Interview with Dave Brink from Earthling
Ian: I can tell that The Earthling is a passion project of yours. Can you take a second to tell us a little bit about your passion and how you translated it to Earthling?
Dave: I’m venturing a guess that you mean the animal rights angle of the book? It is true that I am very concerned about the systematic injustice humans bestow upon animals on a scale unimaginable, driven by corporate greed and cultural influence. I try to speak up for animals when I can, because I feel that we – as the dominant species – have the obligation to take care of this planet and its inhabitants, not exploit our power.
A few years ago, about the same time I decided to get back into making comics, I watched a brutal documentary named Earthlings. This lead to a life-changing epiphany for me. I shelved the project I was working on, and began to develop the concept of an animal activist superhero after finding out there was none amongst the many comic book heroes already present. The animals needed their own warrior, and in this day and age where superheroes seem more popular than ever it only made sense to introduce one. There is this general idea that superheroes are supposed to protect the vulnerable and fight against injustice, yet contrary to that concept the most exploited and abused species on the planet are hardly considered. Of course this is a reflection of our real world. Almost all creators of superhero books are non-vegan, so even the few characters who are supposed to have a vegan ideology aren’t written as such and therefor render this strong worldview basically non-existent in the character’s lifestyle. Realistically this ethical understanding should have a profound effect on the characters and their decisions, much like the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents gave life to the Batman, or how the events leading to uncle Ben’s death taught Spider-Man about power and responsibility. Earthling’s core beliefs drive his actions, as they should be.
Ian: You’re in a unique position of speaking two (maybe more?) languages; are there challenges in making comics that come up because English is a second language?
Dave: Well, I do need to be particularly careful that no little mistakes sneak in because of the difference in rules between the Dutch and English languages. For instance, in the Netherlands the police is on a case, but in English the police are on a case. A mistake like this is easily overlooked, but luckily I have my trustworthy letterer HdE who does minor edits when necessary. Thanks, HdE!
Ian: Yet another reason HdE is a master at his craft!
Ian: Do you find it a challenge to intertwine traditional comic writing with the message of veganism?
Dave: Most definitely. In essence I want Earthling to be an enjoyable superhero book. On the surface all the ingredients for a cool superhero comic are present; a troubled and driven protagonist, menacing villains, a basic setting and a plot. There is a lot to explore. But then there is the entire reason the main character does what he does; his vegan conviction. Not only does this ethical drive set him apart from more traditional superheroes, and thus marking him as a potential anti-hero, it can also make it more difficult for readers to relate to him. Although I find this aspect of the entire concept challenging, I’m afraid it’s a not something I can work around. The entire reason this book even exists is because I wanted to play with the idea of what happens when a someone whose ideology strongly goes against the culturally defined non-vegan norm suddenly gains superpowers. Although the book is received well, I have noticed that some comic book fans shy away from Earthling because of the vegan label. It’s too different. However, for some vegan readers it’s not different enough, or even offensive. I know it’s impossible to create something everyone likes, all I can do is try and produce the best comic possible.
Ian: Do you feel that The Earthling is unique because of his passion for animals or do you think you could have wrote him more like other traditional heroes like Superman?
Dave: Superman wouldn’t be the character we know if he had the same worldview as Earthling. He would be a misanthrope, constantly aware of the suffering of animals by the hands of humans. In fact, this contrast in philosophy is addressed in Earthling issue 2. The Flying Dutchman is much like the traditional superhero, deliberately recognizable as a Superman allegory. He is basically the Superman of Genuine Comics, and because people are familiar with this iconic representation of heroism in pop culture it is clear that Earthling has a completely different take on what being a hero means.
Ian: As I said you are very passionate about this project, do you find that the writing comes easy when dealing with things like animal cruelty and if so is it because you picture yourself in that role?
Dave: Most of the time I don’t feel writing comes easy. It’s honestly a tough project. Of course, animal cruelty in itself is a subject that is an unfortunate reality. Despite the superhero theme, Earthling addresses real life issues that I think are highly important. I’d love to dial up the crazy factor and take the hero on the wildest adventures I can imagine, but Earthling just isn’t the book for that. As a character he is too grounded, and it will become apparent in later issues that the world he lives in offers a wealth of adventures he wants no part in. He knows his role. So when I write I try to keep it small, while exploring the concept into unexpected territory. But there sure are moments when the script seems to write itself, and indeed because I know exactly what Earthling would do or say in specific situations, or because a story element flows perfectly into the next. When things click, they click.
Ian: I see a lot of yourself in The Earthling, do you find that to be true and if so was it by design?
