Juan Navarro is an artist and co-founder of the small press indie comic book company Creature Entertainment located in Miami, Florida. He writes the supernatural crime drama Rez and draws the psychological horror story Tommy. He also runs his own website FWACATA and has his own webcomic The Zombie Years about a futuristic zombie apocalypse.
I first met Juan at Collective Con in Jacksonville, Florida. I bought both issues of Tommy, a psychological horror story about a child whose pet rabbit is a serial killer. I fell in love with Juan’s art style. It is in the same vein as Sam Keith and Skottie Young that combines a cartoonish style with dark grittiness. Think an unholy cross between Looney Tunes and Tales From The Crypt. Since then, I have followed Juan’s work and always look forward to hearing about the next project he is involved in.
Juan took time from his busy schedule to talk about Tommy, his interest in comics, and heavy metal:
PopOptiq: Please, introduce yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
Juan Navarro: I am Juan Navarro and I make things. I either make things happen, make comics, or make art, but I always make things. I live in Miami, but I go wherever I need to tell stories.
PO: How long have you been interested in comics, and when did you start making them?
JN: Ah, it’s the old “been reading comics since I was a kid” bit. Mostly thanks to Classic X-Men #30, the cover of the Hulk’s (really robot) head on some guys arm that has…claws?!? I soon badgered the kid who had it to where he got it and ended up at Charlie’s Comics in Hialeah (where I grew up) and was engulfed. Not just popular comics, but also crazy indie stuff like TMNT and The Tick. I loved artists like Frank Frazetta and Heavy Metal Magazine. I soon filled pages with sketches and drawings, trying to make my own comics.
PO: Any influences?
JN: It’s funny. Just came from NYCC, and this question came up in conversation with some of my artistic compatriots. It was sort of hard at first, but quickly became crystal clear. Sam Kieth is a huge artistic influence, not only for his amazing art and storytelling, but for also bringing me back to comics after they went to hell in the 90’s. From there, it was R.Crumb that brought the love of the line, Will Eisner for the love of storytelling, and Paul Pope for the love of the brush. Since then, I have just kept my eyes open to seeing so much more, so much new talent and technique coming out all the time.
PO: The comic I reviewed was Tommy, a horror story about a little boy whose pet rabbit is a serial killer. How did you, John Ulloa (co-writer) and Al Bondiga (co-writer) come up with the concept?
JN: I think it was a joke at first! We were talking about moments in our childhood where we had problems, when we were ignored by adults, or not taken seriously, and how aggravated we were. From there is was just the characters and antics and, after a while, we had a story and we kept building on it. Sometimes, we have a whole story down and it just sits there, but after a couple of sketches and noodling around, it’s alive again. The story got under our skin.
PO: The comic is mostly black and white with some red for blood. What was the reason for this artistic decision?
JN: Part of it was the practicality in making it. I really don’t do color, but we wanted it to pop out and make scenes really jump. That’s when we decided to bring in the blood, and it became a real element for us to use. It made scenes poignant in the book.
PO: In the comic, Tommy’s real father is absent and Jack the Rabbit replaces him, albeit, as an abusive role model. Do you think there is any symbolic significance to this relationship?
JN: Well, we have plans on the father. We were really trying to show that it wasn’t just an evil mom but also an apathetic father as part of Tommy’s trauma. He really is a sweet kid, but he’s had so much anger bottled up in him that it comes in Jack and hence, hi-jinx ensues.
PO: The only positive influence in Tommy’s life is his teacher, Miss Allen, and her influence is at odds with Jack’s. Would you say that makes Tommy a story of the positive and negative influences in a child’s life?
JN: It’s amazing what one good teacher can do. I have seen and experienced wall to wall asshat teachers in my life, ever since I was a kid to my high school years (and even college to a degree). Nothing helps unmake the damage than somebody who just listens to you. Great teachers, like my art teacher Robert Lortscher, who kept pulling me up and helping me as an artist. That right there, washes away everything every teacher who humiliated and/or abused me, that did everything.
On the other hand, I had a great home life. My parents were always supportive, even when they didn’t understand. Some times in this world we see so many people walking around WOUNDED, just bleeding from the soul, and they’re reactions to the world are horrible. They don’t know any other way!
PO: Miss Allen is an optimistic person in a cynical environment. What keeps her going and do you think her optimism is being slowly chipped away?
JN: That’s the other side of modern life: the good get worn out. The world is set up to be a vulgar display of power, and in doing so shits on those who would be kind. I want to show that kindness is not weakness. Those who go out and persevere truly rebel against the cynical . Miss Allen knows that if she punches forward, she may not succeed, but she did something.
PO: The comic portrays public schools in a negative light. The principal is a horrible tyrant and most of the teachers don’t care about their students. Do you consider Tommy as an indictment of the educational system?
JN: Oh, hell yeah. It’s horrific. Where I went it was a lackadaisical piece of crap that had some merits, but now there is a real horrific effort to make the system a total void of mediocrity. The one thing that possibly gives me hope are the teachers that out there, holding the line. The real ones. Despite corrupted, ridiculous political leaders, there are still teachers making that bit of difference, kindness, that stops it from all going to crap.
PO: The art has a cartoonish style combined with the grittiness of 50s era horror comics. Was this style purposeful and does it have any significant meaning to the story?
JN: Yeah, I’m a huge Warner Brothers fan from the old Friz Freleng days to the Tex Avery work out there, so any chance to explore that, I have to take it. The other side of the coin was the idea of really taking that cartoon violence and making it reality and seeing how that might play out. Like the scary parts of Roger Rabbit, in a way, or Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World‘s violence. So we threw that at the wall and it stuck
PO: What is your creative process like?
JN: A mess. Different each time. Most of it starts with a phrase or some weird bit of information that gets in my skull, and then boom! I work on a script or sketch. From there, it is about what gets leg. Sometimes a drawing leads to a scene, leads to another idea, then my collaborators and I talk about something completely irreverent, we comeback, and then more stuff comes out. Lots of writing. Lots of notes. I use Evernote to collect it all and sometimes it can ingest for months, sometimes for years. Zombie Years was originally conceived in 2004 after watching Dawn of the Dead and then getting hit by a hurricane.
PO: When do you aim to have Tommy finished and what other projects (current/future) are you excited for?
JN: November, God help me.
PO: Since Halloween is coming up, any horror comics, books, movie you enjoy and would recommend?
JN: Hmmmm. Been reading Fight Club 2, and I love it. Skottie Young’s I Hate Fairyland is awesome. We Can Never Go Homeis a great series. Old X-Files is fun to watch again, but is soooo dated. Currently in love with Orphan Black.
PO: What do you hope to happen in comics in the near future?
JN: I think that it’ll stabilize for the long run, even without the movies or TV shows. We understand the root of all this awesomeness and it’s in these pages.
PO: Any advice to aspiring comics creators?
JN: Work. No video games, no parties, no bullshit. Work. If this is something you love, you live for it, not anything else. Making comics should be your biggest high.
PO: Finally, the most important question of this interview: Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin?
JN: Damn hard one, but Zeppelin. I love Sabbath, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think there is a Zeppelin song I don’t dig. Look at it this way, I tend to not play Zeppelin in the studio because it’s too much of a distraction. I’ll end up air drumming instead of drawing!