Born out of the fiery pits of the Art Institute of Dallas, two artists were destined to join forces and unleash fury and fuzzy madness on the world! Jesse Labbe and Anthony Coffey are those two artists. I recently caught up with the fierce duo to talk about Berona’s War and the great and sinister magic this book holds over the imaginations of its readers!
Alex Rodrik: What’s up, guys?!
Anthony Coffey: Not much, doin’ a little drawin’.
Rodrik: You draw??
Coffey: [Laughs] …right. Surprising, huh!
Rodrik: I had no idea!
Jesse Labbe: Uh, I draw too. …sometimes.
Rodrik: You do? I thought this was about interpretive dance. I’m sorry; I must have the wrong interview.
Coffey: Ah, no — he’s good at that too, don’t worry.
Rodrik: Oh, perfect! [Laughter]
Rodrik: So, you wanna jump into this?
Labbe: Sounds good to me.
Rodrik: So let’s start with the stock question. Who are you people, and how the hell do you know one another?
Labbe: Well, Coffey’s been stalking me for quite some time now. And, I figure, since I can’t get rid of him, I might as well join him and his forces of evil. …we met up at the Art Institute of Dallas and ah–
Coffey: –never talked.
Labbe: Yeah, we really didn’t. I don’t think we had any classes together. We were in animation class often together, but it wasn’t either of our classes, we were just in there working. And Anthony was always my hero and I was always like “God, I wanna impress that guy!” So I started drawing and Anthony took me under his wing. I love you, Anthony.
Coffey: [Laughs] …it’s a heavy burden to bear.
Labbe: Only ‘cause I’m fat. …no, we met at the Art Institute, didn’t really do anything together. We might’ve hung out maybe twice in a group after the fact. …hadn’t talked to him for… Is it accurate to say 10 years?
Coffey: Well, no — cause it’s barely been 10 years. But, it’s probably more accurate to be like six or seven at the most.
Labbe: Seven…okay. Well let’s make my first prediction more accurate and say seven years. That way I’m not that much of an exaggerator. So it’d been about seven years and I’d been to a couple Comic Cons and whatnot. And the first one I went to was just super intimidating, and as I kept on going year after year I was thinkin’, you know “I could do this.” And the joke that we make to this day is — I called Anthony, literally, out of the blue and was like: “Hey, you wanna go to a convention with me?” And because, I guess I didn’t have the nerve to do it by myself and because Anthony and I have somewhat similar drawing styles — in that both like cartooning. And his comment to me was “Don’t you have to be ‘somebody’?” Well, I told him: “Well they won’t know we’re not!” Because, unless you’re a diehard fan of someone that’s there… I remember, I would walk in front of several of these people and I remember talking to Mark Brooks and wasting that poor man’s time for like 15 minutes just talking to him. And, I didn’t realize who he was until I got home and I realized, shit, if I can be duped, so can other people. So I told Anthony, we’ll just pretend like we’re somebody. So sure enough, we ended up doing a smaller con in Arlington and sure enough we had a real good crowd and we sold, and sold, and sold, and sold… We were doin’ the typical: Marvel and DC. Whatever we thought was popular.
Anthony had done… Was that the one you did flipbooks, Anthony?
Labbe: And Anthony was doin’ some real kickass flipbooks with like: Helloboy and Spider-man, and whatnot. Year after year we kept on going and for all people knew, I mean they were taking pictures with us and never really knowing we weren’t anybody. We were literally just two guys that said “Hey, let’s draw at a Comic Con…pretend we’re somebody!” And, one thing led to another, and a couple years later we kept on getting the same fan base that kept on telling us that we needed to do something together. So Anthony leaned over and said “What are we gonna do?” And the idea ended up turning into a book which is Berona’s War and that was kind of it. Because of that we’d also both been picked up by several things. Such as, we both got picked up the Marvel Masterpiece Sketch Cards and through that we ended up doing more Comic Cons. That was also how we got the link up with Disney, with Hasboro… I think Anthoy was offered a position with the President…
Labbe: Yeah, so things just kinda started happening so the joke was: we pretended like we had something, we pretended we were somebody, and after a while it presented itself that we were in the position to actually do something.
Rodrik: So, since you both are pulling down art duties on the books: what are each of your greatest influences both artistically and on the writing end?
Coffey: I think somewhere along some lines we do have some of the same influences, I mean, I’m starting to be more of a big Skottie Young fan and that was one of Jesse’s big favorites. But I’ve always liked Cheeks and the typical Calvin and Hobbes, Earthworm Jim, and Doug TenNapel and all that. We’re big, big 80s cartoon fans — I love Duck Tales and Transformers and Darkwing Duck, all that kinda stuff. So a lot of stuff comes from that, especially story-wise. I always loved the adventure and whatnot that they put into their episodes. …Jesse?
Labbe: You know, ah, I was playin’ football so I really didn’t have times for cartoons. I don’t even know what Duck Tales is.
