Comic Culture

FULL EPISODE

Andy Belanger

Artist and pro-wrestler Andy Belanger discusses his wrestling-inspired, creator-owned cosmic comic Mother Trucker.

AIRED: December 21, 2021 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

[music playing]

- Hello and welcome to Comic Culture.

I'm Terence Dollard, a professor in the Department

of Mass Communication at the University of North

Carolina at Pembroke.

My guest today is artist and pro-wrestler Andy Belanger.

Andy, how are you today?

- I'm amazing.

Doing really well.

How are you guys?

- We're doing pretty well down here.

So let's talk a little bit about your work in comics.

You are in Montreal, which is--

I'm imagining it's got a different cultural input

than American comic--

United States comic readers are used to.

So I was wondering if you could talk about the comic scene

there and how that helped shape your style,

because you do some amazingly detailed work

and we talked a little bit before we started about how

your background work is just so detailed,

and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that.

- So Montreal is as most people know

is bilingual and mostly French.

So it has a very different feel than most American or Canadian

cities for that matter.

Where Toronto feels a lot like a New York or LA,

Montreal feels like it could be a town in France somewhere.

It has a very European feel.

The attitude is completely different.

It's very exciting, but as far as comics go,

you have as many people, if not more,

into French bidets and French comics

as you are anything American.

So everyone here is in love with Moebius and Grellet

and all that early heavy metal crew from France.

So that's what I've always been in love with.

When I was growing up, I was always

obsessed with monster comics, stuff

like Werewolf by Night and Tomb of Dracula

and things like that.

And then I got into the Bagley Spider-Man and stuff like that.

But when I hit around 13, 14, I became

obsessed with Heavy Metal magazine,

and that's where I found Moebius and those kind of guys.

- We do occasionally get some comics

from Europe that come through and may have a big hit.

Moebius, of course, is considered a genius, even

in the United States.

So it's just interesting when you

get a chance to talk to creators from outside the sphere

of the United States, whether they

are in Europe, or South America, or even

in Montreal, which is like you said a different climate

culturally than in Toronto.

You also mentioned that you are a wrestler.

So I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about how

the storytelling in wrestling is similar to the storytelling

in comics.

- Yeah, so what's really interesting about being

in a wrestling match is when you're watching a match,

there might be hundreds of moves happening during the match,

but the way they remember a match and structure a match so

that it is a really strong match is

they go by the hero's journey.

So a wrestling match will start off

with a shine, where the hero looks really

cool like the good guy or the baby face

as they're called in wrestling.

And then there's a thing called the cutoff, where

the bad guy, the heel, will stop the good guy from his moves

and looking cool to moving into him beating him

down in what's called the heat.

And inside a heat is when a story for a character

is all coming apart, and they're being beaten down

by the problems of the story, and then that builds up,

builds up until the come back and fire of the hero, where

the hero comes back like a Hulk Hogan

is hulking up and getting ready, or rocky is training,

and he's going into the ring, and he's

about to do this thing.

And then it moves into a whole bunch of things

called falsies back and forth movements.

And then it gets to the finish, and then you

have this big explosive climactic finish.

It's super exciting, but the way I was taught great wrestling

structure just matched comic books so much.

So really, the difference between me writing and drawing

comics is not much different from me actually

being in a ring doing top rope close lines and body slams

and kryptonite crunches.

It's like the same thing.

It's really exciting, and that's how I remember everything.

I'm like, oh, this is my shine where

I look cool at the beginning, because I'm normally

a baby face with a mask.

- You know it's interesting, because I

have worked on a wrestling TV's show called

Midnight Mayhem, which aired here in North

Carolina for a few years.

And you could always tell the wrestlers who

had that knack for storytelling, because the matches would

always be more dynamic, and the crowd would always be engaged.

So is this something that you're able to put into your comics

simply because, like you were saying,

you were trained a certain way as a wrestler

and you just see these connections, or is it

something-- it's all of these influences.

It's wrestling, it's comics, it's films,

it's novels that inform your storytelling?

- Yeah, it's everything.

