With the 2016 Presidential Election breathing down your neck, Citizen Jack is the perfect antidote to political overload. It’s the story of an ordinary man running for President, with one twist: this Average Joe has the support of a 12-foot-tall demon.
We’ve read the first two issues of Citizen Jack, and it’s a compelling mix of supernatural mystery and sharp satire about how we create and consume political news.
In Citizen Jack, Jack Noteworthy is a small time Minnesotan snow blower salesman who’s sick of his lot in life, so this demon that’s been haunting him since he was a kid makes an offer to make him the President of the United States. Jack accepts this offer, and begins a wild, hugely inept path to the White House—and then Jack suddenly finds himself to be a huge viral success, thanks to the demon’s intervention.
Recently, we sat down with Citizen Jack writer Sam Humphries to talk all about the book, about how a demon is somehow the least creepy part of the political process—and how Donald Trump’s role in the 2016 race ended up being the luckiest coincidence in the world.
io9: One of my favorite parts of the series was Fire Fight, the fake news channel covering the election throughout the first two issues. Did you always see Citizen Jack as commentary on the way we consume news and politics?
Sam Humphries: Oh god, yes. From the very beginning—I mean, Citizen Jack is a horror comedy. It’s not overtly political, we don’t have Democrats and Republicans, we don’t even use those words—we don’t tackle the hot button issues. It’s really a satire of a broken political system that is, ultimately terrifying and hilarious to watch! And a massive part of that for me is the media.
I think, when we look at things like Donald Trump, or Benghazi, or who knows what going back even further to various wars and 9/11, digging through all that I felt like in a way the media was culpable, and they had a role in creating the circus that we’re dealing with now, not just creating it but perpetuating it. It’s not something where I think that media or journalists are evil, but I think we’re all kind of like a frog in a slow-boiling pot, where all of us together, no matter the role we play, we find ourselves in this political system we can’t quite figure a way out of. I guess it’s funny for me to be saying this to a journalist, but I felt like If I had to tackle this at all, the media had to be taken to task for where we are now.
You briefly mentioned Donald Trump—it’s difficult not to draw comparisons between Jack and Trump himself while reading Citizen Jack. Was that just a lucky coincidence, or something you aimed to replicate?
Humphries: The timing could not be better! Nobody believes we didn’t plan it this way, so yes, I will take credit for predicting the entire Presidential campaign cycle up to this point! [laughs] If I could pat myself on the back, I could say the fact that we’ve been working on this book for over two years, the first issue was written months and months ago, before the candidacy was even a glimmer in Trump’s eye. I think it proves that what Tommy [Patterson, Citizen Jack artist] and I are talking about in the book is actually very prescient. We looked at the condition of the political system in American and we fantasised about what could come to past, and something very similar came to pass in reality! So yes, I’ll accept the title of political prophet for Citizen Jack [laughs]. Make sure your readers know I said that with a wry laugh!
If not Mr. Trump, did you look at any other real-life political figures to inspire Citizen Jack?
Humphries: Absolutely. Citizen Jack is bigger than Trump—the reason why we have a Trump [in the candidacy race] are the things we talk about in Citizen Jack. We have similarities that couldn’t have been planned or foreseen, really. You could draw similarities between Jack and both Clinton and George W. Bush, Reagan, LBJ. Jack is from Minnesota, as am I—we share a home state—and Minnesota has its own breed of unique and iconoclastic political figures, like Michelle Bachmann and Paul Wellstone, and Walter Mondale. Very unique figures in the American political landscape, which is pretty unique on its own. So Jack is a character that very much fits in that Minnesota family.
When we meet Jack in the comic, he can come off as hard to sympathize with. Was it a challenge to make people feel for his plight, despite the fact he’s made a literal deal with the devil?
Humphries: It was a significant challenge. It was something that was constantly on my mind with Jack—if he’s an unsympathetic character through and through, it’s going to be an unpleasant reading experience. Hell, it’s going to be an unpleasant writing experience for me! You want somebody you can root for, to be sympathetic to, that you can relate to in some way. And while I’m not sure Jack is someone you can root for, he’s definitely somebody who is sympathetic. I don’t think anybody will read this book and hope he becomes President, but I think people will read this book and hope that he finds a way out of this terrible situation, partially because of his own making. It’s been a very difficult line to balance on, because like you said, he has made this deal with a 12 foot tall death demon, and if he doesn’t do that, we don’t have a book! But if you can’t sympathise with him despite that, we don’t have an enjoyable book.
