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'Minor Threats' team take a shot at goofy, potent new spinoff ‘Barfly’

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‘Minor Threats’ team take a shot at goofy, potent new spinoff ‘Barfly’

Scott Hepburn and Kyle Starks talk about the development around ‘Barfly.’

By definition, Minor Threats is interested in a much different side of superhero comics.

“We like to think about starting at the bottom and looking up in the Minor Threats universe,” said series mainstay Scott Hepburn, who drew the first two volumes (A Quick End To A Long Beginning and The Fastest Way Down) as well as covers for The Alternates. “There’s no style or anything that is out of the question. And it doesn’t even need to be funny. It doesn’t need to be anything. It just has to be born out of the character work — that is the base of everything.”

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But even by that measure, the team’s latest book is something else entirely.

“I’m the one who named him Shiteater,” said Hepburn. “It was the first thing that I wrote under the picture that I drew. I just put him in. I spent a couple months while the project [the main series] was starting up just doing sketches of random things…[writers] Jordan [Blum] and Patton [Oswalt] would describe environments and the tone of things and say, ‘We’re going to need people to populate this bar and we’re going need a bunch of people to populate this neighborhood’ and different class levels of characters and stuff like that.”

The aforementioned Shiteater is the weird, stinky star of Barfly, about a “humanoid mutant fly [who] is a loser, a lifelong minion who lives to serve his criminal master. But what happens to a henchman when he no longer has anyone left to hench for?” It’s a question only one other writer could help truly answer.

“I think there’s a consistency in vision. Minor Threats was so strong — that’s a kudos to you, Scott,” said Barfly co-writer and Minor Threats “rookie” Kyle Starks. (He contributed some to volume two, FYI.) “Because it was so strong, it really set a north star for all of us to go by for what I think Patton and Jordan and Scott as the three OGs want for the universe, which is that it is very character-driven. It’s these fringe characters. It’s seeing superhero stories that you wouldn’t see somewhere else. And that’s a lot of fun for everybody, I think.”

'Minor Threats' team take a shot at goofy, potent new spinoff ‘Barfly’

Variant cover by Ryan Browne. Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

For Hepburn and the rest of the OGs, Starks’ inclusion was a natural decision.

“The way Kyle writes and the way [artist] Ryan [Browne] infuses crazy life into everything is, I hope, in the same creative objective as what we have been doing,” said Hepburn. “I think it’s nice to have a version of Minor Threats that’s evolving from a multiverse or something. Like, it could have been born in Kyle’s hands — it feels like anyway. It feels like something he would write. It feels like a very natural fit to me.”

Hepburn added, “I can’t draw everything anyway, and I don’t want it to all look like me drawing everything anyway. Still, it’s nice to see someone whose taste I trust to make choices I wouldn’t necessarily make, but I know that’s still within the creative intention of the stories that we’re telling. Good stories and character-driven narratives [are] the underlying structure of everything we’re doing. All the fun visuals and everything only mean something once there’s like characters to care about.”

Starks, meanwhile, is mostly just happy to be on board.

“I’m really glad your answer for why I’m needed or whatever wasn’t ‘We need a doofus goofball,'” he said.

Because Barfly is actually a prime example of what the “Minor-verse” does really well: take a really silly and/or dumb idea and give it a lot of power and emotionality.

“He’s sort of a downtrodden, shit-on little guy who wants to find strength in music, which probably won’t work out because he’s just a shitty little guy who just gets the raw end of the deal all the time,” said Starks. “But I thought I came up with a pretty good pitch pretty quickly. Just the nature of the aesthetics of the character, I think, asks a lot of questions. And as a storyteller, you want to answer those questions. But also, without a good story, who cares? I thought I had a good one pretty quickly and they agreed and here we are.”

Hepburn similarly emphasized the design work as a testament to the character’s core.

“And I mean, drawing a literal barfly isn’t that big of a leap in logic, but making him, like, a CBGB New York punk…people are quick to project something into him, like a sympathetic sort of feeling about him,” he said. “Plus, he has the golden ratio of cute design proportions. He’s sort of like Yoda or a Mogwai — he has this giant head with huge eyes, but he’s barfing all the time.”

'Minor Threats' team take a shot at goofy, potent new spinoff ‘Barfly’

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Or, as Starks summarized Shiteater, “He’s our version of Grogu. He’s just a silly little guy.”

But it’s not just that Shiteater is a little cutey loser fella. There has to be more depth and texture there to tell a really good story.

“If there’s just a pure screw-up, like they never get it right and they’re mean, you’re like, ‘That guy deserves it. He’s really taking his own hole in life,'” said Starks.

