I met Jason McNamara a couple of months back at WonderCon, where he showed me pages from his upcoming graphic novel The Martian Confederacy: Rednecks, Red Planet with artist Paige Braddock, creator of Jane’s World. With the book coming out in a couple of months, I thought I’d catch back up with him and see what he could tell us about the book and himself.
JK Parkin: Fill us in on your secret origin. How did you get involved in comics and where would we know you from?
Jason McNamara: I never had a chance. My father taught me to read with Spider-Man comics and ever since I’ve been interpreting the world into the six-panel Romita layout of my mind.
I wrote my first comic in junior high and continued to write and make films for years. I would send the occasional script to Marvel and wait for my Spider-Man adorned rejection letter.
I didn’t really get going until I met the guy who would become my creative life partner, artist-at-large Tony Talbert. We were bitter enemies at first, me being a fan of the black Spider-Man suit and he being a Ditko purist. But I gave him some of my short stories, and he showed me the graphic novel he was hiding behind the refrigerator. A partnership was born.
To write comic books, I think you actually have to work through the hurdles with an illustrator first, otherwise you’re just a virgin directing a pornographic film. Maybe I’m just a sap, but I think of Tony and I as being on a creative journey together. Of course with that said, I’d sell the bum out in a heartbeat.
Since then Tony and I have collaborated on the Xeric Award-winning First Moon, the much-downloaded Continuity and the self-published Less Than Hero mini-series. My upcoming graphic novel The Martian Confederacy is my first collaboration with a different artist, the wonderfully talented Paige Braddock.
Oh, yeah I’ve also just published a zine called “Heartbreak in the Time of Challupa.” It’s a collection of stories about divorce, substance abuse and Taco Bell.
Confidentially, my secret power is to get better looking the more I drink, but unfortunately nobody else can see it. That’s why it’s such a burden.
JK: What’s Martian Confederacy about?
Jason: It’s about the struggle for breathable air on Mars in the year 3535. Mars has been colonized but the air isn’t quite safe to breath. So the residents are forced to rely on renewable breathers. But one corporation has a monopoly on breathers and jacks up the price. The populace is literally held hostage by the air they breathe. So when a cure for the toxic air is developed, ruthless politicians and outlaws compete to find it first.
As for the setting, I thought it would be fun to write characters that were steeped in history yet completely ignorant of it. So there’s a millennium bug that wiped out all recorded information in the year 3,000. Various religious groups moved in to try and rewrite history and a dark age of disillusionment followed until the discovery of a
20-century video store. The films are all thought to be documentaries, so the people of the future think Planet Of The Apes, Star Trek and Pulp Fiction actually happened.
The story itself was inspired by Spain’s colonization of South America, the writing of Jamaica Kincaid, the Monroe Doctrine and Bechtel’s fumbled attempt to privatize the drinking water of Cochabamba, Bolivia.
But don’t worry about it being too serious, we’ve got drinking bears and horny tri-sexual robots. Bring the kids!
Here’s the solicitation:
Welcome to Mars in the year 3535. Stripped of its natural resources and forgotten as a vacation destination, Martians struggle to afford breathable air. Boone, Spinner and Lou were three outlaws looking out for themselves. But when a cure for Mars’s toxic air falls into the wrong hands, thieves are forced to become heroes. And as an entire planet gasps for air, three rednecks will fight for the survival of their planet.
JK: The book has three main characters — Boone, Spinner and Lou. Give us a rundown on each of them … who they are, what they’re doing on Mars, etc.
Jason: Well, people have been living on Mars for a good 800 years at this point. Animals introduced into the foreign environment have evolved to coexist with humans. Mars is past its heyday as a destination planet and is struggling to reinvent itself as a tourist destination.
Martian society is ruled by the Alculde, who represents the legislative, executive and judicial branch of Mars. He’s as crooked as the day is long and has a sweet spot for genetic abnormalities. He’s assisted by Sally, his two-sided assistant, who loves him half the time. It depends which side is on top. When the cure for toxic air is developed, the Alculde’s concerned it will derail his retirement. This brings him into conflict with our rednecked heroes.
Boone is a classic third-world orphan raised by the neighborhood. He’s a scrappy, hard-working thief, stealing from the tourists and taking care of the locals. While street smart and tough, he’s a little deficient in the heartfelt emotions category. For example, when he has to tell a woman her boyfriend’s dead, he phrases it in a knock knock joke.
Spinner is an eight foot tall bear with a wife and two cubs. He uses his status as a protected species to fence stolen goods from human and nonhuman life forms. Spinner’s been buying stolen goods from Boone for a long time and grudgingly thinks of the human as a friend.