A highlight of the book visually are the moments when Tommy Patterson delves into the supernatural side of Citizen Jack. What was it like working with him?
Humphries: For me, finding the right artist for Citizen Jack was a turning point for the book. I found Tommy through some mutual friends, and he had been working on Game of Thrones for Dynamite in a completely different style. He said “look, I’ve got something in mind for this”, and he came back with some sample pages that were what you see in the book. There’s this open line style that’s very Frank Quitely, it’s cartoony and grotesque, it’s hilarious and beautiful. For me, I didn’t realize how much I really needed Tommy to step in and help find this book until he did. And once I did that, once I saw what he could do, then the possibilities of the book really opened up.
You said you’ve been working on Citizen Jack for a long time. Was it always planned to wind up lining up with the start of the 2016 election?
Humphries: No, the timing was a coincidence. We’ve been working on it for quite a while, and the reason why it’s actually coming out in November are so logistical and boring. It was a matter of getting Tommy enough time to get ahead on the book, to get really far ahead of schedule. It was a matter of finding a really good colorist, losing one and then finding another. We’ve got an amazing colorist now in John Alderink and really fantastic letters by Rachel Deering. So it was really more about the stars lining up. We nearly launched Citizen Jack in the past March, and if we hadn’t had to do a little coloring shuffling, it’d be out. But now we’re lining up for November, right in time for the Election, and that’s the best, right?
What was your favorite aspect of working on the book—the supernatural side or the political?
Humphries: I would have to say that humor and the horror were my favorite parts to work on. The machinations of the political process really came second to that. I would say it’s an American experience to be alienated, and frustrated, and pissed off by politics, and I wanted people who feel that way to read Citizen Jack and have it be cathartic. Humor is cathartic, horror is cathartic. So those ended up being my favourite parts to work on. To be honest, if we looked deeply at the political stuff it would’ve been a very different book—we took a surgical view of the political process, and the things we wanted to focus on.
Citizen Jack doesn’t pick a side or a particular political ideology. Was it hard to say what you wanted to say about politics while making sure you didn’t go after one side or the other?
Humphries: [Laughs] No, no it wasn’t, because I truly believe that the system is broken in a way that goes beyond Liberal and Conservative. I think that there are obviously very legitimate political differences between the two ideologies, but I think the ways we get in trouble as a country and as a society come down to the way that system is broken. I think both sides use that to their advantage, both sides live and die by that system, take advantage of it because it’s so damaged. It’s so sprawling now and the unwillingness to either focus on the issues that make it broken or to fix it, because it’s boring. It’s not very sexy, and politicians can’t fundraise on a policy like that. Media can’t generate audiences by covering people talking about it. They’re difficult concepts for voters to take to heart because they’re so abstract in comparison to Immigration or guns, or what have you. It’s very hard to see that the problems we have with the system, how we interact with those issues, are the problems behind the problems. So the things I wanted to talk about in Citizen Jack are in some ways divorced from conservative and liberal ideologies. The core issues have nothing to do with them.
If there’s one thing you want a reader to take from reading Citizen Jack, what would it be?
Humphries: [Long pause] Wow. That’s a good question there! [Laughs] I would say, if there’s one thing I want a reader to take from Citizen Jack, it’s that we’re all guilty. We’re all complicit, nobody gets away from this. We’re all at fault.
And as long as you don’t summon an evil demon to become President, you’ll be perfectly fine.
Humphries: I think Marlinspike, the demon, is the most innocent character in the book, to be honest! [Laughs]
How much of Citizen Jack do you have planned out so far? Will you look to the 2016 Presidential Election for inspiration?
Humphries: We’ve got the first arc planned out in great detail, I’m writing issue five right now. We’ve got the next few arcs planned out as well. We’ve got big plans: Jack’s got his sights on the White House, and so do we. There’s a lot we want to say and show of Jack, and Donna, his campaign manager. There’s a lot more to show of Marlinspike—he’s skulking around in the first issue but every issue we peel back a little bit more about him and show who he is, why he thinks it’s valuable to have [Jack] as a puppet President. The answers to that are very big in scope and scale.
I don’t think it’ll surprise anyone to discover that I’m a political junkie and I’ll be paying close attention no matter what, but I won’t be looking at the campaign for inspiration. I think Trump proves we’re on the right track, and tugged a very powerful truth about American politics and human nature. I’m looking forward to Citizen Jack doing the opposite: to it influencing the Election moving forward! [Laughs]
Citizen Jack #1 will be available from November 4th.