What can I say about Shirtless Bear-Fighter! that you don't already know from the title? A few things, actually. Bear with me.
I could tell you that it's an upcoming five-issue comic book series from Image. I could tell you that it's an unclassifiable action-comedy that lands on the Image Comics spectrum somewhere between the PETA-baiting chaos of Sea Bear & Grizzly Shark and the his-name-is-what-he-does bravado of Head Lopper. I could even tell you that it's the original creation of two former Marvel Comics editors.
Or I could just let them tell you all about the comic themselves! Sebastian Girner and Jody LeHeup are the co-writers behind the grizzled brawler known as Shirtless Bear-Fighter and his eponymous comic, and I was able to ask them a few questions about the book. The interview was conducted by e-mail, so at least one of the participants was likely shirtless at some point, but I can neither confirm nor deny that.
We discussed all aspects of the book and the team was kind enough to share a few preview pages from the first issue, which is out on June 21st. You can find all of the pages in the gallery below, though be warned there is some — albeit censored — bare nakedness. And bear nakedness.
Now read on for the full interview and lay your soul bear in the comments below ...
Tell me about how you came up with the idea for Shirtless Bear-Fighter. Was this always what he was going to be or did he start off tamer, like Deep-V Squirrel-Hugger or something?
Jody LeHeup: Sebastian and I met as editors working in the X-Office at Marvel where we soon became friends and eventually roommates. When we left the world of work-for-hire editing we had been working on other people's books for so long that we found we had all this creative energy when it came time to write our own.
Sebastian Girner: Yeah, so when we started pitching each other it was like a dam had burst and we found ourselves going in all kinds of different directions. At some point one of us threw out the words "Shirtless bear-fighter" ... not even trying to come up with a concept ... just making fun of someone in one of the many crazy movies we often watched ... but neither of us could get that phrase out of our heads. There was just something so catchy and clear and instant about it. It really cut through the noise.
One of the villains of the series is a toilet paper tycoon. What do you have against the hardworking men and women of the butt-wiping industry?
JL: Nothing at all against the industry at large. But the villain in question — Jaxson Logger — is far from a hard-working man of the people. He's a bleach-blonde spoiled, greedy, opportunistic, insane narcissist who believes in profit over people.
SG: Exactly. We actually take pains to show that he treats his employees like crap. Everyone hates this guy, but he's got all the green, and all the double-ply, so he calls the shots.
JL: As you mentioned, Logger is the CEO of Fuzzy Wipes™, a best-selling brand of toilet paper. For years he's been trying to pulp the forest our hero Shirtless is sworn to protect.
SG: Backing up just a little bit ... Shirtless was raised by bears to defend of the woods they call home and for many years all was well. Whenever Logger came to cut down the forest, Shirtless and the bears were a united front and able to defend their territory. But then ... something happened. The bears betrayed Shirtless in a horrible way we'll reveal in the pages of our story, and he swore to fight them forever.
JL: Right! When our story begins Shirtless is out for revenge on the bears and Logger sees a chance to exploit — even exacerbate — the situation for his own ends. Ultimately Shirtless is faced with a choice: defend what he loves or punish what he hates. It's a decision that once made there's no going back from and Shirtless is going to face real consequences if he gets it wrong.
We get to see the bear-plane in the first issue, are there any other types of Ursidae-inspired transportation that Shirtless has?
JL: You'll have to check out the series to find out! Tons of surprises in store.
SG: The Bear-Plane was a pretty early idea we had and stands as a marker to the kind of shenanigans we wanted to get up to in this comic. The Shirtless Bear-Fighter! art team of Nil Vendrell, Mike Spicer and Dave Lanphear didn't bat an eye and brought every insane creation Jody and I hurled at them to glorious life.
JL: Yeah, Nil is an incredible storyteller and the perfect Shirtless Bear-Fighter! artist. Acting, comedy, world-building, emotional moments ... Nil can do it all. He's one of the main reasons there's so much heart in Shirtless Bear-fighter. Our favorite part of this whole process is when his pages land in our inbox. Just a fantastic collaborator.
