Hey guys, welcome to B’s Views and Reviews, the podcast that promotes faith-based, family-friendly comics and the creators that make them, brought to you by Geek Devotions, a show by devoted geeks devoted to letting you know that you are loved. I’m B, and I had the pleasure of interviewing JS Earls, comic book writer, voice actor, podcaster, and D&D enthusiast.
The interview covered a lot of ground that I encourage you to go back and listen to here. One of the topics we spoke specifically about was JS’s graphic novel, Pistolfist, which will be launching on Kickstarter on November 17th. I asked him a few questions about his work and his inspiration for it. This is what he had to say:
B: Tell us about your background. What got you into comics and writing comics specifically?
JS: I started reading and writing some of my own comics in the second grade. Basically, I kind of started falling in love with comics then. I wasn’t really interested in reading, so my mom got me comics to get me interested in reading. That was my gateway to reading. I swear to this day, I think I learned more science from comics than I did ever in school. Especially with Marvel comics, with Stan Lee. They were so into that, putting all this science stuff in there with these words. I would surprise people when I knew with all these scientific words, but I knew them because they were named after villains or characters. It’s a great way to learn if you have something like that to help you memorize and understand what it is.
JS: I was also really into sports. I will say one of the things I carried with me from sports into doing comics is definitely being a team player kind of mentality, trying to give everybody equal opportunity. Also, knowing where people’s strengths are and where their weaknesses are too. To really be able to use those things and give them an opportunity to use those things.
JS: I really started doing a lot more when I got to Middle School. We were creating our own comics, and I had other people working with me. I had a really great public school teacher who was a comic fan who was also a Christian. Every week he would print copies of comics previews for the kids so we could see what was coming out. I was actually able to get a lot of cool kids and some of the athletes into reading comics at a time where that was definitely not popular. The eighth grade was when I really started printing stuff. There was one series where we had twelve issues. It was about half as long as a regular comic, but it was really cool. The one that really took off was kind of religious. It was a comic called Cyrus about a character named Cyrus Starshine. (I didn’t come up with that name.) It was a very odd, interesting idea because he had these things called the gauntlets of Moses that gave him power. He also had the ghost or spirit of King Cyrus that would talk to him. It was this bizarre thing, but he would have these demons that he would fight in the future. That was the most popular one that we did 12 issues on. So, if you think about a normal school year, we were doing better than monthly.
B: So did you print copies that you hand out at school?
JS: Yeah. We had access to some printers that we could use a certain amount of in the library. Also, we had some guys that helped out in the office, so they would let him print some there. We would print like 10 copies that were 12 pages each and they would be passed around the school. At the time, I was totally on a superhero roll, so a lot of them were superheroes that I created. For anyone who listens to our Supersonic Podcast, some of the characters in those stories are based on those characters I created in school.
JS: I became a Chrisitan around the time that I moved from Wisconsin to Florida. I had already had some wild spiritual experiences before, some Godly ones and some very demonic. I definitely knew there was good and evil and experiences some things that rang true to me. When I was in kindergarten, my parents were talking about getting a divorce, and they did end up getting divorced. My dad didn’t really let us have any God influence around the house, so we never really went to church. I did have a teacher that was a Christian, and she could tell that I was upset. She asked why I was upset, and I told her what I heard. She said I should pray, and if I ask God to make my parents not get a divorce, they wouldn’t get one. I thought this was like magic, like Santa Claus. So, that night, I prayed to God and said, “Please don’t let my parents get divorced.” Then I had some kind of weird vision or something where I heard a voice speaking from the sky, and it felt like the Universe was talking to me. It was a very deep, powerful but peaceful voice, and it did not give me the answer I wanted. Much like he said many times in the Bible, he said “Don’t be afraid. I will be with you.” When you hear something like that, it stays with you.
JS: Later, when I started reading the Bible, and I would see God say the same thing to other people, I was like, “Yeah, that’s God!” He doesn’t say He’s not gonna have you deal with it. And half the time He pops up, He says, “Don’t be afraid.” After that, and so many other things that happened in my life, my mom had become a Christian, and she knew I liked rock music. So she and my uncle would start sending me Petra and different Christian rock albums. Literally, that is really what sowed the seeds in my life so that when the Gospel was presented to me that I was ready to accept.
JS: Around that time, I really got hooked on Anime. I really wanted to find a way to mix American and Anime-Style art. I ended up getting interviewed by local newspapers here in Florida because I managed to get Saludatorian, which is surprising, because that was not my focus. I had a bad turn. That was a time during the 80s when indie publishers were growing. My buddy and I submitted three things and ended up having all three things stolen. So we got turned off to comics for a while. I got involved playing in a Christian rock band, but I was always writing, always drawing. Then I started to get some opportunities to do some writing again. There was a guy who was with Marvel at the very beginning…Fran Netarra was his name. He lived on a houseboat in New York and worked for Marvel when they were in a four-story house for an office. He had all these great stories. His son was in a Christian rock band, and we played a lot of shows together. So we started a relationship through that. Fast forward a couple of years, he had a writer that passed away, and one of his friends recommended me to him. That was a daily syndicated strip across the United States and parts of the world. I would ghostwrite for that, and after a couple of months, if there were no issues, they would let you write openly for the strip. Working together rekindled a love for comics and the artform in him. He retired about a year and a half after we started working together, but during that time it really helped me hone my craft. I was also working as an orthodontic x-ray lab tech 12-16 hours a day. I would actually see him and turn stuff into him on my lunch hours, because he wasn’t too far away from where I worked. And that’s actually when I would write, on my lunch hours. We had a lot of stuff going on at home with my wife’s job, and after we had our second child, she was really going through severe postpartum depression, so the only time I had to write was on my lunch hour. But the great thing about that is got me able to really streamline everything and learn how to tell a good quality story quickly.
