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Return of the Toe Tag Riot! A chat with series creators Matt Miner and Sean Von Gorman

Return of the Toe Tag Riot

Toe Tag Riot, the comic book series that the infamous hate group Westboro Baptist Church claimed would “split Hell wide open” is back for round 2 and on Kickstarter, with the Return of the Toe Tag Riot.

Guest contributor Adam Cadmon got to talk to writer Matt Miner and penciler/inker Sean Von Gorman about the series which features colors by Gab Contreras and letters by Taylor Esposito.

ADAM CADMON: So, where did the concept for a zombie punk rock band originate?

MATT MINER: I grew up in the punk scene, and never really left, so all my work has a punk rock vibe to it because that’s the world I know and love – some books, like this one, are just a pure love letter to punk rock and the accepting and cool people I’ve known through my life.

SEAN VON GORMAN: I remember at some point at a convention we started talking about what if Matt was a vegan zombie, and what he would eat? Obviously he would have to eat people because zombies can’t survive on grains. And being an ethical punk if he HAD to eat people he would pick the worst people to eat. I think there is a sketch somewhere of a zombie Matt eating a little tofu person.

MM: Oh, yeah!  I think I have that sketch around here somewhere, actually.

Return of Toe Tag Riot

AC: Why did you go with the “thinking” zombie angle opposed to the mindless eater?

MM: The undead-zombie comic has been done to death, pun intended.  With Toe Tag Riot it was kind of like “What if you weren’t always a zombie?  If you knew what you were doing, who would you choose to eat?”  I mean, everyone’s gotta eat, but they can choose a more ethical course.

SVG: I feel no epic kill is ever complete without a snarky comment like an ’80s action movie star. For example, right before a zombie punk bites into a bad dude he says something like “It was nice to EAT you!”  Wait, that was pretty good. Matt, write that one down.

Return of the Toe Tag Riot

AC: Let me springboard a little; the choice to have the band cursed instead of turned always interested me…where’d that idea come from?

MM: I don’t remember how that came about, really, but what really appealed to me about the idea was this way you see both sides of the character – the ravenous zombie and the human toll it takes on them when they eat the wrong skinhead and have diarrhea for hours.

SVG: I remember part of the initial conversation on this was that the group’s bodies would start to physically breakdown as they rotted. A punk band in a tour bus smells bad enough when they aren’t zombies.

AC: You’ve had several guest stars in the past, can you give us anything–anything at all–in terms of who we should expect as either allies or foes in volume 2?

MM: Sean and I have some rock star pals, and we like to drop them in here and there.  Andy Hurley, from Fall Out Boy, is a returning regular and the band’s number one roadie, and I sure would like to sneak GWAR into the pages at some point since they’re such a huge inspiration for this book.

AC: Are there any plans to expand the Toe Tag universe, i.e., web series, movies, etc.?

MM: Sure, why not?  Would love to see a B-movie a’la Troma Films, but, you know, money and all.

SVG: I would love to see a big screen Toe Tag Riot!  I want toys of Toe Tag Riot!  We had considered the idea of doing a series of comic shorts. There are so many horrible people out there that it’s hard to keep up with in print.

AC: Are there any upcoming projects that you’d like to talk about?

MM: I have Lab Raider out currently from Black Mask Studios – it’s the story of these 2 women who take on dog fighters and animal abusers.  These are characters I’ve written in a few series now, and this particular volume gets really weird.  Also, the new GWAR graphic novel is in production and you can pre-order that at gwarcomic.com right now!

SVG: I have School Lab Raider, basically Lab Raider but for they are kids. Which may possibly come out as a back up in an upcoming issue of Lab Raider. I also have a story in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Freshman Force from Devils Due that is going into its 2nd printing.

MM: I think that Lab Raider backup is scheduled for issue 3, as long as we get it in time.  Issue 1 is on stands now – get it! HEY! The Kickstarter for Return of the Toe Tag Riot is live! Click the link to learn more!

Adam is a writer, an explorer of consciousness, a dog owner (times 2) and a decent fellow if you ask him. He currently lives in a suburb about 20 minutes from downtown Atlanta.

Toe Tag Riot Returns! The Comic Westboro Baptist Church Hates is Back!