Like when I approach a comic book, I feel like a filmmaker--

like I have all the visuals in my head,

and the story in my head, and then the same

with the wrestling match.

Like I have-- that wrestling match

that I have with a person before going in,

I am already watching the match happen inside my head.

I don't know what moves they're going to do.

That's part of the fun of wrestling.

When you actually get there, you don't

know what they want to do.

They don't know what you want to do,

but you know you're going to put those things

into that structure.

It's the same thing with comics, and now, my new comic,

Mother Trucker, that I'm putting out with my new company

that we're building called Lethal Comics.

I'm actually trying to merge those things.

I'm trying to make an exciting space wrestling comic,

where I'm actually merging my wrestling and the comic book

storytelling, and we'll see what happens.

It's pretty fun so far.

So let's talk about this.

So it's Mother Truckers?

Mother Trucker, yeah, is the name of the comic,

and it's about a woman who is like a intergalactic space

wrestling champion.

So the idea is in my world, in the future,

wrestling is trucking.

So if you, let's say, want my contract

for Walmart and to ship my Walmart stuff in space,

you have to wrestle me for my contract.

And the back of my truck transforms into a ring,

and we wrestle for the contract.

And then that gets televised to people in space.

So it's merging this space trucking idea

with wrestling as being the catalyst for people

wanting to combine entertainment and space trucking.

- That's a really fun concept.

I mean, there's you can see just from the few things

that you told me about it.

You can see the possibilities in terms of story,

in terms of action, and in terms of--

I mean, there's just a whole world that you've built.

So as you start working on this, I'm

assuming that you are doing some crowdfunding.

So I was wondering if you had a strategy with that

that you could share with us.

- So we crowdfunded the first Mother Trucker comic,

and we did just about 30,000 Canadian

on the first book, which was--

we did not expect.

And from there, because we actually

saw that we can run a business making and doing

whatever we want as far as creative goes,

my friends and I started a company called Lethal Comics

that we're launching now, and it's

going to be built the same way.

So we were going to be running a Kickstarter business,

and each of us is going to have their own title.

But the way the comic book stuff worked, it was just fantastic.

The fans really got behind us.

We had all kinds of tears and stretch goals

where people were doing posters and stickers,

and I had guest artists come in, and we did multiple covers

like you would in a comic store.

So it's, basically, us setting up a complete boutique

publishing company, where we can do whatever we want creatively.

Like if I go to Image, I have to appeal

to the taste of Eric Stevenson who runs the company.

Or if I want to work for Marvel or DC,

I'm pretty much at the mercy of what the editors want me to do,

and that always for me is like a watered down scenario.

Because every time I get on a project,

there's so often-- they're like we love your artwork.

Now, can you be like this guy and do this?

And you're like-- and it's always not as effective.

You're not actually using me.

So it came to a point in my career, which

is 25 years, where it's time just to be me,

and people can buy my comics that are written and drawn just

by my--

from me.

And I mean, I have a team.

Every time I finish a script, I have 12 people look at it,

and every time I finish pages of artwork,

I have peers that have been in the business

for 30, 40 years that look at my stuff,

because I think that's important.

But I think what is important is a lot of comics

have gotten away from actually the creativity of them,

because we're all trying to get a spot in one

of these companies to make a buck.

And Kickstarter has really shown myself

and our friends that we can do it on our own

if you want to work, and most of us are crazy

workhorses so it's fun building this company from scratch.

We wish we had done it 10 years ago, because it's actually

really exciting.

- You talked about working for Marvel or DC,

and I'm imagining that while it's a thrill to work there,

you're also dealing with somebody else's IP,

and they have--

I'm sure in terms of Disney and AT&T,

they've got ideas about what they

want that property to do, and long range goals, and whatnot.

So I'm imagining there's a lot more freedom

to do what you want when you're working on your own IP,

but there's probably also a big learning

curve, because managing a company,

managing to do all of the artwork,

and managing to do all of the stuff

outside that goes into the day to day life of being

a person, that's got to be a difficult balancing act

to make all of that stuff fit.

- Oh, yeah.

