THE CONVENTION COLLECTIVE: Thank you for joining us in the Spotlight Justin! How did you get into writing and why did you want to become a writer?
Justin Richards: Thanks for having me! I got into writing by getting into reading. I always liked writing in school, but never thought about making my own stories until I started really getting into and reviewing comic books. As I started finding more and more stories that I loved, I felt more and more inspired to do it myself. I love the way the right story can just grab you and move you in ways you didn’t think words could. I wanted to do that.
TCC: What genre do you like writing the most?
Justin: I feel like I really like to play with all genres. I think my writing lends itself to comedy, which you can use in all genres. Comedy lends itself to everything from slice-of-life to horror. You need those moments to break up the rest of the heavier stuff. It just gives the audience that little chance to catch their breath before they’re plunged back into the depths of despair. Or a school counselor’s office, I guess.
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: Oof, I don’t know if I have said that. The easy answer is my published book, Finger Guns, which is an amazing accomplishment that I’m incredibly proud of, but honestly I think I felt an even bigger sense of accomplishment while making my comic zine, A SILENT NIGHT. It was a project I brought to life from the humble beginning of writing it in the drive-thru at a McDonald’s (I wasn’t driving, promise!) to a finished product that I shipped all over the country because people believed in my idea and helped me do it. I still feel like doing that really gives me the most confidence to feel like I can do this for a living.
TCC: Which writers inspire you? And they don’t have to be in the medium you work in, either…
Justin: I have so many friends in the comic industry who inspire me in various ways, but if I were going to pick out an influence on my writing I would say Bo Burnham and Trent Reznor. The way both of them are able to talk about the way they feel and make me feel like they understand what’s going on inside me is something I can only dream of for my work. I want to tell stories that don’t care about what anyone else wants them to be; and I want to tell stories that have an emotional connection with the audience. No one does that better than Bo and Trent.
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: Admittedly, I don’t get very starstruck, but I did once find myself sitting next to Jim Lee at a con function. He decided to sit next to me while he signed a bunch of prints for a room full of comic retailers. I was super nervous, but I wasn’t gonna not talk to him. So I shared a beer with Jim Lee while he drew a sketch of The Joker like it was nothing. Definitely one of the coolest moments of my fandom.
TCC: What is your favorite fandom? Who is your favorite comic book character/movie/tv character?
Justin: Again, I have SO many. I am a huge fan of a lot of franchises, but none have probably ever been stronger or lasted longer than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I have watched every iteration of the cartoons and live-action movies and TV shows. I’ve played most, if not all, of their video games. I used to have a tape cassette of the songs from their live music tour (yes, it’s a real thing and it is terrifying to see as an adult). I even own a TMNT arcade cabinet with both the original game and “Turtles in Time” on it. Raph is my favorite cause he’s the OG bad boy in my heart.
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 would have to say I’m somewhere in between. I am a full time comic writer, but I also have a family, including an 8-year-old child who was home from school all year, so I kinda write when the inspiration strikes but will also put in a 9-5 effort on days that allow for it.
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 usually use music. Either something atmospheric or something that inspires me like Nine Inch Nails, or more recently, Bo Burnham’s “Inside” album. I’ll occasionally throw on a podcast or an old cartoon, but usually speaking voices distract me too much.
TCC: What was the first comic con that you remember attending? And, indeed, what was the last?
Justin: My first real con was a combo of IMAGE EXPO and Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC) in 2015. I could have the year wrong, but I think that the right one. It was an amazing 5 day trip for me and a couple close friends. The last one I went to would’ve been Rose City Comic Con (RCCC) in 2019. It’s not only my local show here in Oregon, but one of my absolute favorites.
TCC: What’s your favourite element of a comic convention? And which bits could you easily leave behind?
Justin: I love Artist Alley. Meeting people who are creating what I love is my favorite thing. My friends have said that my superpower is the way I can navigate a con floor and talk to strangers about their awesome books. The part I could leave behind is probably the amount of people, lol. All the organization in the world doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to overcrowded, indoor spaces full of nerds. I get frustrated with people who mess up the flow of traffic at a con.
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: It’s hard not to say Artist Alley again, but I’ll shout out RCCC for having a gaming section of the con floor where you can just unplug for a minute and play an old game on PS1 that you haven’t played in years. It’s a really nice reprieve and it’s awesome to know that you can still kick your brother-in-law’s butt at “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” as an adult.
TCC: A lot of creatives are also taking to crowdfunding – such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo – to generate income from their work. What’re your thoughts on that?
Justin: As someone who just completed their first Kickstarter campaign a couple months ago and another one in the works as we speak, I’d have to say I support it. I think it’s a great way to get products that aren’t as mainstream into the hands of people who love them. I just made a 16 page zine about mental health that I don’t think any publisher would have been interested in printing, but it was funded and has been getting great reviews from those who ordered it. It’s a great way for creators and fans to connect and make things happen that wouldn’t otherwise exist, which I think we need more of.
TCC: 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: Most recently there’s the zine I just mentioned, called A SILENT NIGHT. I’m currently working on a way to sell it online for those who missed the Kickstarter. Keep an eye on my twitter for information about that. For those that want to check out my work without waiting, you can get the full trade of my book Finger Guns from Vault Comics at any comic shop or bookstore near you. My next project, which I’m finishing up scripting on as I type this email, is going to be another Kickstarter project. It’s a full-length graphic novel called I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU. It’s an original superhero book that follows Linc, who longs to be a superhero from the time he was a kid, but he can’t ever seem to repeat or control his powers. So, we join him in his journey to discover what the secret key to his powers is. It’s going to be a ton of fun and the twist is one that I think makes this a really original take on the superhero genre.
TCC: How do you stay connected with fans? Do you use a mailing list or newsletters, are you active on social media?
Justin: I am active on Twitter. I love interacting with fans on there. I like to think I reply to every tweet I get, so please feel free to reach out to me there. I’m @EmoComicWriter. Once I finally have my website up and running I may explore a mailing list for the occasional blog post I would put up there and book updates.
TCC: Where can people find out more about you and reach out to you?
Justin: Definitely on Twitter. That’s where I’m the most active and accessible.
TCC:Thanks Justin, for your time!
Justin: Thanks for having me! I appreciate it.