Even the most casual comics fan in recent years has surely been made aware of the work of Daniel Warren Johnson. From breakout indie titles like Murder Falcon and Extremity to more recent Big Two books Wonder Woman: Dead Earth and Beta Ray Bill, DWJ’s style reflects his varied artistic influences while at the same time being something wholly original. Next up on his resume, a book that explores one of the creator’s other passions: the world of professional wrestling.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist/Writer
Your home base: Chicago
YouTube: “Something From Nothing”
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: My first question is, why comics? What attracts you as a creator to working in this medium?
Daniel Warren Johnson: The first thing that, the only hindrance in your time. You don’t need money, you barely need any resources, you just need time. Anybody can really make anything, and anybody can share the visual process of what is in their brain. We all love movies — I really love movies — but movies, TV shows, that kind of media, it requires so much money, so much teamwork, so many moving parts at once. So many things that need to happen where so often you have such an incredible story that someone might want to tell in a movie, and it just doesn't happen because, logistically, it's just impossible.
And I remember I was meeting with some Hollywood execs once about Extremity —maybe we turn Extremity into a movie. They are sitting down and they're like, “So Extremity’s tough, you know, to make it anything else other than a comic.” And I was like, “Yup, I get it.” “Yeah. Floating islands. It's a lot of money.” So it's funny how even the kind of imagination that one might have when approaching a new story, when it involves other mediums, has this kind of immediate hesitancy. It doesn't make them any worse, or better, or anything — it's just different. If you want floating islands in your comic, there's no budgetary concern stopping you. I do love the comics medium, but I can't say that I necessarily connect with the comics medium more than movies. I just love good stories.
Comics have this kind of quality… anything can happen. Any person, if they're talented enough, can make something that can kind of break through. And that's something that really is exciting to me.
KS: Going back to the beginning, what was your comics reading diet as a kid?
DWJ: I was pretty sheltered growing up. My parents were very protective of the kinds of media that I would kind of consume. For the longest time I wasn't allowed to watch, like, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was pretty locked tight. So the only comics that I was really able to read, especially early on, were things that my public library would have — and the public library didn't have a lot of cool comics at the time. Mid to late '90s, comics still weren’t yet considered — what's the word — art. You know, how they are kind of now and in libraries all over the country?
They weren't back then, so the only thing they had in libraries were newspaper strips that were collected. Calvin and Hobbes Something Under the Bed Is Drooling. The best. I devoured those, man. I loved comics. I loved reading them. My mom would make me a grilled cheese for lunch and I would just sit and read them over and over and over again. I would read anything that I could get my hands on. I remember reading Dilbert, Fox Trot, For Better or For Worse, Peanuts — any sort of collected edition that I could get my hands on. That was at the library.
And then, finally, when I started going to the comic store, my dad was only comfortable with me buying old comics that didn't have so much sex and violence or whatever. I remember I really, really loved the Transformers cartoon that was playing reruns from the '80s after school. I just devoured those. And I found the old '80s Transformers comic books.
KS: This was the Marvel series? Number one had a Bill Sienkiewicz cover of Optimus Prime, if I'm remembering right.
DWJ: You’re right. Great cover. I'd been watching the TV show, just trying to get any sort of Transformers crap I can get my hands on. At the end of issue one, Spider-Man shows up — you know, they have a little preview. And I’m like, “Holy shit, Spider-Man? What the f—k is going on?” [laughter] That’s always super exciting, thinking about that moment. I wish I could remember their names, those artists, but mid to late 90s was kind of tough for me to get my hands on good visual kind of reference. ‘Cause I love that stuff, but I was always just drawing from memory or trying to get my mom to let me tape Transformers so I could pause it [and] draw Optimus Prime correctly for once.
I remember I had this dumb Richie Rich comic that was terrible, and there was an ad for the Transformers movie VHS in the middle of it. And I treasured that Richie Rich comic because it had the ad of Optimus Prime and Starscream and all these Transformers. And I’m like, Ohh, this is how you do it, and I would kind of look and try and figure it out as I drew. So I was always saving things visually.
KS: What about being able to find reference online during this time?
