We Flex Our (Left) Muscle Talking the Himbo Beef Bros with Aubrey Sitterson and Tyrell Cannon
Toxic masculinity and right-wing values are no match for the Beef Bros, a new comic series being Kickstarted now. The comic series has superheroes returning to their original origins as working-class champions moving away from the “supercops” they’ve become in recent decades.
Based on the idea that humanity works best when we work together, the comic is by writer Aubrey Sitterson, artist Tyrell Cannon, colorist Fico Ossio, and letterer Taylor Esposito.
It’s a leftist take on superheroes and everything we love including wrestling, action movies, video games, but without the hateful politics and ideology.
We got a chance to ask some questions to Aubrey and Tyrell about the series, their original take on stretch goals, and how Kickstarter can shake up the industry.
Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for Beef Bros come from and how did the team come together?
Tyrell Cannon: It was the classic ‘friend of a friend’ connection. Aubrey and I both know the amazing illustrator and comic artist Grim Wilkins, and he suggested we work together. Following that connection, we exchanged tons of emails about what we wanted to create, and BEEF BROS was the outcome.
Aubrey Sitterson: When working with someone new, I like to start by establishing a kind of venn diagram of interests, but with Tyrell and me it ended up just being a circle full of 90s superheroes, 80s seinen manga, professional wrestling, beat ’em up video games, and action movies. While geeking out about all those aesthetics, we started lamenting that the politics undergirding most of that stuff tends to not be terribly great. BEEF BROS is the solution to that problem.
GP: Aubrey, your previous project No One Left to Fight had lots of inspiration from manga and anime, what was the inspiration here?
AS: Manga and anime are definitely a part of it! Stuff like Fist of the North Star and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure specifically, but pieces for BEEF BROS came from all over. We have an utterly deranged Pinterest board we put together, much of which I posted to social media during the build up to the Kickstarter launch. It’s everything from Arnold and Franco, to Bill & Ted, to the Stardust Crusaders, to Biodome, to the Barbarian Brothers, to Double Dragon, to 80s/90s surf fashion.
GP: The comic industry seems to be afraid to really wear its politics on its sleve today. Beef Bros not only wears it but flexes giant pecs at it. What’s been the reaction to it being unabashadly left and why do you think so many in the industry are chickenshit to embrace the political history, and especially the progressive nature, of comics?
TC: There are some folks that might argue mainstream comics have been political, which is true to some extent, but it results in one of two things: Extremely militant defenders of status quo and America-first politics or insincere pandering to more progressive ideals. The difference with BEEF BROS is that the main agenda of the book is to show something aspirational that puts superheroes directly in defense of those in need and against those who would abuse their power.
AS: Maybe I’m being too generous, but I don’t think people in comics are scared of letting their politics come through in their work. Most creators’ politics come through loud and clear , it’s just that they tend to be pretty blandly liberal in nature; lip service to the progressive ideals that Tyrell mentioned but still rooted in an ugly and servile commitment to the status quo and the systems that split us apart and hold us down. After decades of concentrated assault – the Red Scare, the triumph of post-war liberalism, the Cold War, the rise of neoliberalism – leftist ideas have been in retreat, not just in comics, but across our entire culture, so it’s no surprise that people are still a little wary of embracing them.
But the good news is that these ideas aren’t controversial; people are ready for them. BEEF BROS is an aspirational leftist superhero comic, but it’s based on a profoundly simple idea: People should help each other. That’s where everything – BEEF BROS, but also leftist politics as a whole – begins, and we know that’s been speaking to people from across the political spectrum because they tell us as much when they pledge to the campaign! That’s one of the things that I’m most excited about: The possibility of our big, gonzo superhero book acting as a kind of Trojan Horse, exposing folks from the right and center to a different way of looking at things.
GP: You’re going to take a lot of shots at the regressive and repressive structure in the comic as far as villains. Though he’s kicking and screaming Trump’s out of office. The chaos he sowed and structures he exploited are still going to linger. But, with Biden set to take office in January, will that change the series at all? The do-nothing, status quo middle can just as easily, and deservedly, be skewered.
TC: In my time as a working adult, I haven’t seen a new president from the “big two” parties make changes that dramatically shifted my reality as a citizen of this country. I truly believe that there’s always more work to be done to help our communities and we are the only ones who can do it. I don’t think the BEEF BROS would look to any candidate to save the world. And really, we should all be less dependent on those individuals to fix the problems we see around us.
AS: BEEF BROS is a political comic but it’s not a terribly topical comic; we never intended this thing to be about Trump or Trumpism. That’s because the problems afflicting the US – and the entire world – are far bigger, more foundational and tougher to combat than Trump. The institutions we’ve placed faith in are, at best, crumbling. At worst, they’re wholly oppressive and undemocratic! If we’ve got any chance of fixing things, it’s not going to be because the right politician got into office, especially since most of them are owned by the same corporate interests, with the same commitment to enriching the wealthy and keeping a boot on the necks of working people. No matter who’s president, the only way things are going to get better is a movement that acknowledges that humanity’s natural state is cooperation, not competition, one that sees communities banding together to protect, inspire, and uplift one another; that’s true in BEEF BROS and it’s true in the real world too.