Dave: Yeah, I think that’s inevitable. Earthling was born out of frustration and anger. He is my rage and sadness. Maybe it’s a bit therapeutic to have a fantasy character who goes primal against animal abusers, because I’m absolutely not the violent type. I think Lovechild is the better part of me, trying to find peace and see the best in people. I should listen to her more often.
Ian: One of my favorite aspects of The Earthling have been the villains. Do the villains draw from real life at all like The Earthling?
Dave: Glad you like those, Ian! From early on in the development stage I knew that Earthling’s rogues gallery should consist out of characters representing the darkest aspects of humanity and their results. It’s what he fights against on every level; ethically, emotionally and physically. They are his real life demons. I already have more villains on stand by than I have room for them in the current storyline. The villains are a product of the world we as humans have created, the values we carry. Greed, money, power, arrogance, indifference, fear, entitlement, war, these are the driving forces behind every major human “civilization”. And just like humanity these villains have lost their way. We see a snippet of that when Lovechild calms the Carnist down and for a moment exposes the vulnerable side of Edgar Bosic. Deep within he doesn’t want to be an egocentric and violent brute. He was made that way, something that’ll be more clear as the series progresses.
Ian: The Earthling has a lot of other superheroes like Lovechild and White Knight; are they similar to The Earthling in that they mirror people in your life?
Dave: Some do, some don’t. So far I have not used individuals as examples for main comic book characters, but I do draw a lot of inspiration from reoccurring conversations and cultural mindsets. The White Knight is a prime example. I see him everywhere. In every discussion about veganism this guy pops up. I see him in strangers and people I know. The character is the personification of the dominant ideology and rhetoric animal activists face every day.
Ian: You have taken a unique approach to finding artists to collaborate with; can you take a second to tell us about the artists you work with?
Dave: So far I have used two different creative teams on each book, to speed up the process and to help lighten everyone’s load. Because my scripts are rather segmented I think this strategy isn’t problematic. I also enjoy working with others and I like to offer independent artists an opportunity to work on a Genuine comic when possible. However, I am currently trying to get a consistent look for the series, so Jim Jimenez and Jeremy Scott Browning are respectively the main penciller and colorist for issue 3. Their styles work very well for the story and their crafts compliment each other. I met Jeremy through the collaborative Facebook page Creators United and was very impressed with his skills. Various independent artists had already contributed illustrations to the first Earthling art book, which would be featured on the Kickstarter campaign as an extra perk for backers. I asked Jeremy if he would be interested in doing a pin-up as well, and he ended up producing three character pieces for the book. About that time a different colorist who was supposed to work on Earthling issue 1 dropped out, so I had a job opening. Jeremy was very enthusiastic about the project and I was honored to have him on board. It also turned out Jeremy has a knack for designing characters, and he had quite a few. So a while ago we merged his creations into the Genuine Comics universe, where I’m sure they’ll find a good home. While I was conceptualizing Earthling, an upcoming artist named Izik Bell was gathering a lot of attention with his own custom deck of horror playing cards and he was posting pin-ups and sequentials featuring famous comic book characters online. He drew some of the coolest Batman and Wolverine pin-ups I had ever seen and I knew I wanted to work with him. I’m honestly not much of a fan of the recent trend to make comics visually politically correct and realistic, so Izik’s exaggerated nineties style had me all nostalgic. He and Jeremy did the cover for the art book, after which they went crazy with the interior art for the comic. Izik even convinced me to stretch one particular page out to a double spread, so he could go all out! It added an extra page to the book, but it was well worth it. The first commission Bien Flores did for me was an Earthling pin-up for the art book. He had a career in animation and I think this really shines through his work. On his resumé are animated features like the Curious George TV series, Curious George: Monkey on the Run, Little Mermaid 3, and Fox and the Hound 2. It suffices to say that his rendition of the Vegan Warrior was nothing short of spectacular, and I was thrilled to have him doing sequentials for the book soon after. Bien is also one of the most modest and nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. He’s definitely on my go-to list for future projects. Since Jeremy was working his magic on Izik’s interior art, I was on the lookout for a colorist to team up with Bien. Gaz Gretsky was doing the ‘Hundred days of making comics’ challenge at the time and I enjoyed following his Youtube channel. He too had an extensive track record, ranging from animation work for MTV, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Verizon, Scion, and Pure Storage, to comics as Legends of the Bay, Sales Autopsy, Adventure Race, Buncoman, the Lemonade Stand, VMSight, EEP, Hero Envy, and Kid Switch for Reckless side Kick Productions. When Gaz came on board as a colorist for Earthling, he was also writing and illustrating his own book, The Horror A4, which is now done. You should check that one out sometime, Ian. It rocks! Jim Jimenez is another talented artist from the Philippines. Must be something in the water over there. I know he was still in high school when he did professional work for Space Horror Comics along with his equally talented brothers. The list of local and international comic book projects he did sequentials for is quite impressive; the manga graphic novel K8, Black Ink’s John Bautista versus the Monster of the World, Tokyopop’s Grand Theft Galaxy, and The Sword and the Butterfly, amongst others. Jim and his brothers have also been in the music industry for over twenty years, with eight album releases as the platinum awardee recording artists J-Brothers. I’m honored to be working with Jim on Earthling. And last but not least there’s Earthling’s letterer, HdE. Lettering is a craft, and HdE mastered it like few others in the independent industry. He has lettered award nominated material, such as the UK small press sensation Lou Scannon and Big Dog Ink’s Legend of Oz: The Wicked West, as well as several other of their series, specifically Serusis, Ursa Minor and the acclaimed Shahrazad. Bob Salley’s Salvagers is another project he’s involved with. Besides lettering, HdE is also the writer and artist behind the space opera Broken Goddess Athena, which is currently being serialized on the web. And if you’re interested in his take on Japanese animation while listening to his eloquent British accent, he has his own Youtube Channel under the banner HdE does Anime. Good stuff. I owe all of these guys my thanks.