Rather, it’s about trying to balance his loser-y tendencies with something else — something we can connect with more directly and organically.

“I think we inherently root for little guys. A lot of the Barfly story is that he’s an ex-henchman, which is like the worst job you can have in superhero comics and we can all relate to,” said Starks. “He has a lot of characteristics that make him sort of relatable, which is what the hope is, of course, even though he’s the most downtrodden, put-upon little man. And maybe we’re all like that. I think you’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’m really pulling for this guy because my job isn’t good.’ Or, ‘Maybe my home life’s not good.’ And so you’re rooting for this little guy because I’m going to tell you, it doesn’t get better. Like, I hope at some point it does, but I don’t know. I just started in issue #4, the last issue, so we’ll see.”

To an extent, that opens up Minor Threats to more comedy and hijinks than it might usually go for. No one sought that direction (as mentioned), but it was almost encouraged based on the dynamic between the various creators.

“So the very first interaction we had, Patton said to me that he wanted to do these comics the way he did his tour posters, which is that he found the creator he liked and let them do the thing that he liked,” said Starks.

He added, “The pitch I wrote, I don’t know if it’s inherently funny, but Ryan came in so hard and so loud like, ‘Everything I do is humorous.’ There’s a level of humor to it, but there was never a discussion in regards to what the tone of the book should be or if it should be comedy or if it shouldn’t be. We just made the book that we wanted to make because they trusted us and were interested in us working with them. They’ve been extremely hands-off. Like, they’ve come in with notes; Scott also has come in with design notes, but only when necessary. There was no ‘What if more this? What if more of that?’ Which is, creatively, exactly who you want to work with. Like, if they asked to work with me, and I hope they trust me to do a good book.”

'Minor Threats' team take a shot at goofy, potent new spinoff ‘Barfly’

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

If anything, a lot of the humor exists more visually than in the narrative proper.

“I think Ryan was like, ‘I’m going to get it all out. I’m going to be as relentlessly, creatively funny as I can be in every single panel,'” sad Starks. “After the first two pages, he has at least one gag in every single panel, and most have like three or four. It’s relentless.”

Some of Browne’s standouts, according to Starks, include the signs at the Burger Bite (“My favorite is ‘One Long Fry,'” said Starks) and one very specific running gag.

“We did an interview where he mentioned that he has mice,” said Starks. “He has a mice gag running through the entire book and I had never noticed the mice. I didn’t find out until issue #3.”

Starks added, “There’s a bug museum in issue #2 and all of the posters are so funny. It’s like, ‘I hope you’re ready to get touched by weird legs.’ Ryan has to draw all these bugs because of The Entomologist, who’s [Shiteater’s] boss/creator, and he’s not complained one time.”

It’s an interesting development not only for the Minor Threats canon in general, but also Starks, who has some complicated thoughts about comedy and humor in comics.

“I’ve been really resistant since pre-pandemic about using the word ‘comedy’ in my books, which I think are generally funny books,” said Starks. “Because I think it paints bad expectations, and comedy is kind of an ugly word in direct market comics. I think good stories have everything. I think they have drama. I think they have stakes. They have good characters. They have some good action. My last couple of books, Pine and Merrimac and I Hate This Place, aren’t hard comedy. They have humorous elements, maybe more than your average because I can’t help myself. But I think that’s along the lines of what someone would expect from me in 2024. And honestly, it was nice to be a little sillier. But for me, everything serves a function of things that happen next issue, right? So I want people to feel certain things, and laughter is certainly out on the list, but I don’t think that’s the only emotion you will have reading this series.”

It’s something that Hepburn readily recognizes: there’s a perception of this larger series that makes people continually think of it as a comedy, and there’s a time and place for all those hahas and chuckles.

“I will say that, because of Patton’s name attached to our project, a lot of reviews refer to it being a comedy,” said Hepburn. “At the very least [reviewers] can’t resist talking about it also being funny, which I think it is in places, but no more so than most comic books. I think Kyle and Ryan are fulfilling the promise of what those reviews are implying. So it’s fun to see a book just lean right into it. Because I think we’re a little hesitant to go totally silly in our main story.”


Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Hepburn added, “We’re happy to see it from a fresh angle and find out what that sparks in us [based on] where you guys take some character. Some story might open up something that we hadn’t thought about. That’s what we’re doing. We’re not trying to make our single, perfect crystallized thing. We’re trying to enjoy making comics. We love the process and there isn’t a singular outcome that we need it to be. We just want to do the best work we can and enjoy doing it.”

It’s ultimately, as both creators touched on already, a matter of the team trusting in one another.

