R-Squared Comicz Justin Martin creates spiritually themed comics with soul. Oakland, CA based comic creator Justin Martin has taken a fascination with the comic book medium and turned it into an active pursuit of telling compelling stories with a spiritual focus. Stories that transcend and speak to the human condition that we all can relate to. Mr. Martin sat down with me and shared a bit about his passion for comics, R-Squared Comicz and where he thinks things will go from here. Enjoy!
Tell us a little about R-Squared Comicz, how it came into being and how you got into creating comics. What is your company currently working on? Any ideas on street date for release?
JM: Well my love of comics goes back to my childhood years. Back then I didn’t really read the comics, but used them to trace characters. I also collected the cards, and most of my “comic reading” consisted of me reading the description of the heroes and villains. During most of my teenage years I did away with comics, and it wasn’t until September 2005 that I rekindled my interest in them. I had just moved to the east coast for graduate school, and I decided to attend a Wizard World convention in Boston within a couple of weeks of my arrival.
Once I got back into comics, I was blown away by the depth and complexity of the characters, and the types of stories that these characters were a part of. In addition, I became interested in the ways in which these characters and stories served as metaphors or reflections of some of the issues we as people deal with, both on a “human nature/struggles” level, as well as on an “everyday, real-world events” level. This connection fascinated me so much that it inspired me to conduct my first research study in graduate school on children’s attitudes towards superheroes, which subsequently was published in an academic journal.
While I was digging into these stories and contemplating the potential connections to real life issues, I would go back-and-forth with myself with regards to putting out my own comics. Every time I would consider the possibility, I would discourage myself from acting on it. The main reasons I used at the time were that I didn’t know how to draw (although the interest in comics came back, my interest in drawing did not), I wasn’t business-savvy, and I didn’t know the first thing about telling stories, let alone good ones.
As time continued to pass I got more involved in the world of comics. This increased involvement was evident in my seeking out conventions, diversifying the types of stories I read, zeroing in on specific writing and drawing styles I liked, listening to podcasts, and blogging about various characters, stories, and themes from the comics I read. Along with this increased involvement, I started taking a harder look into the possibility of creating my own comics. As I would listen to podcasts with various comic writers, I kept saying to myself, “I can do this.”
On May 27th, 2009, I decided to step out on faith and begin laying the groundwork for my first comic, Lightweightz. In the weeks leading up to to my decision to take that leap, I had two conversations with two different people at two different times. In their own way, I felt like they were both telling me to “just get out there and do it. What are you waiting for?” After talking to them, I was convinced that God was resolving the internal back-and-forth I kept going through, and was telling me that I need to trust Him and follow my heart. And so I have been ever since…
The R-Squared concept has two meanings. The first meaning has to do with reconciliation and restoration, two things that I believed Jesus’ mission focused on. The second meaning comes from statistics, where the “r-squared” symbol can be used to reflect the strength of the relationship between a variable or statistical model and a desired outcome. Given that both of these meanings are relational in nature, the purpose of R-Squared Comicz is to produce comics that pertain to how we relate to God, and how we relate to each other. Without being preachy, the comics put out by R-Squared will be Christian-themed.
I currently have two projects in the works. The first is called Lightweightz, and is the flagship title for R-Squared. I created the concept and I’m doing the writing, while Przemyslaw R. Dedelis is doing the artwork. The second project is called The Story of Peter, and focuses on the life of the apostle Peter. This is a collaboration between myself and priest and graphic novelist Earnest Graham. Currently there are no release dates for either project, but you can check out preview pages for both projects on my blog, www.rsquaredcomicz.com
What do you think makes R-Squared Comicz unique as a company and sets it apart from others?
JM: I feel like the company’s unique in at least three respects. For one, the titles and stories will be Christian-themed, which makes it unique in the sense that comics based on or influenced by a particular religious worldview tend to be on the fringes of the comic book world (of course there are exceptions). In addition to telling stories within a Christian worldview, the goal of R-Squared Comicz is to create characters and tell stories people can relate to, regardless of their belief system or worldview. Just as stories that focus on certain themes relevant to the human experience can impact readers regardless of the genre or medium, my hope is that these titles and stories, although Christian-themed, will resonate with people from all walks of life. And by doing so, hopefully encourage all of us to take a closer look at how we treat one another, and what it would look like if we do so in a more meaningful way. I believe that if we paid a little more attention to each other, worked a little harder to understand each other, and loved each other a little better, we can literally change the world.
Lastly, I think it’s unique in that the focus of every title and story will have a huge emphasis on the humanity (and in some cases, the inhumanity) of the characters. Regardless of the comics I have read and what the characters were or were not able to do in terms of abilities, at the end of the day, the characters’ lives and the issues they dealt with was always the “hook” for me. In many ways, I feel like that’s what really matters to most readers as well. You may can lift tons and pierce metal, but at the end of the day, I think what’s most important is who that person is as a human being. Whether I agree or disagree with who that person is or the choices they have made is a separate issue. If I can understand why they are the way they are and have made the choices they have made, then I’ll continue reading.
Could you tell us a little about your flagship title and what it is about?
JL: Set in California, Lightweightz is about a diverse group of teenagers who discover they have unique abilities. These abilities will be interpersonal in nature, and therefore will significantly impact how each of the main characters, or Lightweightz, will treat and interact with others. Lightweightz will therefore be about their struggles to come to terms with these abilities, and in essence address the question, “What would you do if you had the ability to relate to others in a more significant way?”
