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TJ Walker on crafting escapism entertainment in new Kickstarter 'Pandemic Punk'

Comic Books

TJ Walker on crafting escapism entertainment in new Kickstarter ‘Pandemic Punk’

A new trans-media story about the future of a virus-stricken world.

Pandemic Punk is a new Kickstarter that blends science fiction with the all-too-real ramifications of the pandemic on modern society. The new trans-media comic is the brain-child of creators TJ Walker (Phoenix Run) and Will Strode (Bojack Horseman), with art by Ari Syahrazad (Black Dahlias), Remus Brezeanu (Beethoven Immortal Genius), and Armin Ozdic.

There’s no denying how COVID has shaped the scope comics for years to come. In the words of Walker — who was kind enough to answer a few questions– the idea of a pandemic is no longer science fiction but rather “real life.” With Pandemic Punk, Walker and his collaborators explore a future that is collectively sick and now controlled by a brutal new world order, complete with a new form of currency: vaccines.

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During our interview, Walker talked about developing new ways to tell stories via trans-media and AR tech, his collaborative process with Strode, and much, much more.

TJ Walker on crafting escapism entertainment in new Kickstarter 'Pandemic Punk'

Courtesy of TJ Walker.

AIPT: To start, why is now the right time to launch the Phoenix Run world via a trans-media interactive format over multiple platforms?

TJ Walker: Trans-media storytelling has always been the route I wanted to take with Phoenix Run, the rise in phone app technology in recent years has opened up more possibilities for multi-platform storytelling. I’ve done my research over the years, caught a flight from Seattle to New York just to have a conversation with trans-media guru Jeff Gomez. I’ve been working on the idea of using app-based AR tech with comics for a few years now but wanted to add something a bit different than what’s already out there. The technology element enhances the convergence-media experience, I feel. 

Recently, I connected with artist Leo Colapietro to create a demo for an interactive cover where you can choose multiple paths, and it turned out even better than expected, and decided that it was the perfect time to launch! 

AIPT: Did Phoenix Run start as this short or did it have origins elsewhere?

TW: Phoenix Run was created as a comic book back when zombie superheroes were a fresh new concept. After the comics Marvel Zombies and the Walking Dead exploded into the scene, I switched up the concept and decided to go a different route. A race to transport a cure in a familiar yet dystopian reality. It was heavily inspired by Children of Men and Contagion, set in a Marvel-like universe. I also wanted it to be more than just a comic book. I wanted to create a trans-media story I could tell over multiple platforms. So I created Phoenix Run: To Catch a Rat where the goal was to film live-action web series episodes to serve as opening acts to each issue of the comic book. 

TJ Walker on crafting escapism entertainment in new Kickstarter 'Pandemic Punk'

Courtesy of TJ Walker.

AIPT: The idea of vaccines being currency hits hard, especially since in America vaccines are in abundance. Is there a message in there about our current pandemic, or is this escapism entertainment at its core?

TW: Escapism entertainment at its core. I needed this, as I’m sure many creators did. The current pandemic has changed everything. Stories about pandemics are no longer Sci-Fi or Horror, it’s real life. The lockdown was life-changing for everyone, putting a sci-fi spin on this definitely helped get me through it.

AIPT: Implementing interactive elements is intriguing, especially with comics publishers seemingly trying to break into digital in ways with interactivity. How are you implementing interactivity into your story?

TW: The app acts as a bridge between print and digital. I strongly believe in print, and along with the app, collectors can buy the comic while enjoying the cool digital add-ons. Simply point your phone’s camera at the comic book cover and you’ll experience an animated choose-your-own adventure.

Pandemic Punk

Courtesy of TJ Walker.

AIPT: How do you approach the story with co-writer Will Strode, what is your collaborative process like?

TW: Will is a boss! He plays a big part of the story process. I shoot him story ideas and he hashes out the characters, dialog, story arcs. I remember when Phoenix Run director Rick Walters and myself traveled to L.A. to visit Will, we cruised Venice Beach tossing ideas back and forth in his hotrod listening to Kavinsky through the stereo — now that’s what I call a creative jam.

AIPT: The art is rad as hell (am I getting a Borderlands vibe from the trailer). How did Ari Syahrazad, Remus Brezeanu, and Armin Ozdic join the project?

TW: I reached out to them after viewing their online portfolios. Ari’s sequential art is cinematic and has the hard-hitting, dark, and gritty style I was looking for, which gives the story a “crime” feel. 

Armin’s ability to draw characters with detailed facial emotions is one of the best I’ve seen. His art added more life to each character, you can almost see the people in each panel pronounce the words you’re reading. 

Remus has the perfect highly detailed cartoonist style I was looking for to add parallax 2d animation to, his art looks amazing and natural when animated, Disney horror! matter of fact we just won a Best Animation Award from Indie Eye Film thanks to his art, shout out to Wain Lopez who helped me with the animation. 

TJ Walker on crafting escapism entertainment in new Kickstarter 'Pandemic Punk'

Courtesy of TJ Walker.

AIPT: Sky’s the limit, and you’re given all the money you need for the next chapter in Phoenix Run. What might it look like?

TW: Realistically speaking, for the next chapter I would love a large budget to create a feature-length film that would be fully interactive; with a phone app and a comic book you could use while you stream it on Netflix, Hulu, etc. There was a TV show back in the day called Captain Power, we would take that interactivity to the next level using AR/XR tech. I have plans…

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