Recently, I was able to sit down with illustrator Jamie Jones, and publisher Matthew Sardo, the founder of Monkeys Fighting Robots, to talk comics, their respective starts in the industry, and their current Kickstarter campaign.
Here’s how the conversation went:
Charlie Chipman: Before we get to talking about the magazine or the comic, how did you get your start in comics? Was there a single series that inspired you to pursue a career in comics, or did you fall into it organically?
Jamie Jones: I break down my comics career into B.E. or A.E. Before and After Eisner.
When I first got into comics, seventeen year old me wanted nothing to do with superheroes. The owner of Big Dog comics in Fort Pierce, Fl. had my number and recommended the perfect trifecta of Fables, Sandman, and The Goon. I soon wanted to make comics of my own and started reading anything I could get my hands on. That’s when I started doing sample pages for the big two.
I was 23 the first time I read a Spirit comic, and it really shook me. This is going to sound odd, but it looked like what I imagined comics to look like, but had never seen. I stopped drawing for 3 months to just kind of wrap my head around it. I started drawing with a brush, I started writing my own material, and from there, comics became more than just penciling the Flash. It became my creative pursuit.
Matt Sardo: The Killing Joke and Kraven’s Last Hunt messed me up as a kid, but it was Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales that inspired me to jump back into comics like never before. Then the indie comic scene in the aughts was just on fire; The Walking Dead changed the game for small publishers, and the advancement in smaller-run printing made it easier for books like Stuff of Legend to gain traction. I love being around excitement and innovation, and that is the comic book industry.
Jamie, what was it about those ‘perfect trifecta’ books that inspired you to make comics of your own?
JJ: I was seventeen and fancied myself an intellectual, and those books were my first interaction with non-superhero comics. And that was enough for me. Knowing that this medium was more than just guys in capes duking it out. Plus, these were kind of the only books in my small town that the shop not only had that weren’t superheroes.
Matt, I agree that The Walking Dead was an absolute game changer; are there any series in print, now, that are affecting the industry to the extent that TWD did?
MS: I think the amount of quality indie books being published today is the real game-changer. More than ever, I believe there is a comic book out there for everyone.
Matt, what inspired you to transition into journalism, and what were the early days like, when you were launching Monkeys Fighting Robots?
MS: I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area during the dot coms’ rise and fall; I owned an Eisner-Spirit nominated comic book store in Chicago and then worked in sports-talk radio here in Florida. Monkeys Fighting Robots is a culmination of all those experiences focused on my love of comic books and the industry.
How did the two of you meet and, eventually, decide to work together?
JJ: It was at a FCBD maybe 6 or 7 years ago. I drew Matt a Supergirl on a sketch cover. It wasn’t until I moved across the street from Matt that we started working on Tales of MFR. It was pretty fast starting. We met up at a brewery around Christmas and were both on the same page. Then we started making a comic.
MS: New to the comic book scene in Florida, Jamie stood out of the crowd as a likable creator. Having goofy conversations about comics that can lead to an in-depth discussion about the medium is what makes conventions so much fun, and Jamie and I excel at that. It was only a matter of time before we would work together on a project in my head.
Jamie’s talent speaks for itself, and it is brillant for what we want to do on Tales of MFR. It can be over the top, gritty, and intimate, all on the same page. Jamie’s panel layout vision is exciting, and when you’re in the same room as him when he gets an idea, it’s intoxicating.
But the most crucial aspect of our relationship is that Jamie wants to grow and expand his knowledge of the craft, and I don’t want to be boring. When you’re dealing with MONKEYS FIGHTING ROBOTS, you need both those elements.
Jamie, who are some of the artists whose work inspired you to craft your signature style?
JS: From a purely drawing standpoint, the path I took was Eric Powell and Ramon Perez to Jack Davis to Will Eisner to Milt Caniff. The big one being Will Eisner. I wear my influences on my sleeve. But, because comics is more than just the actual line work I wouldn’t approach a blank page the same way without reading some Jeff Lemire, Micheal Fiffe, or Keith Giffen. Recently I’ve been on a big Jack Cole kick so I’m sure that will get up in the mix in the near future.
Although the title just about answers what I’m about to ask, I’m going to ask anyway: what can readers expect from Tales of MFR? And, for readers already familiar, what can readers look forward to in this second issue that may be different from the first?
JJ: The name of the game is escalation. This time around we bring the A-team of monkeys to the Robot planet to rescue a bunch of P.O.W.s. Lots and Lots of Robots and just a handful of monkeys constantly duking it out.
MS: The first issue introduced the world of Tales of MFR. The second issue is where I get to have fun with the characters while expanding the universe. Working with Jamie and having an infinite special effects budget makes for an exciting comic book. Building chaos is the goal of the second issue.
Matt, what drew you to branching out and publishing a magazine?
MS: When I started Monkeys Fighting Robots in 2015, our content was broad. Five years later, we are laser-focused on comic books and the industry. With the pandemic and the lack of conventions, I felt like I had to do something, and the magazine just felt right. Our Editor-in-Chief, Anthony Composto, is fantastic, and we have a great staff of writers from all walks of life creating unique content. I wanted to expand upon that with the magazine.
What articles or features can readers look forward to in Monkeys Fighting Robots: THE MAGAZINE #2?
MS: The theme of this issue is superheroes and the best of 2020. I love talking about single issues and how they make you feel because that is such a unique experience for you. My goal is to have more people talk about the books they love and inspire others to pick up a copy.
On the topic of superheroes, we have some great articles and comic strips that play with the idea of what a superhero is. I know how superheroes have inspired me, and I enjoy seeing how they have influenced others.
Going along with the theme of this second issue, what superheroes have been the most influential, or consistently influential, in your lives?
MS: Spider-Man will always be the classic that drew me into the world of comics. Tim Drake (Robin) came on to the scene when I was a freshman in high school, and I was so excited. In my late 20s, Green Lantern and Nightwing connected with me as I was trying to figure out who I was as a person. But, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s run in Marvel’s cosmic universe profoundly impacted how I look at character development.
JJ: Jay Garrick, the JSA, and the Legion of Superheroes.
I like having a large cast of characters with very specific skill sets to tackle problems. I started reading JSA when Bill Willingham (Fables) started writing. And he really took the old guard approach to that team. It was all about the old guys teaching the young heroes.
Jay Garrick was the first superhero I related to. He was this old guy who wasn’t jaded (this was 2009, so everything was returning back to 1986 doom and gloom of comics with the Watchmen movie coming out and the Walking Dead T.V. show just around the corner.) In a time when everyone was jaded. The other old guys in the JSA were jaded. He wasn’t, and I really loved that about him.
The Legion is just so odd. I mean, they have elections to vote in a new leader every so often, and it totally changes the dynamic of the book each time. And the cast is huge. And the Giffen/Levitz stuff never ceases to feel less than epic. Every time DC tries to reboot and make it a little more grown-up, it still can’t escape its silly roots. I cherish it for that.
If you’re interested in learning more about Monkeys Fighting Robots: The Magazine and Tales of MFR #2, or want to become a backer, check out the campaign: Monkeys Fighting Robots: The Magazine & Tales of MFR #2.