High Flying: Kurtz updates "Truth, Justin and the American Way"

A lot has been made about the 1980s revival that's happened in comics. Over the past five years, numerous properties that were at the height of their popularity during the '80s have made big splashes in the comics industry; most notably books based on the Transformers and G.I. Joe properties. The Image Comics series "Truth, Justin and the American Way" isn't a revival of an existing '80s license, but the book does embrace that decade completely.

"Justin," as we will refer to it from here on out, is the brainchild of writers Scott Kurtz & Aaron Williams with Italian artist Giuseppe Ferrario. The series plays homage to the popular '80s series "The Greatest American Hero." In "Justin," we find our hero Justin Cannell desperately trying to make it on time to his own bachelor party. Along the way, he receives a mysterious gift - a super suit with incredible powers. And things get really nuts from there.

The first issue has already shipped to comic shops and CBR News has learned that issue #1 has completely sold out at Image Comics. Clearly that's a result of the passion the creators bring to the project and their unique approach to promotion, which includes a theme song as well as an animated opening title sequence, as if this were an animated television show. With the second issue of "Justin" shipping May 10th, CBR News caught up with Scott Kurtz to get an update on the series and to learn about some of the unique promotional tools the team used to get the word out.

To begin with, numbers on the first issue were good for a humor book, but not exactly what Kurtz was hoping for. "It did a little under 'PvP' numbers for issue #1.

Issue #2 had a big drop, but that's to be expected for any 2nd issue," Kurtz told CBR News. "Same thing happened with 'PvP's' 2nd issue. There was a huge drop. 'Justin' is suffering from one thing only -- people haven't seen it yet. I expect that the issues will start picking up as people discover the charm of the book and word starts to spread.

"If it was just me, I wouldn't even care. So long as the book can break-even and the story can get out there. I'm just worried about compensating Aaron and Giuseppe for all the work they are doing. I don't see a cent from 'Justin' until those two get paid."

Kurtz said that the pre-orders on "Justin" were just shy of those seen on his long running "PvP" series. Now, "Justin" stars an entirely new cast of characters with an artist new to American readers, which makes the sell out of issue #1 even more impressive. "I was, of course, hoping to sell a fojillion copies. That's an industry term, not everyone will understand that. Fojillion is a lot. More than 'Infinite Crisis,'" joked Kurtz.

As we noted earlier, "Justin" is supported on the official Web site by not only a theme song, but an animated opening title sequence. While comic trailers have been used as a regular promotional tool for a handfull of years now, this is something more unique. Kurtz explained how it all came together. "Kris Straub, a webcartoonist who is also a talented musician, had created a theme song for an upcoming flash comic and podcast of his own. Both sounded like '80s TV themes and were just fantastic. So we brainstormed on doing a theme song for 'Justin.'

"That's the fun thing about the web. It's a fantastic tool for marketing and interacting with readers. Those theme songs get stuck in your head and that's what we want. We want 'Justin' to get stuck in your head. I'm just lucky to have insanely talented friends who can whip that stuff out on a whim."

It's been said before and will continue to be said for years to come - launching a new comics series is no easy task. Lots of promotion is of the utmost importance, an often difficult task for creators working hard on just producing the book. The "Justin" crew makes it seem easy, but of course it's not. Promotion is something Kurtz says he thinks about all the time. "Some of it is proactively thinking of ways to promote the work and market yourself and a lot of it is just getting excited about the work and wanting to share it with the fans that have supported 'PvP' for the last eight years," said Kurtz. "A lot of things, like the theme song, start out as just fun things we're doing that we then look at and say 'Oh man! What a great way to promote the book!'

"I think the art speaks for itself best. There's only so much marketing you can do. The best thing to do is to have fun and get the word out. And encourage others to help get the word out. The product is born of love, talent and excitement. That should be enough. You just have to get it in people's hands."

Reviews of issue #1 have thus far been quite good. CBR's own Augie De Blieck Jr. called "Justin" an "…indulgent, semi-nostalgic, fun comic" with high praise for artist Giuseppe Ferrario saying, "Ferrario brings his well-honed art style to America with this book, giving us a bouncy and lively comedy comic with plenty of detail and animation to it." And it's not just CBR that's heaping praise on the series. "So far, reaction is fantastic. And trust me, I hear from the people who hate my work," admitted Kurtz. "Everyone is just blown away by Giuseppe's art and how fun the series is looking to be. Scott Hinze over at Fanboy Radio (always very critical of comics on his show) sent me a private email letting me know that 'Justin' is exactly what comics need.

"I can't think of a higher compliment than that."

The series riffs proudly on the popular '80s series "The Greatest American Hero," but it doesn't stop there. "Justin" is, in many ways, a love-letter to '80s era pop culture, with the first issue including references to "Different Strokes" (Drummond Industries) and "ChiPs." Even the last name of our hero, Cannell, is a reference to '80s super producer Stephen J. Cannell, the producer and creator of shows like "The A Team," "Hunter," "Night Rider" and, naturally, "The Greatest American Hero." Kurtz explained that more references to '80s pop culture can be expected. "We wanted to pepper the references throughout the book without them being too distracting. Most of them Giuseppe has added without our prompting. The original script just called for the cops to show up in issue #1. Giuseppe made them the cops from 'CHiPs.' It's nothing integral to the story, of course. Just another layer of fun for the readers."

The first issue finds Justin running late to his own bachelor party and once he's there, well, there's a Fed waiting for him asking after this mysterious suit Justin's acquired. What's next for Justin and the gang? "Well, I really can't say because that would be ruining the surprises we have in store for you in issue #2. Let's just say that the party is going to be a lot more exciting now."

Kiss: The End #3

More in Comics