DWJ: We eventually did get dial-up on our Mac. This is back when I was really into Joe Mad[ureira] — still am into Joe Mad — but I was trying to get images that he had done and the screen is loading and it's blurry and then you have to wait half an hour, literally. Then I tried to print it once and I got into huge trouble, because it used up every single ink cartridge that we had. It's some Game Informer from the late '90s — Street Fighter, amazing art by Joe Mad. I'm like, “This is the coolest!” and my dad's like, “What happened all the ink?!” [laughter]
KS: When you're first encountering all this material, was there any particular comic story that really had an impact on you?
DWJ: Well, this is a little later down the line that I'm getting into, but you remember the comic series, Bone? Jeff Smith, one of my heroes — never met him, would love to someday. Bone was at Image for a while, and we were getting the Image issues as they were coming out, but it was really tough for us to get to the comic book store every month because it wasn't that close to our house. So my brother and I, we would do our best to compile the issues. We never were really able to start it, you know, but we were following it from whenever the “Great Cow Race” arc was, which is actually pretty early on in the story. We were following the single issues, and then the library started carrying the trade paperbacks. This is before we could really have an allowance or anything like that, or we could save up — and even if we had an allowance, no way we could afford a trade paperback of Bone.
I loved it. I ate it up, and we stuck with it. It was tough, but we stuck with it. We'd wait months for the library to have it in stock, then we would devour it. That story always really resonated with me. Growing up, I've always returned to it — it's on my shelf — and I remember reading interviews later on as I was trying to figure out how to tell a story myself. Jeff Smith said he didn't know how he was going to end the book. It's very inspiring to me now as a creator, because I do have a tendency to fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to story and art.
KS: Can you pin down now what it was about Bone that worked so well for you?
DWJ: I think there's something about the lines or the approach to the story that really resonated with me as a kid. I wasn't really telling stories back then, I was just drawing pictures, but I knew what I saw when I was reading was really solid. And then, again, Calvin and Hobbes. Remember that Sunday strip where they see a dead bird, where they have to kind of ruminate on this dead bird. It's the Sunday strip where the first panel is this big black and white drawing of this dead robin or dead sparrow. Then the rest of the comic is in color. There was this sparse dead bird drawing in the middle of a Sunday comic, and I knew that was special.
KS: Was it primarily the imagery you responded to there?
DWJ: It was the combo, it was the story, as well. The art of course is what drew me in to start, but then, going forward and especially getting older and being able to see, well, this guy can really tell a story. Of course it was very short form, different than what I do now, but it just felt right in the moment for sure.
KS: Do you remember the first artists who hit your sweet spot, when you were old enough to differentiate among styles? Aside from Joe Mad…
DWJ: Oh man. In high school it was Joe Mad or bust. Then Chris Bachalo. I still love his stuff. I still love Joe's stuff. I have an original Joe Mad Battle Chasers page on my wall right in front of me. I'm still working on getting a Bachalo original page. Um, who else? I remember really loving to Tetsuro Ueyama early on. He had this random book that got translated — most of his stuff is not translated. It's called Middle Guardian Faust.
Sure enough, however many years later, I'm coming back to it and it’s still so good. His sense of movement, he's great at drawing people, he's great drawing trucks and stuff like that. It's really fun to read. Gosh, I guess John Romita.
KS: Senior or Junior?
DWJ: Both. This was as my library was getting more and more stuff — when my library got Dark Knight Returns, that was a huge deal.
KS: I have to steer off into a brief tangent from comics to ask where your fandom was born — based on some of the work you’ve done — in regards to Star Wars and wrestling. If you were living the sheltered life, did those things kind of creep through or did you find them later?
DWJ: Well, Star Wars was not part of the annex. I was allowed to watch Star Wars. My dad introduced me to that quite early. We got the three movies on VHS and I was like, “What is this?” and my dad's like, “You’re really gonna like it, it’s called Star Wars. We're gonna watch the first one tonight.” I had no idea. Just completely blew my freaking mind. I almost wore those tapes out — I would fast forward to all the spaceship parts and I just watched them over and over and over. That was a really good time. And my mom would be like, “Are you watching those battles again?” I was homeschooled, too, so I would goof off — my poor mom. I just drew space battles in the [margins] of my study book. So, Star Wars, huge impact especially on me early.
