Matt Bors and Ben Clarkson’s new AHOY Comics series Justice Warriors is a send-up of comic and cop show conventions in a futuristic and odd sci-fi setting. Laced with all manner of comedy and satire, Justice Warriors is sure to satisfy any reader looking for an intelligent and witty alternative to the average comic.
Bors and Clarkson chatted with us about Justice Warriors in this exclusive interview which details the origin of the project and the intricacies of juggling so many different genre conventions.
Justice Warriors is a biting parody and satire. What was the genesis of the comic?
Ben Clarkson: Putting the world of bubble city together was a long process. There’s no genesis moment, I guess I drew a picture of a girl in a ski-mask with a bag with a money sign on it, running from cops and asked, “Who are these cops?” Originally it was just Swamp Cop, who I never found a better name for, as a highway patrolman.
I had done some contract work for a children’s show producer who was developing a musical YouTube show, and worked with him on character design and some pilot clips and thought, “Hey, this seems pretty easy? Why wouldn’t I make my own?”
I just kept pouring in more of my interests and stories into it for years. There was a real a-ha moment when I renamed the location from Dome City to Bubble City, that was a rush. It comes from a fermentation of animation, cyberpunk, comics, utopian fiction, dystopian fiction and an urge to make something with stories. It’s not just pop culture pastiche though, it really is its own world, with its own rules.
Matt Bors: From there, Ben got in touch with me initially to write and produce as an animation. I immediately fell in love with the concepts behind Bubble City and the Uninhabited Zone and we started churning out ideas. That was the summer of 2020 and I think it was clear that the whole project was less daunting and less expensive as a comic and we could reasonably expect it to get made. We pitched it sometime in 2021 and pretty quickly had a few places wanting to publish it.
Structurally, your new comics has been described as “a collaborative art process involving both creators contributing to various stages of layouts”. Can you each explain how you work on the comic together?
Clarkson: We work back and forth on basically every aspect of the comic. The story of the comic is very collaborative, and we both work on the outlines. We’re both focussed on different questions too, I am a real nut for structure.
We have certain responsibilities for production, Matt will prepare draft scripts and do a lot of the heavy lifting on writing, I do a lot of the heavy lifting on art. The second those first passes are done we’re back in it together. I’ll add jokes and Matt will redesign layouts and panels. It’s a joy to work together, and when you’re both on the same page you can get so much more done. There isn’t a wasted panel in the series, and a lot have been reworked over and over for maximum joke saturation.
Bors: I really strongly believe that art is part of the actual writing of comics. It’s hard for me not to imagine layouts while writing and sometimes I’ll provide really specific ideas as sketches. But you also have to leave room for the artist to come back with better ideas once they’re solving this stuff on a page. In issue 3, Ben turned a splash page and following page with a few panels on it into this wonderful two page spread with a crowd scene with these inset panels connected in a really inventive way. Sometimes the writer and artist are really in their own lanes and everything works fine that way, but comics also allows for this closer kind of collaboration that I love.
Since we’re both writing and artists, we’re always collaborating and punching up the script or redrawing things. A perfect example is how we were both sketching out different versions of the police station design until we got it just right.
Matt: You are well-known for your political cartoons. Do you feel that Justice Warriors is one big, extended version of one?
Bors: In a sense it is, if you employ a very broad definition of the term. But a political cartoon by definition is a limited art form where the subject is a political issue. You can dress that up with fantastical scenarios, as I was doing more and more in my final years of political cartooning, but you are still working within the constraints of the field and with the purpose of making a specific point. Constraints are often good for art, but I wanted to move on to actual comic books. In Justice Warriors the story, characters, and world itself are at the forefront. We’re tackling a ton of issues, many of which are baked into the way we’ve constructed the dynamic between Bubble City and the Uninhabited Zone. I’d say it’s far more of an unabashed genre comic than a political cartoon.
Ben: You have worked in animation and comics. What do you enjoy about each, and what is frustrating about each medium?
Clarkson: I like drawing. That sounds so dumb for an artist to say, but I have really organized my life around drawing. During some of my less successful years my wife tried to convince me to get an economics degree, and it was just impossible to consider stopping drawing. Even thinking about it felt like someone was tearing the nerves out of my spine.
I can’t really point out the frustrations I have with the mediums per se. I am pretty sensitive to learning the formal rules to mediums before I embark on working in them. I read several books on making comics before making comics, and the same with animation. The mediums have rules that map out the well used techniques and those work for 99% of cases. The really interesting and, I guess, frustrating parts are when you want to get beyond those rules, a bit experimental even, while still communicating with an audience. That stuff you can’t always summon, and when you find an idea it’s a real flash of lightning. Getting to that level of proficiency with visual languages is a long and grueling “wax on wax off” process, and I want it NOW. It’s a great feeling when it comes, and I am always looking.
The world of Justice Warriors is populated by all manner of humans, sub-humans, mutants, and creatures. How did you go about assembling this world?
Bors: This is all Ben. He did the initial character designs for the world and once I saw pages with every manner of mutant imaginable, I knew I could throw any kind of character in there. Like a blobfish cop, say, or a six foot tall ant joining a cyberpunk gang based on vibes. In the third issue there’s a massive riot. I won’t spoil why but the crowds are filled with dozens and dozens of mutants of every variety, really fantastical designs. There’s a mutant who is a giant tongue and one with an R Mutt urinal head. This is the kind of world Justice Warriors is—any variety of weird you can fathom exists and will be arrested for loitering.
Clarkson: I stare at the page and it comes tumbling out. I am a real believer of working my mind for creativity. I do improv theater in Montreal. I used to be in a jazz fusion band. I just let it come out. I don’t think too much. Sometimes I will see my son’s high chair in a weird angle and think “that’s a character.” It is in issue 1. I drew a shark in a chef’s hat in the same panel.
I also try to hide other characters I love in the margins. There’s a lot of hidden jokes and references.
I try not to put any restraints on the mutants. Sometimes we fall in love with lil background guys and they flow to the top of the story for a bit. We have a guy we call Tube Eyes who I love, and goes from a background doodle in issue 2 to getting some major facetime in issue four.
AHOY Comics is known for a number of satirical titles. Why was AHOY the right place for Justice Warriors?
Bors: I believe you answered your own question. AHOY is really focused on satire in a way other publishers are not and they seemed to really get what we were doing.
Clarkson: They said we could do Justice Warriors with absolutely no compromises and they believed in the project. That’s a big deal for me. I am a new creator, with a new IP, and it has been a hard journey trying to make this world, this thing I have spent a decade building, a real thing. It can be a real thing other people can enjoy, and love, and think about with me. For someone to say “yes, make it, we believe in this” is simply astounding to me. Please go and buy the comic, just to reward their faith in me, a little weirdo.
Justice Warriors #1 will be available in finer comic shops everywhere on June 8.