It should be hard to imagine a world where the government routinely censors entertainers, where media personalities need government approval simply to do their thing, and where people risk their freedom just expressing their opinion.
It should be, but it isn't.
That kind of world isn't new, since George Orwell cornered the market on government poking into the lives of its people for their own good decades ago, but it's never been closer to real life than it is now, in the wake of 9/11 and the Patriot Act.
The tension between government and freedom, between saying what you need to say and thinking what the government wants you to think, is the big theme in writer CJ Hurtt and artist Shawn Richter's new comic One Last Song, a six issue miniseries debuting in April from Brainscan Comics.
CBR News had the opportunity to sit down and speak with the guys about the comic book, the future and what it all means for us.
CBR News: So, simply, what's "One Last Song" about?
CJ Hurtt: In 2046, all American media personalities are forced to either take a loyalty oath and receive their DHS certified "performance cards" or face being sent away to a "Terror Aversion Camp." Musician Amanda Casey has an inside line to the real story behind the white washed government sanctioned news and devises a way to spread the truth. She travels from town to town giving her audience the real news disguised as love songs.
Shawn Richter: She has a contact, a former D.H.S. agent named Brian Brennan, who still has sources within the Department. He passes information to Amanda, who in turn spreads the word to her audiences in the form of "simple love songs." Our story begins with the DHS. contacting Amanda, and they have plans to turn her to the "dark side" so to speak...
CJ: In this way DHS can have a hand in controlling its own backlash. Amanda learns of this manipulation and decides to play along and trade a little of her own freedom for a larger audience with the hope that in the end, her side will prevail.
It's not only a story that looks (albeit through a sci-fi lens) at the ever expanding and worrisome powers that the current administration has, but also how people are always having to compromise to get ahead.
CBR: What was the inspiration for "One Last Song?"
CJ: A few years ago I read an article about the 16th century Irish political song, "Roisin Dubh." The song is based on an even older love poem that probably had no political undertones. However, when it was adapted for song (possibly by Antoine Raifteiri) it became a sort of "secret" rallying cry. Certain factions of the Irish wished to be free of the British and hoped that the Catholic Church and Spain would come to their aid. Speaking plainly about such things would be considered treason so the real meaning of the lyrics had to be couched. I found the idea of having such strong political rhetoric hidden within a love song totally fascinating. Hidden information that one might miss at first, but could hold an audience rapt or maybe even spur on a revolution? That's powerful.
Meanwhile, our modern day headlines were, and still are, full of stories about the curtailing of freedoms "in order to preserve them." I made a kind of mental connection between this old song and the need for it with our own current political climate. "One Last Song" started rolling from there.
CBR: Government and corporate intrusion in people's lives are on the rise, do you think the future in OLS is becoming a likely one?
CJ: A few years ago, I would have said absolutely not. Now, I dunno. Things definitely seem to be getting a lot worse before becoming any better. Remember to vote! I am shocked on an almost daily basis by the stories in the news. Habeas Corpus being called into question, warrant less wire tapping, CIA torture planes. It's very sad.
SR: God, I hope not. But you know, it's the sort of thing that has to be watched carefully. "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants" and all that. And we keep seeing articles regarding government interference with the First Amendment and such and we post them on the blog when we do. We feel that in whatever small way that we can make a difference or bring things to people's attention, we're obligated, especially given the subject matter of the book!
SR: The Engine! There was a thread on there that Warren Ellis posted to facilitate artists' and writers' collaboration. CJ emailed me and gave me the synopses of several different pitches and "One Last Song" jumped out at me.
CJ: Shawn tells everyone that we met on The Engine. We actually met in an opium den. Don't tell his folks.
CBR: What's the working process like?
CJ: Lots of swearing at each other and a few blood curses from time to time. Other than that, it goes smoothly. Actually Shawn is great to work with. He has very solid design sense and is full of great ideas.