Lou is an android who works as a personal shopper for tourists. In the off-season she helps Boone steal back all the items she helped buy. As a tri-sexual, Lou is down for a good time with girls, guys and/or robots. She hides her feelings for Boone behind flippant and outrageous behavior.
JK: How did you and Paige get together on it?
Jason: Paige Braddock is the Eisner-nominated creator of Jane’s World, a book she’s been self-publishing for years; she just released her eighth volume. Paige is just someone I’m in absolute awe of.
We first met at a convention panel and soon realized we had more chemistry than Agent Orange. But what could we do with this mutual admiration of ours? She’s gay, and I’m at least four expensive operations away from being a woman. So we decided to make a comic book baby instead. She’s my comic book baby mama.
Paige was looking to do something outside of Jane’s World and asked me to write something for her. She gave me some sketches of characters she was developing and some basic story ideas. I took those illustrations home and put them on my wall. After a few weeks of staring at them, the story just clicked in my head one day.
JK: How do you and Paige work together? What’s the back and forth like?
Jason: Well, like I said, I have a lot of respect for Paige, and, quite frankly, she’s the last artist that needs me to write a book for them. She’s got a fantastic one-woman show going on with Jane’s World. So I actively sought her feedback, as an editor and an artist, because I want the script to reflect her strengths and be something she can be excited about.
It’s a great relationship. We’re both open to feedback on our ends. There have been a couple of spirited debates over content, and I think the book is better for it. We’re still tweaking dialogue and debating last-minute art changes to make the book as good as it can be. It’s going to be a one-color book, which is a first for us both. Brian Miller from HiFi Colour Design is doing the honors for us.
JK: I remember when you guys released Continuity on the web, for free, in whole, before it was published. If you’ll indulge me for a moment while I channel the spirit of Larry Young:
“Initial orders of our books in the direct market are in the 1000-3000 range, depending on project and creative team, and that’s where Continuity fell. About average for an AiT book. The month that the pdf was first offered, it had on the order of 30,000 individual downloads. That tells me that the Internet audience and the dead-tree enthusiasts are basically two different sides of the stadium.”
Larry goes on to say that he feels it was a positive move, although not necessarily from a sales perspective. Looking back, how do you feel about it, and what did you guys learn from it?
Jason: I really had no idea how big of a deal it was. Larry had this wacky idea he wanted to test out on Continuity and I said, “Sure.” If he’s going to pay the printing bill, I think he’s entitled to market it any way he wants. I figured a hundred people would download it and that would be the end of it. But I’m an idiot. It blew up overnight.
Thirty thousand people downloaded it within the first week or so. After self-publishing my previous book, I was elated to be in front of so many readers. For me that far outweighed the hundred or so orders we may have lost. But when it came to following up on that exposure, I dropped the ball.
At the time I was happy to lean back and bask in the glow of giving away 30,000 copies. Unfortunately our follow-up book, First Moon, wouldn’t hit the shelves for another six months. If I could do it again, I would have something to complement the download.
For example, let’s say I create a stand-alone issue of “Children McNuggets” to be released free online the same month the ongoing “Children McNuggets” series is solicited. The free pdf generates interest in the series, publicizing it for the retailer and the free issue eventually generates revenue for itself when it’s collected in a trade.
I think that would satisfy online readers, book store readers and retailers. Any publishers want to give it a try?
JK: You were at the Writers ol’ Fashioned table when I met you at WonderCon. What is Writers ol’ Fashioned?
Jason: The Writers ol’ Fashioned is a group of Bay Area comic book writers who get together once or twice a month to swap stories, give each other feedback and have a couple drinks.
There’s myself, Smoke and Guns author Kirsten Baldock, the recently Eisner-nominated Homeless Channel creator Matt Silady, all around dirty S.O.B. True Travel Tales author Justin Hall and a host of up-and-coming writers and columnists.
Writing can be a lonely occupation; it’s nice having a support network. We’re all such different kinds of writers; we’re never standing on each other’s toes. It makes for a comfortable support network. Also reading work from upcoming superstars like David Brothers, Storm, Emily Stackhouse and Danger Bob is inspiring. So the group is equal parts support, inspiration and friendly competition.
JK: Isn’t Graeme part of the group as well?
Jason: Graeme is part of the group and has even made it to a few meetings. He’s a polite, well-mannered gentleman with above-average hygiene. People like him make me nervous. The booze and BS flows pretty freely at the meetings, and I’m occasionally worried some of my hooch-induced comments will make it onto the Newsarama blog. So far he’s been respecting our mantra of “what gets drunkenly slurred at the meeting stays at the meeting.”
The Martian Confederacy will be published by Girl Twirl Comics, Paige Braddock’s self-publishing company, in July.
The Diamond Order Code is MAY083907 F
MARTIAN CONFEDERACY GN VOL 1 REDNECKS RED PLANET