KS: I’m going to guess wrestling might not have been seen in the same light at your house.
DWJ: Wrestling is something that I was not allowed to watch at all, so I missed out on the '90s era, the attitude era, all that good stuff. All my friends are wearing “3:16” t-shirts and I thought that it was the Bible verse: “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son…”
KS: …but it was actually “Austin 3:16?”
DWJ: It was Steve Austin. I remember I had that mercy verse memorized because I would go to a AWANA [Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed] every Friday ‘cause I was that kid. I grew up without really experiencing wrestling and never really being able to; then when my daughter was born, which is four years ago, she didn't sleep that well and I would just kind of hold her. She just didn't want to sleep, so we would hang out and I got really bored. Some of friends were really into Japanese pro wrestling; I really thought the look of those wrestlers was really cool and I'd always just been kind of intrigued. That summer  I fell in hard with Japanese pro wrestling and I loved it so much. I'm like, “Let's watch some WWE,” and it's a totally different vibe, which I wasn't a huge fan of. But then a bunch of my favorite Japanese wrestlers, and wrestlers that wrestle in Japan, came and started their own promotion. I've been kind of following that journey and that's been really inspiring.
KS: Have you sought out to the older stuff you missed?
DWJ: I’ve gone back to the glory years of WWE, you know, exploring the history and doing a lot of research and reading about it. I'll always love genre fiction, always love sci-fi and fantasy — I don't think by any means that I'm done telling those kinds of stories — but I do want to stretch myself.
I do like getting excited by new things, finding new things to do. I'm trying to learn piano. I’ve taken up golf in the past two years. I am awful at both. [laughter] But there are things that really motivate me as a person and those eventually find a way to translate into my art I’ve found, which I think is a really healthy thing for me and something that I want to do more of. So when I draw a concert pianist comic I’ll let you know. [laughter]
KS: Even though you're a recent convert to wrestling, the only other guest I've ever been able to ask this question to is Jim Rugg, so you're going to be number two. Off the top of your head, who’s on your personal wrestling Mt. Rushmore? Not necessarily the objectively greatest wrestlers, but greatest for you.
DWJ: I'll say first Tesuya Naito from New Japan, because it was his look and his vibe that got me into just thinking about watching wrestling in the first place. I'll say also Tomohiro Ishii and Kota Ibushi, also from New Japan, because of their match in the G1 Climax tournament in 2018. I’d been watching it for maybe a month, in and out, and then I watched them wrestle in this match and Ibushi did, like, a moonsault off the balcony. I was hooked, and I’m indebted to them for that. Then Kenny Omega. I really like his work ethic and how he approaches wrestling, how he approaches his kind of creative field. He really pushes himself to be the best. I don't know, he could be a dick in real life, but he seems like a really cool guy and I'm there for anything that he does.
KS: People reading this, unless they’re New Japan fans, are going to be wondering: “Where’s the Rock?” “Where’s Hogan?”
DWJ: Right! But I didn't grow up with them. I mean, I knew the Rock was out there, but I didn't grow up loving him like other kids that were my age. Two years ago, I was still piecing together these greats... Terry Funk and FMW and more old school guys like Rowdy Roddy Piper and freaking Savage. All these legends that the people reading this are like, “What the eff, you didn't mention this guy,” but such is life.
KS: Well, you’re speaking to guy who went as Rowdy Roddy Piper for Halloween two years in a row. Kilt, old school “Hot Rod” t-shirt, the whole deal.
DWJ: Hell yeah. So you're a true wrestling fan.
KS: My favorite wrestler, who you may have seen on some old tapes, was the Dynamite Kid. I loved the British Bulldogs as a team, but his solo work in Japan was amazing.
DWJ: When doing research for my wrestling book, I watched his matches with Tiger Mask, when they were pretty young. Great, great matches.
KS: He was in a sorry situation later in life, because he totally sacrificed his body for the spectacle, but in his prime he was a superhero. Those Tiger Mask matches were like watching real life comic book fights for me.
