Jesus, the IRA, punk rock. Not your typical DC comic. But Sean Murphy’s not your typical comics creator.
And in the opening days of 2013 Murphy released the final installment of his first major-label creator-owned work, Punk Rock Jesus from DC’s Vertigo imprint. With the dust now settled on that unfettered look at Christianity, cloning and conflict and the collected edition coming in April, Newsarama spoke with the New York-based artist about the ending of that series and its politics as well as his future, both with The Wake with Scott Snyder, future creator-owned work, and even a road trip to Gotham City.Newsarama: Punk Rock Jesus was a book you had been working towards doing for over five years now, you getting your chance to do comics on your own terms. With your work complete and the final issue on shelves earlier this month, what’s going through your mind now about the book now that it’s done?
Sean Murphy: I'm thrilled with the how it was received right from the start--having it trend on Twitter on day one of Comic-Con International: San Diego was insane. I always thought the book would be a cult hit, or something that caught on slowly from word-of-mouth. Part of me is glad it's over, but part of me is sad. And part of me knows that I'll likely never write anything as encompassing, biting, and pertinent ever again. Like you said in one of your reviews, it wasn't perfect. But I'm proud that it tried to tackle so much.
Nrama: The final issue of Punk Rock Jesus really took readers for a ride and saw how Chris, Thomas, Slate and the others ended up – including that shocking ending. Let me ask first – is this ending how you had it planned from the beginning, or did working on the series change ultimately how you handled the finale?
Murphy: That was the ending from day one. Although I imagined more room to tell it.
Because the story is about Thomas and how his faith is tested by the IRA and by J2, I wanted a jarring ending that hinted at where his faith has ended up after Chris dies. He doesn't kill Slate as revenge, he kills him because he's not certain there's an afterlife anymore. Killing Slate ensures that justice has been served just in case there's no hell. Thomas's faith has been highly altered by what happened to Chris, but I think some readers missed that because they weren't paying close attention.Nrama: Punk Rock Jesus contained some fervent messages about organized religion. Did you receive any blowback from that online or at conventions?
Murphy: I had a few run-ins with people at shows who were offended by the material, as well as a bunch of emails from people claiming that I needed to take another look at the Bible and open my heart to Jesus. But I got WAY more complimentary emails from Christians, I'm happy to say. If there's one thing Punk Rock Jesus has taught me is how great my readers are. Even with hot topics like religion, many of them are open minded and intellectual enough to look past the page where Jesus tells America to "go f**k itself".
Nrama: You’ve made it known online that you’re an atheist – but in the ending I see you opening up other viewpoints in the characters. Who would you say you feel the most in common with from Punk Rock Jesus on a religious level?
Murphy: I relate mostly to Chris, I think. I agree with most of what he says, but I don't agree with his methods. When I first decided I didn't believe in a god anymore, I was angry, confrontational and militant. And when Punk Rock Jesus was conceived, my goal was to bash religion over the head. Luckily, I didn't do the book 5 years ago. It's a much more balanced read now that I've matured and can seen the value of diplomacy.
When I first wrote Punk Rock Jesus, I never would have thought I'd be adding angels and hallucinations of the Mother Mary.Nrama: I know Karen Berger has been a big part of your career working at DC and Vertigo, and Punk Rock Jesus is working out to be one of the last books she directly edited for DC. What did having Karen onboard for Punk Rock Jesus add to the book?
Murphy: If Punk Rock Jesus is a B+ book, then it would have been a C- without Karen. Her guiding hand taught me a lot about how to write comics, and her support was invaluable. It gets lonely doing a comic by yourself, so a call from Karen was always a nice distraction.
Nrama: I know from speaking with you regularly that during the course of creating Punk Rock Jesus you had to turn down some other high profile jobs both in comics and outside in video games like Assassin’s Creed. Now with Punk Rock Jesus done, do you have any regrets?
Murphy: No. While some of the repercussions of Punk Rock Jesus aren't obvious yet, some of them are.
I'm obviously not the first to write my own stuff (indy artists do it all the time), but it's been a while since a somewhat mainstream artist departed from business-as-usual to make a mark with his own thing--and with a major publisher. I hope the waves Punk Rock Jesus is making is a reminder to artists that they have more options than they give themselves credit for. A lot of my friends are writing their own stuff now, and many of them claim that it's because they saw me have success with Punk Rock Jesus.
I'm lucky to have my book hit the shelves while Image is having so much success. With the debate over creators rights still happening, I think it's obvious to everyone that the comic paradigm is changing.Nrama: There’s been some rumors floating around that the collected edition of Punk Rock Jesus might have some enticing extras. Is there any truth to that?
Murphy: Yes. I'm 90% sure the trade will have extra pages of story, as well as other sketches.
It's not a ploy to get people to double-dip, rather a chance to decongest the book. I knew it would be a crowded read when I was faced with some of the edits, but I preferred that over cutting the book down. For example, I'm sure it might have read more smoothly without the IRA stuff, but it wouldn't be the same book if I'd removed the entire B story in exchange for more space.
Nrama: Are these extra pages you drew originally but couldn’t fit into the original six-issue series, or something you’re going back in to develop further?
Murphy: A few are spreads that didn't make it into the issues, but mostly I'm going back in to develop a few scenes further.Nrama: With Punk Rock Jesus done, are you jumping straight into The Wake or do you have some other work between here and there?
Murphy: I just finished up some Batman pages (can't say what for), and now I'm looking to start The Wake with Scott Snyder.
Nrama: Before I let you off the hook, one last question. Punk Rock Jesus has been percolating in your head for years. Now with it done and looking far far ahead in the future, do you have any sort of ideas of a series you may write and draw together next?
Murphy: I have a clear idea of what I want to do for a sequel, but with my busy schedule, I would need to find another artist to draw it. I spoke to DC about it, but I don't think they're interested in a sequel unless I'm drawing it.
Regardless of what happens with Punk Rock Jesus, I still want to start writing for other artists, create new IPs and own all the rights at Image.