JS: When the opportunity came, I had another couple of friends recommend to me their publishers, and they would ask me for ideas and stuff. That was what led to Pistolfist. The crazy thing is I had 15 different things, and I had them numbered by how much I had developed them. Pistolfist was number 12 or 13. All I had written was “superhero set in the American Revolution.” But I had three publishers immediately interested. My buddy said on Friday, “They want a miniseries proposal by Monday.” And I’m like, “I know what I’m doing this weekend!”
JS: The reason that idea came to me is that I would listen to a lot of books on tape or CD, especially when I was working late. There were a few different factual, less fictional, but still narrative books, and I was really fascinated by it. There was so much stuff that I had not really heard, especially about Ben Franklin. Some of it was his inventions, but also some of it was about his family. I’m still shocked there haven’t been more movies and things that haven’t covered the rift with his son.
JS: All those different things are what led to Pistolfist. And there is so much in PistolFist, symbolic and otherwise, that came to me, but it was something I couldn’t fudge and had to check up on. The big thing I wanted it to be about freedom. Not overly pro or anti-America, but about freedom. That was one of the main reasons I made Pistolfist a runaway slave. Also, that connected to the Boston Massacre, and the first person dying was a slave. He was freed for four years and ends up siding with the very colonists that had enslaved him four years earlier. He was the first one to stand up to the British and be killed for it.
B: What is Pistolfist about?
JS: The main character is a runaway slave who wants revenge for his brother being murdered in the Boston Massacre. Then things happen to him in a weird twist of fate. A curse becomes a blessing, like one of those “devil meant it for evil, but God turned it for good” things. He meets Ben Franklin. There is a lot about family. He ends up using something given to him as a weapon to save people. I really want to show how his mind changes the way his brother did, and show how the British were treating the Colonists like slaves.
JS: I think this is something that Crispus Attucks saw. He saw how they were treated and had familiar feelings like he felt. I will also say that I am a sucker for symbolism, and Pistolfist is full of it. Some of it is real, like the guy who discovered that the hear produces electricity. But there’s a lot of symbolism, especially concerning his heart and the strain it takes for him to use his weapon.
B: To what extent does your faith influence your writing?
JS: It would really depend. I definitely try to pray before I write. I just believe it will get me in a better headspace. One of my biggest beefs with other religions compared to Christianity is the lack of humility. Not to say there aren’t arrogant people in Christianity, but the basic idea of humbling yourself before God, and that His will trumps our will. We have a certain amount of freedom, but we can’t just do whatever we want. There is something beautiful and powerful in acknowledging that.
JS: In my opinion, I think we’re all creators. We were created to create. Whether your fixing things or restoring things, everything in life–repairs, medical treatment, people who pick up trash–we’re creating. We’re making something better. We’re made in the image of a creator. One of the biggest things for me that really changed and opened doors for me–we all have tests in our lives. Look at the test that you keep going through and ask yourself what is the lesson that God wants you to learn. If we can learn it, then we can move on. One of the biggest things that God taught me is to do EVERYTHING as unto the Lord. Doing everything with a servant’s heart and a servant’s attitude. Doing what is best for other people and just really really trying not to look at yourself at all. Just following Christ’s example and serving others. To me, doing everything as unto the Lord means doing everything to the absolute best of my ability, no matter what it was. Pushing yourself to excellence for the right reasons will always serve you well. Even if it’s taking out the trash, do everything as if I was doing it for God, and then be a servant to those around me. When you do those things, it’s gonna open so many more opportunities.
JS: For me, trying to be that servant opened a ton of opportunities. I had several things where I did things for a small publisher, and then when they get big contracts, guess who they want to work with them…the people who really came through for them. These little things that paid me $200 or $300 for that I should have been paid a few thousand dollars for, and then later I am getting the $6000 deals and other things.
JS: This is the crazy thing. My mom’s a prayer warrior, and she kept telling me that God has His hand on this Pistolfist thing. I was trying to be honest and true with it and not try to preach with it. For that, I was just like, “They talked about God back then.” They didn’t shove it in people’s faces, but they were free to talk about God. And so there’s a couple of little places where we’ll say stuff. The crazy thing is because of the relationships I had through this with publishers that I had, opened doors for me to do graphic novels for Zondervan and Thomas Nelson. I did Christian Comics for a living for about three years.
JS: One of my big beefs with Christian novels and other things is so many of them are salvation-oriented where the audience is Christian. If you know that’s where it’ll be, why aren’t you doing more discipleship things and things that grow their faith? You know, like the Bible says, give them meat. Move on from baby food to the deeper stuff, cause this is who you’re talking to. It always comes back to do whatever you do with excellence, and that was what I did with Pistolfist. To make it not super preachy but also to not make it political. Cause we had people from all over the world involved. We had hardcore conservatives and hardcore liberals involved, and the same thing with the fans.
B: The Kickstarter is launching on a special day, correct?
JS: This Kickstarter is its 15th anniversary. I actually on my birthday. That was one of the reasons we did this instead of restarting Nemo, it’s more of the timing of it. Originally, I didn’t have full rights to Pistolfist, but I had a friend of mine helped put up the funds to buy it back. We have some brand new covers, but we also have covers from different periods in the last 15 years that Pistolfist has been around. We actually even have original paintings of Pistolfist that I stumbled upon on DeviantArt.
Thanks for tuning in guys. Be sure to follow Geek Devotions on all our social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the whole thing. Also be sure to subscribe to us on your favorite podcast catcher and leave reviews. We like to hear feedback. Until then, stay devoted. Peace and Love.