13 QUESTIONS FROM HELL! Stephen Harper interviews comic artist Paul PJ Johnson
– By Stephen Harper
Artist, Illustrator, Writer and Owner of Beat The Demon Comix – Paul PJ Johnson has been ripping up the indie comics scene for the past few years. His unique blend of grindhouse, horror and 80’s throwback humor is a style that has garnered him a huge fan base. I met Paul when he was on the convention circuit in 2013 promoting his Razor Bastard comic, just one of many of his insane characters. I fell in love with his graphic tone and darkly wicked humour and followed his career ever since. Once Monster being a personal favourite of mine.
For the past couple of years not only has Paul been collaborating with other writers, but he’s been working on his mighty graphic novel Death Truck. Two years in the making, Death Truck is finally here and it’s worth the wait. It’s everything you’d want from a Paul PJ Johnson book and more.
I recently chatted with Paul about the book and what inspires him to create.
Paul it’s so great to chat with you, man. You know I’m one of your biggest fans, so thanks for taking time out.
– Thanks, man, that means a lot, and thank you for the fantastic review and this opportunity to talk about my stuff and get it out there.
My pleasure. Having the privilege to read Death Truck before anyone else was an honour and what can I say? Fuck me, it’s phenomenal. I once said in a review of Once Monster that I didn’t think you’d top that, but you’ve just gone and proved me wrong yet again, its truly epic, it’s amazing.
– Yeah it’s pretty damn awesome, haha! Once Monster is fantastic, I think I really upped my bar with that one and with Razor Bastard 2. Every book I do has to be better than the last, and that’s with everything from pencils to inks and colors and especially with the writing. You can be the greatest artist in the world and your book can have the best art, the best colours and it can dazzle a reader’s eyes, but if you’re writing is bad then all that doesn’t matter because your book will be bad, just like Michael Bay movies! They look good, but they suck ass because the writing and story telling is bad.
Haha! True Dat! Although I do have a slight affection for The Rock!
Death Truck has been a long time in the making. Has it been a slog? And what were the hardest aspects creating the book?
– It’s been hard work, man. I’ve had a hell of a lot of life changing things happen whilst doing Death Truck. It’s been none stop on a personal level, but no matter what’s going on around me I always manage to focus on my books, I need the books otherwise I’d just crack up. Creating to me comes easy, I’ve got a head full of ideas and characters and when they are ready to come out, they tell me. They explode out of my head and they don’t stop.
What made you want to change format and go for a graphic novel this time?
– I can’t keep things to 25 to 30 pages, I’ve tried. The stories just run with themselves and they drag me along with them, but being independent it’s hard for me to do a first issue and then release the book, and then go on to issue two, three, etc. I’ve got a full on hectic life, a full time job, two kids and doin’ the books for myself and other people. With Razor 2 that was 56 pages it’s a contained story with the option to do more, so I don’t have to worry about the audience waiting for Razor 3 to find out what happens next. So with Death Truck I didn’t want to do a Part 1 with a cliff hanger just in case it was a few years until I could get to Part 2, so I just went with it as a full 110 page graphic novel. I couldn’t wait to see how it ended too.
When creating something like Death Truck, were did the initial idea come from? Describe the process you go through from character building to scene settings?
– The idea came one night when I was working the nightshift. I flicked the TV onto The Horror Channel and Steven Spielberg’s movie Duel had just started, so I made a brew and sat down, and about half way through my brain starts bubbling and I stand up like Doc Brown when he first had the idea for the Flux Capacitor! And I know that I’m doing a book about a killer truck. I started thinking of how this truck is gonna kill people: Is it possessed? Does it have a killer driver? Is it a shape changing monster? Where’s the book set? It has to be a road movie, it has to keep on moving, it’s gotta be fast paced, so I sit and watch Mad Max: Fury Road and then start going through my files for characters and places, etc.
One of the aspects I loved about Death Truck is how badass the females are throughout. You really create strong women in your books, but even more so this time, especially with Cat, who’s a wonderful character.
– Cat is actually a real-life person. A few years ago I met a girl at Comic-Con, she had crazy half jet black half white hair, white contact lenses and she was covered in tatts, she looked fantastic. We became friends and at the time I was developing a book called Sisterhood Of The Crimson Moon. I talked to Cat about being able to use her image in the book and she agreed. Time passed and I didn’t get to do Crimson Moon, but I still wanted to use her in something. Then I had the Death Truck idea. Cat had changed her look again to what we see in the book and she was still up for me using her image, she’s pretty bad-ass in real life too. I took elements of the real Cat and blended them together with the character you see in the book. She’s a fantastic character and a hell of a challenge to write, but I love strong women and strong female characters. I love Rose McGowan’s character in the movie Planet Terror, she’s iconic and I want Cat to be iconic also, to be a strong character for women.
