Being alive during the last few years has made a few points very clear: 1) we’ll likely doom ourselves right into the End Times and 2) things will be increasingly ridiculous and absurd as we march toward our said destruction. But even in a timeline of people treating a deadly illness with horse dewormer, we could never imagine the end came by puppets.
At least, that’s the dystopian scenario imagined in Survival Street, a new Dark Horse Comics title from writers James Asmus and Jim Festante, artist Abylay Kussainov, and colorist Ellie Wright. The “unrepentant action satire” takes place in a U.S. where billionaires and multi-national corporations have created their own laws, irrevocably altering every aspect of the economy and society at-large.
That includes public broadcasting, and in the wake of these sweeping changes, a band of “beloved edu-tainers” (think naughty Muppets) transform into a “an A-Team-esque band of mercenaries fighting for (And educating!) kids in the crumbling, corporate war zone of New Best America.” If you can get through how depressingly accurate some of this new world sounds, it’s a generally bonkers thrill ride that proves as silly and nonsensical as it is prescient and profoundly telling.
Ahead of issue #1 debuting on August 3, we caught up with Asmus and Festante via email. There, we talked about the story’s development, balancing satire and storytelling, the power of a good Muppet, and much, much more.
AIPT: What’s your elevator pitch for Survival Street?
Jim Festante: In a near-future America, corporations have all the rights of people – including holding government office. Once they’ve taken over those positions, they strip the country and its services for parts, divide up the land into ‘company towns’ that make their own rules, and get rid of pesky things like ‘workers’ rights’, ‘food and drug safety’, or ‘school’. But, with public broadcasting shut down, a group of edu-tainers from kids’ television become an “A-(B-C-)Team” of grizzled, traveling heroes – saving kids from disaster capitalism!
AIPT: James, you’ve written for Rick and Morty and the Transformers/My Little Pony crossover, which mostly makes you a bona fide expert on the weird and satirical. What makes for great satire, especially in a book dealing with capitalism, the End Times, etc.?
James Asmus: It’s a tricky mix. First, I think you need to start by launching off from a very recognizable point – but it helps the comedy if you can dial up the absurdity of the issue, without losing the actual idea(s) or principles you’re tackling. I’d also say satire shouldn’t assume reader see things the way I do. It’s the story’s job to illustrate either the shakiness of the arguments, or the danger of how one argument / definition could be applied to something much wilder that I hope people would immediately recognize as “not okay.”
You’ve got to push far enough into absurdity for it to be escapist and funny. If it’s too close the real debate, people are already sorted or burned out, and it’s harder for them to go on this ride.
AIPT: I feel like this book enters some lofty territory of appropriating Muppets. Why are “mutant puppets” such a great lens for exploring weird, mature themes?
JF: Right — there is almost a sub-genre of “subversive puppets” with wildly varying results. But for us, the appeal was never “let’s make puppets say bad things.”
JA: This idea of ‘public service’ entertainers, who spent years advocating for sharing, empathy, and all kinds of altruism was the perfect opposite of the exploitational ‘profits-over-people’ world we wanted to tackle. When we see characters like these struggling to hold on to their hope, or to live up to their own values — it means more. (But also makes their rampage much more colorful, playful, and occasionally absurd.)
AIPT: I couldn’t help but feel, aside from the Muppet creatures, that a lot of this future could come true. Is it hard to grapple with these big issues and make them funny, or does that humor-ization just feel natural given how ridiculous our timeline has become?
JA: Oh boy… you’re not wrong. We plotted the stories for this arc about a year ago, and aimed for a fair amount comedic exaggeration. But disturbingly, real life has closed in on us at a way faster speed than I ever would have imagined.
JF: I still think we’re in the “exaggerated satire” space. But I do wish we could have shown off the book when Ted Cruz was picking fights with puppets a couple months ago.
AIPT: What role does issue #0 play in setting things up or the story proper? Can/should non-retailers try and get their hands on it?
JF: Great question! We’re sending some post cards with QR codes to read the 12-page ‘issue #0’ story to most of Dark Horse’s partner shops. The story is a stand-alone mission James and I wrote once Abylay Kussainov gave us such perfect designs, we were dying to make something for it, whether the book would get picked up or not.
JA: Since the series is so inspired by episodic television (from kids’ learning shows and traveling hero ’70s and 80s series like A-Team, Knight Rider, Incredible Hulk…) Issue #0 and most of the issues are stand-alone ‘episodes’ until the finale ties it all together. So the story in #1 will still make perfect sense if you can’t get your hands on one – but folks dug it enough to green light the whole series! So ask your local shop!
AIPT: I want to delve into the art of Abylay Kussainov (and the wonderful colors of Ellie Wright). Is your job easier given how they nailed that balance between the gritty and whimsical?
JF: Abylay is an incredible gift to us, the series, and really to anyone who wants some darkly funny comics. I’ve worked as an art director with illustrators and designers for 20 years, and finding someone who is as smart, fast, and capable of telling a clear story in their art is a rare gift. From his very first sketches, Abylay was completely tuned into the concept and nailed every single thing we ever lobbed his way. The designs, his storytelling, the expressions, his comedy – it’s all been pitch perfect.
JA: And Ellie is someone who’s colors jumped out to me several times, just as a reader. She’s both fully talented and has a bunch of different styles she works in – so we’re incredibly lucky she agreed to join the team and define so much of the vibe and tone of this world we’re creating. (I’ll that both of these folks, and our great letter, Taylor Esposito, are also just wonderful people to work with, too!)
AIPT: How much do you think this is just “mindless” entertainment and how much do you think this might “wake” people up to some larger issues?
JA: Oh no – are asking me how ‘woke’ we expect people to be?!
JF: James and I only really fixate on a concept or a story when there is a real emotion and idea to chew on. Survival Street opens up a world where we can absolutely dig into real-world policies or situations that we want to vent about, or talk about ‘what does it really mean if you take that argument to its end point?’ But! The whole reason it’s a traveling team of ex-actor puppets traveling a dystopian “New Best America” is because we’re absolutely also taking big swings, injecting plenty of silly bits, and making it over-the-top enough to be fun.
AIPT: Do either of you have a favorite edutainer here, and why?
JA: Oh… I’ve come to love them all for different reasons! Especially as different characters get their own spotlights in the different issues. But anytime we could see characters like Hippy or Mr. Burton still try to act like edu-tainers in this hellscape is especially charming to me.
JF: I can identify with Herbert, pushed to a point you feel so powerless it turns into lashing out. But my lashing out is less ‘explosives and headshots’ and more ‘satirical comics and angry phone calls to Republican senators’ offices’. Although I also have a complicated relationship with ice cream, so maybe Gurgle?
AIPT: What can we expect from the rest of the story/series (without spoiling too much)?
JA: As we mentioned – the series is structured to have a different ‘mission’ and, well, ‘socially-relevant’ topic or two each issue. But the everything does tie together in the fourth issue climax – plenty of consequences, callbacks, and fallout!
AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1
JA: Honestly, if you’ve read this far into the article, YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE to not buy #1. The book is 20 TIMES more entertaining than me talking about it – and YOU STUCK WITH THIS.
JF: Also, if you don’t, we might not make enough money back to feed our children. DO YOU WANT THE DEATH OF CHILDREN TO BE ON YOUR CONSCIOUS (put your hand down, Senator!)?
The following variant, from Benjamin Dewey, is courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.
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