Toe Tag Riot, the comic book series that the infamous hate group Westboro Baptist Church claimed would “split Hell wide open” is back for round 2 and on Kickstarter, with returning fan-favorite guest stars and a whole slew of new bad guys on their plate.

Cursed by a witch to become zombies whenever they play their music, Toe Tag Riot uses their “zombie superpowers” in the most ethical way possible: by murdering and eating bigots, homophobes, racists, sexists, and the like. The band broke up shortly after their mid-2000s tour, but have maintained a cult following in the punk rock scene. Their reunion tour, 15 years later, is being met with jubilation from the fans and fear from those who know they’re on the menu.

Created by writer Matt Miner and artist Sean Von Gorman, The Return of Toe Tag Riot is a 4-issue digital-first offering, with a physical trade paperback accompaniment. The campaign is seeking $19,000 to pay creators, fund rewards, and assorted fees. Rewards include copies of the books in both digital and physical formats, original art sketches, the chance to be drawn in and murdered within the pages of the comic, and a limited edition 2-song cassette single of songs recorded by the band (but really by Matt and Sean’s musician friends).

Rounding out the creative team are rising star colorist Gab Contreras and all-star letterer Taylor Esposito.

The creative team of Return of the Toe Tag Riot believe in positive and progressive values, and vehemently reject racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia in all forms.

The Return of Toe Tag Riot
Cover by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer with colors by Josh Jensen

Toe Tag Riot Endorses Bernie Sanders

Today Toe Tag Riot, the foul-mouthed punk rock band cursed to become zombies whenever they perform their music raised their fists and their voices to speak out in support of Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.  The band released the following joint statement:

TOE TAG RIOT may be an irreverent band of loud punk rockers that seem straight out of a bonkers comic book concept, but we’ve spent our lives fighting for equality among all people. The very real and damaging issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia are very near and dear to us as we are a band full of hetero, homo, and bisexual individuals – we are men and women, white, black, and mixed races.  We are proud to officially endorse a candidate who speaks to the things in our hearts, Bernie Sanders.

Additionally, each of the band members added their own personal endorsement:

Dickie Tagz (vocals):

Bernie’s messages on rich people sucking really hit home for me.  I mean, we struggle and fight for bookings against crappy mega corporations churning out awful pop music while we’re forced to live on Top Ramen and the brains of bigots and homophobes (see you soon, Donald!)  We work just as hard, maybe harder, than all those rich a-hole bands – we want a fair shot, dammit!

Evie Vee (drums):

I knew Bernie was my guy when I saw the pictures of him in the 1960s, defiantly chained to a black woman while protesting against segregation.  This is a man who marched with Dr. King, was arrested in the civil rights movement, and has been fighting for African Americans like me, and other minorities, his whole life.  His father’s family was wiped out by Hitler and right now we need a warrior against fascism like Bernie.

Annie Maul (bass):

I’m a lesbian woman married to Evie, the love of my life, and sometimes it’s like the whole world is against us and that totally sucks.  But here comes Bernie who’s always had the backs of the LGBT community and didn’t need to ‘evolve’ on the subject and that’s less sucky.  He was for us even when speaking out in support of gay people was political suicide.  He’s for the people – ALL of the people.  Even sometimes-zombies like Toe Tag Riot.

Paulie Propylene (guitar)

What’s not to like?  The guy was against the Iraq war from the start, he’s for total and complete equal rights and pay equity for women, and he’s the only candidate to have spoken in support of the transgender community, a subject very much intertwined in my soul.  Trans women are real women and trans men are real men and Bernie Sanders is the only politician I’ve ever seen who seems to ‘get’ that.  I’m feeling the Bern in a big big big way.

TTR BERNIEBand managers Matt Miner (co-creator/writer)  and Sean Von Gorman (co-creator/artist) add:

Toe Tag Riot Volume 1 is available to pre-order NOW with Diamond code MAR161159!  Don’t miss the comic the Westboro Baptist Church claim will “Split Hell wide open”!

Toe Tag Riot is a punk rock band cursed to become zombies whenever they play their music.  Using their zombie “superpowers” for good, they only slaughter and kill the worst of humanity: racists, homophobes and other assorted bigots – all careening to a showdown with the Westboro Baptist Chruch themselves!

