The name says it all: Shirtless Bear-Fighter.
But if you need to know more about this new Image book debuting June 21, here it is: a young boy was raised by bears a la The Jungle Book, but instead of a happy ending it turns savage when the mancub is betrayed and ostracized by his four-legged family, leading him on a roundabout journey to fighting bears.
The "Shirtless" part of the name? That's another story.
Newsarama talked with editors-turned-writers Jody LeHeup and Sebastian Girner about this succinct tongue-in-cheek brawler of a comic book they're doing with artists Nil Vendrell and Mike Spicer, and even get into a debate about how Shirtless Bear Fighter would match up against famous fictional bears.
Newsarama: Jody, Sebastian - Shirtless Bear-Fighter. It's a name that sets off the imagination. What came first, the name or the story?
Sebastian Girner: Definitely the name. It crashed into our collective minds like a meteor and demanded we come up with a story worthy of it.
Jody LeHeup: Yeah the title was a eureka moment for sure. Followed almost instantly by the character himself. I’ve said this before but it really was like Shirtless had always been there and we’d just discovered him. Once we did our minds just flooded with awesome, insane story ideas that we had to unleash on the world as soon as possible.
Nrama: This story is akin to The Jungle Book, but where the animals turn on Mowgli and he then fights them. What can you tell us about Shirtless Bear-Fighter (and is that his name?)
LeHeup: Shirtless Bear-Fighter’s name is Shirtless. Or at least that’s the name Mama and Papa Bear gave him when they found him in the forest as a baby. It’s the only name he’s ever known. His true name and the identity of his human parents are a story for another day.
Girner: Mama and Papa Bear raised Shirtless to protect the forest they all call home and for a while all is well. But then something happens that turns the bears and Shirtless against each other.
Nrama: Why did the bears turn against him?
LeHeup: You’ll have to wait until issue three for the full answer to that question but we can tell you that Shirtless’ relationship with the bears is destroyed after they betray him in a particularly brutal way.
Girner: Or so he thinks.
LeHeup: Right. There’s more going on here than Shirtless understands. Which is really one of the themes of our story. The world’s not as simple as we might wish it was.
Nrama: And so what brings Shirtless into fighting bears for this particular miniseries?
Girner: When we meet Shirtless he’s happy (meaning “angry all the time”) to be hunting down and battling the forest bears which he’s been doing for some time. But when huge, super strong bears start attacking Major Cities the government sends two agents, Burke and Silva, to bring the Bear-Fighter back to the human world to do what he does best...
LeHeup: Then Shirtless is faced with a choice...stay and defend the forest he loves, or leave to fight the bears he hates. Ultimately Shirtless decides to help Burke and Silva, and together they set off on a journey to get to the bottom of the bear attacks.
Girner: Along the way they’ll have to battle their way through a colorful array of ursine adversaries, mystical pig-people, and an evil moneyman determined to turn Shirtless’ forest home into a best-selling brand of toilet paper.
LeHeup: Also monster trucks, toilet robots, babies with beards, and magic bacon. It’s amazing.
Nrama: There have been notable bears in fiction, from Care Bears to Gentle Ben to Sea Bear and Yogi Bear, and even some Bears over at Marvel and DC. Shirtless Bear-Fighter - how would he fair against them?
Girner: Shirtless would beat them all! The Care Bears would soil their rainbow knickers if they even saw him coming their way. Gentle Ben could be a challenge, but he’s got a glass chin, and Shirtless has rock-fists to throw.
LeHeup: There’s only one bear strong enough to truly be a match for Shirtless and that’s Brother Bear, Shirtless’ jealous brother. Brother Bear is the most powerful of the bear warriors and is a major thorn in Shirtless’ side throughout our story. Get ready for some epic brawls between those two.
Nrama: You're working on this with Nil Vendrell and Mike Spicer. As editors your creator address book would be large, but what made them the right picks for this?
LeHeup: There’s a lot of action, drama, tragedy and humor in Shirtless Bear-Fighter, so we really needed an artist with a wide range of skills. We were both drawn to Nil’s excellent storytelling, cartooning, and ability to sell the emotional components of our story. His comedic timing is fantastic too, which is quite tricky to pull off.
Girner: Mike’s contribution is no less important. Working with Nil, the two developed an awesomely animated, energetic style that’s instantly recognizable and easy to read. It’s a hyper-charged Saturday morning cartoon with a budget!
Nrama: I have to ask, since con season is ramping up - are you ready for Shirtless Bear-Fighter cosplay?
Girner: We are, but is America?!
LeHeup: Can’t wait. #WeareallShirtlessBearFighter.
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals with this series?
LeHeup: Sell it for a gabillion dollars!
No, Sebastian and I used to edit in the X-Office at Marvel and while we were there we got to be really good friends. And being writers as well we knew that at some point we were going to work on something together. So when the time came our goal was to create the most joyful book we possibly could. A love letter to all the genres that had shaped our friendship over the years. A book that was fun and funny and full of over-the-top action but that told a really great story about themes we can all relate to. Shirtless Bear-Fighter! is that book. And now that we’ve made it, our goal is to share it with as many people as possible.