Imagine a world where the rich and powerful live in their own little world, where the poor and underprivileged are ignored and abandoned, and where the police aren’t much better than the criminals they’re tasked with protecting the populace from. The world of Matt Bors and Ben Clarkson‘s Justice Warriors, the pair’s forthcoming series from AHOY Comics, takes real-world cultural dynamics to their most extreme, with corrupt cops patrolling the Uninhabited Zone, the area outside of Bubble City inhabited by a majority of the population, many of whom are mutants.
The satirical series is the first monthly comics work from Bors, a political cartoonist, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and the founder of The Nib, and Clarkson, an animator and award winner in his own right. The Beat chatted with Bors and Clarkson about the origins of Justice Warriors, their collaborative process, and how the series is an outgrowth of Bors’s political cartooning. Check that out, along with an exclusive at the covers for Justice Warriors #3 and more preview artwork for the series, below.
Joe Grunenwald: What was the genesis of this series? Did the two of you develop it together, or did one of you have the initial idea and recruit the other?
Matt Bors: Ben reached out to me about producing and writing for Justice Warriors as an animated series in the chaotic summer of 2020. I loved the world he created and as we talked, ideas grew and grew. Eventually we became partners in this enterprise and settled on approaching this as a comic book series with us both throwing in all our talents from writing down to the lettering.
Ben Clarkson: I have been working on Justice Warriors for about a decade now. It started as an autobiographical novella about moving the city of Winnipeg to the moon and has slowly morphed into a buddy cop comic about a fish and poop. I slid into Matt’s DMs and hooked him on the idea. We’re both equally obsessed with Bubble City at this point.
Grunenwald: Why was AHOY Comics the right publisher for this project?
Bors: Ahoy’s focus on satire makes it a great publisher for Swamp and Schitt to launch their investigations into the Uninhabited Zone. I’ve loved working with them and the editor, Tom Peyer, really gets what we’re doing.
Clarkson: Ahoy really loved what we were doing and gave us the runway to make what we wanted to make without any compromises. It’s been one of the most fruitful partnerships of my artistic career so far.
Grunenwald: Matt, how are the themes present in Justice Warriors an extension of your previous work as a political cartoonist?
Bors: In the last few years, I really gravitated toward dystopian and futuristic stuff in my political cartoons, which was really a reflection of my love for genre comics going back to my childhood and honestly getting a little bored drawing Washington politicians. Justice Warriors lets me talk about economics, police, and society in less didactic ways than a political cartoon. There’s a lot of jokes in this comic, for sure, but it’s not trying to be preachy or provide answers or the One Right Take on something. Readers will all pick up on different things we’re trying to do here. It’s a lot more fun, frankly!
Grunenwald: This is the first monthly comic work for both of you. From a creative perspective how have you found that transition?
Bors: We’ve worked far ahead enough where I don’t feel the crunch of deadlines that an unlimited series might bring, but talk to Ben—he’s the one drawing meticulously detailed scenes of mutant riots and helicopter crime. Creatively I love everything about comic books, the serial nature, the format. Coming from comic strips it feels like spreading out creatively in a real fulfilling way.
Clarkson: Speak for yourself. Comics are HARD. One panel, “aerial view of Bubble city” took me nearly 25 hours to draw.
I usually work as an animation filmmaker, and I can say what comic artists do is just as meticulous and disciplined as animation, if not moreso. It is in comics, however, possible to make entire stories singlehandedly which is not the case with animation. Big comics scale much more easily.
Grunenwald: The announcement for the series described its creation as “a collaborative art process,” with each of you working together on the art. Can you elaborate a bit more about what your process looks like when you’re putting an issue together, in terms of both the writing and the art?
Bors: We talk a lot in meetings about what we want to do in the script, where we’re taking the plot and the themes we want to hit on. What absurd crimes we can some up with. I’ll usually do a draft and we’ll go back and forth on several rewrites before we even turn in a draft. Each round we’re kicking the tires on the story and adding little details—Ben adds even more of them then on the art.
The blobfish cop, Brunalti, that’s a name I threw into the script on issue 1 to as an aside to illustrate that there were ongoing controversies over police shootings all the time in this world. But by issue 3 it was clear we needed a full-blown bad cop—worse than your average corrupt cop in Bubble City. Cynical and extreme, but a blobfish-faced goon. So we took this name Brunalti and made him a character who—well, I won’t spoil it. I will say it is his birthday and he’s getting a special present.
For the sample pages we put together to pitch the series, I threw in on layout and colors and then lettered it as well. Now that we’re in production, Ben is handing the layouts but I’ll throw in ideas and edits sometimes, and am doing variant covers and the lettering.
Clarkson: Everything really springs from our sprawling conversations. Matt and I really explore the possibilities of Bubble City together and that gets reflected in “script ping pong” where we will rewrite pages, and jokes back and forth. Matt will even draw over layouts if he thinks it can be a more interesting page. We’ll do little thumbnails back and forth over zoom when we talk the issues out. It’s a blast to work visually with someone else so closely. It has led to a lot of very wild pages.
Grunenwald: The visor-wearing mutant on Matt’s cover to the first issue feels like a clear nod to Frank Miller’s mutants in The Dark Knight Returns. Is there more to it than that? How does the proposed future of Justice Warriors compare to that of TDKR?
Bors: You do dystopian mutant sci-fi, you gotta have a visor guy. It is illegal not to have him. As for how this version of the future compares to TDKR, well, there’s no heroes here, for one, and all the Bruce Waynes of the world have retreated inside the shield wall of Bubble City. The elites don’t live out their power fantasies in caped crusades, they simply hire the police to protect them by any means necessary.
Clarkson: TDKR shares some tonal and thematic DNA with Justice Warriors. I’ve always especially loved how Miller treated the media. Gotham is a bit of a circus which is a vibe I wanted for the UZ (the uninhabited zone, where the majority of the mutated population lives). The visor mutant is a little nod to Justice Warriors’ tonal heritage.
Grunenwald:I noticed that Ben’s posted some animation of Swamp Cop on social media. Are you guys already looking at adapting these characters into other media?
Bors: We’d love to, want to, and plan to.
Clarkson: I have toy ideas too. There should be toys.
Grunenwald: What would you say to someone who’s on the fence about checking out Justice Warriors?
Bors: No fence sitting. Get off the damn fence and into a new comic universe that can have many more volumes to it trying to decode our fallen world. And no matter how wild you think issue 1 is, it’s nothing compared to how events ramp up through the series with forms of crime yet-to-be invented!
Clarkson: Fence sitting is a class B mega-felony.
Published by AHOY Comics, Justice Warriors #1 is set to arrive in stores and digitally on Wednesday, June 8th.