Jody LeHeup is a former Marvel and Valiant editor, currently developing different creator-owned properties for Image Comics.
Sebastian Girner is a former Marvel editor and currently edits Image titles including Black Science, The Goddamned, and Southern Bastards.
Shirtless Bear-Fighter! is their first co-writing project, published by Image Comics, with the first issue set to release June 21.
The Outhouse: On the surface, Shirtless Bear-Fighter is about a man fighting bears without a shirt on. Only on a fifth or sixth read through, does the deeper meaning appear. Would you say Shirtless Bear-Fighter leans more towards Kant philosophy or is a critique on current events?
Sebastian Girner: It's a comic about a half-naked angry guy who punches bears.
Jody LeHeup: Yeah, first of all...a hundred percent exactly what Sebastian said. Point the second, SHIRTLESS BEAR-FIGHTER! deals with particularly ugly tendencies in human nature that are at the heart of many of the problems we're dealing with today. It's about how we as people misunderstand our pain, deny it, project it onto others, and fail to forgive. In so doing we perpetuate hatred, division, and ultimately our own unhappiness. So in that way SBF is less a critique on current events per se and more a comment on the thought processes that lead to decision-making that creates nightmare scenarios like the one all Americans are living through now.
As for Kant, any relevance SBF's actions might have to the categorical imperative is purely coincidental. Stories in general and this one specifically are not academic exercises. The goal is to move people emotionally or to compel them to feel something. And while logic and structure and intellectualizing certainly play a role in story craft, they aren't driving the ship. So we're happy to hear that you think there might be some interesting similarities to Kant's philosophy, but it wasn't our intention to draw those comparisons.
TO: Does Shirtless follow the classic hero's journey put forth by Joseph Campbell?
SG: SBF is a modern myth, a tall-tale for the 21st century and as such we're drawing off a lot of classic story and narrative archetypes. So, yes. We have the Call to Adventure, the Crossing of the Threshold, Death & Rebirth, Atonement, Bear-Punching, the German Suplexing of the Evil Ursa, the Abyss of Nutshot-Sound Effect Lettering, and all the classic ingredients of the hero's journey.
TO: How did you team up with Nil Vendrell? Would you say he's more influenced by pre-Raphaelite or post-Impressionism?
SG: I always got bad grades in art history class, so that one's over my head. (I later discovered my art teacher got arrested for kicking down his neighbor's door and putting a kitchen knife through his stereo when it was playing too loud, so maybe his evaluation of me wasn't quite the result of a discerning mind.)
JL: Nil's a Spanish artist who is new to American comics so we didn't know Nil before he started working with us. But we saw his samples when we were looking for an SBF artist and knew instantly that we'd found our co-creator. SBF is a trickier book to pull off than it appears at a glance. There's comedy (which is difficult to do in any medium) big, epic, high energy, bear brawls, and dramatic moments as well that require a deft touch from an acting and cartooning perspective. Plus a ton of insane characters and world elements to design...and Nil just absolutely crushes all of it. It's amazing. We're thrilled to be working with him.
And colorist Mike Spicer as well. Mike's animated colors choices really set the tone making SBF look like the twisted Saturday morning cartoon you never knew you wanted. And Dave Lanphear's letters are fantastic too.
As for influences, Nil says he's influenced by Alberto Breccia, Mathieu Lauffray, Oliver Coipel, and Frank Frazetta.
TO: In Shirtless' first appearance, he's as naked as the day he was born. Was this inspired by Michaelangelo's David? Perhaps another Renaissance artist?
SG: It was inspired by our desire to show more naked dudes in comics, because double-standards are bullshit, and who doesn't like a nice big burly hairy dude punching up the place sometimes? Also, when we first meet Shirtless he's been living in the forest, away from humans and all civilization for years. So he's at his most feral, his most wild.
JL: Right. Our story begins when crazy, wild-eyed bears start attacking human populations, prompting FBI agents Burke and Silva to ask Shirtless for help. Though he was raised by bears, Shirtless now hates them for betraying him in a particularly horrible way that we won't spoil for you here, so he leaves the forest he was sworn to protect to battle the bears in the human world. But what Shirtless doesn't realize is that he's being manipulated. An enemy from his past is using his anger against him and if he doesn't figure out how and why quickly, everything he holds dear will come to an end. If it hasn't already...
TO: What are the differences between flapjacks and pancakes on a molecular level?
SG: I don't know, but Shirtless calls them "Flapjacks" and woe to any man, woman or child who calls these puffy griddle-fried breakfast cakes anything else!
TO: Have you ever been accused of being too much of a man?
JL: Only in drag contests.
SG: I've had "You're too tall for this bouncy castle." and "You're too inebriated for this
rollercoaster." Theme parks have too many rules.
TO: If Shirtless Bear Fighter shits in the woods, I'm not sure where I'm going with this one.
JL: SHIRTLESS BEAR-FIGHTER! #1 is on sale June 21st! It's got badass bear-brawls, a killer story and it's the hands down funniest comic you'll ever read.
SG: Go get it!