Rodrik: Busy playin’ football, pickin’ up chicks…
Labbe: Yeah, that’s just how I roll, man. You know, I remember back at Polk High I had like four touchdowns and that was my life, man. That was my life. And as I say all this I got Duck Tales playing in the background.
But yeah, our influences are pretty much the same. Our styles without a doubt have meshed a lot better since we started working on Berona’s War. I mean really since we started doing comics but especially since we started on Berona’s War. You know, when you’re working with somebody it’s not a matter of trying to emulate their style, but like in Berona’s War, he does all of one race and I do the other. So, we’re not trying to fool anybody into thinking it’s the same artist, but at the same time we don’t want it to look like Tim Burton drawing with Da Vinci. We want them to clearly exist in the same world, and our drawing styles come close to that anyway.
As far as the influences, yeah, I’ve been a Skottie Young fan and we both liked Cheeks. And it was one of these surreal moments when you’re at one of these Cons and you start to meet up
with them. Herrera and Ramos, as well, have been really generous to us and in the Berona’s War: Field Guide, Skottie Young was generous enough to write our forward. We’re hoping we can get one from Cheeks on “Fight for Amity.” We had quotes from Ramos and Herrera on Book 1 and we’ve gotten good feedback from Doug TenNapel… It feels really really good when everybody you found yourself being influenced by and looking up to gets behind a product that you’re making. So we couldn’t be luckier.
Rodrik: [Laughs] I love Anthony’s 2-cents. “…yeah.”
Coffey: It’s typical. All the interviews, Jesse’s got like paragraphs and mines a little “yeah.” I’m like the guy in American Pie.
Labbe: Yeah, I’m all excitement like: “I like Skottie Young!” and Anthony’s just sorta “…yeah, Young.” Shawn “Cheeks” Galloway! “…Galloway…”
Coffey: I feed off of him, that’s what it is. He’s my hero…
Labbe: Yeah, all I’m hearin’ is that I got a big mouth. [Laughs] I was just trying to follow in your lead, Anthony; I let you take that question.
Rodrik: So, I know you’d said it was born at the Con, but what inspired Berona’s War? Particularly as a Field Guide as opposed to the more traditional sequential art trades?
Coffey: Originally it just started as something we could have at the table. The whole idea was something we could easily — since at that point we weren’t exactly meshing styles — it was something where we could say: you do this and I’ll do that. Initially it was just going to be a calendar that was the one year war and he was gonna come up with a monster and then I’d come up with a monster for one month and then I would come up with a monster that would beat that monster next month. And then so on and so on until we’d cycle back around. So it all came from that, and the more we played with the idea, the more we fell in love with it. And it just kept evolving and evolving until it became this story and we had these characters that we drew. Then all of a sudden we’re like: wait a minute, we’ve got something — these guys are great! So then after that, then it was just a matter of okay, let’s try and actually do a book. All it was ever gonna be was an art book we could put on the table, which is why it’s set up like a Field Guide. It was literally gonna be a sketchbook with words–
Labbe: We can’t help that it got published! That’s not our fault!
Coffey: Greatness has been found, we just can’t help it!
Labbe: We really just wanted to create this art book where our art could battle against each other. The Field Guide part of a book has always been our favorite part. So we thought, instead of making it part of the book, let’s make it the entire book. The number one question we get is: what is this suppose to go to? And it’s like: well, it doesn’t…it goes to itself — it is the story. We’re just trying to kick-start someone’s imagination. That’s all this book was meant to do, and it got picked up!
Rodrik: So tell us a bit about “Fight for Amity,” I know that one is more along the lines of what readers are used to seeing when they think “comic book.”
Labbe: I’ll just uh-huh on this one… Anthony?
Coffey: This one is definitely more along the lines of the traditional sequential. We have multiple short stories, but in the same sense as the Field Guide, they’re not going to be all the typical storytelling types. We’re going to have some that are told with no words and we’ve got some that are told more Readers Digest style: where you have a couple pictures but it’s mainly text. We’ve got one massive story and then a bunch of little skits in between it. So, I mean, we’ve still got a different type of an approach we’re taking to this one but it’s going to me more, in a sense, more along the lines of what fans are wanting. We’re expanding on the world we’ve started with Berona. So, in a sense, Book 1 is the bones of it and now we’re starting to put the meat on it.
Labbe: Yeah…like…yeah. Different, yeah… [Laughter]
Typically the Field Guide follows the “Event” so now is the Event. So what it mentions in the first book, it actually gives you the story of in the second. There’s a part in the first book that talks about the patience of a sniper, so in “Fight for Amity” you actually get to see why the sniper’s waiting and who he’s taking out. It touches on the first book throughout Amity.
Coffey: It really elaborates on the baby details that were told in the first book.
Rodrik: So with the new format of the book, how has the collaborative process changed?
Labbe: Our work process hasn’t really changed at all. It has become a little trickier because there’s some serious interaction in the second book. But, we still keep true to our original process. Anthony draws all the Ele Alta and the Land Ele Alta, and I draw all the Cropones and therefore Croponia. So if one of the stories takes place in my land, if one of his characters wonders in, he still draws his character, but I have to the rocks and trees and environments and all the Cropones — and vice versa. But our work process has stayed the same.
