By Jason Karlson
"I was born to serve as a cog in a machine, a terrible and awful machine"
With just under four days left, there is still time to back artist John Mueller's latest Kickstarter project to fund his comic, Oink. His grim and gritty tells the story of Oink, a pig man who resides in a city under the control of religious zealots who control his kind in a hellish Orwellian fashion. Described by the artist as a comic taking in many elements of his own experiences with the education system and how it's often difficult for anyone who doesn't fit the strict mould set out by it. The story of Oink is obviously very personal to the artist as it uses the extended allegory of the school system and takes it to screeching extremes making it both nightmarish and brutal.
First published over twenty years ago, Mueller has spent the last five years working the brutal and oppressively gloomy artwork for the new hardback Icon edition of his comic and from the from the samples shown on the Kickstarter, has developed into a much more confident artist with more ambitious panel composition. Oink is now 200% funded and with the success the artists hopes to fund the second and third volumes of his long running, which Mueller has "had mapped out in my head for the better part of 20 year", of the series next year.
I caught up with Mueller over email to ask him about this long-running project.
John Mueller: I began working on Oink in 1992. I had become interested in comics after reading Sin City, Judgement on Gotham, and Tell Me Dark. These were the three books that made me realize that I needed to be making graphic novels. I didn't really think of myself as a 'writer' but I wanted to tell a story. The thing that everyone will tell you about writing is to write a story that is personal to you.
Oink is really a story about my experience in the public education system, which I referred to as the Public Slaughterhouse, a system where children's dreams go to die. We all start out with these great ambitions as young kids and by the time the system is done with us we are trained to make practical career choices and not swing for the fences. What happened to being an astronaut, a president, or a scientist?
The system seemed to be designed to set me up for failure. I was bright, but I was not a math or science kid. I was artistic and a creative problem solver type, but nothing in the system seemed to value that very much. I received a lot of negative feedback at that time, and my grades were pretty terrible. I also had a hard time being contained in a chair for long periods of time, and I'm still that way today. I need to get up and move, moving helps me think and be creative. I spent most of my adolescent years believing what they were saying- that I was a failure. I would put myself in the desk for 8 hours a day and go home really sad and depressed. It's like training wheels for a prison if you aren't really succeeding isn't it? People say 'well that's the real world.' Is it? Is that what we're teaching, obedience and apathy?
It really messed with my head at that age. Fast forward to Art School and I instantly became a 4.0 student and began feeling confident about my prospects in life. Why did I have to go through 12 years of feeling like a failure? I was just a round peg being jammed repeatedly into a square hole year after year. Under the surface, Oink is about that experience. The bad guy is my guidance counselor who hounded me to NOT go to art school, he told me I was going to ruin my life.
JK: You also mention forging your own path as a theme of your work, since you started the original Oink, do you think there are a lot more routes for people wanting to get their work out there on their own terms?
JM: If this campaign proves anything, it's that if you have a vision for your life, there is a way to make it happen in today's world. I honestly never would have thought even a year ago that I would be as busy as I am with Skyshine and OINK, both crowd-funded, creator-owned projects and both doing really well within their respective fields. When I started out over 20 years ago none of this existed…meaning the internet. It's amazing how quickly it has evolved, always seeming to make it easier for people to connect and find things they are interested in. So if you are a niche kind of artist like me this is the best it's ever been.
JK: The project, redrawing Oink has taken a while and must have started before Kickstarter was even around, at what point did you know it was the perfect project for a Kickstarter, and what was the original plan to publish the new edition before this?
JM: When I started, I didn't know what this project would be, there was no plan, just this desire to get back to my foundation. I just knew that I needed to do it. The original publisher had gone out of print and I was regularly hearing from fans who were asking me what was going on with the book. I started the remastering project in 2010, so I think Kickstarter was pretty new at the time. Kickstarter is the perfect venue for an artist like me, because backers look at not only your art, but also your story. My story is a comeback story and people seem to like those, at least I do.
