The Ultimate Alpha Male Type: Writer/Artist Nick Pitarra Talks Crowdfunding `Ax-Wielder Jon’
by Tom Smithyman
Last year’s crowdfunding drive for Ax-Wielder Jon was the biggest campaign in Zoop’s history. With the book ready to publish, the creative team – led by writer and artist Nick Pitarra – decided to reopen the campaign. In a Comicon exclusive, Pitarra discusses Jon’s distinct look, his journey as a writer and why this story is so personal to him.
Tom Smithyman: You blew past your original crowdfunding goal. Why reopen the campaign when you were already so successful?
Nick Pitarra: We’ve had so many people reach out after the book finished and the word spread after our initial 30-day campaign that it just made sense to re-open it. We never extended the campaign, but now that the book is finished and we are waiting on the printing and fulfillment, it just made sense to overprint and offer some of the extra run to the public. I’m rolling every dime of profit back into Ax-Wielder Jon, including bringing back Das Pastoras who is already working on his parts for Book Two and Three. Das has finished the painted covers for the whole series of Ax-Wielder books as well. We have an action figure in the works. I don’t believe any campaign can be too successful. In venturing out on my own I want as many fans as possible to be able to buy and enjoy the book we worked so hard on creating.
Smithyman: Ax-Wielder Jon was the most successful campaign ever run on Zoop. Why do you think backers gravitated to your story?
Pitarra: I’d like to think the art looked really cool. I had this epiphany about crowdfunding, which was essentially that the marketing versus the direct market is flipped on its head. A new property is a lot to gamble on versus an established one for a comic reader. I tweeted out and over-shared the work I was producing for about a year before we launched on Zoop. This, in my mind, was establishing the brand in readers’ minds with the best tool I had to promote it, the art. It also helped calm the concerns of people who support crowdfunding campaigns, because they are watching it be produced in real time, and I think that soaks in and makes it feel real and substantial and not just vaporware or an idea…but instead a brand and a product.
I think lastly, the story you sell is almost more important than the story you created for the book. Meaning, you have to sell yourself and your passion for the project, and I’m extremely passionate about Ax-Wielder Jon.
Smithyman: Jon has a pretty distinct look – as in he’s taken one too many blows to the face. How did you come up with that look for him – and how challenging is it to constantly draw a guy with half a face?
Pitarra: I knew Jon was going to be this ultimate alpha male type. In the story, there’s something that happens to him that takes him down a peg. To me the ultimate symbol of machismo and masculinity is a thick mustache, so as a sight gag to myself I drew a scar that broke Jon’s face and mustache in half, symbolizing his broken masculinity/ego.
Jon’s an absolute blast to draw! And I’ve never liked drawing noses much anyway.
Smithyman: Well you took care of that problem, didn’t you? You’re known for the distinct look of your drawings. What made you want to write this story as well?
I just wanted to produce something that was 100% me. All the things I love and admire. The pop culture I’ve absorbed. The aesthetics. The artistic influences. What I see in people. The duality of what’s represented and what’s just behind the mask. I think I’m known as a silly guy, and someone who wears his artistic influences on his sleeve. It was just really apparent that it was time to venture out on my own and find my own voice as an artist and become the creator I was meant to be.
Smithyman: In your description of the story, you talk about how far Jon is willing to go to protect what he loves most. Is this story more personal to you?
Pitarra: It’s a very personal story. I think in life we grow and change. There’s a future bit in Jon where he reflects back on his life, of all the pain and hurt he’s caused, and he’s presented with this opportunity. The gods say “Alright killer, you want to kill. Here is this problem. Kill like you never have before. Kill for this reason.” Like all the bad shit he’d ever done was just training for a specific moment to do good for once in his life. Where he has an opportunity to not only fix his future, but even give the shitty things he did in his past meaning and a purpose.
When I first became a father, there was a lot of self-reflection going on. Here I am intimately positioned to know the pain and hurt of the world having been a sinner myself, but now I have this helpless child to protect and provide for. You get the curse and the blessing to know what they are up against and a chance to better prepare them for it. When my first daughter was born, she was hospitalized and in critical condition. I kind of had that same moment with God. He said: “Alright ‘artist’ …say something then.” And that’s why I’m venturing out into writing for the first time. I feel I have some life experience now and I have something to say, and Jon is leading the way.
Smithyman: Now that you have a taste for it, do you enjoy the writing process? Is it easier or harder than drawing?
Pitarra: I absolutely love it. In Stephen King’s On Writing, he talks about how story is excavated. Something like we’re archeologist and the story is already there, our craft and skill is our tool kit to extract the pieces as best we can. I honestly don’t feel like I write anything. I find pieces and put the puzzle together. That’s why there is a puzzle motif throughout Ax-Wielder Jon. One piece is informing the other until its balanced and stands up right. It’s kind of magic. It gives equal real estate to the material world and the world of the imagination, that the imagination can be farmed and brought into the material world. I love writing. Drawing, for me is just hard work. It’s really fun hard work.
Smithyman: You make an unconventional choice in bookending the story with a narrator who happens to be a young girl telling the story of Jon. What led you to that decision?
Pitarra: Basil, the frame narrator, is telling the story of Jon. She isn’t metaphysical or anything like that, although I know she reads that way in Book One. She is writing the story for a future reason in a later volume, that I’m using to frame Book One’s action sequences with. When writing Jon, she just wouldn’t go away. I’m a big believer in balance, that if you only have a heavy loud man, then you are only clinging pots and pans, that it’s only a drum beat and not much of a song. Basil’s voice acts the harmony/melody. She’s the softness to Jon’s hardness. She insisted on being there in Book One.
Smithyman: Why Ax-Wielder? Why not a sword? Or a mace? Or a morning star?
Pitarra: The axes are my hooks. An ax sure looks like it’s shaped like a big hook to me. And I needed a good hook to catch readers’ attention. Think in that Alan Moore, “…to spell is simply to spell” magical thinking kind of way. I say, “…to draw them in (to Jon) is simply to draw (Jon with lots of blood and detail!)” Ha!
A big ax drawn with lots of blood and brains on it that felt like a perfect lure to attract a reader who liked the same things as I do to Ax-Wielder Jon. Or, even better, A BUNCH OF AXES. Axes look cool.
Smithyman: They sure do. Good luck with this next phase of the campaign, though it doesn’t sound like you’ll need it!