Dr. Julian Darius is the founder of Sequart Organization, which is "devoted to the study of popular culture and the promotion of comic books as a legitimate artform." He's also taking to Kickstarter to fund the third issue of his comic, Martian Comics. From a press release, here's what that's about:
We're excited to tell you about a new, trippy sci-fi comic book that harkens back to early Vertigo in its blend of genre fiction and literary intelligence. Martian Comics appropriates retro sci-fi tropes, recasting them in humanistic narratives that interrogate issues of Otherness. It's an alien invasion of the soul.
The comic is written by Sequart's founder, Dr. Julian Darius, who's spent his career promoting comics as a legitimate form of art and considers this the next step. The comic is published by Sequart's sister company, Martian Lit, and receives no corporate support.
After two standard issues, Martian Comics is continuing as a 52-page special with seven stories illustrated by three different artists.
Despite his lofty credentials, we were somehow able to convince Darius to join us on the Outhouse to chat about the project, and about the mission of Sequart in general. Check it out below, and head over to Kickstarter and consider backing comics that are designed to do more than fill the coffers of a multi-national entertainment conglomerate.
What's up, Doc?
Not my income. Honestly, I think the worst thing you can do for your career might be getting a Ph.D. When I was in grad school, I lived in a skyscraper Waikiki. Now I live on my parents' couch. Yay!
Are you a Scientologist, and is this book Scientology propaganda? Because it kind of looks like that.
I'm not a Scientologist, although I once was inside the Celebrity Center. I actually find Scientology fascinating, and I've read a lot about it.
That said, I'm currently an atheist, although I reserve the right to change my mind, as a free-thinking individual.
I assume you're thinking that Martian Comics looks like Scientology propaganda because it has Martians that are fiddling with human society, trying to enlighten us. Although maybe you're just noticing UFOs. And it's true: Hubbard was a pulp sci-fi writer, and Martian Comics kind of trades on sci-fi tropes. But I think that's the end of any connection here.
Please tell our readers about Martian Comics.
It's mostly about exploding volcanoes and how you can improve your life.
Martian Comics is like if you took 1950s sci-fi things like flying saucers and a populated Mars and wrote really, really literary comics about them. It's been compared to Sandman, in the sense that it has stories set through history. And, you know, is about lots of smartypants philosophical things, instead of fight scenes.
Can you tell us about some of the artists featured in the book?
Sergio Tarquini, who's the series artist, illustrates the main story, entitled "The Girl from Mars." He's an Argentinian artist who's very nice and never complains when I make him illustrate racy sci-fi stuff, then stuff from the Bible, and then stuff from history. He's versatile and a great storyteller.
Mansjur Daman is a legend in Indonesian comics. His art has a really classic feel.
Jason Muhr is an American artist who's hard at work with writer Markisan Naso on a comic called Voracious that's really good. He illustrated a couple stories for me while he was on a break between issues.
You're the founder of Sequart, which is an organization dedicated to "the study of pop culture and the promotion of comic books as a legitimate artform." Do you ever want to just go over to Marvel's corporate office and slap someone when they put out a boobalicious variant cover on an all ages comic or hold a six month super-mega-crossover event just as an excuse to put out a bunch of new number one issues with foil-embossed variant covers that will themselves be rebooted within 18 months? Like, "hey, we're trying to get people to take this seriously over here?"
I think if you don't sometimes want to slap DC or Marvel executives, you're probably not paying much attention. I'm sure a lot of people at both companies want to do this too.
I don't like the sexism in all-ages comics, and I don't like dumb crossovers, and I don't like rebooting titles, and I don't like rebooting continuity. I don't even like variant covers! Seriously, are novels known for variant covers?
I do think crossovers can be cool. Heck, I wrote a book (Classics on Infinite Earths) in part about DC crossovers. But there are a lot of bad comics out there. The influence of Hollywood blockbusters, with their glitzy fight scenes and disinterest in the basics of plot, seems to have infected comics.
But you know, comics are more than super-heroes, and they're more than any two companies. And I'll always stand with comics, as a medium. It really ought to be put on par with prose literature and movies.