JK: Did any parts of the story change in the time between the original and this version?
JM: Yes, I added quite a bit, and altered a lot of elements to set the foundation for the series going forward. OINK is connected to a larger world that I created called BEDLAM, which is sort of my own post-apocalyptic universe. My indie video game company Skyshine is producing a game set in that world…albeit a totally bonkers version. You can see the game on our website: www.gobedlam.com The game has mutants, marauders, Cyborgs, futuristic tech cities, and bizarre cults brought up in the ashes of our world…it's like all the stuff I loved as a kid.
JK: This edition also features radically revised artwork, what lead to this decision after all this time? Were you worried about the reaction from fans of the original comic, and how do you feel about revised and edited comics in general?
JM: I love this edition; this is truly me as a fully evolved artist. I created the first book when I was 22 and I don't mind saying that I was wearing my inspirations on my sleeve- Simon Bisley, Ted McKeever, and Bill Sienkiewicz. This new edition is really all me, for better or for worse. I wanted to update the book to reflect my growth as an artist. It kills two birds with one stone, I get to put OINK back in print and I get to show people who I am today. Most of the fans of the original series that I have talked to have been very supportive of this remastered edition. Regarding the idea of rebooted comics, I think when it is the original creator, I like it, but when it is for corporate interests I am not a fan.
JK: When you first started this, did you imagine it would be over 200% funded within the first few weeks, or did you have more down to earth expectations of it?
JM: I had pretty low expectations, I mean I was hoping it would resonate with people but it's a dark science, these crowd funding campaigns…there's really no telling. I'm ecstatic about the Kickstarter community embracing the project as it has, since OINK has always been a bit of a loner in comics. He just doesn't fit into any genre or mold so I think the big comic news sites like CBR don't know what to do with it, and it's hard to stand out in a comic shop unless you are a monthly series…so Kickstarter…let's do this!
JK: Your Kickstarter pitch mentions plans for the next two arcs of the Oink story as stretch goals, do you think you'll find it strange to spend years on the first one, and suddenly be able to start work on the next two very soon after this one? Will those too be kickstarted when completed?
JM: I'm hoping to do another campaign for the sequel of Blood & Circus in 2016. These books require a lot of dedication and focus, so if I am able to do another book, I definitely want to produce it in a shorter time frame, but more of a full-time focus. I'm REALLY excited about its direction because it's going to be so over-the-top with post-apocalyptic monsters for OINK to contend with. He will join a travelling circus with a bunch of freaks from Bedlam, so you can imagine it's a great setting for some fun art and characters.
JK: Oink obviously features pigs, why do you think pigs are so often used in fiction like this?
JM: Pigs are probably most well known for their gluttony, just rolling in mud and being really fat and not giving a crap about anything but their own happiness. They are short-sighted, and can be devious to get what they want. I think it's why they are so often used as an allegory for the fat successful politician or corporate CEO. With OINK, it's more about the ignorant and misunderstood aspects of these animals. I sort of see the 'masses', of which I am one, as these misunderstood animals. The gluttonous fat cats think we're all mindless consumers and they can do whatever they want to us and we'll take and it and ask for more. When you look at the world it's hard to not see the truth in that, but we all have a choice to 'live the change we want to see in the world.' I'm trying to do that in my own life and it's been a rewarding experience. I don't really spend much time trying to change the world around me but more of what's going on inside myself. I'm happy for people who find happiness, and I want to help those who are struggling. I think that's why I enjoy teaching art and working with young artists too.
Find Oink's Kickstarter here.
We know only two things for certain of Jason Karlson; that he was born on the wagon of a traveling show to Latverian parents, and that tales of his origins are wholely fictional. His writing style is pithy and insightful, with hints of oak and red berry, finished with earthy tones and somber notes. If he were to describe himself in a single word it would likely be self-deprecating. He occasionally tweets over at @marfedfolf and rambles on at marfedblog.wordpress.com.