Josh Fialkov and Tony Fleecs Discuss Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth
INVASION! Aliens are real. They’re here, they’re mean and they’re standing in judgement over the citizens of Earth. Final countdown. Representing humanity (by some fluke) is your boy Jeff Steinberg. Romantically challenged idiot, video store clerk, constipated, confused, distractible. In other words, the planet is totally doomed. Also, robots!
Kicking off with a double sized issue, Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth is a solid entry into the slacker comedy genre. From the rather hilarious inclusion of Steinberg as a video store clerk, to some solid visual jokes, the first issue had me laughing and kept the smile on my face throughout.
At San Diego Comic-Con I got to speak to the team behind the series, Joshua Hale Fialkov and Tony Fleecs and got pressing questions answered like why a video store clerk?
Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth come from?
Tony Fleecs: Where did it come from? You had the idea…
Josh Hale Fialkov: It was me. I like the slacker genre and I think a lot of it is about Tony. I’m going to tell a Tony story. Tony and I were friends and Tony is crazy talented and smart. When I first met him, he wanted to draw comics. He was working on his first book. But, he wasn’t doing tons of other stuff. A lot of our conversations was me pushing him because I knew there was greatness in Tony. From there the idea of doing a book about a guy who has greatness inside him and needs the entire world to cave in around him for it to come out seemed like it’d work. So I was working on it, and I’d talk to Tony about ideas and jokes until I realized that Tony could not only draw the book, but write it as well. Which is good because he’s way funnier than I am, so it worked out.
GP: The first issue has these aliens of all shapes and sizes. How much is that Josh’s writing and how much of that is your art Tony?
TF: The design of the aliens?
TF: I’m pretty sure I came up with them. There was no real description.
JHF: Just take credit for everything Tony. It’s ok.
TF: Yeah, its pretty simple. There’s crab like aliens and robot type aliens and squid type aliens. I guess they’re all under the sea, Sebastian the Crab situations.
JHF: It’s all Little Mermaid. It’s a Little Mermaid mash-up.
TF: Yeah, you’ve got to see that blow fish blow. Yeah I designed the characters and aliens. It was fun to do my take on stuff. I’m obviously a dork. I loved Star Wars since I was born. So, to come up with what our aliens would be has been fun. I’m excited to do more of them. And there are robots too. So I got to design our versions of robots.
GP: How much of the world have you designed. Do you know where all of these aliens are from and what they do? Or are you making it up on the fly.
TF: It’s a little of both. Some of it I’m making up on the fly. Some I’m doing on the page. Some, there’s an aesthetic they fit in to. So, it’s a little bit of both. I work fast enough that some of it has to be on the fly.
GP: Do you know everything that’s coming to Earth as far as this invasion?
JHF: … yes? We know what the story is. Part of the fun has been figuring out the universe and how the rules of it works. Tony’s so good at empathy in his characters that seeing how the characters evolve helps define the story and define the world in an interesting and concrete way. That’s the best part of comics, the jam sessions part of it. We know what the story is. How we get there and how we go through it, depends on what makes us laugh and what makes it feel so special and different.
GP: The main character works in a video store. Since they don’t really exist anymore, why’d you choose that setting?
JHF: I’ll let Tony handle that one.
TF: Like you said earlier, early in my career I was sort of a fuck up and we’ve been working on this for six years. So when we started working on this, video stores….
JHF: I have a daughter who is in the first grade. I did not have a daughter when we started this. The book is older than my daughter. Thanks Tony.
TF: So when we started working on it, video stores was a funny place to work because they hardly existed, now it’s a ridiculous place to work. So bizarre.
JHF: Our book went from comedy to broad slapstick because of it. Thanks to Tony.
TF: It’s more surrealist I think. They work there and act like it’s important that they’re there. But they do make reference how nobody is there.
GP: So the main character’s last name is Steinberg, I’m guessing he’s Jewish? What had you go with that when so many other companies who we won’t name are hiding the Jewishness of their characters?
JHF: It’s a conspiracy. We have some Elders of Zion shit going on.
GP: (laughing uncontrollably) Was this something you wanted?
JHF: Why did he end up Jewish?
TF: I think I wanted it more than you wanted. Josh is Jewish. I’m not Jewish.
JHF: But Tony is very antisemetic so it’s really worked out.
TF: Immediately when he said he was a fuck up I said “Jew obviously.” First things first.
JHF: Cut to, Tony burned alive. This has all been an elaborate ploy to expose Tony’s anti-Jewish conspiracy beliefs.
Tony: You’re slowly drawing it out of me. I don’t think he was Jewish until we named him. Much like his real life, I wanted Josh to creep in some Jewish things, but he’s kept it pretty secular.
JHF: There’s a bunch of Baruch Atahs coming up. It’s heavy. He sings his Haftarah portion later. Just to really nail it.
GP: His statement will be I went through a Bar Mitzvah, I can do this.
TF: And his Bar Mitzvah money will be spent on anti-alien technology.
JHF: That’s not a bad bit. Don’t print that. We’re saving that.
GP: How much of the series do you have planned out?
JHF: The first six are done. And then we have a bigger plan for the whole series and where it’s going to go. With all independent comics there’s a hope people read it long enough we get to tell the story we want to tell.
TF: For now there’s definitely six issues and the first challenges for Jeff Steinberg. If people buy it there’ll be nine more challenges for Jeff Steinberg.
GP: I read the comic. I wouldn’t call it mature…
TF: It’s immature.
GP: Yeah, it’s immature. It’s that in between. What age were you shooting for?
JHF: Teen plus, right?
TF: I think originally we were aiming for a PG rating and the more we wrote it, the more it got crasser and crasser.
JHF: A lot of dick jokes. A lot of good dick jokes.
TF: Yeah… when they started they were wiener jokes and then upon rewrite they became dick jokes.
JHF: We’re both fans of Caddyshack and Back to School. Back to School is in my top five movies of all time.
GP: I was just watching that again last week. Love that film.
JHF: It’s so good. It’s so perfect. Those movies, when we were kids they were already out. How old were you when you saw Caddyshack?
TF: I was ten years old.
JHF: I was like six or seven. I watched Monty Python when I was in Kindergarten. I grew up with all of that stuff. Our goal was to do something that was dirty like that stuff was dirty. A kid can still read it and understand it.
TF: They just won’t get some of the jokes.
JHF: There is no scene of a ghost blowing Dan Aykroyd. We decided that would be inappropriate in our book.
GP: That’s the line?
JHF: In retrospect that might be the thing we’re missing.
TF: Don’t print that either. We’ll save that for later. But not the character of Ray Stanz. Just old actor Dan Aykroyd.
JHF: Look, I’m going to be in your Ghostbusters movie, but there’s one restriction. It was in my contract last time. It’s in my contract this time. I want to be fellated by a ghost. That’s it.
TF: Busting makes him feel good.
JHF: Yes, it does. That’s horrible. I had to explain that to my daughter. We were watching it and she’s like “This movie is great!” Then it turns into “Why is he making that face?” And I’m like “for god’s sake, thanks Dan Aykroyd. Thanks for nothing.”
GP: You all obviously love slacker comedies. What movies influenced the series?
JHF: Stripes. Caddyshack. The Bill & Ted movies. It’s the 80s stuff. We love Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow and all those too. The thing we tried to take and make a point of, despite the ridiculousness of the book, both Tony and I have a real focus on characters and the emotional journey of characters. The hope is on top of the copious dick jokes you’ll also care about the schmuck and you’ll want him to win.
GP: One issue in, and I already do. Thanks for talking!