GP: Your “stretch rewards” are very different from other Kickstarter campaigns. Instead of giving out chum, you’re focused on paying the team more and funding the next issue. Where did that idea come from?
TC: The Kickstarter ecosystem started out with a very different feeling, with backers wanting more “stuff” for their “donation.” However, I think it’s shifted and most backers look at the platform more as a way to pre-order the content they want directly from the creators they love. So if people love the content, the best thing you can give them is more of that content faster. Hence the goal of starting work on the second issue. In that same vein, backers follow creators they love and want to see those creators be successful so they can create more content. I have run most of my campaigns in a similar fashion, where the funds raised in excess of the original goal are divided between the creators in some way. I think most backers can understand this logic once they are out of the “give me more stuff” mentality and into the “support these creators so I can get more amazing content!” mentality.
AS: Full disclosure: I text Tyrell once a week trying to figure out a way that it makes sense for us to do BEEF BROS fanny packs. But whenever we start running the numbers, there comes a point where we realize that we’ve lost sight of the goal. We’re not trying to make a bunch of merch that’s going to sit in people’s closets until their next move; we’re trying to make COMICS. So, that’s what our Kickstarter is about, plain and simple. As for the stretch goals, we believe that people working on a project should share in its success. If we make more money than we planned, how could we justify doing anything but splitting it among the team and putting it toward the next issue? Paying people fairly, letting them share in the success of their work, these are moral issues and very much in keeping with the BEEF BROS ETHOS!
GP: What’s been the reaction from the community to it?
TC: People seem to be digging it. There are fans that are loving the ideas in the book, while others are gravitating towards the art first. And I’m willing to bet that Aubrey’s pitch video alone brought in some backers!
AS: What’s the reaction? Brother, we’ve got more than 1,200 people who, like us, want truly aspirational superheroes, with politics that won’t make them cringe. More than 1,200 people who want something better than corporate-owned supercops. More than 1,200 BEEFERS! I knew we had something special and I was confident we’d get funded, but I have been absolutely blown away by this response, especially seeing as this is my first-ever Kickstarter. I should have started doing this years ago!
GP: Without having to give exact numbers, can you give us hints as to the difference in how much you’d be paid for your work this way versus through a publisher?
TC: Sometimes, publishers can pay a higher page rate to artists for work-for-hire stuff that we’d make doing it for an individual or ourselves. And really it’s only the LARGE publishers (the top two to three) that pay rates even close to a living wage. Sometimes that will include some royalties on the back end, but you only see that money if your book is a huge success, selling in the tens of thousands. Smaller publishers are rarely willing or able to pay rates that give creators the time or incentive to make something truly special. However, the major difference with what we’re doing (essentially self-publishing) is that we own the IP 100% and we can benefit from it and use it for years to come if we choose to. This is important not only in that we have access to the monetary gains, but also means we can protect the ideas and characters we’ve built through countless hours at the keyboard and drawing table.
AS: An excellent question, but a complicated one to answer, as publisher page rates vary wildly, from publisher to publisher, from project to project, often with varying degrees of ownership or royalties. Until we meet our stretch goal, however, I’m not making a dime off BEEF BROS; this was a decision I made in order to keep our goal lower and make sure the rest of the team gets what they need to make this book as awesome as it can be. If we hit our stretch goal – which we’re in spitting distance of – I’ll get a rate that’s right smack-dab in the middle of what I’ve received from publishers over the years. But the big difference, as Tyrell notes, is that we own BEEF BROS outright and get to luxuriate in that freedom!
GP: There’s a lot of talk and not a lot of action it feels like when it comes to creator pay and rights. This Kickstarter feels like a big Beef Bros flex towards that. Was that part of the point of this?
TC: My main experience in comics has been self-publishing and having all the rights and privileges as the creator. I mean… we do all the work, right? So for me, BEEF BROS is just a continuation of what I think is the way it should always function: Those who create the comics should get the majority of the control/benefit and that should equal a living wage that feeds the next creative endeavor.
AS: Tyrell and I knew we wanted to do a project together and we knew we wanted it to be BEEF BROS, so that was enough to get cooking; initially, we didn’t talk too much initially about where the book would “live.” But the further we went along, the more we realized how silly it would be to give a company 50% of a book all about pushing back against oppressive hierarchies, especially since, as Tyrell noted, most people aren’t getting rich off comics page rates and advances. It just didn’t feel right to give away ownership of a book as unabashedly left as BEEF BROS, nor did we feel confident that a publisher would be okay with how truly radical we plan on getting, in both senses of the word. Fortunately, Tyrell’s run a bunch of successful Kickstarters in the past and I’d been wanting to try my hand on the platform for years, so it was a natural fit. And brother, the experience has been so fantastic it has me recalibrating many of my views on the comics market and what I want from it.
