STARBURST: What is Bust?
Dave Cook: Bust is an apocalyptic comic series that draws influence from games like Fallout and The Last of Us, as well as the Mad Max movies series. It relegates standard tropes of the genre - such as zombies (or mutants in our case) to the background and puts the people first. It stars a crooked card dealer from Las Vegas called Jack, who flees his home on the strip with his wife and son as a deadly plague sweeps America.
As the unwritten laws of decent society collapse around them, Jack and his family find themselves in Austin, Texas, which has become a fortified dictatorship ruled by eccentric billionaire Eddie Scott. Needless to say, Eddie is a bad guy and has become drunk with power, so when Jack crosses him the wrong way, he ends up imprisoned in an arena where he must fight wave after wave of mutant freaks to pay off his debt.
It's dark and violent with a high death count, but we still push all of that to the back and focus on the human stories in this dangerous new world. For example, Jack starts off as an out of shape, slimy con-man, but over time becomes a hardened warrior who is almost unrecognisable by the last pages. It's a story of transformation and how the downfall of civilisation has changed people's lives irreparably.
Our elevator pitch for Bust: Issue #1 is 'Mad Max meets Fight Club,' which I think gives an accurate idea of what readers can expect. Chris and I have been blown away by the strong critical response so far (and thanks again to STARBURST for such great praise!), so we wanted to up our game for Issue #2.
Why Wasteland Ronin?
Wasteland Ronin is the subtitle for Bust: Issue #2, and it was chosen by our Kickstarter backers after we polled them online. The name implies a few things about the issue, such as our move away from the grimy claustrophobia of Austin, to the rotten expanses of America's wasteland. The issue opens ten years after we last saw Jack, and the world is almost unrecognisable now.
Jack is in a really dark place when we re-join him and is still racked with guilt over all the terrible things he's done over the years. He finds it hard to let go and spends his days hunting raiders and thugs who make the lives of others a misery. I'm a big fan of samurai films and Asian cinema in general - particularly Zatoichi - which tells the story of an old wandering swordsman without a master (a 'Ronin') who helps resolve conflict wherever he goes, before moving on to the next place.
So that's where the Ronin part of the name comes from, but what we'd like readers to consider - as they see Jack travel across the southern states (or 'The Free South') as they're now called - is that it was Jack who opened the floodgates on Austin and ushered in the new age of anarchy and madness we see throughout the issue. He sparked a revolution, but it got out of hand, and now he spends his days trying to put it right.
Or is it that he's now the obsolete one, trying to get things back to the way they were, when really it's the world that's outgrown him? This is something we're really keen to get people thinking about throughout the issue. It's dark, violent and far broader than before with a constant chase running throughout - more like Mad Max: Fury Road than Beyond Thunderdome, for example.
Why do we still find stories about Gladiators so interesting?
I think there's something endearing and legendary about just how fearless real-life gladiators appeared. They didn't seem to fear death - although it was only a matter of time before they'd lose their life in the Coliseum - and seeing someone fight for their freedom is a story trope we can easily get behind - especially if the character is someone we can relate to.
Jack's not exactly a good person however, but I think anyone who has read the first issue will agree - he's already been through enough, and doesn't really need to prove anything else to anyone - but he just can't let things go so easily. There's a little bit of anxiety to his character, which is something I can relate to as a total worrier. Hopefully by the end of our second issue you will want Jack to earn peace, but we're not going to go that easy on him just yet!
Are horror comics back?
I don't think they necessarily went away, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC's upcoming slate have definitely brought a new generation and demographics around to the idea of the classic 'capes and tights' image of superhero comics - which is great to see, because the more readers the better. But yeah, I think horror comics did take a back seat for a while.
There are a few comic creators I've met while selling Bust: Issue #1 at conventions who are making horror comics, such as Janine Van Moosel and James McCulloch who make the superb City of Lost Souls series, and I also contributed a short story to a great new horror anthology called The Grime, which also turned to Kickstarter for funding - to name a few projects. If horror's your bag, you don't have to look far to find some truly outstanding indie gems out there in comic-land.
How have the public responded to issue one?
Incredibly well, which just blows my mind. Bust: Issue #1 was my first independent comic release, so to get off to such a great start just feels insane. But we've quickly met and started speaking with a lot of great artists and writers from across the UK who all had very kind things to say about our work, and it's opening up all kinds of new opportunities, such as conventions (we're now booked up until April!), and new projects, such as my Dark Souls-inspired series Vessels, which will launch in 2016 with art from the incredibly talented Rafael Desquitado Jr in San Diego.
Chris and I don't respond too well to praise - as we're both beardy self-deprecating types, but we're still getting people sending us photos of themselves reading our first issue, telling us how much they enjoyed it and that they can't wait for the second issue. We simply can't thank everyone enough for the feedback, but for the sake of balance, we did have a few people say that the ending of issue #1 felt rushed, which is an entirely fair comment.
I think at the time we didn't know if we'd ever get a chance to make a second issue, so we ended the first one with a resolution that could be continued if there was demand. I'm currently writing issue #3, and there will be plenty of flashbacks throughout the arc that give more insight into the time period we skipped over, including some pretty telling throwbacks to issue #1 that I think fans will really dig.
So in short, the response has been nuts, and I guess this means we're proper comic-makers now? Maybe? I don't know, but it feels brilliant!
Do you have anything else planned?
I've got a few things in the pipeline yeah. Next on the slate is my short horror story Killer be Killed in James McCulloch's Kickstarter anthology The Grime, which is a quick three-pager with a twist, and I'm also working with Rafael on Vessels #1 - which is currently in production. You can find us on Facebook for art and previews - we just revealed our work-in-progress cover for the issue and will unveil more towards the end of the year.
I'm also taking up a writer spot in a new sci-fi comic series that features a shared universe, set here in the UK. I'll be writer of one series within that universe, but I can't say any more on that just yet. Finally, I'm also writing a new book called The Faceless, which is set here in my native Edinburgh and is currently in the concept planning phase with a truly outstanding art team. It's a near-future graphic novel that I hope to announce properly in 2016, so keep an eye out for that one too. Bust really has opened up so many doors, so I want to say a sincere thank you again to everyone who backed our first issue and made this all possible.
Why Kickstarter? Is it the future of indie comics?
I'm not sure if Kickstarter is the future or if it's just one of those cyclical things that might phase out to make way or something bigger and better. Time will tell I suppose, but for indie creators it presents a viable route to market where the classic publisher model often feels walled-off. I don't know many comic creators - in my very limited experience - who have a publisher deal, and in fact many creators I've spoken with would rather keep 100% creative control of their work, so I guess that's another bonus of Kickstarter.
I love the format personally, but I think anyone considering it should be prepare to PR the hell out of yourself if you want to make it work. Set up previews with every comic site you know of, reach out to friends, call in favours, spam social networks and get the word out there as best as you can. For the few weeks your Kickstarter campaign is live - it's pretty much a full time job on top of your full time job, so be prepared, speak with others who have done it (even me, I'm always happy to chat on Twitter or Facebook) and you'll be fine.
You can support the Kickstarter campaign here: www.kickstarter.com/projects/bust/bust-2-wasteland-ronin