Journey Through Hell With A Notorious Traitor – Jeff Loveness And Jakub Rebelka On Judas

by Hannah Means Shannon

Today, the first issue of a challenging new miniseries arrives from Boom! Studios, taking on the subject of Western religious tradition’s most notorious traitor, Judas. Written by Jeff Loveness (Nova) and drawn by Jakub Rebelka (Namesake), the series is lettered by Colin Bell, and sits pretty well alongside comics explorations of Biblical religious themes found in the irreverent Preacher and the sweeping epic, The Goddamned.

While those comparisons were originally made in press releases, reading the first issue convinces you that the association is apt, since the big questions that emerge as universal themes in Biblical stories meet a modern day quest for meaning in all of these comics. Judas isn’t by any means a straightforward account of the turncoat disciple found in the Gospels, but rather an imaginative journey through the Hell that Judas inhabits in search of redemption and greater understanding. How “free” was Judas in his decision-making? If he hadn’t made the choices he made, would the crucifixion have even taken place?
Both Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka join us here today on in this double interview, and we certainly have some questions for them.

Hannah Means-Shannon: How did you formulate your conception of Hell for this particular story? Was it more influenced by religious tradition, literary tradition, visual arts?
Jeff Loveness: A mix of all 3. Christianity’s been around a long time and it’s had its hand in every style of art-form. I wanted to write a story that combined many of those elements. Everything from the Gospel story to Renaissance paintings that fill up an entire wall in a museum, or ceiling in a basilica. The Bible is the bedrock of Western storytelling, so it’s been such a fun experience to invert it all and make a tragic hero out of the traitor we’re all supposed to despise.
HMS: This question of free will is a tricky one, as I’m sure you’re aware. Knowing you would have to take that on to tell the story of Judas reflecting on his deeds, what were some of the thornier questions or avenues you faced as a writer?
JL: Oh, I’m mainly concerned with how my very religious mom is going to take all this. The rest is fine.
To answer your question, it has been tricky and challenging and thought-provoking to write a more…negative portrayal of Christ. He knew Judas was going to do this, but he also didn’t stop him. He knew his friend was going to burn forever for something he was destined to do… and Jesus let it happen. To put it bluntly, Jesus kinda screwed Judas over. Maybe that’s not a sin…. but it’s not cool. It’s weird to write a guilty Jesus.

HMS:The question that Judas, and the reader, may be facing in the comic is whether God casts people aside when he has no further use for them, as you mentioned previously. I can hear a kind of parallelism there with the role of a storyteller. We have our heroes, our villains, our dramatic events, but characters are often tossed aside, forgotten as the focus shifts. Does this story, remembering Judas, right a storytelling wrong for you?
JL: Wow. I hadn’t thought of it that way. That’s an interesting take, and I think I agree with you. You often feel connection with your characters and sometimes you feel somewhat cruel when you kill them off or make them make terrible decisions. Sometimes we lose characters or we decide when we end their stories…but maybe there’s more to their story than we know. I think that’s the beauty of comic book storytelling, especially from DC and Marvel. There are SO many twists you can put on a character that another writer might not have thought of. Guys like Superman and Batman are so adaptable. There’s such a creative beauty in that.
Digression aside, I don’t know if Judas rights a wrong… but the comic examines the fact that maybe we shouldn’t write people off or banish them before their story is done. Judge not…and all that.
HMS: What do you feel makes this particular story universal for readers regardless of their personal faith or belief system?   
JL: I think we’ve all felt like we’ve dug ourselves into a hole sometimes. Whether it’s from our own actions, the actions of others, or our own depressions and hang-ups, we’re just not good enough to escape ourselves. But maybe, if we give ourselves a chance, we can walk out of despair, and find something close to grace. I wanted to take THE most maligned character in the Western tradition, and give him that chance. I feel I relate to Judas a lot. More than many Bible characters…and I hope readers do, too.

HMS: Jakub, You mention in the press release for Judas that you grew up somewhere with many churches. What kind of religious iconography or traditional art has most affected your art style? I noticed on Namesake, which was a beautiful book, an almost stained glass or mosaic look to your artwork, so I do see an interesting development that you are now working on Judas.
Jakub Rebelka: Yes I was born and live in Poland–we have a lot of churches here. I suspect sacred art can have huge impact on small kid–brutal scenes of hell, people on fire. Especially the medieval period, artists like Matthias Grunewald, Hans Memling and Bosch were always very inspiring for me, along with the art of my father, Dominik. When I was a kid he was painting crucifixions with dark figures and a lot of gold. Later on, I was under the huge influence of German “new objectivity” painters Otto Dix and George Grosz. Recently, I have discovered the intense art of Richard Dadd and it was a huge inspiration for me working on Judas.

HMS: What made you want to work on a story about Judas in Hell? What about that appealed to you conceptually, or as an artist?
JR: I just loved Jeff’s idea of giving Judas a chance by telling the story of the most hated character in Bible and showing his better side.
HMS: How do you depict an emotional journey like this? Is the focus more on settings and unusual locations, or more on the emotions, facial expressions, and body language of Judas to explore his psychology?

JR: I think in my case it is mostly colour. I wanted this book to be more painted to give the atmosphere of a dream. I use outlines for characters but backgrounds are more painted. We see Judas in many different locations and times, he is in black everything else is changing. Its Judas’ journey.

HMS: What sort of color palettes did you initial conceive of for the project, and how did that change or evolve in the finished version?
JR: I did the concept for hell in cold blue and Boom! Studios liked that idea. So we built the rest of the color settings around that colour choice. We didn’t want to go full rainbow with Judas, so there is always a leading colour for each location.

Thanks very much indeed to both Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka for taking part in this interview in the midst of their busy lives!
Judas #1 (of 4) hits comic shelves today, December 13th, 2017, from Boom Studios.

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