Oh, yeah.

It's all about that balance.

[laughing] I developed a schedule

where I'm two months on making the books and then one month

doing the Kickstarters.

The fulfillment of the Kickstarter

bleeds into the next month, so that's our plan.

My first one, actually, two days ago, all the books

just left the building.

So people are getting their Mother Truckers this week

as we speak, and then moving forward,

that's going to be the thing.

We're looking at it almost like a music manager or something

where I'm Metallica, and my friend is Megadeth,

and my other friend is Anthrax.

So we're utilizing each other's resources and fan bases

to pool together to make this cool company under our label.

It helps because we have friends.

So it's not all that responsibility is on me,

but it's also on a few other guys.

So it's almost a little bit like the Knights

of the Roundtable, where we're all like sitting around

a table putting forth our resources, ideas,

and our talents to go on this adventure that we're on.

- So you mentioned this roundtable.

I'm thinking it more like the monsters of rock,

where you are working with your partners to build this company.

So how is it that you coordinate,

let's say, your social media with their social media

so that your projects can get promoted with their group

and so on and so forth and get that cross-pollination that's

going to help everybody?

- Well, it helps that we're all in the same studio in Montreal.

That helps.

So it's myself, Cary Nord, and Karl Kerschl

are like the three main people in Lethal,

and we sort of-- if any of us have a project coming out,

we're always like helping with promoting it

on our social media.

So that's basically the plan that we have with Lethal.

But now, Lethal Comics, we've started

Instagrams and Twitters, and we have a website launching

in two weeks through Squarespace,

and there'll be a store there where you can get products

and all that kind of stuff.

So it really is like we're starting our own business,

and it's very exciting.

So the idea is, yeah, we're using each other's social media

and fan base that exists to get everyone involved and excited.

And in the future, we have some crazy plans

about doing some anthology books,

where it'll be the three of us in the book,

like a heavy metal magazine from Lethal-- like a "Lethal

presents."

And then our friends outside of our group

will get involved in helping out.

That's going to be really fun.

We have stuff planned for the summer for that.

It's going to be really neat.

- It sounds like it's going to be a lot of fun.

It sounds like there's a lot of energy going into this as well,

and then starting to bring in some folks from the outside,

and then using that to, I guess, create more energy and more

heat as they would say if you're doing some wrestling work.

So the other question is, when you're

working for Marvel and DC and you

are hired as let's say an artist,

how is that different from when you are writing and drawing

your own stuff in terms of how you approach

putting the image on the page?

- With those guys with Marvel and DC, I would get a script.

And then from the script, I would just

do my craft, which is the comic making.

And I see comic making for myself is--

I have a degree in fine art-- so painting and sculpture

and stuff like that.

So my comic pages are definitely art,

but I also see it as like filmmaking.

So I see myself as a director, so it's almost like, OK,

you brought me your film script.

I'm going to now make a comic book film with this through

my lens, and my lens might be a little bit more like David

Lynch's or maybe a little bit more like Michael Bay's.

Everyone has their own flavor.

But when I actually get to write,

I'm writing for the strengths that I have in my art.

So that's why I feel stronger.

So whenever I do something that I write and draw,

my friends have always said it's by far better than anything

I've ever done for a company.

I think Mother Trucker is-- it's my best work by far.

- When you're talking about this,

you can see the enthusiasm that you have for this project.

And I'm imagining the fact that it

is your own creation is going to make it more exciting for you,

because you said you've got a career that's

going back 25 years.

At some point, does it become a job

rather than a passion, where it maybe loses its flavor for you,

and then when you start doing your own,

maybe, it brings back that sense of wonder

that you had when you first broke in?

- You nailed it on the head.

That's exactly it.

It feels like I'm just starting from where I was before.

And how I get through a project is

I try to channel like my 13-year-old self.

I try to put myself back into that teenage boy that

got obsessed with comics and what stood out,

and I try to put myself there every time.

And in the studio right now, we're all like that again.

We're all crazy excited about the stuff we're doing,

because as fun as it is to take on a character

from another company, that also comes with a lot of control

on their end.