DWJ: That's how I feel when I watch Ray Fenix. I've seen him do these moves and I'm like, you are an actual superhero. You’re moving like Superman. It’s not human.
KS: Well, before we lose everybody who clicked over for comics talk... When you look back on your formative art years, does anything particular stand out for you as what you’d call your first “serious” project?
DWJ: That’s a great question. I was homeschooled from third grade through twelfth grade, but I was still in school for kindergarten through second grade. In first grade I was drawing a lot of Power Rangers; I would draw in class and get in trouble, but then the kids were like, “This is amazing. How did you do this?” And they never paid me any attention before, so I was thinking maybe I'm good at this. [laughter] I don't know if I had the concept of being proud, or feeling like I had something special, because it was all external. I mean, I drew at home so much, there were so many times where I felt good about the things that I did, but I don't know if it was really until college where I actually pushed myself to make something that I felt like I really couldn't necessarily make at the time. I always kind of pretty much stayed within my comfort zone in high school and mostly through college.
KS: What school was this?
DWJ: North Park University in Chicago. For my senior year I was inspired by this Chinese piece on one of these really wide scrolls that the ancient Chinese artists would draw on. There’s this one called “Along the River During the Qingming Festival.” I don't remember who did it, you can Google that.
[Author’s Note: Done. The artist was Zhang Zeduan 1085-1145.]
DWJ: I mean, it is long. I wondered, how comfortable would it be if I did a narrative piece? Could I do that? And so I made a 15 foot long by one and a half feet [high] piece of my time in college. I knew that I had made something special — I pulled it off. I watercolored the whole thing, it took me freaking forever. Then a squirrel got into the art building one night and tipped over some fluorescent paint, and left squirrel prints all over half of it. I had to repaint it. So random. [laughter]
KS: That sounds like the story you’d make up for why didn’t have it finished for the due date!
DWJ: Exactly. It's funny because I was watercoloring it, so if I tried to acrylic over it the texture looked wrong. Acrylic obviously looks way different. So I had to take an X-Acto knife and scrape away this fluorescent neon paint. It's better than acrylic, but still, if you have a piece of paper that has a chunk taken out of the paper, there's still the layer underneath [that] looks different than the rest, you know?
I made it work; I finished it and it was tight. I was student teaching at the time and that was my senior project. I'm still very proud of it. It's very raw, but I knew I'd made something special.
KS: Was your college art experience a positive one outside of malicious rodents?
DWJ: There was not a lot of technical illustration advice or guidance. I could draw better — technically — than most of my professors at the time. They pushed me in the right ways. They're like, “Well, you're really good at doing this. Why are you doing it?” I’d just draw zombies because I was really into zombies at that time. My professor, Tim, said, “It’s fine if you want to draw zombies, but there has to be something else. Otherwise they're just pictures with nothing behind them.” I’m like, “You don't know what you're talking about!” Of course he did. [laughter] And I'm a better artist for it today.
KS: If that scroll you made was an example of a certain type of narrative, what was your first try at making actual comics?
DWJ: I remember trying to make comics when I was kid, but it was a pretty pathetic, a pretty pathetic attempt. That senior project was pretty narrative, but it wasn't comics. God, you're making me go into the history books here… While I was at North Park. I spent a lot of time working with some nonprofit groups and we worked with the homeless population in Chicago's downtown neighborhood — specifically Lower Wacker Drive where they filmed that chase scene in Dark Knight. They were filming it while I was working with the homeless, so we'd have these trucks whizzing by. I worked with them for all four years college and that was a really big part of my… I don't know, it just made me wrestle with things I didn't have to wrestle with before, growing up in a sheltered kind of environment.
I was trying to do a comic about this story that one of the guys there told me — his name was Bob, he was a Vietnam vet, and he was telling me a story about when he got airlifted out of this crazy battle. He's going into real, crazy details. So I drew the comic of the story that he had told me — I tried — and looking back on it now, I want to gouge my eyeballs out. But I was trying to celebrate his passionate retelling of this story. So that was my first real try at it. And I was like, this is really hard. I have to learn how to draw all this stuff in this amount of time, y’know? That was the first real goal, and then I was scared off of it for awhile. Then finally I [decided] I need to take another stab at this, when I broke out from teaching to just do things on my own, to try and make it as an illustrator — not necessarily as a comic artist.