Ian: Is it tough to find a groove with all these different artists?
Dave: Not really. The language and culture barriers between me and the filipino pencillers can sometimes lead to funny script interpretations, but nothing problematic. So far I’ve been very lucky with the project teams. Everyone is very professional.
Ian: Can you tell us a little bit about Genuine Comics?
Dave: Sure. Genuine Comics started in the late nineties. By that time I had already been creating a large library of characters of my own, and inspired by the success of Image Comics I decided to try and set up a comic book banner under which other Dutch wannabee creators could form an alliance and get themselves published in the Netherlands. I was very young and naive, not to mention far too arrogant for my skill set, yet somehow other people also got enthusiastic about the idea and joined up. The plan was to build a shared comic book universe we could play around in, much like the big publishers. Most of the Genuine members were still in school, and we learned how to self-publish as we went along. In the following seven years or so we released a few titles, all in Dutch. We also managed to do some work for a science fiction magazine named SF Terra. Overall it was quite the endeavor, until we all went our own way. I had no desire to do comics anymore. I honestly thought the days of Genuine were over. It took me thirteen years after that period to see my passion for creating comics rekindled and I began to draw again. Looking at all these old sketches and concepts that were never pursued into actual projects I knew that I would someday find regret, imagining what could have been. The groundwork for this awesome universe was laid out, just waiting to be explored and build upon. I got back in touch with most of the former Genuine crew, which was awesome. For a bit some of us played around with the idea of a Genuine 2.0, but we knew we wouldn’t be getting back together in full force. Nevertheless, as the Earthling project started up, Roland Lamers, Marco Hagens and Casper Hermsen all lend me their talents and contributed to the art book. I hope to work with them some more in the future. Fingers crossed.
Ian: Without spoilers, how far do you plan on taking The Earthling?
Dave: I honestly don’t know. It would of course be terrific if we could continue this series for many years to come, but this really depends on the financial viability. I have a lot of ideas, that’s for sure. The current storyline will need at least six issues, so that’s the focus for now.
Ian: Do you have other plans for The Earthling; TV or Movies?
Dave: Not at this point. I had someone contact me about an actual animated short, but nothing solid. For the time being I just want a good limited comic book series.
Ian: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Dave: There are a few things in pre-production. The Genuine Comics universe is vast and has many interesting inhabitants I’d like to see featured in their own title someday. I think it’s best to expand slowly, with the Earthling book now being the starting position. The character Lovechild is in fact member of a group named the Free Radicals, which was my original project before I shelved it to make Earthling. I’d like to get that back up and running again. It’s probably something I’ll be writing and penciling myself. I’m also considering an anthology book of sorts, with short stories introducing various concepts. The Flying Dutchman, Shadow Slayers, Fource Majeure, Gem, Strikeforce Alaska, High Five, Ajax, the list is long. It’s a matter of trying to find the budget and the right people for the right projects. Then there’s the option of reprinting old comics that have never been translated to English. We published all interior art in grey tones back then, so seeing those stories in color for the first time would be great. We’ll see how things go. While it’s fun dreaming big, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. The comic book market is tough.
Ian: Where can people find The Earthling?
Dave: We’re on Facebook for Genuine Comics and Facebook for Earthling. Instagram and Twitter, and the US alternative versions of the comics are available through IndyPlanet. The European books – which have different covers – can be ordered through the Facebook pages until we have an actual website.
Ian: Where can people find you?
Dave: Basically the same social media channels. I do have my own DeviantArt page, but it’s not that active. Hopefully I’ll get to update it more often in the future.