For example, if Anthony has an idea for a story, he’ll thumb it out and we’ll Skype or get together and he’ll either have circles or exes where I have to then go in and place my characters interacting with his. So he’ll have a nice sketch of his guy and a rough of where mine needs to go.
Coffey: That’s not how it goes! [Laughter]
Rodrik: I can feel that tension… Is there anything you’d like to air out?
Actually, here’s a perfect time to battle. Tell us about your races…which is the stronger?
Labbe: Well of course Anthony’s gonna say his…since he’s a racist.
Coffey: What?! Just ‘cause we’re better doesn’t make me racist, right? Better than you, I mean, is that the definition of racist? Me thinking I’m better than you? …I dunno.
Labbe: Well I don’t think I’m better than you, buddy…but whatever…
Coffey: Oh, here we go! Here we go! The whose race is stronger question comes out and I take the “I’m better” approach and you take the “Oh, I’m not…”–
Labbe: Hey, I’m not painting you to look like a dick. If you want to take that whole angle then–
Coffey: I think you are… [Laughter]
Labbe: We had a nice split. Anthony’s characters are definitely, the way they behave and interact, they seem like who we as people should shoot for. You know, their way of thinking — and I hate to say they all think the same because that makes them seem like they’re drones, but…they don’t see the point in fighting amongst themselves. They all work toward the same goal. These guys are power horses. So they seem like a lot of times like they’re morally correct.
While the Cropones, they’re not strong, but they’re the problem solvers, the thinkers, and they’re really fast. But they are more like who we are. The
y fight amongst themselves. They’re divided up into like three different groups because they can’t get along…some think they’re better than others. But having said that, not that we agree or disagree, but what a lot of people have come away with is that: they think the Ele Alta’s are the bad guys and that’s not necessarily what we’re shooting for. Again, we don’t agree or disagree, but kinda the point of this is you choose who you like the most and you run with it. Then, some stories you’re gonna like a lot because your side’s gonna win and some stories you’re not gonna like because your side’s gonna lose. But I wouldn’t say one’s better than the other…
Rodrik: But if you had to choose, you’d say the Ele Alta?
Coffey: Apparently, I’m the only one who has faith in their race.
Labbe: I painted a pretty picture of ‘em.
Coffey: Haha-ah…I hate you. Hey, I like the Cropones too.
Labbe: Yeah right! That’s why you’re always bashin’ the poor little fuzzy fellas.
Coffey: Well, the Cropones are nice…and sweet…and they love each other.
Labbe: You’re a douche. You are not helping your cause at all.
Rodrik: So when can we look out for Book 2?
Labbe: Book 2 should be out the first quarter of next year. But having said that, we’ve got a book we’re really proud of called Berona’s War: Cabbalu Tales, written by Opie Cooper and Bret Kenyon comin’ soon. It’s only a convention book, but it’s really for people who enjoy reading. It’s ten short stories each with at least one to two pictures. It also includes a Field Guide Plus pages. We don’t want someone to walk up and pick up a book and be completely lost, like jumping into certain comics today…you have no idea what’s going on. We don’t want that to be the case. So, all we need the readers to know is: this race is fighting this race and we’ve provided all that information at the back of the Cabbalu Tales.
You can follow all the updates on Berona on our website.
Rodrik: So, last question…
Coffey: Me, I’m the greatest!
Labbe: Me, I’m not…I’m the bottom feeder.
Coffey: Ah, no wait I forgot! Jesse’s the greatest!!
Labbe: Too late!
Coffey: I’m a giving person…
Labbe: I win, I’m the Second Greatest!
Coffey: …shut up.
Labbe: Way to lose more fans there, buddy. Come on over fellas!
Rodrik: So, the actual question, aside from which one of you is the greatest, is… In one run-on sentence —
Coffey: Ah, that would be Jesse.
Rodrik: –why should readers go out today and buy the book?
Coffey: Alright, Jesse, go on man. This is you — this all you!
Labbe: You shouldn’t buy it, I don’t want you to buy it! (reverse psychology) It’s the worst book ever! Just read the reviews! (reverse psychology) Only smart people are into this book! Only people with an imagination, so you don’t want it! (reverse psychology) Stay away from our book! Go spend your money on worthwhile stuff like candy and condoms — in that order. (reverse psychology)
Coffey: Ahh, I love you.
Labbe: Anthony’s the talent. I just got a big mouth. That’s what I can contribute. (reverse psychology) Ah, see what I did there?
Nah, it’s a fun book, like I said. We grew up with Army Man and GI Joe and Muscle Men, and it’s one of those books that’s literally to kick-start your imagination. It’s literally — we’ve made a sandbox and we’re giving you room to play in it, and we’ve supplied you with a lot of the toys. So that’s what this book is. It’s our sandbox.
Rodrik: Well, thanks guys! I’m looking forward to checking out Amity and Cabbalu!