What will Joe Casey do next?
After making a name for himself in the superhero infused worlds of Marvel and DC, Casey has been on a tear as of late with several off-kilter gems that take the stereotypical world of superheroes and action and turn it on its head. And it looks like he’s doing it again in a new creator-owned series launching next week from Image Comics.
Joining with artist Mike Huddleston, Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker is good natured dark humor in the form of a retired superhero who is pulled back for one last mission and find that he isn’t the hero once was. On the Joe Casey scale, this would chart far above his works at Marvel and DC and into the landscape of previous work like Automatic Kafka, GØDLAND and the recent Officer Downe one-shot. In an advance review over at Broken Frontier, Jason Wilkins compares it to Hustler magazine, saying it’s “smart, dirty fun you’d never show your mom.”
Sounds about right.
Although the first issue of Butcher Baker doesn’t go on the road until March 30, Image has announced that retailers have already increased their orders so much that a second printing will be coming on April 13th – so that means you might want to call your store to reserve a copy if you want it next week.
Newsarama: Joe, the title of this is a riff off the old rhyme, “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker”. How’d you get from that to .. well, this?
Joe Casey: Is that an old rhyme? Okay, the name is just one of those things that comes to you when you find yourself in the correct headspace to receive unique comic book titles as they drop down from the thermosphere. And once I stumbled onto it, it just felt right. You shoulda seen the look on Robert Kirkman's face when I first told him about it. Can a human face actually contort into the shape of a question mark? Yes it can.
Nrama: Butcher Baker chronicles the story of a jaded ex-hero who comes back to the life to tie up some loose ends. Is this an analogy for you returning from animation?
Casey: Now, why on Earth would I ever retire from animation? A guy's gotta eat...
What kind of hero is – or was – Butcher Baker?
Casey: Obviously, Butcher Baker is meant to exist in the "patriotic hero" archetype mold... the same ideaspace occupied by guys like Captain America and the Fighting American, to name just two. But, as the series goes on, we find out that he's much more than that. It's sort of a thing I do... I tend to take these comic book stereotypes and subvert them for my own twisted pleasure. So far, so good.
Nrama: Why is Butcher pulled back into the superhero business?
Casey: He's back for one more mission, cleaning up a few loose ends that he left hanging back when he was in his prime. But the key phrase there is "when he was in his prime". He learns fairly quickly that he's not as smooth as he used to be and that, these days, he makes mistakes that he'll definitely have to pay for later.
Nrama: Artist Mike Huddleston told me his favorite character in this is someone called the Absolutely. Besides having the one of the best name in comics, who or what is he?
Casey: Have you seen the visual of the Absolutely? Calling it a "he" or a "she" exclusively would probably be a mistake. The Absolutely is both. Or neither.
Nrama: Is Absolutely his main foe, or are there others?
Casey: I'm not sure if anyone ever said that the Absolutely was a villain. I never said that. I think the character is much bigger than just being one of Butcher's (admittedly colorful) antagonists.
Nrama: The idea of a patriotic superhero is a strong one in comics – from Captain America to the Shield and even outside ones like American Flagg or something. What are your thoughts on the concept of the patriotic superhero, through the lens of this book?
Casey: Well, like I said before, it's definitely an archetype within the greater superhero idiom. I do think it's been a while since we've seen a brand new character that wears the colors of the American flag in this manner, where it's part of his identity, part of his self-image. And in the 21st Century, wearing those colors means something a lot more complex than it did, say, in Captain America's WWII heyday.
Nrama: Your words really seem to come to new life – a crazy life – with Mike Huddleston onboard. How’d you go about finding the right artist to do this project?
Casey: It's part of the gig as a comic book writer to be able to match the right artistic collaborator with the right concept. One thing Mike and I said from the beginning was that we wanted to do something that challenged both of us, that gave us free reign to experiment. Hopefully, this one fit the bill. It certainly feels like new territory for both of us. But, even more importantly, we're having a great time. That's the main thing I hope comes across to the readers... the wild ride we're all having here.
Nrama: You’ve been known to feed off the energy of artists – proverbially, not literally – so how has Mike’s concept sketches and pages changed the way you’re writing the series?
Casey: I was a fan of Mike's work even before I worked with him on a short anthology story a few years ago. From The Coffin to Deep Sleeper to his most recent stuff, I just knew we make great comics together. I don't think it changed anything for me, it simply allowed me to write without limits, because Mike can pull anything off. I gave him really brief descriptions of the characters and he was off to the races. It's one of my favorite parts of the process... the actual world building.
Nrama: This is pretty wild, even for you. Is this you getting out everything you can’t do in your main job of animation writing?
Casey: I think my creator-owned comics are more reflective of my true self, my personal tastes, they contain the statements I want to make in my art. All that stuff. Televised animation is a business. Man Of Action Studios has gotten a lot bigger, a lot more successful than any of us ever imagined. But, the best part about that success is that it allows a certain degree of freedom in the other work that I do. I love comic books most of all. There's simply no greater art form on the planet, no better medium of communication. And I'm in the lucky position not to have to hold back when I make comic books. I can fully express myself in exactly the manner I want to. It's not something I take for granted.
Nrama: To get in the zone to do this, Mike said he mixes a six-pack of Four Lokos with a freezing shower. How do you get in the particular mindset to write this versus, I don’t know, the animated series Ultimate Spider-Man?
Casey: After writing and producing a Ultimate Spider-Man episode or a Generator Rex episode... I run to my creator-owned work, I can't wait to get to it. It provides the perfect balance for me. As for what it takes to get in the mood to write something like Butcher Baker... is it scarier to admit that I need absolutely nothing to get there?
Nrama: Your career has gone in the reverse trajectory of a lot of people – you started working at DC and Marvel with their top characters and then didn’t start doing independent work until later on – I think Codeflesh was your first in 2001. What’s that like for you to be able to explore broader concepts in creator-owned now that animation keeps paying the bills?
Casey: This was the goal all along for me. I get a big kick out of working in the big publisher sandboxes and will continue to do so. But, in hindsight, I put my time in writing things like Uncanny X-Men and Superman to build up my name and my brand so I'd be able to do exactly the kind of creator-owned material I'm doing now. If you look at my Image work from the past five years or so... GØDLAND, Charlatan Ball, Nixon’s Pals, Krash Bastards, Codeflesh, Officer Downe... if there's a common thread there, it's simply the fact that I'm able to work with no real limitations. My collaborators and I can cut loose and fully express ourselves, and I gotta tell you... there's no better feeling in the world than having that freedom. The most exciting thing is that Butcher Baker is the first of an onslaught of new creator-owned projects I've embarked on. There's a lot more coming in the next couple of years.