Nick Pitarra made a name for himself with a couple of profound collaborations alongside writer Jonathan Hickman. Both Red Wing and The Manhattan Projects weren’t just out-of-this-world Hickman tales, but elevated into something truly transcendent thanks to Pitarra’s unflinching, highly affective artwork that blurs gritty reality and playful fantasy. But after dipping from the comics spotlight for a time, Pitarra is back with a powerful new project.
Ax-Wielder Jon sees Pitarra act as both writer and artist (alongside a stellar support team with colorist Michael Garland, letterer Ferran Delgado, and editor Chris Stevens). The book follows the titular Jon, a “ruthless killer in a world of monsters and mayhem” who undergoes a transformative experience while learning “what a man is willing to lose to protect what he loves most.” It’s savage and brutal in all the right ways, and under that violence is gore is a deeply human story of love, devotion, and the unbreakable bonds of family.
Pitarra is currently crowdfunding the project via Zoop, with the campaign launching today. And days before the campaign kicked off, we touched base with Pitarra via email for a quick chat. He manages to touch on a wide array of subjects, including the story’s development, his inspirations, how this book launches his Karoshi imprint, and what comes next, among other topics and tidbits.
1. There’s been a slight lull in your recent releases. Have you been at work on this project the whole time? What’s it like to “return” to comics now?
Yes, I have! My new project Ax-Wielder Jon is a large oversized hardcover and I wanted to launch it complete. Each panel of the project is drawn on its own 11×17-size art board. For comparison, usually every page of a comic is drawn on its own 11×17 art board. So the pages are just huge and it’s been a lot of real estate to cover up with tiny lines. I’ve been doing commissions on the side as well to make ends meet while I complete and fund the book out of pocket. I don’t feel like I’ve ever left comics, as I’m always working on them, but I am very excited for everyone to see my newest work after not being on the shelf for a while for sure.
2. What’s the elevator pitch for Ax-Wielder Jon?
Ax-Wielder Jon is the story of this faceless barbarian who is cursed to fall in love with the heads of his many victims. He makes a precious discovery and ultimately finds out just what a man is willing to lose in order to protect what he loves most. It’s an epic adventure in every sense of the word.
3. What was the process of writing and drawing a book for the first time? Did you learn anything about yourself as a creator? I
t’s been the most rewarding and fulfilling time I’ve had in comics. A few years back my daughter got sick and while she was in the hospital we were living in the Ronald McDonald house for months, and the idea for Ax-Wielder Jon came to me. People would basically say you have to give it over to God, or trust the doctors, and you do, but there is still a big part of you that wants to make things better yourself, and you can’t no matter how hard you wish you could. I thought it’d be cool to have a character be put in that same situation, albeit a sci-fi fantasy setting. Basically an overdetermined, pig-headed character that always fixes his problems his way, and his way is wielding axes.
But, if you then give him somebody else’s problem to fix, a problem where chopping it in two won’t make it go away, now you have the seed of a story. I’ve learned so much about myself and the writing process over the last two years. I think the most interesting thing is how we encode what we experience in life through our own fiction, whether we realize it or not. Moebius said,”…an artist encodes reality.” And as a comic artist I always assumed that was in the distillation of lines through the artist’s hand. But, it feels like it’s even more true when it comes to writing and words.
4. There’s lots of gore and heart here. How do you think you balance such things, especially in the same panel?
I see the violence in Ax-Wielder like a mask, something like icing on the outside of a cake; It might be what you see first, but it’s what’s inside that ultimately counts. Jon is a story wrapped in blood and guts, for sure, but once you scrape under that it becomes something else entirely. I was always aware that the violence would be a sleight of hand in that way, I hope to surprise readers.
5. What’s the value of using a platform like Zoop as a creator in 2022?
I think Zoop is the future of crowdfunding. There’s no other platform that offers their level of support and creator services. They help with the printing, fulfillment, and customer service to better ensure that fans get the products they order on time. I’m so happy to be partnering with them to bring the first volume of Ax-Wielder Jon to market.
6. You teased the book for some time, and it got a good reaction. What was that response like when you’re just launching something?
