Although published by Dark Horse, S.H.O.O.T. First isn’t a biography of Greedo from Star Wars. In fact, this miniseries from Justin Aclin and Nicolás Selma is an action-adventure, in which a team of atheists track down and shoot up a succession of horrific monsters from around the globe. Why are the team all atheist, you ask? Well, because the monsters they fight are powered by religious faith, and have taken on the form of angels, jinns and golems to milk that for all it’s worth.
A pretty interesting take on the traditional humans vs monsters story, and I spoke to both Aclin and Selma about the series, where it came from, and where they’re planning to take it.
Steve: S.H.O.O.T. First started as a story in Dark Horse Presents, published in 2010. What made you decide to bring back the concept for a miniseries?
Justin: I had pretty much decided to try to turn it into a mini-series before I’d even finished scripting the short story. Even though I was trying to tell a self-contained story there, it’s pretty clear that I was interested in setting up some threads that could only be explored in a larger story. But this is a concept that’s gripped me since I first came up with it, and the more time I spent thinking about it, the more I fell in love with it. Plus, when I first told my wife about it, she said, “I think you’ve got something, here,” which is enough to get me to sit up and pay attention.
None of this would have been possible, though, without the support of my editor at Dark Horse, Dave Marshall, who believed in the concept enough to shepherd it from one-off short to full-fledged mini-series. Not to mention having an incredibly talented artist in Nicolás to collaborate with and bring it to life.
Steve: How personal to you is the topic of religion? Is the comic drawing from some of your own thoughts about faith?
Justin: It’s extremely personal. I created SHOOT Fist at a time when I was first starting to change my views on my own faith, transitioning from considering myself a highly skeptical agnostic to an atheist, and I didn’t really have a roadmap for that. I never immersed myself in the atheist community online, so instead what I ended up doing was working out a lot of the questions I had through writing SHOOT First.
Steve: Have the last three years affected the way you re-approached the original concept of the series (which, for readers, is basically ‘atheists fight religious figments using the power of science’) for this new story?
Justin: Originally, because the story was conceived at a time when I was first embracing atheism, it was going to be a lot more didactic. I wanted to write a story about the dangers of certainty, especially when it came to religions and the big questions about the world. But as I worked through the story over the last couple of years, I went from a fiery new atheist to someone who was living with atheism and having a different set of struggles because of that.
I had to figure out what I considered the meaning of life if I didn’t believe in a higher power, and I had to figure out how to talk to my children about the big issues like death. So gradually, the series became more about those questions. It became less of an ode to atheism and more about the struggles that atheists have to go through when they let go of faith, which is something I’d never seen addressed in fiction, and certainly not in an action comic book.
Steve: Should we, as readers, question the SHOOT team? Did you have any interest in leaving their goals, as an agency, ambiguous?
Justin: It’s not an accident that the second half of the idiom that the book takes its title from is “…ask questions later.” The goals of SHOOT are not ambiguous – I don’t want readers to think that halfway through I’m going to reveal that the team are dupes and that the angels were right all along. The team is absolutely working in the best interests of humanity. But there is an ambiguity as to whether their methods may be the right methods, and you’ll see those questions asked. Later.
Steve: While reading the first issue, I was struck by how compressed it felt. The story has a lot of momentum behind it. Was this an intentional move on your part?
Justin: Absolutely. I still can’t believe our luck that Dark Horse, which is the world’s greatest comic book company, agreed to publish our creator-owned miniseries, so I’m not about to say, “Well, I’m going to save the really juicy stuff for the third volume.” If SHOOT First were an ongoing series, the end of the miniseries encompasses events that would have happened a year or two into it. We’re basically leaving nothing on the table.
We want to tell the most exciting story we can in these four issues, which means we packed a ton of stuff into the first issue, and the twists and revelations fly fast and furious in the next three issues. You’ll see that the second issue picks up a few months after the first, and Infidel has already had a few adventures off-panel with the team, as well as our two in-continuity short stories, The Wooden Saint and the prose short The House That Ate Halloween.
Nicolás – how did you come to join the project?
Nicolás : I was just about finishing Tomb Raider The Beginning when my editor Dave Marshall invited me in to the project. For me it was “instant” great news.
Later on when I read the pitch, I got even more involved because there were things in S.H.O.O.T. First that were also happening to me in that moment. Without any hesitation, I accepted immediately – I felt I was destined to do so.
Now, answering your question more on the artistic side, I’ve always wanted an opportunity to express my own designs and characters, and obviously having a great company such as Dark Horse telling me that they were interested in publishing a new story? Of course I said yes!
Everything bonded perfectly for me to be part of the team.
Steve: When you’re designing the various monsters which show up, how much research do you do? Are you looking to create monsters based on the original religious descriptions, or something new and different, based on your own imagination?
Nicolás: I do a nice amount of research, the designing part is the most amusing for me, yes, I try to do something different every time.
My usual starting point is thinking how this monster would interact in this new World, and thinking in its essence, and not how it’s visually represented. Then I start looking up references that can help me describe this concept, I might look up shapes, forms, even animals from reality, so that if this monster DID ACTUALLY EXIST, it can look as real and credible as possible.
Justin: On my part, I’ve done a bunch of research into finding the right supernatural creatures for SHOOT to tangle with, but it often comes down to what the story needs rather than what I personally want to see. For things like the Angels and the Folklorics that we see in part 3 – various fairies, elves and dragons – we wanted to keep it as close to the archetype as possible, because they basically are the archetypes.
For issue 1’s Bottle Jinn and issue 2’s Golem of Giza, we started with a traditional creature from religious myth and put our own, story-driven twist onto it, and these are the designs where Nicolas really got to cut loose and come up with some amazing, original designs. Not that his designs for the elves and dragons aren’t original. I think people are going to go nuts when they see them all.
Steve: The concept of the book has drawn a lot of attention. Has there been any notable backlash, from either a religious or atheist community?
Nicolás: No not really, I think that we can learn to see it as an adventure, a story. There is more in the story than just that.
Justin: There’s usually a bit of hesitation on atheists’ part when they first hear the concept. A lot of, “Well, how can they not believe in the creatures they’re fighting? Doesn’t that make them anti-scientific if they don’t believe their eyes?” Admittedly it’s a tricky concept to wrap your mind around, but I think for the most part once people read the first issue they see where we’re coming from. I think atheists aren’t used to seeing ourselves portrayed in media very often, and certainly not sympathetically.
I’ve also seen a review or two from people who are religious that took issue with the fact that the viewpoint of the comic is that religion is incorrect. And while I don’t think the comic is in any way an attack on religious people, yes, that is the viewpoint of the comic, and it’s baked into the concept in a way that there’s no getting around it. If that’s going to be a sticking point for people, there’s nothing I can do about it.
Steve: Are there any plans for more S.H.O.O.T. First stories in future? What else do you both have coming up?
Justin: There are no concrete plans at the moment for a second mini-series, although it’s something both Nico and I are really anxious to do. I think the mini-series ends in a place that will be both very interesting and very challenging to pick up from. But as for whether or not you’ll see more SHOOT First and what I’m currently working on…the answer to both is, you’ll know fairly soon.
Nicolás: As I said before, The World of S.H.O.O.T. has a life of its own, and as with any living thing, it’s going to try to survive and evolve…
Thank you very much to both Justin and Nicolas for their time! The first issue of S.H.O.O.T. First is already out, and issue #2 is out today. Yes, today! You can find Justin on twitter here, and Nicolas here.