And you get a lot of editorial notes and a lot of changes,

and as far as comics go, in the last like, I don't know,

five years, it seems like as a comic book artist,

we're really interchangeable.

Like people don't really care as much who is on the books.

It's more a writer's game and who's writing the books.

That's what people remember as far as I see it.

They'll be like, oh, this is a Scott Snyder book.

And if it's not Greg Capullo on that book,

that's like are they really thinking about that artist.

So we started to feel interchangeable,

and with rates dropping in the industry,

especially in the last year, we're like,

we need to take responsibility for our books.

That means writing our books.

So we started a writing circle up here--

almost like Chuck Palahniuk always

was part of writing circles, we started a writing circle here

where we go through all the process of writing

with each other and help each other on our scripts

and outlines and all that kind of stuff.

And that's been invaluable.

I've always written my own comics throughout the years.

Like I've taken gigs for art duties,

but I've always been writing in the background.

So it's not as tough for me to jump into a writing scenario,

and I think when I'm writing, I'm

doing like my wildest stuff, which is exciting.

And I think you hit the nail on the head.

We're all super, super excited about what's going on right now

in the studio.

It's like we're all playing.

It's really fun.

- It's like, going back to the Metallica analogy

you were making before, you know when a band hits

that moment where playing becomes less about the notes

and more about being into that song.

It seems that you're hitting that stage, again, when

you are working on your comics.

So as you are looking at the page right now,

you've got a whole new universe that you've created,

and literally, it is in space.

So there's open doors everywhere for you to go and create

how your characters are going to exist and in what environments

they're going to exist.

So what thoughts do you put into building

that universe and backgrounds, and how

does that influence what you're going to have the characters

do?

- World building is some of my favorite stuff--

not just the worlds that they walk

into, but also the vehicles and the products of that world.

Like what's advertising like in space?

Is there a space highway with floating satellite billboards

and things like this?

That's what I'm after.

The story I'm writing right now was like an Uber Americana

in space in the future.

There is like satellite burger joints

and truck stops in space

and basically, all those great things

that you would have on a road trip through the States.

Now, you're going to have that in space.

It's kind of wild.

Like when a truck wrestling match happens,

people's cars just like on the space highway just stop

and fly over and they become spectators,

and it's all like really fun.

I would love to have a wrestling match on a boat one time.

That'd be really great to have a ring on the boat

and then people just show up in their own boats watching.

That's like the idea with space trucking and that universe.

And that universe will have junkyard planets and oil

planets and anything that would come along

with that universe, anything wrestling.

So maybe there's a luchador planet and so many cool avenues

to go down.

It's really like I'm creating my own keyman universe here.

All the truckers also have that same body type like

all the human action figures.

So if I do action figures--

[laughter]

It'll look like that.

- It's fun because there's a seriousness that

has overtaken certain comic franchises,

and when we start to get too serious,

it doesn't become fun for the reader, at least not for me,

when every story has to top the last one in terms of how grim

it can be.

So it's a nice change of pace to hear

that there's some levity that goes into a comic that

can be just as satisfying if not more satisfying,

because it has that different tone.

- Yeah, I think so.

I think you can visually feel and taste

and smell when a comic is clearly a movie pitch

and when it's actually a comic book.

There's always that great thing with Alan Moore, where

he says, I make comic books that can't be made into film,

even though [laughing] every one of these comics

is pretty much made into a film.

He doesn't make comics for film, and that's

what we want to do at Lethal.

We're making comic books for comic books,

and we want to sell comic books.

We don't make movies, so we want to get back

to that feel of pure joy inside of comic book making.

Mother Trucker is exactly that.

It's the most me thing that I've ever done,

where you're combining my wrestling

world and my comic book world.

And I think that's important, and maybe, the industry

needs to get back to that.

We need to hear these voices.

It's always, I want to see this person on a corporate license,

instead of I just want to hear what that person has to say.

What are their stories?

I think we need to get back to that.

- It's funny because we do see some of these big names that

go from one studio to another, one publisher to another,

and you don't really see much of the influence of that creator,

because I'm imagining editorial is involved

in that into a certain extent.