The outpouring of love for the book has been incredible. We’ve had over 60 artists contribute pieces for Jon and the creative community as a whole has really been rallying around the book. It’s been incredibly motivating and inspiring.
7. This book will likely feature some examples of the aforementioned fan art. Any faves or highlights that you’d care to mention?
I love them all in their own way. All levels of artists, from Eisner award-winners like Chris Samnee to people making their first comics, have contributed pieces. A very early one came in from Nick Derington, a good friend and artist on various Batman titles and Doom Patrol. Nick’s piece kind of set off a wildfire of other artists contributing pieces. Nick captured the spirit of Jon so wonderfully that we are using his for the back cover of Ax-Wielder Jon.
8. You’ve got an all-star roster of collaborators, including Michael Garland and Ferran Delgado. What did they add to the book/your process?
Ferran has been wonderful to work with. His lettering and specifically his sound effects elevate the art as a whole. He’s been a tremendous collaborator, going above and beyond when it comes to lettering pages early for advance reader copies/previews, and he’s just always there when I need him. Mike’s colors really speak for themselves. He draws as well, so he understands form and lighting in a special way. Both are doing incredible work.
9. There’s clearly a lot of thought into the look and feel of this. Briefly, what’s your process in creating the visual identity? Did you have any major influences/inspirations?
I’m a very big Moebius, Geof Darrow, Frank Quitely, and Seth Fisher fan, I think those guy’s work will always permeate through my art. Story-wise, westerns like Unforgiven have been hugely influential; I call Ax-Wielder Jon a barbarian western for that reason. Design-wise I just really wanted to know what a very serious world of muscle and advanced technology would look like and have tried to stay honest with my own design sense as much as possible. It’s something like an adult version of Masters of The Universe.
10. Do you have a favorite moment in the story that speaks volumes to the larger process or overall experience?
There’s a moment where a different side of Jon is shown that I’m really proud of. I really like playing with the idea of what is said about you from an outsider’s perspective versus what you really are, I hope that comes across.
11. You’re also launching your own comics “entity,” Karoshi Comics. Why was that an important step? And what can we expect from its other titles?
It was a very important step. I want to grow the email list we build with Ax-Wielder Jon and share it with other pros who are thinking of crowdfunding. In order to do that I knew I’d need a top-notch editor in Chris Stevens to oversee all the titles we have planned. I hired him for Ax-Wielder Jon and he’s done such a great job that he’s going to be the editor-in-chief over everything we have planned going forward with Karoshi. The idea is that Karoshi, which means to die from overwork in Japanese, owns nothing. You simply have to work with us and have Chris help you make your books better, and then you can have the customer base and grow it from where we leave it off. Then the next creator comes along and does the same.
We all benefit from an ever-growing list. It’s about building a fanbase with the highest quality books and making it easier for top-notch pros to dip their toes into crowdfunding without starting from zero like we’ve had to with Ax-Wielder Jon. There are two projects that I’m really excited about coming after Jon, both tentatively titled Pretender by Chris Stevens with art from Arthur Adams, James Jean, and many legendary pros, and then Garry Brown’s writer/artist debut titled Bad Dog, which is Garry’s finest work to date.
12. There’s other items and media attached to this launch, like tabletop minis. Do you see this as a property with crossover appeal, and do you want to make this a kind of “franchise,” as it were?
I’ve already paid for the covers by master Spanish painter Das Pastoras for the next two volumes of Ax-Wielder Jon. There will be five volumes (possibly six) total when his adventure is complete. I know the ending of the book and it’s going to be glorious. This will be my Shaolin Cowboy or Hellboy, it’s very much a franchise.
13. Why should anyone back this book?
Ax-Wielder Jon is my writer/artist debut, after being nominated for an Eisner and making The New York Times bestsellers list on my previous projects. It’s a book I’ve absolutely drawn to the best of my ability, pushing myself further than ever, and a story I love. On top of that, the line art for the 148-page oversized hardcover will be finished before the campaign ends, not many crowdfunding campaigns can say that. And with Zoop hosting the book and doing the printing and distribution fans can be sure they get the products they order as promised. I hope comic book fans will give it a chance, because I’ve given it my all.
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