GP: It feels like more big name creators are bucking “traditional” publishing and heading to Kickstarter post-COVID. Do you see their success as possibly creating leverage and force publishers to change how they treat creators?
TC: That’s a good question. I think what will happen is that those (formerly employed by “traditional” publisher) creators will find success self-publishing (through Kickstarter or somewhere else) and not want to return to work-for-hire. Traditional publishers will just find new talent (younger/less established) to fill those vacancies at a lower rate. My guess is that self-publishing will grow, with more “name” creators jumping in and creating incredible content like we’ve never seen before, connecting directly with their fans. Traditional publishing will continue on with goals associated with IP visibility and sound profit margins rather than creation of great stories/art. They will become two vastly different animals.
AS: Right off the bat, I’m not opposed to working with publishers; I have three series coming out next year from Dark Horse alone and everyone there has been incredibly supportive of me and my work. Some of them even pledged to the BEEF BROS Kickstarter! There’s an enormous amount that publishers can offer creators: Funding, editorial guidance, production work, marketing, and, perhaps the biggest one, distribution. The trouble is, the deals most creators get offered aren’t exactly equitable; they end up handing over the rights to their creations for a pittance, with little to no support when it comes to actually selling the book. And I get it! The direct market, because it sells product to retailers nonreturnable, encourages a shotgun approach to publishing: Publishers throw a bunch of books at the wall and cross their fingers that something sticks. That’s a safe strategy for publishers, since they get to more or less print to demand, but it does nothing for retailers who end up with all the books that didn’t stick, and it typically does very little for creators, who, more often than not, see their creative labor get lost in a flood of content.
Obviously, it would be wonderful if publishers all realized that they needed to start backing up the Brinks truck to keep people from going the Kickstarter route, but, realistically, that would only end up benefiting the absolute biggest names in the industry. If we ever get meaningful, industry-wide change, it’s going to come with creators seeing the success of books like BEEF BROS, then reassessing how they value their own work and what constitutes an acceptable deal; creators need to learn their worth, acknowledge it, and stand firm in protecting it. As ever, no one’s coming to save us; we have to save ourselves.
GP: I look at crowdfunding as a way to “democratize” the market. How do you feel its change things in the industry and what do you hope to see that you haven’t yet?
TC: I agree! I feel that we’ll see some incredible comics from folks that have been previously ethered by work-for-hire gigs. I see fans fully supporting creators directly, emboldening them to push the limits of what they are capable of creating. I’m hopeful it will breathe some new life into a medium that has been primarily focused on tired 60 year old characters and IP’s that have had all the life sucked from them.
AS: What excites me the most about Kickstarter is the wide variety of content it makes possible. BEEF BROS is a perfect example, as doing a superhero book in the direct market is a challenge when the characters aren’t owned by Disney or Warner Brothers. Plus, with so many publishers looking primarily for projects to finesse into television shows or movies, a book like BEEF BROS – frenetically paced, willfully weird, and bearing no resemblance to a television pilot – was going to be a tough sell. However, when we put BEEF BROS on Kickstarter we found instant support, acclaim, and excitement, from hardcore comics fans and retailers as well as people who don’t read comics at all but heard about the idea, saw the art, and were all in. For far too long, there’s been a pretty established, staid idea of what works in comics, not just in terms of art, but when it comes format, size, and even pacing. I can already see Kickstarter shaking things up, empowering people to create weirder, more interesting art that doesn’t have to earn the approval of so many gatekeepers and get hammered into a “marketable” shape before reaching its audience.
GP: What else do you all have coming up?
TC: I’m currently working on the second issue of my comic sci-fi action comic ERIS. The first issue was funded on Kickstarter earlier in the year, and since I went over my goal, I was able to fast track production on issue #2. I will be running a Kickstarter to make issue #2 available in the spring of 2021. I also just wrapped up a short story with writer Matt Mair Lowery, which I believe will come out in 2021. Once ERIS #2 art is complete, I’m jumping on BEEF BROS #1! Very excited to bring the guys to life! I’m always doing mini comics and short form comics, all of which can be purchased on my website or found on my Patreon.
AS: Brother, 2021 is going to be an utterly massive year for me. Not only will BEEF BROS #1 be hitting backer mailboxes in April, but early next year you’re going to start hearing about those new series I alluded to up above. Plus, I’ve got my very first novel waiting in the wings and BEEF BROS’ massive success has already got me making serious plans for my next Kickstarter.
GP: Thanks so much for chatting! I’ve put my money where my mouth is and back the project and others can too until November 26.