With every new debate, every new interview, and every new candidate, the 2016 presidential race feels more like satire and less like real life. Though we take to social media platforms like Twitter to vent our frustration in real-time through callow jokes and swipes at Donald Trump’s flaxen, Oompa Loompa-like appearance, we are masking a very real disgust and a sense of horror. Apathy, rather than action seems to be the prevailing mindset when it comes to the American political process–and that is precisely what Sam Humphries is railing against in Citizen Jack, his searing new creator-owned comic.
Created by Sam Humphries (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Tommy Patterson (Game of Thrones), Citizen Jack comes out, conveniently enough, on November 4, 2015. The political horror-comedy follows Jack Northworthy, a hard drinking, foul-mouthed, deeply unhinged Minnesotan snowblower salesman who is on a quest to become the next President of the United States of America. Except instead of the backing of corporate lobbyists, thinktanks, and Super PACs, Jack is running for president with the aid of a massive, twelve-foot-tall demon named Marlinspike. On second thought, maybe Jack isn’t so different from Donald Trump after all…
To give you a sense of the horror and hilarity that awaits, I spoke with Sam Humphries about the impetus behind the comic, its fortuitous timing, and why a gigantic bat demon would have a vested interest in the American political process.
Nerdist: Reading this comic was more than a little unnerving. It feels like a very prescient time to release it. The American political process has become something of a parody of itself. Where did the impetus for this book come from?
Sam Humphries: In terms of the timing, it’s funny because we never planned to do a book about a presidential candidate in November. That would be something that smart people would do; we were not smart enough to plan that. This book very nearly came out in March. We were very close to shipping it, but it was a mix of circumstances and scheduling that made us push it back. The first time that we could ship it happened to be in November, so I’ve got a feeling that maybe we have our own Marlinspike, our own twelve-foot-tall bat demon behind the scenes scheming to get this book out.
In terms of where this came from, it definitely came from a place of anger, a place of inspiration, but also a place of frustration with America’s political system–specifically with how things have changed in the last fourteen or fifteen years or so. Not that America hasn’t been on this road for a long, long time. The vast amount of my anger and frustration comes from the tone of discourse in this country, not any particular ideology. It comes from the polarization within our political arena. It comes from the way that we demonize other people to achieve our own political goals. So, Citizen Jack is the angriest book I have ever written.
N: There’s definitely an undercurrent of anger bubbling through it. It almost needs that to propel itself. You mentioned this political demonization…at the risk of being obvious, is Marlinspike a manifestation of that?
SH: Yeah, I mean it’s kind of an easy metaphor to have this demon that represents all the bad in our political system. But Marlinspike was a hook that stuck in my mind when it came to this book, something I couldn’t stop thinking about. The more we developed it and the more we start producing issues, we’ll learn more about Marlinspike as a character. We’ve developed an entire back story for him–why he’s so ambitious, why he would care about having a puppet in the White House, and why he picked Jack. So while he is a physical manifestation of some of the evils of the political process, there’s a whole lot more going on.
N: Were you inspired by Donald Trump’s actual Marlinspike?
SH: [laughs] I met Donald Trump’s actual demon. Very nice demon. Very chill dude. No, all of this predates all the Trump stuff by far. Citizen Jack isn’t about Trump. Citizen Jack is bigger than Trump. Citizen Jack is about the problems that we have that can allow a Trump to happen. If you’re out there wondering how Donald Trump is a real thing or wondering how Donald Trump hasn’t won the election already, Citizen Jack is about questions that underlie those questions.
N: We definitely see elements of our own world reflected in Citizen Jack. Case in point, Fire Fight, the fictional Fox News-style TV program that just so happens to feature a sentient anthropomorphic dolphin named Cricket, who is the only voice of reason in this seemingly batshit crazy world. Tonally, how grounded in our reality is this? Will we be more on the Cricket end of the spectrum?
SH: First of all, we’ve only shown these first two issues to a small handful of people, and Cricket is already the fan-favorite character of 2015. And I’m happy to say we’ll see more of Cricket in the issues ahead. But that’s a great question because the tone is something that we wrestled with in a good way. There’s a part of me that really wants to go full-on surrealist, just go way out there and very outrageous. We didn’t want to go that far because we want people to be able to relate to Jack as a character. It’s been a balancing act about grounding it in reality, grounding it in the actual political process, and grounding it in Minnesota. It was also important to ground it in Jack, who is something of an everyman character who embodies the hopes and dreams of not only those who enter the political process as a candidate, but those who even engage in the political process. He embodies the hopes and dreams of anyone who dares vote.
Voting, the foundational building block of our political process, has almost become a radical political act in this country. We wanted to be able to tap into the real concerns and joys that people have from politics in America. This is a book of catharsis. This is not a book of dogma. We don’t say the word “Democrat” or “Republican” anywhere in the book. We don’t have issues; this is about how people feel alienated by politics in America. It’s a horror-comedy, not just a dry political book. And horror is cathartic, you know. Horror over the years has tackled many issues over the years and provided catharsis. With comedy, laughing is cathartic, especially when you feel like screaming in terror because things are so messed up.
N: Exactly. You need that heightened reality to examine how fractured, fractious, and honestly frightening the American political landscape has become.
SH: Yeah, you need that level of un-reality so you can get breathing room from the reality. Then you can step back a bit and engage with it on a different level.
N: I also appreciate your point about making it a non-partisan book. Sometimes it takes a terrifying event
SH: If this book becomes a polarizing book, my fondest dream is that Democrats and Republicans are united by being polarized by this book. I want people to love this book across party lines, I want people to hate this book across party lines. Democrats and Republicans should be united in pre-ordering it, or united in burning every copy they can get their hands on.
N: As long as they buy them from their local comic book store before they burn them.
SH: Exactly. Please purchase them before you burn them.
N: Last but not least, if you could choose anyone to run alongside Jack as his running mate, who would it be?
SH: A good running mate for Jack would be Kenny Powers [from Eastbound & Down]. Just the road trip on the campaign trail would be amazing to see. I really think that they would get along and become amazingly close friends. Within ten minutes, they’d be like, “You’re my best friend now, bro.” But by the end of the campaign, they would be attempting to murder each other.
N: Oh, definitely because neither would want to be vice president.
SH: Exactly, exactly.
Citizen Jack #1 is in stores on November 4.