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DF Interview: Justin Richards points to a high-concept view of emotional maturity in ‘Finger Guns’
By Byron Brewer
In Finger Guns, two troubled teenagers discover they can manipulate emotions by firing finger guns. There will be laughs. There will be tears. There will be uncomfortable teen feelings and angst. Oh yeah... and chaos. So much chaos.
From Vault Comics comes Finger Guns, a new series written by Justin Richards, drawn by Val Halvorson, colored by Rebecca Nalty, lettered by Taylor Esposito, and designed by Tim Daniel. DF wanted to know more on this unique series, so we held scribe Justin Richards at finger point until he told us what we wanted to know.
Dynamic Forces: Justin, tell our readers about the dream you had one night that eventually led to your upcoming comic book series, Finger Guns.
Justin Richards: Gladly! The dream that would inspire Finger Guns was fairly literal. I was a kid again and I could make people mad or calm by aiming a finger gun at them. There was a girl at school, who I found out could do the same thing, but she was better at it than me. I remember starting and stopping a fight with my family and I remember thinking about what that meant I could do. Then I woke up! I battled with what this story was for a while. I almost considered not writing it. It wasn’t until I talked with my friend, Sabs Cooper (she writes comics too!) that I was convinced that there was something there worth exploring. What is more relatable than emotions? I’m pretty sure we’re all familiar with having emotions that we can’t control, no matter how badly we want to seize that control and pretend that we’re all as happy as the masks we wear project us to be. Sabs and I worked together on developing a story about two kids that we knew we’d relate to because in many ways they are all of us. I was the boy in the dream, and our sweet boy in this story is very much based on me. These kids are special, but they’re also normal kids, with hormones and troubles that we all go through. Sabs, sadly, had to leave the project, but she is a great friend and a great writer. I want to specify to people that while this book isn’t co-written by Sabs, she very much helped me shape the foundation of what this story is and it wouldn’t be the same without her.
DF: This seems, on the surface, a teen angst/coming-of-age story ... with superpowers. But I believe you have stated that it is definitely NOT for kids, correct?
Justin Richards: It was actually my brilliant editor, Adrian Wassel, who spoke to the age group this story is intended for, but I’m happy to take the opportunity to talk about it, because it is a story that is hard to pinpoint where it belongs on that scale. This book isn’t for all-ages, but I think there is a time in every kid’s life when they’ll relate to our characters on some level. I think teens would benefit from reading our story as it is, as you said, a coming-of-age/teen angst tale. However, I would say it’s a comic-of-age story in the sense that Stephen King’s novels about kids are. This story will not become known for pulling its punches. There is a lot of heavy imagery and some heavy themes that run throughout this story. When we meet these kids they’re both going through things that kids should never HAVE to go through, but that kids DO go through every day. So I think it’s going to come down to a case-by-case basis of how comfortable parents feel that their child would benefit from this book. If it helps anyone make a decision, I’ll probably let my own son read this when he’s about 13-14.
DF: Can you introduce us please to your two main protagonists and tell us a little bit about the characters?
Justin Richards: I would love to!! Our protagonists are Wes and Sadie. They’re both 13 years old and live in a typical American town called Hopton Valley. They’re both good kids who are just trying to grow up and become good adults, while they try to navigate their troubled home lives that you’ll learn more about along the way. I like to think of Wes as very much who I was in my adolescent years and Sadie as who I wish is was during that time.
Wes is the quintessential nice boy. He’s a kid who likes video games and music and just wants to make it through life without messing it up. He’s a people-pleaser and while he doesn’t really have friends, he’s incredibly loyal to the ones he does have. He’s that kid in your class who never seemed to raise his hand and never went out to dances, or tried out for the football team. He goes to school and does what he needs to before he can go home and play the newest fighting game in his room, or go to the mall and pick up an album he’s been wanting for a while. He keeps his head down and doesn’t cause too much trouble, until it’s really fun to do so!
Sadie is the actual cool girl. She’s into cool music and she doesn’t change herself for anyone, because she doesn’t really care if she’s popular. While she’s good friends with the popular crowd, it’s only because she can be. Even when Sadie does have friends, she tends to keep them at arm’s length. She has a very tough exterior that she maintains as a defense mechanism. She loves her family and is really close with her mom. Sadie is the kind of girl who would save your life, but pretend like she’s not sure if she’d do it again. Underneath her defensive walls she’s really just a nice girl who you want to hang out with.