The trade paperback includes issues 1-4, the rare issue #0 (a convention exclusive), and the short story printed in Alternative Press magazine #330!

tpbPrint the coupon below and bring to your local comic shop before the end of March:


Diversity in 2014 Comic Books

By Matt Petras

A crowd-funded comic book by the title of Toe Tag Riot featured zombies who attack the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church. Frequent writer for modern Batman comics James Tynion IV wrote a comic with intimate depictions of gay romance. Major publishers DC and Marvel stepped up their game on demographic representation.

The comic book industry in 2014 did not stick to telling stories about carefully chosen, lowest-denominator demographics, but various walks of life.

“Why on Earth wouldn’t we want our work to feel inclusive to more people?” said Toe Tag Riot writer Matt Miner in an email interview. “I mean, don’t we want larger audiences?  Don’t we want as many people reading comics as possible?”

Image from Black Mask

Image from Black Mask

“Toe Tag Riot” is a comic book written by Miner drawn by artist Sean Von Gorman, and now published by Black Mask that sells itself on a diverse cast of characters who attack in action-packed sequences against bigoted antagonists. It was crowd-funded on Kickstarter, raising $510 over its $19,000 goal. Andrew Hurley of the band Fall Out Boy supported this project; because of this, Hurley and the creators of Toe Tag Riot teamed up to give backers who pledged at least $50 a signed variant cover of the first issue with a zombified Hurley on the cover.

“The response to Toe Tag Riot from the LGBT community has been the most incredible and heartwarming,” said Miner.

It’s not just gay characters who make up the cast of Toe Tag Riot, but also people of different walks of life who aren’t always featured in fiction, like people of color and the disabled. “[W]e’ve been thanked by people with disabilities for creating Evie, a visibly disabled woman of color who finds empowerment in her disability,” said Miner.

In another avenue of the comic book industry, Boom! Studios has been publishing a comic book series called The Woods since May 7, 2014; it is a high school drama mixed with light-horror and fantasy. It features a cast of characters of varying ethnicities and sexual orientations. James Tynion IV, known for his work on multiple Batman series for DC Comics, writes this book along with artist Michael Dialynas.

“[The Woods] doesn’t imply stereotypes; it’s just a human story,” said Dialynas in a Skype interview.

In issue #7 of this series, which released in early Nov., the often-hinted upon gay tension between characters Ben and Isaac was finally revealed in a kiss. Ben is a heavy-set black boy who struggles with the common belief that he should play football when he doesn’t want to.

“They’re just two characters in the woods who happen to have a nice moment together,” said Dialynas.

The process Dialynas goes through to craft the characters of The Woods with Tynion is unique. Dialynas asked Tynion for a write-up that supplied him with the media tastes of the characters. When Dialynas was in school, the video game, movie, and music preferences of his classmates tended to say a lot about their character, he explained.

One character, for example, was given a skull on his shirt whenever Dialnyas was told the character likes metal, he further explained.

Telling stories about characters with mental illnesses has also been a part of comic books in 2014. This year saw the return of comic book series Li’l Depressed Boy, relaunched at #1 with the additional subtitle of “Supposed to be There Too.” Li’l Depressed Boy, which began being published by major comics publisher Image Comics in Feb. of 2011, is a comic written by Shaun Steven Struble and drawn by Sine Grace about a character’s struggles with romance and the clinical depression that is intertwined with it.

Image from Image Comics

Image from Image Comics

Struble suffers from clinical depression himself, Struble said in an email interview. The storylines of Li’l Depressed Boy are “thinly-veiled autobiography,” he also said.

The book has a cycle of jumping from different experiences the protagonist as with love interests, along with the symptoms of clinical depression that follow.

“The book is about relationships in general.  One of those is LDB’s relationship with his chemically imballanced brain,” Struble said.

The main character, Li’l Depressed Boy, often referred to as simply LDB by characters in the comic, is a rag doll living amongst regular human beings. Creating a sort of surreal atmosphere, this is never acknowledged in the story.

“I’m lucky that the fact that I write about ragdoll [means] lots of people can see themselves in the main character,” said Struble.

The audience for the book spans greatly across genders, races and locations, according to Struble.

“There are certain aspects of the experience [of depression] that remain the same [despite severity], and we can see each other in ourselves,” said Struble.

