Big Country: Livingston on "America Jr."

"This is an ongoing strip and as long as there is government in the world, we plan to exploit it," Todd Livingston declares, referring to his much-adored Web comic, "America Jr." CBR News spoke with Livingston about the Web comic last week.

The humor strip tells the story of Millerstown, a small American town that finds itself a wholly independent country. Millerstown's citizens are forced to create their own government, administer their own military, and manage their own trade agreements -- while still dealing with their ordinary day jobs and personal relationships. Livingston notes, "And if you've ever lived in a small town, one person's personal business quickly becomes everyone's!"

The strip explores and then backhands one piece of the governmental machine after another through the eyes of a large cast of eccentric characters. Among them is Morris Thornton, the former mayor turned power-hungry interim President; Lionel Cooper, a sci-fi/RPG geek and new Treasury Secretary who takes the business of running the country more seriously than anyone; and Darren, a small town guy who, in Livingston's words, "went to the big city, but found he liked the small town better, yet he's clearly more sophisticated than anyone else in town."

We recently saw America Jr. choose a national anthem, although not without some controversy. Being a town of just a few thousand, song voting appeared to result in a 3,000-way tie before it was determined that thanks to two write-in votes, the national anthem would be 80s hair metal anthem "Cherry Pie."

The co-author of the Image Comics graphic novels, "The Black Forest," "The Living Dead" and "The Wicked West," Todd Livingston credits Danielle Corsetto's "Girls With Slingshots" Web comic as the inspiration for creating his own. "['Girls With Slingshots' is] consistently funny and brilliant. It is the bar by which all webcomics should be judged. I've been working in network television for 10 years, and I remember saying, 'There's no reason this shouldn't be a sitcom right now!' So, it inspired me to create a webcomic that I could, with my contacts, turn into one. "

Livingston contacted his comedy writing parter Nick Capetanakis (the two worked together on the indie comedy, "So, You've Downloaded A Demon"), and in a very short time the pair had written the first thirty strips of "America Jr." Livingston says, "It turns out that the 4-5 panel format of a strip is perfect for Nick's and my joke-writing process. We found we can produce a self contained strip that also moves the story arc forward and has at least oner kick-ass joke in it."

Other more hard-hitting, real world issues are placed under a dense comedic lens in "America Jr." The subject of universal healthcare, the town/country's Treasury Secretary Lionel Cooper stated, "We want to cover the medical needs of every America Jr. citizen! All we need now is a hospital. And a doctor."

The issue of gay marriage is similarly (mis)handled by businessman Emitt Ball, who said, "I think love between anyone is beautiful, be it a man and a woman, two women...three women...I'm sorry, what was the question?"

Xenophobia is just as hot-button an issue in "America Jr." as it is in our world. Defense Secretary Ed Decker, who also runs the local hardware store, announced, "We must protect our borders. Now even my friends in the next country are a bunch of damn foreigners. Also, this week all paint and plumbing [supplies] are 25% off."

Artists Brendon Fraim and Brian Fraim complete the creative team. The duo are perhaps best known for their work on "Knights Of The Dinner Table: Illustrated," and, in Livingston's words, "…they add a lot of subtlety to the art beyond just telling the story. They enhance the characters in ways Nick and I don't even write into the script. Plus, it just feels right. There's a synchronicity now between us all that makes producing the strip second nature. Which is good because actual nature frightens me – I'm scared of forest critters."

"America Jr." has been enjoying increasing popularity, especially with the Hollywood buzz surrounding the strip. Livingston was approached by production companies interested in "America Jr." as a sitcom a week before the strip actually debuted. "...in my estimation over 209 billion people read this strip every day," jokes Livingston. "Truthfully, although I do look at them every morning, I still haven't figured out what our daily stats mean. From talking to smarter people, it looks like our readership ranges from between 1,000 – 15,000 depending on the day of the week." However, that number reflects only visits to the official site, as "America Jr." is also featured on Sunny Fundays and Drunk Duck.

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