When it comes to my interest in funding comics-related Kickstarter projects, I hear the words of Warren Ellis rattle around my brainpan: ''It's a strange world. Let's keep it that way.'' Ours Is A Hungry God! by Matt Rebholz is weird and psychedelic and a must-have; as Rebholz says: ''I want to find out what will happen to these guys.''
Principal Skinner was right: every creator (inventor/scientist) is half B.F. Skinner and half P.T. Barnum. The great promise of fiction is Rebholz's wish: what happens next? Kickstarter is becoming the destination for the bizarre and enigmatic – what the mainstream will be hailing as “the next best thing? twenty months from now. A visionary like Rebholz may not need/want the approval of the middle-of-the-road marketplace, but what he has to have the support of you and me, readers who revel in the strange world of comics.
When your worldview is of bloodthirsty ancient ones and THEIR Gods, it's best to pull your sacrificial knife and either protect ya neck or start cutting.
Keith Silva for Comics Bulletin: The word “epic” falls far short when trying to describe Astronomer III: Ours Is A Hungry God!. How do you explain your vision (and this story) to the uninitiated?
Matt Rebholz: I wanted to make a book that was weird and cosmic and psychedelic but still felt like a comic book that was fun and violent and full of bombastic dialogue. What is coming out of this idea is something that's much different from what I initially planned, but I'm really into watching it evolve and change over time. Basically it's a post-apocalyptic western set among the ruins of a lost ancient civilization of Yetis who bred humans to be slaves and blood sacrifices to their enormous space gods.
CB: What are the challenges to building a story around a character whose one purpose is to find converts or (willing?) human sacrifices to appease a bloodthirsty god?
Rebholz: The main character of Ours Is A Hungry God! is a mutant prophet named Enoch, and he is very much on a mission to offer human beings as sacrifices to his God, Mighty Votan. It's a lot of fun figuring out what this guy is all about. I've based certain aspects of his personality on Biblical prophets as well as the radical, apocalyptic, millennial prophets that you see in Europe in the Middle Ages. Like them, Enoch has a direct and intimate relationship with his God and is absolutely certain that Votan needs him to convert the masses and sacrifice humans (His ''sacred herd of cattle''), and will do anything in order to achieve these goals. When a God gives you an errand to run, you don't say no!
CB: What sort of research have you done into Aztec and Mayan culture and art to create this story?
Rebholz: I look at lots of books and other reference material of both Pre-Columbian Central/South American and ancient Mesopotamian art, architecture, etc. I'm really interested in ancient civilizations in general, the way they were structured, how the people lived, etc., but I find the Mesoamerican cultures particularly compelling to play with in The Astronomer. Part of it is the persistent theories of ancient UFOnauts/skygods coming down and influencing them, and part of it is the importance that astronomy/cosmological observation played in the religion of Mayan and, later Aztec civilizations. Another thing that I find so much fun about these cultures is that to me they seem almost like an alternative universe version of the first civilizations/empires that flourished in Mesopotamia at the beginning of recorded history. Broadly speaking, these cultures have similar cosmologies, comparable technology and parallel cultural practices that seem brutal and alien to us, things like human sacrifice. However, they have entirely different aesthetic philosophies; it's like they had all the same ingredients, just combined in different proportions.
CB: Cosmic gods, ancient ones, body horror, this series reads like some unholy union between Jack Kirby and H.P. Lovecraft. What draws you as a storyteller to otherworldly beings both cosmic and ancient and their power over mere carbon-based life forms?
Rebholz: That's a lovely and flattering thing for you to say! One thing about Lovecraft that has always appealed to me is the sense in his stories that the world is older than anyone can possibly imagine and that there have been entire cycles of civilization rising and falling that most people are completely unaware of. Everyone knows that Lovecraft was buddies with Robert E. Howard, and you see the same thing happening in his universe: Conan is constantly stumbling over the ruins of ancient and unknowable cultures. It reminds me of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, how by the time Alexander's army came across the ruins of this impossibly gigantic and long-forgotten city, nobody could even tell them who had built it or how old it was.
CB: Your artistic style mirrors the epic nature of this story; there is a grandiose feeling, a level of immense power present in your cartooning. Is the Astronomer series a case of finding a story to fit the art or the other way around?
Rebholz: It's definitely the former. I am a visual artist first and I'm relatively new to storytelling and writing dialogue, although working on my characters and narrative structures has proven to be a really fun, really challenging experience. However, the story mostly flows from images that I want to use or characters that I want to get to know by drawing over and over again. Entire chunks of these books have been built around one exciting sketchbook drawing that I knew I needed to incorporate into the story.
CB: The phrase, “singular artistic vision” and the word “auteur” certainly apply to Ours Is A Hungry God; however, could Matt Rebholz the writer hand this project off to another artist (if so, who)?
Rebholz: I would love to see what another artist would do with this world. Paul Pope and Simon Roy come to mind as some famous people who I would love to see work inside the world that I'm building. Since so much of the story stems from my imagery, I would probably be much more interested in working with another writer — perhaps doing some kind of Marvel Method type of set-up where I would work on some images and the writer would supply the dialogue after the art was already in play. That actually sounds like a really cool way to collaborate.
CB: You used Kickstarter to fund the second chapter in this story, The Astronomer. What did you learn from that experience and apply to this latest campaign?
Rebholz: One big problem I
encountered first time was grossly underestimating the cost of shipping, both in money and time. That experience sort of forced me to think about art through the lens of a business in a way that I never had before. It wasn't necessarily smooth or painless, but I certainly learned a lot.
CB: What advice would you give to someone looking to get a project funded and what would you tell backers who are funding projects?
I don't know if I'm the person to be giving any advice, but I think Kickstarter is really well suited to something like comics, because you can offer rewards that are relatively inexpensive as well as being able to send people actual physical objects as rewards. Generally, I try to keep the prices as low as possible and offer things that I would like to get.
The whole point of this is for as many people as possible to get their hands on The Astronomer books. All I have to say to backers is Thank You! I could never do this without your support, and Kickstarter offers a lovely model where creators and backers can communicate directly with each other and it ends up feeling like a relationship that an artist has with a collector.
CB: Ours Is A Hungry God! has not (yet) reached its goal. What are your plans if this project doesn't reach its funding goal?
Rebholz: I obviously hope very sincerely that the project reaches its goal, but if it shouldn't, I will definitely be completing this book, it will just end up taking me much more time and probably being released in a different format. This is my project right now, and I have no plans to turn my back on it until it's done. I'm much too excited about it and working on it is way too much fun. Plus, I want to find out what will happen to these guys.
CB: Fingers crossed, Ours Is A Hungry God! gets funded and no one is sacrificed to bloodthirsty ancient gods, what's next for you and for this story?
I'm not sure exactly how long this narrative is going to be, but I feel like everything I've done so far is still somewhat prologue to a larger story. In the next few chapters we will be meeting some of the Gods face to face (rather than in visions or flashbacks), there will definitely be some funky hallucinogenic vision questing, the Great Comet will finally arrive, we may go back in time to check out the fall of the ancient Yeti civilization, and at least one character will be spending some quality time in outer space.
The funding campaign for Ours Is A Hungry God! ends on June 22. DO NOT be responsible for vexing these old and peckish Gods and fund this unholy horror!
Sacrifice yourself upon the altar of Rebholz and help FUND Ours is a Hungry God!
Keith Silva writes for Comics Bulletin and has never considered himself much of a Renfield; however, but he sure as shit ain't goin' to piss off a bunch of Yetis and a bunch of enormous space deities.