Colorist Mike Spicer brings the color pain over Nil, striking the perfect tonal balance that a book like this with so many genre influences requires. And Dave Lanphear's letters are the icing on the comics cake. Dave's as much a cartoonist as he is a letterer and his letters are one of the many reasons readers are going to love SBF.
Shirtless is actually completely naked for a big part of the first issue. Why not Fully-bare Bear-Fighter?
JL: When we first meet Shirtless he's a borderline wild-man, wandering the woods — no pants, no bears, no problem! But when crazy, wild-eyed bears start attacking human populations, FBI agents Burke and Silva come to Shirtless and ask him for help. That's when Shirtless re-enters the human world which — unfortunately for him but fortunately for the rest of us — means putting on some damn pants!
SG: Agents Burke and Silva have major roles to play in our story as well. Burke is walking crotchety old war veteran cliché that we have a lot of fun with and Silva is our everywoman. She's the skeptic. She comes into this comic much like the reader will, asking "WTF is going on here?" It's through her eyes that we view the world of Shirtless Bear-Fighter and she'll have to change right along with Shirtless if they're going to make it out of all this alive.
Are there any animals that Shirtless is afraid of?
JL: Shirtless would never admit it, but he fears his foster sibling — the most powerful of the bear warriors — Brother Bear. Brother Bear hates humans and was jealous of Shirtless' standing in bear-society. Over time they became bitter rivals and Shirtless holds him most responsible for the bears' betrayal. Shirtless knows that one day soon they're going to meet in one final epic battle ... and one of them isn't going to walk away.
SG: A hero is only as good as his villain is bad, and Brother Bear is the stuff of nightmares. When he's on the page the temperature drops. We really wanted a villain that demands attention. Logger is evil, destructive and petty, but Brother Bear is the one you need to watch out for!
What fictional bear would you like to see Shirtless battle?
JL: I think Shirtless should punch Smokey in the face because he’s so bad at preventing forest fires. It's like he doesn’t even try. Just keeps telling us we have to do it.
SG: I want to point Shirtless in the direction of the Sugar Crisps Bear. He's a bit too smug for my tastes!
Is there anything that was a direct inspiration for Shirtless Bear-Fighter?
JL: Nothing that was a direct influence. It was more a soup of genre influences that only in hindsight is apparent we were homaging ... '80s action and exploitation flicks, Saturday morning cartoons, superhero comics, tall tales, ancient myths, and I've mentioned this before but there's a little film noir in there as well.
SG: Yeah, we were less inspired by other things that are out there than we set out to make more of what we thought should be out there. Bring a little laser-focused anarchy back into comics!
Which of you would last longer in a bear fight, and would you prefer to be shirtless for it?
JL: The best way to fight a bear is shirtless. However I don't recommend it because no matter what you're wearing you will definitely die. Unless you're wearing Troy Hurtubise's bear-proof suit, in which case you couldn't fight at all. You'd probably just get knocked over and couldn't do anything. Speaking of Troy ... everyone should immediately watch the documentary Project Grizzly. It's amazing.
To answer your question though Sebastian would last longer because he can run faster.
SG: I am pretty quick! I'd run to a payphone, call the bear's boss and let him know his boy's skipping work to terrorize my ass in the forest. Nothing takes a savage bear down a peg like a mandatory HR meeting.
How do you sell readers on the awesomeness of this book?
JL: Don't know that we have to. Isn't it obvious?! From the title alone?! Seriously though the response we've gotten so far has been unreal. Social media has been blowing up since we announced, creators are lining up to sing its praises and we've got an inbox full of emails from retailers who can't wait to get it on their shelves. SBF is like water in the comics desert right now at a time when we need joy more than ever.
SG: It's epic fight-comics that will have you crying with laughter and a narrative that will break your heart. It's the total package and we couldn't have asked for a better reception from the comics community. Absolutely cannot wait for the first issue to drop on June 21. We literally think it's impossible to not fall madly in love with Shirtless Bear-Fighter!
Shirtless Bear-Fighter! #1 is in stores June 21 from Image Comics. Cover art by Andrew Robinson, interiors by Nil Vendrell and Mike Spicer.