“If we had Frankie become a paraplegic or something, obviously you’d be like, ‘Well, wait, this is a prequel,'” said Starks. “But we’re not doing that because we’ve been asked to do the thing we’ve done in following up two very good books.”

For Hepburn, this starts to get at a really important idea of Minor Threats. Yes, they love to give a loser his moment in the limelight, but there’s a whole universe we never see. And that’s maybe the whole darn point.

“There’s so much that we haven’t even shown everybody yet,” said Hepburn. “There’s multiple projects going on that we haven’t announced, and the style of things is growing exponentially. But it does all still feel like it’s under the same starting point of being thoughtful, thoroughly considered characters in this almost insane, impossible experiment. But so far I’m very proud of everybody that’s doing stuff.”

It’s about grounding those big adventures in a way that there’s something there but it always serves this more street-level and wholly approachable.

“I like to think of the Continuum existing with their big epic crossover event stories happening while we don’t see it,” said Hepburn. “We didn’t get a chance to fit it in, but I had an idea. I was hoping to have some Dark Phoenix-type story happening that we just see in flashes throughout our story. But I’ve got a cast of another replacement team of Continuum ready to go. The team changes over time, and people die off. But I’m hoping to keep feeding that background, high-level superhero stuff and imply as much of that world building as we can as a backdrop.”

So, then, could we ever see a book led by the a Minor Threats A-lister like The Insomniac? Maybe.

“The archetype of him doesn’t need much more, especially for the main Minor Threats book,” said Hepburn. “He’s clearly a Batman placeholder, but I sort of imply a bunch of other mythos in his dream cave and the way he operates. There’s a bunch of story for him. I consider Insomniac to have more of a Moon Knight-level amount of powers. Like, he literally doesn’t sleep. He has these mushrooms that populate his dream cave and a giant crystal thing. There’s more going on there, but it doesn’t really matter; that’s all just sort of like world building for now. Just to make it feel more lived in. But there’s more stuff there to build off of. And in the right tone, and with the right art team on it, anything can be good.”


Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

For Hepburn, it’s all a natural part of the ongoing design and development for Minor Threats at-large.

“If we have a character that is some medieval knight-themed whatever, I’m going to get specific about how the person got the armor and what type of armor it is,” said Hepburn. “I can’t help but just dig a story out of it, whether it’s concrete or not. I always think of, ‘What type of person is this? What is that person within his own group? What happened to him that’s different than everybody else?’ Like, how do the powers execute? Does that change how his gloves work or whatever?”

It’s perhaps for this very reason that Starks said Hepburn is so vital to all things Minor Threats.

“I don’t think it could be really understated how much Scott has been responsible for all of Minor Threats,” said Starks. “I don’t know what Patton and Jordan came with originally, but I can tell from my experience that they trust and rely upon him a ton. I think he’s contributing a lot. I think he’s being very humble right now in regards to the topic. I know Scott’s been super useful to Ryan. I know he’s asked for several character notes and has gotten full drawings to reference.”

And Hepburn (and really the rest of the team) are only really getting started.

“They’re very generous. It’s the funnest job I’ve ever had,” said Hepburn. “I’m expecting this to be something we can just throw ideas at for a long time. I’ve got stories that I’ve been sitting on for a couple of years that I realize actually fit well within the context of Minor Threats. I’m going to try and pitch those to Patton and Jordan and see if there’s some mentorship there a little bit on how that would work and maybe make a story that I can at least co-write something down the line.”

In the meantime, any possible teasers to expect as the team work further on both the third and forth volumes?

“I’ve got what would be our version of a Doctor Strange type character that I hope we get to introduce into the Continuum,” said Hepburn. “I’ve also got a Thor/Hercules type character that I’ve got a backstory for that I hope we get to use.”


Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Starks, meanwhile, would like to get his time to play with some other members off the Minor-verse.

“Who doesn’t want to do Crab Louie,” said Starks. “He’s the best.”

Added Hepburn, “Well, you’re going to have to call Gail Simone and argue with her about it.”

For now, though, Starks said he’ll “stick with Barfly.” (Although he added that volume two might feature “Crab Louie versus Barfly in a fight to the death.”) Because he may be a little gross and sort of a loser, but every dog giant mutant fly deserves his own day.

“I think of it as a badge of honor that he has gone through this self-actualization and is now proud to be of it,” said Starks of the lead’s nome de guerra. “Like, he’s owning it. In the way that gutter punks would give each other names like ‘Snot’ or whatever. One day he’ll get to pick his name. I think maybe in volume two he’ll go on a journey of like, ‘Who am I? What do I really want to be?'”

Barfly #1 is out this week (July 10) from Dark Horse Comics.

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