But when you're working on your own books,

it's that open road in front of you.

So I'm just wondering, when you are sitting down at the drawing

board and you are starting a page,

are you doing it the old school way

where it's pencil and ink on bristol board,

or are you onto the digital tools?

Whether it's a Clip Studio or if it's Illustrator or something

like that.

- Well, I was one of these guys that

was a hardcore traditionalist.

It's got to be on paper and physical, and if it's not,

it's not really comic books.

And then in 2019, I lived in Florence, Italy.

My wife is a painter, like a realist painter,

and she went down to finish her schooling down there.

And when we went, we just like-- my gear is intense.

Like the amount of pens and ink and paper,

and it's hard to find--

even in Montreal, it's hard for me to find the stuff

that I like, as far as art supplies.

So what happened was we--

my friend Kerry Noad got one of the new iPads.

And we were watching him draw on,

and it was pretty incredible.

So I was talking to my wife, and we ended up

getting one for myself so I didn't

have to take all that stuff.

So she was like, OK, well, your next cover, try it on there.

If you can't do it as well as you do it on paper,

then we'll just take it back.

And I was like-- you know.

Those things are a couple of grand so--

That first cover, I did digitally

in Clip Studios on my iPad was better

than anything I've ever done.

Like I took to the iPad Clip Studio thing like a duck

to water.

I always say before I was like a special forces soldier,

like hire me for some serious gigs.

But when I got the iPad and went digital on Clip,

it was like I became Captain America.

It was like Super Soldier Serum.

Those artists that I always wanted to be or was like trying

to emulate portions of-- guys like Moebius, and Otomo,

and all that stuff--

I could suddenly do all that work.

My problem was when I was traditional

and like big wrestler heavy-handed,

I can't get a very thin dainty ink outline,

so a lot of my first work at image,

I was working on paper that was double what 11 by 17

was like Paul Pope size paper, like gigantic, almost poster

size, to get my thin lines, but they would take forever.

So once I went digital, I was able to get the line weights

that I had really been struggling

getting on 11 by 17 or 13 by 19 paper,

and I became a different artist.

I became the artist I always wanted to be, digitally.

- That's fascinating, because I dabble a little bit

when I have free time.

And I did get myself a tablet recently

and tried to play around with it,

and I was surprised at how easy it is

and how easy it is for you to get into too much detail,

because I can blow the screen up,

and I can start working a little bit too much.

Do you find yourself, maybe, going a little too far

as a result?

- I have a trick for it.

[laughing] I call it the camera trick.

So when I'm working on a panel or a page,

if I think it's too busy or it's not breathing enough to let

the focal point in the panel be on the subject matter that

I'm-- or the piece of information I'm trying to tell,

what I do is I screen cap it, and then look at it

on my phone.

And it takes my brain out of the drawing,

and then I become a critic.

When I'm working on something, you can't be a critic.

But when you pull out and put it on Instagram or something,

all of a sudden I can be a critic

and go, uh, that's not working, or this is working,

or I like this.

And that's my trick.

You should try it.

It really-- it's weird how it worked.

It works really well.

So I call it the camera trick.

- I'm going to have to do that.

But Andy, they're telling us that we have about a minute

left.

If people watching wanted to find out more about your work,

what's the website?

We will be at lethalcomics.com,

coming up in about two weeks.

But for myself, it's Andy--

oh, sorry.

@andybelanger on pretty much everything--

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, all these things.

That's where you can find me, @andybelanger.

Also, you'll see me and my wrestling mask.

So if it says Animal bob Anger, that's me.

- Andy, I want to thank you so much for taking time out

of your very busy day to talk with me today.

ANDY BELANGER: Oh, well thank you.

I loved your set.

Oh, thanks.

Your set is great.

[laughing]

- I'd like to thank everyone at home

for watching Comic Culture.

We will see you again soon.

[music playing]

- [ANNOUNCER]: Comic Culture is a production

of the Department of Mass Communication at the University

of North Carolina at Pembroke.

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