THE CONVENTION COLLECTIVE: Thank you for joining us in the Spotlight! How did you get into art and why did you want to become an writer?
Justin DeBord: Thank you for having me. This is my first interview as a comic creator, so this is very cool for me. I was a kid in the early 80s, so for me it was the big movies at the time, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, Gremlins, I saw all that stuff in the theater and my imagination was hooked right away. Writing started for me when G.I. Joe let me down. I loved the show but I was frustrated because the Cobras couldn’t hit anything, no one ever died. I started to get bored because there were no stakes, so I would play out my own stories with my action figures and fix all that. Everybody died. Maybe one guy made it.
TCC: What was the first work you completed, where you stepped back and thought, “Yes, y’know what, I can do this for a living!”?
Justin: I wrote and made a film called “Bernerd.” It’s about a beaver who sets controlled burns. Except that there’s something terribly wrong with him and he lays lit cigarettes all over the place and sets fires places he shouldn’t. It’s insane. We got it into the Cucalorous Film Festival here in Wilmington NC and showed it to a theater of a couple hundred people. What a terrifying moment. But they laughed. They loved it and when it was over and it got quiet again an lady over in the corner went “That was cute.” That’s when I knew we had the power to connect with people.
TCC: Which creators/writers inspire you? And they don’t have to be in the medium you work in, either…
Justin: I get inspiration primarily from movies, music, and pro-wrestling. I’m very into the B-movie, Troma style. That gritty, violent sense of humor. Movies that do their own thing. Class of Nuke ‘Em High, but then also less bonkers stuff that slips under the radar like Under The Silver Lake and Detention (2012). Cinematic music, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross in all their forms, Synthwave, Doom Metal. If you’ve never listened to Doom Metal check out Windhand, that’s a weird cup of tea right there.
TCC: Can you tell us your greatest fan moment, interacting with a personal hero of yours where you may have gone a little weak at the knees?
Justin: I worked on a movie with Tom Wopat, Luke Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard. I loved that show as a kid. When we played Dukes as a kid, I pretended to be him. He turned out to be the coolest guy. We had a ton of fun together on that project. He said he wanted to adopt me, so…I guess you could say I’m a Duke of Hazzard now. No, I haven’t driven the car. Yet.
TCC: What is your favorite fandom? Who is your favorite comic book character/movie/tv character?
Justin: All Elite Wrestling. Probably not a common answer, but what those guys are doing with their artform is super inspiring to me. They have embraced the fact that they’re doing theater in a way that I don’t think pro-wrestling has done before. They’re telling long term stories. They have honed in on how to build characters and stories over years, slowly, methodically, letting things breathe and develop in a way that gets the audience emotionally invested. For me, I’m learning a lot from them about how to handle a huge cast of characters, building a very populated world where relationships and power structures are always changing.
TCC: What’s your working routine? Do you work regular set hours and days, keeping certain days free for personal time, or do you find you create any time the muse takes you?
Justin: I’m all over the place. I feel like I don’t work often, but I’m always working. It never leaves my mind, but I have a day job as a dishwasher, I have a family. I have to get my kid to school, do homework, I like to cook dinner for them. There’s always something. But Rattus Rex is always on my mind. It feels like the actual script writing takes 10 minutes, but I’ll edit and rework endlessly. The artist, Jay Rollins, and I will keep tweaking things and changing dialogue up until the last second before it prints.
TCC: When you’re creating, what do you use for background noise? Some creators use music or podcasts, some use a TV show that they just can listen to in the background. What do you use?
Justin: I make playlists on Spotify, the soundtrack of the comic or a specific gang. Mostly synth stuff.
TCC: What was the first comic con that you remember attending? And, indeed, what was the last?
Justin: Both local ones here in Wilmington, NC. I showed a bunch of my short comedy videos to a theater of three people at the first and at the other I got to just wander around and check out the artists.
TCC: What’s your favourite element of a comic convention? And which bits could you easily leave behind?
Justin: My favorite is finding the stuff by people starting out. I saw a bunch of local guys who were making their own stuff at the last one I went to and it got into my head, “Oh, yeah. You just decide to do it, and then you do.”
As far as leaving anything behind, it’s just the obvious things. Parking the car. Lines. Overcrowded bathrooms. Finding the car again. That stuff.
TCC: At a convention, when you’re not behind your table or doing the things you have to do at a con, which corner of the show would we find you in?
Justin: Trying to meet B-movie actors and wrestlers and get them to read my comic. I want to entertain the people who have inspired me to make this thing happen.
TCC: A lot of creatives are also took to crowdfunding – such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo – to generate income from their work. What’re your thoughts on that avenue?
Justin: I wanted to do this when I was 16 years old, write comics. But at that time in the 1990s, in the hills of West Virginia, there was no path to do that. Now with Kickstarter, I’m doing it. My campaign is funded and Rattus Rex #1 is on it’s way. I think crowdfunding is the best thing to happen to art in a long time. You don’t have to ask permission anymore. Technology caught up with the punk rock spirit and now there are all these ways to forge your own path and make it happen. Dreams are for losers. Do whatever you want.
TCC: The conventions are slowly but surely coming back, thank goodness! Have you attended one yet, do you intend to get back out behind a table soon? What’s your next convention or, if you’re holding off for a while longer, what’s your thoughts on cons right now?
Justin: I haven’t been to one in a long time, but man am I excited to get there. As soon as Rattus Rex #1 is printed, and I’m doing hundreds of copies, it’s off to the convention circuit to spread the word and sell some comics. I can’t wait to get my book into the hands of people who will enjoy it. I’m not sure where I’m starting, but it will be very soon.
TCC: But let’s get back to the important stuff: your work! What projects have you recently finished, what are you working on at the moment, what projects are coming up that you can talk about?
Justin: Rattus Rex is my god. I have successfully crowdfunded #1, it’s a reality now. I have plans for the first four arcs. The script for #2 is solid. This book is my obsession and my total focus creatively. It’s a non-stop process of looking at where we’ve been, gauging the reader reaction, and making the next piece as strong as it can be while looking forward and setting up things to come. I’m very focused on getting to those big emotional moments, earning that big climactic ending that will stick with people forever. Eventually making people cry over a book about rats blowing stuff up. Laughter is the method, tears are the goal.
TCC: How do you stay connected with fans? Do you use a mailing list or newsletters, are you active on social media?
Justin: A newsletter is in the works, I’ll use that to write about the process of creating the book and also to flesh out the lore and expand on the universe of Rattus Rex. I have all the social things, I use Instagram a lot, that’s my favorite so far.
TCC: Where can people find out more about your and your projects?
Justin: I have a website, Rattusrex.com where you can read some of Rattus Rex #1 and link to the Kickstarter campaign, social media, and the merch store.
TCC: Thanks, for your time!
Justin: Thank you so much this was great!
MT: Thank you!
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