Interview: Johnnie Christmas Lights Up the Beautiful World of FIREBUG

“What if I lived at the foot of an active volcano?” Comic book creator Johnnie Christmas uses this question for the basis of a rich world he has created in Firebug. He has not only created a fascinating world but also it’s religion, gods, culture, and fantastic looking creatures. It’s creators like Johnnie Christmas or J.R.R. Tolkien that put so much work into a story before writing that draws readers into it successfully. Firebug collects a serialized story that was first published in Island magazine as well as adding new content to the story. I had the opportunity to find out more about Johnnie’s creative process.

Chris Campbell: What is the significance of the title Firebug?

Johnnie Christmas: It’s vernacular for one that starts fires, but I think it’s just a fun and punchy title. I thought it would be a more relatable title than “The Rise of the Volcano Goddess” or some such.

CC: Was Firebug inspired but a question inside of you or theme that you wanted to discuss or is it a story idea that you had.

JC: “What if I lived at the foot of an active volcano?” was the question.  What kind of culture would grow in the shadow of it? Which began an investigation of cultures that do live near volcanoes. From Indonesia, to Iceland to Hawaii.

CC: There are so many different types of cultures, societies, and eras represented in the lands around Azar. How were you able to so successfully merge them all together artistically?

JC: Somehow the combinations felt instinctually “right”. Who knew punks and Venice would work together visually?  Same thing with ancient Timbuktu and Angkor Wat.

Funny, I never doubted they would work, but then, I live inside my own head.

CC: The people and creatures of Azar have a very contemporary way of speaking as well as make use of many different modern tools. Why did you choose this blending of ancient with modern?

JC: We merge the ancient and the contemporary all the time. At the ruins of the Acropolis, someone is probably at trying to find cell reception right now. Our past is still very much present. I wanted to investigate that idea some with Firebug. Where part of the “fantasy” in this fantasy world is the possibility that past, isn’t so far away. So close, in fact, that it can very much be present. I thought that could be fun to see.

CC: Being both writer and artist on a project must have a lot of benefits, but can it also be harder in some ways? Have you ever had to go back and rewrite a part of the story because of something you decided to change while drawing or vice versa?

JC: Oh hell yeah! There were definitely spots that were rewritten and reworked. Especially when FIREBUG moved from being planned as an episodic ISLAND story to a graphic novel in its own right. The scope changed and the story got “bigger”. Storylines got tweaked and some B plots were thrown out entirely. In the end, the book is stronger for it.

CC: Is Azar a microcosm of Earth and it’s inhabitants: constantly living in the face of annihilation?

JC: This is not the first time that’s been pointed out. So perhaps there’s something to that. I’m totally fine with readers interpreting the work, finding their own meaning. But as for how I intended it? No. I was thinking of it at a far more intimate scale.

CC: I heard you mention before that one of the inspirations for the lands of Firebug are ship breaking yards. I was wondering if you could talk more about this and why in particular the yards influenced you?

JC: I’ve always thought they were interesting places, and the endeavor daunting: low tech disassembly of massive ships. The whole enterprise is visually breathtaking. However, the pollutants that come out of the ships aren’t safe for the people living and working there.

CC: The religion that you created for Firebug is very detailed and seems like it could be a real thing. How much of it did you actually develop or did you just create what was needed for the story.

JC: Oh yeah, I developed it quite a bit. Lines of succession, splinter sects, reformations, etc. I needed to understand the Third Wave. What made Adria have her Martin Luther moment and split from the main religion and form her own group. To understand how hard it was from her to break from the Cult of the Goddess. To then take the steps she takes as the story unfolds, further into the unknown. Then there’s the Cult of the Goddess and their backstory…

CC: Why do you think that most of humanity seeks to control their gods instead of live under them.

JC: If the god doesn’t serve a purpose to the believer, then the god is discarded; no longer believed. Deities work within a context. In time, old gods are replaced with ones that speak more directly to the needs, hopes and anxieties of the present moment. In six thousand years who knows what people will worship, or what adaptations current religions will have to make to stay relevant. I do think there will be something people will worship. Someone or something to appeal to, in the hopes that it will intervene on your behalf against hardships that can feel arbitrary and unending.

CC: Do you have further plans for this world? What do you think Keegan is going to find in the world as she explores it?

JC: I’ll see what reader response is, but I’m hopeful! I have more stories that I’d like to tell in this world.

Look for the Firebug trade paperback to release from Image Comics on March 7, 2018.

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