Oh she is, dude! She’s terrific. I’d love to know what the real-life Cat thinks of the character and the book. Your work is obviously inspired by 80’s action, horror and sci-fi movies and you use a lot of references, but tell us of your inspirations…
– I’m a big fan of Robert Rodriguez, his movies are just something else, I love them. Planet Terror is one of my all time favourites. When I’m writing my books I play them over and over in my head and watch them and I see them like a Rodriguez movie. Each book has a soundtrack to it that I listen to when I’m drawing. With Razor 2 I was listening to a lot of Sisters Of Mercy. With Death Truck it was a mixture of Korn, Kate Bush, Siouxsie & The Banshees and Dio.
I’ve mentioned this a few times over the years with others and yourself: I felt your comics were a mixture of Grindhouse, Tarantino, Rodriguez and Cannon Films. They’re extremely cinematic and the humour actually has made me laugh out loud a few times, especially at things you shouldn’t? Do you set yourself boundaries or just think “Fuck it”?
– I’d love Tarantino to get a hold of my books, I think he would like them. It would be great If he made one of them, hahahaha! As for boundaries I just plough through them, I just do what I want! Haha! If I have an idea that’s pretty gross or offensive I sit on it for a while to see if it grows to something beyond offensive, haha! Razor Bastard 3 is shaping up that way, I’ve even re-read through and thought “Fuck, man, what’s wrong with me!?”
Being part of a shared universe is extremely clever and I loved all the nods to your other books and characters. When eventually finished your gonna have one hell of a body of work!
– Yeah, I love it. I love bringing in characters from other stories and giving nods. I love it when other creators do it and when movies do it. I remember back in 1991 when we saw the Alien skull in Predator 2, I literally lost my shit it was that awesome. So yeah, I love doing that, it makes me buzz about the universe I’ve created and hopefully I can bring every character together one day in the book Darker Than Golden.
Take us back to when you were younger. Was being in comics something you always wanted? What characters, titles, writers and artists inspired you and your work today?
– I’ve always loved comics and movies and all these fantastic worlds you can escape into. Batman has always been a big favourite of mine. As a kid I was big on Spider-Man, then when I was about eleven I hired the comic The Dark Knight Returns from the library and that book blew me away and started me on a dark path of comic books! Haha! I’ve dabbled in creating super-hero comics, coming up with new dark, troubled anti-heroes, but it’s all been done. We’ve already got Batman, Wolverine and Punisher. I hate it when I see other creators bringing out a new book of some dark hero with a shadowy past and you get some Dark Knight rip-off called Dark Mysterious or something? It sucks! I decided to go down the horror road and to create from the movies I watched as a kid. Elm Street, Evil Dead, The Shining, etc. I love Rob Zombie also and love what he’s doing with horror. That’s where I want to be.
Hopefully you’ll be hitting the convention circuit with Death Truck because I think people are going to lap this up. Are there any cons or festivals you have in mind that you’ll be attending? I know you went out to the States last year to promote your work?
– Yeah, I love it in the states, you get a totally different reaction over there, I’m hoping to get back there later this year, doing some stuff for Neo-Trash Comix. I’m going to be at the Edinburgh Horror Convention in a few months and then hopefully hit a few more later in the year.
I know Death Truck is your focus right now, but can you tell us of any other titles or projects you’re working on or got coming up?
– I’m doing a book called Gun Goblin next for Neo-Trash Comix and then Kid Monkey 3. After that it’s back to my own stuff and I’m going to be doing a book called They Melt, which will probably be the biggest thing I’ve ever done. It’s going to be amazing.
So, where can people get their hands on Death Truck? Give a shout out to where they can find you: website, social media links, as I’ve a feeling this is gonna sell out pretty darn quickly!
– Yeah they can find me via my Facebook page, either at Paul PJ Johnson or Beat the Demon Comix.
Paul, it’s been so nice chatting to you, buddy. You’re so talented it makes me sick, haha! Death Truck is quite possibly your best piece of work to date. Your writing and artwork seems to have been taken to another level. You deserve all the success that comes your way as you’re such a humble guy. All the very best with the graphic novel, man!
Read our review of Death Truck right HERE!