Dystopian Story BREATHERS Gets New Life in Color

Credit: Justin Madson
Credit: Justin Madson

When acclaimed creators like Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt get behind your self-published work, there’s a good chance of success. For writer/artist Justin Madson, the creators’ support translated into a successful IndieGoGo campaign for his self-published series Breathers.

Set in a dystopian world where a deadly virus fills the air, Breathers follows a handful of characters as they struggle to make sense of the world in which they live. The series was originally released as a black-and-white, hand-photocopied title, but it won enough fans to get it noticed by It’s Alive Press for distribution to a wider audience — including the addition of color.

To raise money for the publication, Madson and It’s Alive are running an IndieGoGo campaign, complete with a variant cover by Lemire and Kindt. As the campaign heads toward its last few days, it’s reached the first goal, but the publisher is hoping to give the new book even better card stock covers and reach more people. Newsarama talked to Madson about his work on Breathers, as well as the enticing option of crowd-funding a comic book.

Newsarama: Justin, just to start, can you talk about the concept behind Breathers — the basic idea of the story? 

Justin Madson: The basic idea of Breathers is that it tells the story of a few people's lives, set against the backdrop of them living in a world where the air is deadly to breathe.

This happened some years ago, so in Breathers, the characters are more or less just dealing with this rather inconvenient situation. They wear specially designed masks, or "breathers," when they go outside. There are ventilation systems are in place for indoor spaces. The fact that the air can kill anyone who breathes it has just become a part of life that everyone has accepted. Life goes on much as it did before. Except now, before you leave your house, you'd better be sure your breather is securely attached to your face.

In the comic book series Breathers, we meet a few of the individuals who live in this world. We meet a struggling-to-make-ends-meet mom named Juliana and her daughter Mara, who has a stuffed dragon she confides in as if he was real.

We meet Marsh, a detective who is addicted to a dangerous drug known as Filter K.

We meet siblings October and Easter who eventually come to realize that perhaps the air may not be as deadly as they have been led to believe.

And then there's Jacob, the traveling breather salesman, who is continually haunted by his wife's mysterious disappearance.

Eventually all these somewhat mundane lives become intertwined with one another as they all struggle to make sense of the bleak world they find themselves in.

Credit: Jeff Lemire & Matt Kindt

Nrama: That’s the story — now, since you’re the artist, how would you describe the style of the art? 

Madson: My art style was just something that evolved from trying many different things over time. I work with clean, thin lines when I ink and use large areas of heavy blacks to produce a darker tone, which was very fitting for the mood of Breathers. I feel like my art has a clean, easy feel, a bit whimsical at times, even. 

Nrama:  What has happened since the story was first released to lead to this IndieGoGo campaign?

Madson: I first released Breathers as a series of black-and-white Xeroxed mini-comics in the late 2000’s and then collected them into a self-published 400+ page volume, which I distributed on my own.

Some years passed and Drew Ford, publisher of It's Alive Press, contacted me, wanting to professionally publish Breathersin full color. I loved the idea and got to work right away coloring these comics, which had lived this black and white existence for so long.

After I had finished coloring the first issue, Drew decided to launch an IndieGoGo campaign to help fund the printing of the comic.

Nrama: Why do you think IndieGoGo has become such a popular choice for creators trying to get their comic books/graphic novels into the public’s hands?

Madson: This was my first involvement with a crowdfunding campaign of any sort, so I wasn't quite sure how it was gonna go down. It was, of course, nerve-wracking in the beginning since I was fearing the worst, as I often do.

Once I saw how supported the project was, I felt a lot better about doing it. I had sort of avoided crowdfunding measures in the past for some reason, but now I see that it's just a great way to get readers excited about an upcoming project. Marketing has never been a strong suit of mine, so I was glad to have Drew and It's Alive Press at the helm on the campaign, to be sure.

Credit: Justin Madson

Nrama: You’ve met your original goal — what are you hoping readers can do for the book in these last few days of the campaign? 

Madson: We have reached our funding goal, but there's no such thing as having too many backers. We're still trying to get more eyes on the project and will continue looking for more backers until the campaign is over and done with.

I would just like to continue to urge everyone to take a look at the great perks we are offering like exclusive covers, signed comics, original sketches and even the original pages from Breathers #1. And, of course, we can use all the help we can get spreading the word about Breathers.

Nrama: Where else can readers find your work?

Madson: I have an inconsistently-updated website at www.justmadbooks.comwhere I have some work posted. I also frequently post comics stuff and drawings on Instagram @justmadbooks. 

Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about Breathers or the indieGoGo campaign? 

Madson: I am very excited to see Breathers get the professionally printed, full color treatment. I am very grateful to everyone who has already backed the project on IndieGoGo and hope we can get a few more backers before all is said and done. The first issue will be available in November 2019 from It's Alive Press. Keep an eye out at your local comic shop for it!  

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