KS: Where did Space-Mullet fit into all this?
DWJ: Space-Mullet was the thing that I was trying to figure out how to do, and basically assess okay, if I gave this another real try, could I make this work? Can I be successful at this? Can I enjoy this?
I was just looking to be in the visual field in some way, and comics was the thing that people seemed to pay attention to the most, especially with Space-Mullet. Once I kind of found that I really enjoyed the process, it was a big process of wrestling through it and trying to make it good. It was very hard.
KS: That was all put online weekly?
DWJ: Twice a week.
KS: So, you're putting these chapters up, kind of throwing them out into the void in a sense. What was your motivation? What kept you going?
DWJ: Well, I’d had a really bad experience teaching. Really, really bad, to the point where I was like, I'll do anything as long as I don't have to teach. I was getting panic attacks on Sunday nights. I had a panic attack on my honeymoon, before I went back to school. I didn't know what I was doing. And the music teacher was like, “Just show them movies, man. It doesn't matter.” That's not right. But then there are these other teachers that don't go to the home until like 10pm and they show up at 6am. There has to be some sort of middle ground. What a nightmare. So you have to understand, my brain was like, I'll be a barista and I'll love it. I'll love it. It'll be the best. That's literally where my head was at.
And my wife, Rachel, was like, “You got to give the art thing a try. You keep saying that you want to do this. Now's the time and we have some savings, let's just see how it goes.” So, especially with my loved one kind of putting everything on the line there's this real push. My parents had always supported me, but more in the sense of “You gotta get a teaching degree with and then you can do art on the side.” Rachel was the first person who really put her savings on the line. Props to Rachel, I have to shout her out. With all that, there was an intense amount of pressure to not fail.
KS: How did that “mission statement” manifest in your day-to-day work?
DWJ: I was just going for breadth; I didn't know how to make money in it, so I was just doing everything: storyboards, shitty graphic design, comics. Space-Mullet was the kind of thing [that was] actually kind of fun if I treated it like a job. I did have the ability to do that because I quit my job. Let me just make this part of my craft and make it part of my process; I do two pages a week, then if nobody cares, nobody cares. I’ll do something else and I'll still be happy. I was throwing things out into the void, but I was also getting noticed.
I mean, I remember taking out ad space on Dinosaur Comics [by previous guest Ryan North]. I would make little skinny banner ad space, paying like ten bucks a week or whatever to have this up. I was finding that I was getting all these webcomic fans and not people who actually read comics.
That's when my brother — this is late 2012 — Tim, said, “You gotta put this stuff on Twitter, shout it out on Twitter.” Tim took my phone and made me a Twitter handle. He's like, “There you go, you can thank me later” and sure enough, here I am thinking his ass later. [laughter] ‘Cause it was Twitter where Space-Mullet was seen by the kind of community that was actually able to give me work and introduced me to the world of printed comics.
KS: What does the Dan who I'm talking to right now know better about making comics than the one who was making Space-Mullet?
DWJ: Uh, first thing is I know how to use this [holds up a T-square]. Another thing I didn't know how to do that I really wanted to learn was, I was reading all of these Appleseed comics by Masamune Shirow and she’ll do three point perspective almost at least once a page, all the time. And I was like, how's this guy doing this?
I'm getting the fricking yardstick, putting my page on the floor and it’s still not working. So I would go to conventions and if anybody looked like they knew what they were talking about, I would ask them. I was also Googling this and sure enough, nobody really knew; there are these trade secrets that people don't necessarily — or at the time didn't necessarily — have on the internet. This is before you could teach yourself something on YouTube. I remember going to Lee Weeks. “How do you draw this?” “Oh, you do it like this.” [quick drawing motions] Oh my God. Mind blown.
