, though.


Another big change for me was sitting with these characters for such a long time. It's something I've wanted to do, as a gift for my drawing. There's no better way to improve your craft than working and reworking these same characters over and over again, in new situations each time. You get over the hurdle of that terrifying blank page rather quickly when you know who's going to populate it already.

THE PULSE: You set up a nice contrast between the futuristic city with its sprawling skyscrapers and flying cars and the Sixth District with its simpler suburban landscape. Will this dichotomy become more significant as the story progresses?

FOX:
The dichotomy between the districts of the city and what lies outside of it is the thing that's going to really drive the larger conflict. Gentrification, sprawl, environmental concerns, technology, religion, activism, population, aging, drugs, media ... all the issues of today it's hard to come out on the right side of — that's what I want to get into here. The hardest part is touching on the questions and hinting at the problems without falling into dogma. Caricature? Sure. Satire? That'd be great. Subtlety? I hope so.

THE PULSE: Where’s the giant bullfrog?

FOX:
Right. Kaiju Jugoruma is coming! When this goes online, I should be about a fifth of the way through issue 10, which is Chapter 6. In Chapter 6, we will see a great big giant bullfrog aside from the glimpses we've gotten on posters and billboards. He's coming to save the world, and the series will eventually lead to his big debut.

I wanted to hold off on the big reveal for a couple reasons. The first was that the story was very much going to be about the coming of this thing that no one really was even aware of. I like the idea dumping this thing into a world without prophecy, signs or portents. Maybe it's not the greatest storytelling device, but it's something I want to try. The second reason was that I'm going to need to call upon drawing powers I've never tried to tackle before. I knew that I was going to have to get my eye and my hand in the right place where drawing a giant monster in a futuristic city would be something I could do at all!

THE PULSE: How can readers purchase books if they’re unable to get to a convention you’re attending?


FOX:
Well, there's a few ways. More all the time. Anyone in New York can find Earth Minds are Weak in the minicomics sections of Jim Hanley's Universe, Forbidden Planet and Cosmic Comics. In Fort Lauderdale, there's Tate's Comics and in Berkeley, we're at Comic Relief. And we're looking to get into more stores in 2008.

Online, you can get our books from minicomic mega-site Optical Sloth or directly from us at our online store: http://www.clifffacecomics.com/store.html

THE PULSE: Do you have any other projects you are working on that you would like to tell readers about?

FOX:
Issue 9 of Earth Minds Are Weak has Chapter 5 of the Kaiju Jugoruma story. It's 59 pages long and available now.

My partners and I have an online reverse narrative corpse comic going on at http://clifffacehowdidthishappen.blogspot.com/, which is a fun little romp of a war story involving Normans, Bears, a monkey, three teenage girls and a demon. So far.

We also have a fan art blog all are welcome to participate in, where we celebrate other people's comics. That's at http://comicbookfanart.blogspot.com/



Chris Beckett is the co-writer/co-creator of the independent anthology, Warrior Twenty-Seven. He can be reached at lucienthelibrarian75@hotmail.com. And if you have an independent or web comic you think is deserving of attention then please drop him a line and let him know.