Sounds very interesting. Can you explain a little more about what you mean when you say their abilities will be interpersonal in nature. Is this a “Capes” comic or more of a sci-fi fantasy piece?
JM: Sure. I haven’t really given the “capes vs. sci-fi” question much thought prior to this question, but I want to say that it’s more of the former than the latter. But in someways I can see it being a hybrid, so I’ll say it’s between a “capes” comic and a capes/sci-fi hybrid. By interpersonal, I mean that their abilities will allow them to understand people better and, if used properly, relate to people better as well. I know I’ve only been exposed to a fraction of what’s out there in terms of comics focusing on people with abilities, but from what I’ve read so far, I’ve noticed a bias towards abilities that are more intrapersonal in nature. The few exceptions I am aware of include abilities like telepathy, manipulating others’ emotions, and seeing into others’ souls. Abilities like flight, speed, strength, and energy projection primarily focus on what the person who holds that ability can do themselves. Now they can choose to use that ability to help others, but the ability in and of itself, has no implications for how to understand and relate to others.
On the other hand, abilities like telepathy, manipulating others’ emotions, and seeing into others’ souls have direct implications for how well we understand others, whether we choose to use those abilities to help people or not. So each of the Lightweightz has an ability that has direct implications for how they understand and relate to others. Of course how they choose to use their ability will still play a large role in the magnitude and quality of the impact they have on others.
Aside from wanting to take sort of a different approach to the use of abilities, I believe that having characters with interpersonal abilities will help keep the story grounded in real-world situations and experiences that everyone can relate to. One thing I wanted to do with Lightweightz is to have the characters’ abilities be exaggerations of things that we already do when relating to each other. For example, Grace has the ability “comprehensive empathy,” which is an exaggerated form of understanding another person’s perspective, something we all do when trying to get to know someone. Another example is Qasim, whose ability (“social acuity and balance”) is an exaggerated form of noticing similarities and differences among individuals within a social setting. My hope is that readers will look at these abilities not as something “alien” to the human experience, but simply an entertaining exaggeration of it.
As mentioned earlier, there’s a huge “people focus” within the titles of R-Squared Comicz. So in the case of Lightweightz, what better way to highlight this focus, than by giving people abilities that stem from what we are already capable of, and the ways we already try to understand and relate to each other?
Who are some of your influences in the industry? Any particular titles that you follow or influence you?
JM: Regarding the type of stories I want to tell through R-Squared, some titles that have inspired me are Rising Stars (J. Michael Straczynski), X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills (Chris Claremont ‘82), Ragged Capes (Ralph E. Miley and Kevin Yong), The Gift (Raven Gregory), The 99 (Dr Naif Al-Mutawa), DV8: Gods and Monsters (Brian Wood), Hand of the Morningstar (Brett Burner and Mike Miller), Runaways (especially the Brian Vaughn run), The Circle Trilogy: A Graphic Novel (Ted Dekker), and Black Jesus (Jimmy Blondell and David Krintzman). For Lightweightz, my primary influences are currently The 99, The Gift, and Ragged Capes.
As a fan, some of the major titles I am following are Black Panther: Man Without Fear, Mindfield, some X-books (X-Men: Legacy, Uncanny X-Force, and X-Factor), Lady Mechanika, Artifacts, and Irredeemable. Online or digitally, some of the titles I’m currently reading are December Sun, Jackie Rose, The Dreamer, Tears of the Dragon, and The Uniques.
Any thoughts on the print vs web comic situation? Has this influenced the way that you are creating titles or will make your line available to the public? Which format do you prefer?
JM: I’ll preface this by saying that since I’m new to creating and writing comics, my knowledge and understanding of this debate is limited. That being said, my preference “in an ideal world” since would be print hands down. I love going into a comic book store, sifting through titles, and talking to people there about different titles. I also like the “book” format of print comics (whether single issues or trades), and I feel that there is something special and organic about reading print comics. At the same time, it’s important to understand the cultural shifts, and currently many things are either already digital, in the process of going digital, or will be be going digital soon. So in today’s culture, I think it makes practical as well as business sense for companies and creators to utilize digital distribution as well. I also like the opportunities web or digital distribution provides for creators to have more direct interaction not only with their fans, but with other creators. For example, since I’ve immersed myself into this world, I’ve heard about a couple of projects that have seen a large, diverse number of creators collaborate on a single project for a great cause. By God’s grace, I had the opportunity to participate in one of them. I’m not sure that these type of projects would be possible in the same way if not for the “world-shrinking” that’s been made possible by the digital revolution.
In terms of choosing to only/primarily go print vs. digital, I think the issue is more complicated and multifaceted, involving a host of other factors and considerations. For instance, my goal is to start Lightweightz as an web or digital comic, and look into print options once I’ve built a solid readership, and I have the finances to support that form of distribution. So for me, the two main factors influencing my decision to start out web or digital are finances and the opportunity to put out some work, get feedback, and improve my writing before shelling out money for printing.
Give us a little of your background….are you originally from the Bay Area?
JM: I was born and raised in Southern California. I came to the Bay Area for college in 2001, and with the exception of one year I spent on the east coast, I’ve been here ever since. I’m married, currently live in Oakland, and pursuing a doctoral degree in education with an emphasis on human development.
Aside from reading comics, my hobbies include playing basketball and freestyling. I currently host freestyle Fridays every week on Facebook. I’m also a big music and movie person. I listen to many different genres of music, but recently my music of choice has been movie theme music, and some classical music.
Thank you Justin for sharing.
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