Then the other thing I learned is how to be more healthy making comics. There are some days where it's just bad. Your lines are not great. And instead of fighting it, you just get the page done and you leave it, which feels bad to do. Not a lot of days, but there are some days where I have to go to Rachel and say, “Tell me to stop working. Tell me it's done. I've erased this knee, whited-out this knee so many times.” There are those days. You get frustrated. Is what I'm doing worth it? They happen more often than you think.
KS: Were there any particular struggles you recall from making those pages every week?
DWJ: I'd have this idea of what I wanted in my head [but] it wasn't there. And I was like, is this just what it's going to be? I see what I want but I can't get there? So I’d put it aside and start over. There was one page I did three times over — not good. Don't do that. Anybody who ever makes comics, don't do a page three times just to get it done. Move on to the next one. I was that idiot. But it did make me better, and I did it did help me push myself in a way that I don't know that I would have otherwise.
KS: You mentioned your barista idea, but was there ever a truly acceptable plan B career path if you couldn't make the comic art thing work out?
DWJ: Being a graphic designer for sure. It was anything, honestly, anything that wasn't teaching? I was applying for jobs at Starbucks. I almost got a job as a waiter. I really am thankful to some of my friends who worked in advertising and knew that world, who [told me] “If you're going to do it, you’ve got to do it hardcore while you can, while you have some savings, because if you go half and half, it's never going to happen.” I had a second job interview at Starbucks. I almost went, and I don't know. I would hope that if I got that job that I would still be making stuff, but it just wouldn't be enough time. I'm thinking of the days where I got discouraged drawing all the time, and how having a day job as a barista, or something else, would have made it harder. I don't know.
KS: Your wife’s faith in you obviously paid off.
DWJ: It did.
KS: We talked about favorite artists earlier, but how about the flip side? Are there any names you can think of who as a young reader you maybe didn't get, but as a pro you have a better grasp of what they were doing?
DWJ: Definitely Kirby. I did not appreciate Kirby growing up, or in college. Simonson was another one. Simonson was one of those guys where you can kind of see the Kirby aesthetic a little bit in his lines, which is I think one of the reasons that I didn't get it. They're both such amazing artists. I was trying to just find more artists that looked like Joe Mad. I mean, I was one of those anime kids and that’s all I wanted when I was growing up; in college, I was still kind of shaking that. That's when I found out about artists like Mike Mignola. Frank Quitely with All-Star Superman.
KS: Did those two guys work for you? Because those are very idiosyncratic styles.
DWJ: Once I saw Quitely’s stuff, I thought it was great. Once I saw Mignola’s stuff, I thought it was great. And honestly, if I had probably taken more time with Kirby in college, I think it would have [been different].
KS: Funny that you cite Kirby, Simonson, and Mignola, because much of their most renowned work is them as “one-man bands” which we could also say about you. As a hypothetical, would you rather write a script to be illustrated by a great artist, or be the artist on a script by a great writer? Workload aside, what would be more satisfying in the end?
DWJ: Well, the kind of process of writing something that's being brought to life by somebody else is something that I still find quite refreshing and new — whereas, I kind of know what my art looks like. Honestly, drawing is so much work, I kind of want to save it now for my own ideas. I don't know if that makes it unfair for me to stay the first one, but definitely first one. I would love to write for an amazing artist; that's definitely a dream of mine and it will happen sooner rather than later ‘cause I'm already talking with people about it.
KS: Before we move to your latest news, tell us a comic or graphic novel from any era that you look at and say, “This is comics.”
DWJ: I'll tell you one that may want to tackle being a comic artist again, after that initial scare-off. Right before I started Space-Mullet, I read John Arcudi and James Harren’s BPRD: The Long Death. It changed my life. This is another formative one where, if that miniseries didn't exist, I don't know if I'd be drawing comics. I saw James’s work and he was combining all these elements that I really loved that I didn't know I could actually get paid to draw. Speed lines getting over in American comics? Okay, well, I'm going to try. I have to give a lot of credit James, because if James hadn't done that book, I don't think I'd be doing comics. That's the highest praise I can give somebody. So thank you, James.
KS: Bringing it all back to wrestling, Image recently announced your new book, Do a Powerbomb. Comics set it in that world aren’t exactly plentiful in the marketplace — I can think of Jaime Hernandez’s work off the top of my head. In your mind, who's the audience you have in mind as you work on this?