Children can also find themselves represented in 2014 comics, both in characters and in demographic targeting. One comic, written by former IGN Comics editor Joey Esposito and Ben Bailey, who still occasionally writes for comic book press/criticism publications, and drawn by Boy Akkerman, is the all-ages Captain Ultimate, published by digital-only Monkeybrain Comics. “All-ages” is a term in the comic book community to refer to books that appeal to every age demographic; the purpose of this term is to rid of any stigma that books that appeal to children are solely for children.

“Kids can tell if they’re being talked down to,” Esposito said in a Skype interview. The only difference between the writing process on an all-ages comic and a more adult focused story for Esposito is checking to be sure there aren’t any bad words in the script, Esposito said with a laugh.

Esposito found himself disappointed in the lack of all-ages comics, which filled him with a passion to do Captain Ultimate, he said. Captain Ultimate is a superhero comic with commentary on the contrast between the morally-wholesome and fun-filled comics of days past and the dark and gritty comics of today.

Esposito has worked on other comic books that aren’t for an “all-ages” audience, such as this year’s Pawn Shop. This comic is about a small store in a big city that unites people of different walks of life, making a statement about the interconnectivity of life. To Esposito, diversity in this cast was essential to getting across the message of the book, he said.

“I started thinking about the kind of people I know,” he said.

The big two in comics, DC and Marvel, have also done things for diversity in the industry this year.

DC Comics put a new creative team on the series Batgirl, featuring a new costume design and a female artist by the name of Babs Tarr. This new direction for the series brought in new gay and female characters.

DC also announced a string of films to release in the coming years, including Justice League films that feature characters like Cyborg, who is black, and Wonder Woman, who is female; both of those characters are also primed to receive films featuring them.

Marvel made mainstream news for shifts in their comic book stories multiple times throughout the year, including their new directions for Captain America and Thor. The person inside the costume for both characters was changed in 2014, Steve Rogers being replaced by black character Sam Wilson (who was previously a superhero named Falcon, a character featured in the 2014 film Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as Captain America, and a new female character taking the title of Thor from the previous hero.

Marvel also started a new series called Ms. Marvel, starring a new character named Kamala Kahn. Kahn is a young, female person of color of the Muslim faith who gains powers and takes the mantle of Ms. Marvel. The book is written by G. Willow Wilson, who is also a Muslim.

Matching DC, Marvel announced movies starring more diverse characters and cast members. Two scheduled films are Black Panther, which stars Chadwick Boseman of 42 fame, and Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel stars a female character that is confirmed to be based off the newest Captain Marvel storylines in the comics, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick.

“A woman creator took a woman character and made fans SO passionate about her that the studio couldn’t help but notice. So wonderful,” said popular feminist comic book critic and former editor for DC Comcis Janelle Asselin.

Despite any kind of progress there are still noteworthy important problems in the industry, according to Asselin.

Among her critiques is a lack of hiring female creators from Marvel and further sexual objectification of women, she said. On Apr. 11, 2014, Asselin penned a guest piece for leading comics site Comic Book Resources harshly critiquing the cover of the first issue of this year’s Teen Titans relaunch, largely for objectifying an underage girl front-and-center.

One big news story in the industry this year was the controversial variant cover for the new Spiderwoman series, featuring the titular character donning an extremely tightly-fitting costume in a sexually suggestive pose with exaggerated body parts.

comicsdiversity manera

Image from Marvel Comics

“[This] cover was a problem, in my opinion, not because it was a sexy cover at all, but because it was an objectifying cover for a book that Marvel had been touting as a book for women and starring a strong female character,” said Asselin.

There were other events this year that casted a negative outlook for diverse representation in comics, including reviews criticizing the new direction of writer Meredith Finch and husband David Finch on art, on the Wonder Woman comic series. Despite being written by female writer Meredith Finch, comic book critics like Jesse Schedeen have criticized the depiction of the protagonist in this new direction. “Diana comes across as weak, whiny, and childish – basically everything she wasn’t under [the previous writer’s] hand,” he said in a review for IGN.

Noting issues with something doesn’t completely demonize it. “Overall, it was a year of positive change,” said Asselin.

Fiction provides creative people with the opportunity to tell stories that represent whatever kinds of people they want to see represented.

“Anything that you want to see that you don’t, make it,” said Esposito.