DF: What other important characters should readers know about? Can you introduce a few of them and give us a verbal snapshot of each?
Justin Richards: While there’s not a lot of characters in our story, the ones we do meet are all unique and interesting. Most of them are nice people with one glaring exception that you’ll have to wait to find out about. One character that I would say to keep an eye out for is Mr. County. He’s the kids’ guidance counselor and I get to flex my fun writing side with him. Let’s just say that his last name might be based on a character that was played by a particular actor that we’re all big fans of around these parts.
The other character I think will have some big fans is a particular doggo our kids meet along the way. He's the best boy!!
DF: Without spoilers, what can you tell us about the overall storyline of the series going forward?
Justin Richards: I can tell you to buckle up! We're all in for a long and emotional ride with Wes and Sadie. The story that we're telling with them is not one for the feint of heart. I know a lot of stories make that claim, but I make a personal promise to everyone that this book will deliver. I would also like to take this moment to offer my first apology for this book. I promise you that I do love these kids and I tell them sorry every time I do something horrible to them in this story. So make sure you've got your tissues locked and loaded!
DF: Talk about the awesome art of Val Halvorson.
Justin Richards: There's a LOT to love about Val's art, but I would say that my favorite part about working with him so far has been how much he clearly just gets what this story is about. His designs for Wes and Sadie came out exactly how I pictured them in my head. He and I have a lot in common and I think that extends to what we like to see in art. Every page Val turns in is flawless! I've given him exactly one note on this book to date and it was a misspelled word on a sign, so yeah he's been killing it! I met Val through a mutual comic writing friend and I hired him as a colorist for a personal short story I'm working on, but quickly realized how great he was at drawing when I flipped through his portfolio and was blown away by how cool his style is. I fully believe it's his art that will sell this book on comic shop shelves in 2020. His name is going to become very well known and I'm honored to have him join me for our first series and help introduce the world to his amazing work.
DF: Justin, since being in this industry (and even before) I have known a lot of writers and artists. And just like them -- just like me -- you have battled depression at times. If you care to, would you comment just briefly on that and maybe tell readers who may have that problem what you do to get rid of the funk -- at least as best you can?
Justin Richards: Absolutely! Unlike most people, I don't mind talking about this topic at all. The thing is that's the key that I've found to being able to keep my anxiety and depression somewhat at bay. The best thing is to acknowledge it and not be ashamed of it. It's something that LOTS of us (especially creatives) deal with on a daily basis. There's nothing wrong with being someone who suffers from these afflictions. It's a disease and it's important to identify it and accept the help that people are willing to offer. Doctors, friends, family, acquaintances or even kind strangers can be great sources of relief and it's important to use these sources however you can. Depression and anxiety never go away and the battle can't be won on your own, so don't be afraid to accept or seek out help. One of the best decisions of my life was that this year I decided I wasn't going to lie to my doctor anymore about my depression and let them prescribe medications to help me. It's still a work in progress, but I feel better than I've felt in a long time thanks to my willingness to admit the truth about my depression.
DF: Good for you, buddy! Thank you. … What other projects in which you are involved can you tell our readers about?
Justin Richards: I've got lots of stuff in the works, all at various stages of development, all of which I can't really give details on aside from letting you know that I'm planning to dip my toes in lots of different genres including fantasy, horror, comedy, action and more sad kids!
The one story I can give you some information on ties into your previous question actually. I've been developing and producing my own short horror story that deals with themes of anxiety and depression. It will feature a number of incredibly talented artists. It's called A Silent Night and I've partnered with the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) in hopes of spreading awareness about these afflictions. It's five pages of silent story and five pages of sketches that reflect the themes. While it will initially only be available directly from me or the other talented artists involved with the project, I'm hoping I'll have it ready for sale around the same time that Finger Guns is hitting comic shops in February with more printings to follow as demand deems it.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Justin Richards for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Finger Guns #1 from Vault Comics hits stores in February 26th!
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