Interview: D.J. Coffman on Politics and Webcomics
On D. J. Coffman’s blog website George Washington stares at me from behind a "star-spangled" bandana, almost daring me to challenge him. Below is a quote from another founding father John Adams "An honest man will never have any other." Our founding fathers were real hell raisers that defied the British Empire, the legal government at the time, and we should all respect these hooligans for giving birth to our nation.
The 32-year old Coffman has come a long way since 1998 when he first self-published Yirmumah, with his own brand of slapstick humor to kick his sometime collaborator Bob in the nuts and our funny bone.
In June, Coffman allied himself with the Flobots while at the same time publically estranged himself from Platinum Studios over non-payment for his Hero by Night webcomic. He suddenly became a highly public figure in the struggle between creators and the company.
Today Coffman also shows a very serious side of himself; a sequential artist, a thinker to be reckoned with, and a dreamer with a lot of fans. I caught up with Coffman recently:
CMix: How did you hook up with the politically active Flobots musical group?
DJ: Fate I suppose, and it all started with a sign. I don’t consider myself in anyone’s party per se, but I found myself agreeing with [Barack] Obama’s ideas of change. His quote "We are the ones we’ve been waiting for" made me think about hard work, and if you want something done you have to do it yourself. Back in April I created my own yard sign encouraging people to VOTE. I had seen a lot of pickups go by with rebel flags, and some even shouting out racial slurs. The ignorance I was surrounded with, and that my kids might witness, made me sick. I felt like I was the only one that was thinking about the future. Before they took off, I downloaded the Flobots’ Fight with Tools album, which I listened to continuously on the trip to and from the New York Comic-Con. While I was away that sign was stolen and my yard was trashed, right before the Pennsylvania primary. I painted another sign, and I would have continued just to exercise my freedom of speech, and not to have it silenced by any "Hillbillies." The album’s politically charged lyrics stuck a chord inside me, so I emailed the band to inquire about making a webcomic or graphic novel based on their positive lyrics. I quickly received an email reply from Stephen "Brer Rabbit" Brackett, who had heard of my work, and conversations grew from there. I told him about my sign and he replied, "It’s time to paint those signs!"
CMix: After your experiences with Platinum Studios, where do you stand with the rights of the Rise of the Flobots webcomic?
DJ: Actually, the band and their manager J.J. were aware of my recent falling out with Platinum. We worked hard together to avoid such problems, and Jamie "Jonny5" Laurie wanted to make sure that never happened to me again. They were open to just letting me run and own the whole thing since it was my vision. But I didn’t think that was fair to them, since I’m using their name Flobots that they’ve worked so hard to build. So yes, this is a much better deal than I had with Platinum, with a lot more creative freedom, and we have some great plans for the future. Working with the Flobots has a great grassroots feel, and the DIY aspect has also brought me into a whole world of non-profit work to better our communities. I’ve also collaborated with their non-profit Flobots.org, designed websites, side projects, working on the AmericaWillBe.org site and campaign. My art was even featured in their latest video "RISE." Right now, I’m doing all I can to fight with my tools.
DJ: And those are only the projects the public knows about! Its hard work, no doubt, and there’s not much sleep. I guess multitasking is the key. When the kids are in school, or after bedtime, I crank a lot of work out. They have two-hour football practice each night, so when it’s my turn to go; I take a moleskin sketchbook with me to do concepts and daydreaming. I guess the other key is that I really love to create comics and work sequentially. I probably take it way too seriously, but I know some creators who waste countless hours, and I tell them, "You just spent 4 hours playing a video game! I could have drawn two strips, or probably and entire full color page!" So you won’t find me playing video games much. I don’t think I could be satisfied with just doing one comic. On days when I’d complete a Flobots page, I find myself thinking, "I have time to do more!" So I’ve branched out again, and it feels good to push myself. The Will Draws are simply a challenging exercise, but it’s all fun, which is very impo
rtant to me.
CMix: Would you agree that this is the "Digital Age?"
DJ: Definitely, and in all ways. Yesterday I glanced over at my old drafting table and realized I hadn’t used it in months, since I do most everything on the Cintiq now, I debated putting it away. But I’ve also found that I miss ZINES, mini comics, and sending things through regular mail. There’s something magical about those days of hand stapling my mini comics, and something I might get back to just for the hell of it.
CMix: You’ve been in print and online for years, but how do you think the Internet will impact the comics industry in the future?
DJ: I think the Internet will keep comics alive! Could you imagine what the comic industry would look like right now if not for the Internet? I mean, where would we be without places like the Bendis board, Lying in the Gutters, and ComicMix?! Seriously, the sense of community and having even a virtual a place for fans to go and absorb the culture has been key to keeping this industry alive. People don’t like comics because now they cost 4 or 5 bucks; they love comics because it’s a community and a culture.
CMix: Finally, what’s the one lesson you’d like to teach your children?
DJ: I’d like to teach my children to always be their brother’s keeper, and to know that they can shape the world with their dreams.