DWJ: Well, kind of how I said, things that I'm into will oftentimes just bleed into the things that I make. In a lot of ways, it feels like the most pure form of creation to me, because I'm just engaging and wrestling — no pun intended — with the kind of things that make me want to draw and make me want to make things. To keep carrying on that inspiration for project after project, I need new things to engage with.
Wrestling is not done a lot in comics, and when it is done, it's a side thing by some of the big wrestling corporations, almost like the comics are a supportive kind of little baby fish next to a big shark. I wanted to make something that was influenced by the thing that I love that is celebrating the [comics] medium as well as the actual element of pro wrestling itself. That's what Powerbomb is. A lot of the inspiration behind it was trying to make something that I feel like I could share with other people who wouldn't necessarily be into pro wrestling or not into pro wrestling, To still have an inviting nature to the story and to the presentation in a way that celebrates the comic book medium enough that a non-wrestling fan could get on board.
KS: Have you had to think that way on any of your other books?
DWJ: I saw this kind of happening with Murder Falcon. People were like, “I don't like metal, but I love Murder Falcon.” That is one of the books that I'm most proud of in my entire library of books now. I think it's part of my personality — I love inviting people into things that I love. I want to share things. There's no joy if it's by myself. Powerbomb is made to share my love of pro wrestling and share my little story in comics, kind of all in one package.
KS: This project is unique in the sense that you're adapting something from “real life.” People can't go outside and see Superman and Doomsday fighting, but you can go to the arena and watch wrestling. Was there any adaptation in your storytelling style required to convey the energy of wrestling on the page since there is a kind of a reference point for how these specific action points should look?
DWJ: Well, part of it is that I’m making something that's quite comic-booky. So there is an element of otherworldliness and an element of pushing the boundaries of what is actually possible. But at the same time, I wanted to celebrate the specifics of pro wrestling, which means including moves, like my favorite moves, or famous moves, or moves that people might recognize — while also not excluding people that don't necessarily know what a pile driver looks like. Because as cool as a pile driver is, if you just draw the singular image of a guy getting pile-driven, it looks like one guy's head in another guy's crotch and they're suspended in air. Even in wrestling photography, sometimes it's a little bit hard to tell what's happening here. With that, there was this pressure to include visual breakdowns of moves and making sure that people understand the ferocity of what a pile driver “would actually do to a person.”
KS: You’ve set up quite a challenge for yourself as an artist.
DWJ: This is a huge challenge, because I only have so much real estate and here I am trying to make these moves make sense to people. How the heck do I get this across? How do I make a submission hold work? Oh my God, it's hard enough to draw a body when it's just standing or running or punching. When you're watching that in a wrestling ring, or if you're watching MMA, it makes sense because we, as visual people, we see by step — okay, he grabbed his arm here and he moved it around like this, and now he's behind him. It's such an intense breakdown. I have this German suplex page here [holds up a six panel page of a sequence of wrestling moves]. If I want to show somebody getting in German suplex, I have to show somebody getting behind the guy, then big, big moment. Boom. It all has to be super spelled out.
KS: I assume you’re not just diagramming a wrestling match step by step in the comic. What's the balance between how much real estate you want to give to conveying what's happening in the wrestling ring versus the outside the ring story?
DWJ: A big part of it is, a lot of the character building and storytelling that happens in Powerbomb is happening inside the ring. Something that you kind of see in pro wrestling, which I really like, is a lot of that storytelling needs to be told within the context of an actual match, because you don't want [wrestlers] standing around talking all the time. I wanted to try and mimic that, but at the same time, whenever I was working on my own projects — even with Skybound where I have an editorial team —every once in a while they'd be like, “You know, this is a lot of fight pages here, we’ve got to get some more story in” and I'm like, “Ugh!” [laughter] Maybe it's bad that my un-editorialized self is unleashed on the poor comic reading population. If I need a few more pages to make sure you get that, that's a figure four leglock, then the only person that's stopping that is me.
KS: Finally, when should readers be on the lookout for this?
DWJ: You can preorder it now through your local comic shop, and it'll be out June 15th.