I try to write fairly detailed scripts that let whatever artist that I'm working with know exactly what I'm going for. Shawn takes these scripts and carefully goes over each panel description. Sometimes he'll have different ideas about how to achieve the same effect but with fewer (or more) panels and different camera angles. It's very collaborative. He crits the words and I crit the art. There's usually very little blood spilled in the process.
SR: CJ is fantastic to work with. He sends me very complete scripts and then showers me with praise if I change things on him. What can I say - the guy is awesome.
CBR: Talk about the process of bringing "One Last Song" to the printed page?
SR: I get the script via email and I print it out and read it. I read it three or four times and start doodling in my sketchbook and then I thumbnail the whole book in one pass. If I have time, I take as much photo reference as I can and then I start pencilling the page. I work on a smooth 3 ply Strathmore bristol board, sized 11 x 17 inches. I draw my pages in a blue pencil and then I ink with a combination of nibs, brushes and technical pens.
Once I scan the pages in, I remove the blue pencil in Photoshop, and then I draw the panel borders and letter it in Photoshop as well. I know that most guys use illustrator
or something similar, but I have never gotten into that, so I stick with what works for me.
CBR: You've been pretty creative with your promotional ideas for "One Last Song." Tell us a little about them.
SR: I really like the marketing aspect of comics, actually. So we went all out for this one, handling a lot of the marketing ourselves. It's not that Brainscan doesn't do marketing - they've been awesome, providing us with a spot in Previews, a website, sending out promotional material to retailers and a bunch of other stuff - but I had some ideas I wanted to try myself.
First off, we had a contest for one lucky reader to win an appearance in the first issue of "One Last Song," which won by Chris Bimmage, who we'll draw them into the comic as an internet/radio dj who gets "removed" by government agents. Plus he get a signed copy of the book and an official "One Last Song" DISSIDENT t-shirt! Not bad for taking one little picture.
The next thing on the docket is one that we picked up from the "Phonogram" guys - we're building street teams, so if anyone wants to help out, they just have to email me their mailing address and they'll get a batch of postcards to distribute to comic stores, coffee shops, record stores, etc.
Finally, we came up with this swanky little trailer to help spread the word on the book. Check it out on YouTube.
It's a lot of work, but it's fun. And I hope that readers will enjoy it too!
CBR: Brain Scan is pretty new, but they seem to be doing pretty well. Why publish with them?
CJ: Brain Scan is one of those publishers that totally goes to bat for you. They're always available to answer questions or go over any concerns. They treat creators fairly and make sure that your book has the best fighting chance possible. You're not "Indie Creator #238" with them.
SR: Well, CJ had the contact there, so I mainly followed his lead. But as I've gotten to know Brian Kirsten, the publisher, he's shown himself to be a really great guy and he loves comics. Moreover, he loves comics that other people aren't doing! Man, every time I hear about indie guys doing superheroes, I wonder. Don't get me wrong, I love
superheroes, but I think that DC and Marvel have that covered. The smaller publishers need to explore the avenues that aren't being taken.
The other thing that Brain Scan offered us is opportunity. CJ and I are frankly pretty green and it's nice for someone like Brian to take an interest in us, especially considering how much press they're getting with Rich Johnston's "Civil Wardrobe."
CBR: So are there any plans for more stories in the "One Last Song" future?
CJ: More than likely. What I originally thought of as a definite end to the series has turned out to be a pretty good starting point for another story arc. Also, there are a number of minor characters with interesting back stories that would be fun to explore.
CBR: What else have you each got brewing?
SR: Together, we're gonna hopefully have something out after this called "The Grid" and I have a few other projects floating around with different authors. One of those which is nearing release, it's called "Against the Wall," written by Dino Caruso. It's a baseball/romance OGN that will hopefully be coming out in the summer.
CJ: Shawn already mentioned "The Grid," which I'm hoping to get crackin' on ASAP. Shawn? Also, I have a noir novel in the works and an historical fiction comic
that I've just started.
CBR: Thanks for talking with us, and good luck ducking the men in serious suits.