What are some of the things Sequart does to advance its cause?
You mean besides the free personality tests?
Seriously, we run a website (Sequart.org) that analyzes comics and pop culture. We publish books (more than 20 so far) that analyze comics and study comics history. And we produce documentary films that do the same thing.
Everything we do is designed to be as accessible as possible. This is stuff you can hand to your friend, who doesn't understand why comics are art, and say "Here, read this."
Do you think it's working? Are people more willing to accept comics as legitimate literary works now than they were ten years ago? What about many decades ago, when comics themselves (and not movies and TV shows based on them) were pretty mainstream?
People are definitely more willing to accept comics as legitimate art today. The academy has softened on the issue, and the movies have helped. Comics are cool in a lot of circles.
However, I do think there's a difference between being accepted as cool and being considered really literary. A lot of entertainment venues cover comics, largely because they see the rise of geek culture, but they really treat comics like they're a series of super-hero fight scenes and fun costumes. Which, you know, are fine by themselves, but they're not a substitute for treating comics as the literary works they are, or are capable of producing. So I do see this division between "comics are cool" and "this is high art."
In the 1940s, comics were indeed mainstream, and had a lot of different genres. In the 1950s and 1960s, comics were a lot more prevalent, but they were mostly very immature kids' stories. However, during none of this time were comics considered literary. Even the artists working in comics mostly told people they did something else. Even a lot of the writers were embarrassed by what they did. There was no assumption that these were anything but disposable stories. I think the rise of fanzines and conventions, especially in the 1970s, helped change that, but there was no time in which comics were prevalent and also considered a legitimate literary form of art.
Your press release says that you consider publishing this comic as the next step in your career of "promoting comics as a legitimate form of art." How does Martian Comics contribute to that cause? What does this book have to offer that you feel can make a difference in that mission?
This gets back to how I think few comics are really trying to be literary, in that ambitious way that Sandman was. You know, the dream of comics being legitimate wasn't only that comics wouldn't be marginalized, or that we wouldn't be teased for reading them. Nor was it that we would devalue what "literary" meant, so that Marvel Movie 11 could be called literary. No, the dream was that comics could elevate themselves and tell literary stories. Stories that were philosophical and historical and subtle. Again, the goal wasn't to make Hulk comics look really glitzy and cool, throw in a few cool "shit, that villain's back?!?" twists, and call it literature. No, it was to do these smart things with comics.
Also, a lot of us, myself included, didn't want comics to lose their genre focus. We didn't think comics could only be literary if they were realistic novels in visual form. That's why stuff like Watchmen and Sandman had such influence. Yes, they were genre stories, but you could put them on the shelf next to Proust or Joyce. Martian Comics wants to be this for sci-fi. It wants to bring back this literary ambition to a genre comic.
There are certainly a lot of good comics today. But nothing like this. And I think, the more it gets out there, the more people are going to say, "Oh shit, this is ambitious. Wow, you can do this with comics?"
Why Kickstarter, what does the money go to, and what are some of the cool things people can get by backing the project?
Over half the money goes to pay for finishing the coloring and the lettering for this issue. I just ran out of my own money. I need help. It's a big issue!
Backers can get all three issues digitally, and they can get all three issues together in a trade paperback. There are other cool things, like being acknowledged in the comic or challenging me to write a story with a certain setting or character.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We're sure you had many more important things to do.
Yeah, I need to change the bedding on this couch.
Just testing you.
Sorry, I was just putting on my special underwear, in hopes of going to live with God on the planet Kolob.
Religions are easy to mock. At least, that's what my Martian masters told me.
Art from "One Small Step" by Jason Muhr
Art from "Safari" by Mansjur Daman
Art from "Ezekiel" by Sergio Tarquini
Art from "What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem?" by Sergio Tarquini"
Art from "Another Small Step" by Jason Muhr
Art from "Small Talk with Rats" or "The Other" (not specified) by Sergio Tarquini
Find more info on all these stories at the Kickstarter page.