Interview: Rafael Medina

Rafael Medina is a pretty talented fellow. He plays lead guitar in The Anderson Council, but he’s probably best known as the writer/artist of Suicide For Hire, a comic about a couple high school kids who start their own extra-curricular business — helping their classmates (and others) commit suicide. The tone of the strip’s changed a bit — the initial clients had pretty trivial reasons to off themselves, though more recent clients get into trickier moral territory. No worries, though — the strip hasn’t turned all last-seasons-of-M*A*S*H or anything; it’s still pretty hilarious (assuming you’ve got a dark sense of humor). If you couldn’t tell from the topic, the strip’s not for everybody — but if you can laugh at morbidity and cartoon violence, you might dig it. I got to talk to Rafael about his strip, his band, and why despite what folks might think, he’s not a furry.

Part the First

At this moment in time, what is your favorite song?

Rafael Medina: Seeing as I’m on a really heavy thrash metal kick at the moment, I’m gonna have to say Megadeth’s “Holy Wars… the Punishment Due.” Depending on what kick I’m on, though, it can switch between the aforementioned, Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” or Joe Satriani’s “Surfing With The Alien.” Those three constantly replace each other in that most coveted of spots, but at this time I gotta go with the ‘Deth.

What’s your favorite band that you don’t think a lot of people would have heard of?

Rafael Medina: The Jelly Jam. Combining the talents of King’s X, Dream Theater, and the Dixie Dregs all together in one greatly underappreciated aurally awesome trio, this band kicks ass in ways that only a group of their diverse makeup can. There are few albums that grabbed me as quickly as their second effort, and I await the day these guys put out a third album.

I also believe I would be remiss in my duties if I did not make mention of my deep and abiding love for all things Midnight Syndicate as well. Not necessarily a band, per se, but this duo of composers and the creepy sonic atmospheres they create really help to stir my creative side into action. Not for everyone, for sure, and definitely some might wonder why I listen to such music at any other time than Halloween, but I have always been a fan of spooky music, and few do it as well as the Syndicate.

I cannot forget to mention the Liquid Hips and Ferrum, two nigh-unknown musical acts. The Hips were a now-defunct east coast rock act, with somewhat of a Beastie-Boys feel about their sound, but more focused on guitar and the rock sound where BB are into that hip-hop vibe. The lyrics could be cheesier than the music at times, but by the third album the lyrical skill definitely caught up with the sound, which had moved to a notably more heavy metal feel. And Ferrum, which is a name carried by more than one act, is for me forever associated with a local (and sadly defunct) classic thrash metal act whose work reminded me of the most refined and focused efforts of your Bay Area Thrash acts – Megadeth, Metallica, Testament, etc. I loved their stuff so much that, once they broke up, I proved the depths of my pathetic devotion by doing perhaps the world’s first cover of a local band’s song.

What, if anything, is on any particular wall (your choice) in your domicile?

Rafael Medina: Music and movie posters, including a personally signed Guitar World poster of my guitar idol, Joe Satriani.

What’s the strangest thing you own?

Rafael Medina: Probably the custom prop lightsaber I forged out of plumbing parts when I was bored one summer not too long ago. It was the bastard child of an obsession with both the Star Wars and Legend of Zelda universes. Yes, I AM that big of a geek.

Of the things you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite (however you want to interpret that, be it artistic works, actions, whatever)?

Rafael Medina: Though I do love my creations, and I have many experiences that rank in my top fondest memories, my favorite thing is to put on a great rock show with lots of people present who appreciate the style of music you’re doing. That feeling of ecstasy is the greatest on earth, from having people bum-rush the stage during a cover of Judas Priest or Danzig, to having the admiring audience members mere inches away air guitar along with your own originally-composed solo, that top-of-the-world feeling I have not been able to reproduce in any other fashion. At least not yet. It’s addictive, and the worst part is the next morning, when you go from feeling like a god to when you report to work and are reminded that you’re still just a regular schmuck.

Who’s your favorite visual artist (excluding yourself)?

Rafael Medina: Salvador Dali. To have not only the visual acuity to express his art in such great detail, but the ability to wrap it all into a big surrealist package is talent worthy of admiration, and in my case envy.

What are the five most recent films you’ve seen?

Rafael Medina: The five most recently released films I’ve seen, or just the last five? I’m going to presume that the question pertains to the latter option:

1. Hellboy II: The Golden Army

2. Hot Fuzz

3. Idiocracy

4. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

5. Speed Racer

What’re your top three movies?

Rafael Medina: The Indiana Jones tri-turned-quadrilogy. But in order to mix it up just a bit:

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (and the rest of the Indy series)

2. The Empire Strikes Back (and the rest of the original trilogy)

3. Pulp Fiction

Do you own any original artwork, and if so, whose?

Rafael Medina: No I don’t, excluding my own illustrations.

What is your favorite game?

Rafael Medina: Resident Evil 4. Wii Edition was just the icing on an already scrumptious cake of gory goodness.

What sort of pie do you enjoy?

Rafael Medina: Most pies which are delicious and ones in which the ingredients won’t give me an allergic reaction and kill me are welcome to fill my stomach; however, the supreme sovereign of all things pie would be lemon meringue.

If you could say one thing to David Byrne, what would it be?

Rafael Medina: Where is that large automobile?

Describe some horrible/otherwise amusing local commercials.

Rafael Medina: I’m not big on watching a whole lot of local television, as there’s little that grabs my attention, and as far as news programming goes locally, there ain’t a whole lot going on that’s particularly interesting – in fact, when a mountain lion came down and devoured some couple’s Chihuahua, instead of running it as a funny piece on how the dog was chased by the cat our local paper ran it as front page news and seemed intent on inciting a mountain lion scare throughout the city.

However, there are still other ways local commercials attempt to penetrate my brain, and my fondness for moviegoing allows those pre-preview advertisements to be aired in all their low-budget, cheezy glory. Among my most hated is a commercial for what has got to be the worst Chinese restaurant in town, 5 Brothers Chinese Cuisine. I think it’s still in business only because it’s located across the street from the university, and being a former college student myself, I know how lazy and indiscriminating I could get about nutrition. It probably helps that this place is cheap and piles on the food.

But I digress. The commercial features probably the worst freshman-student-in-high-school-grade computer animated characters, in both structure and animation. That and the horrendous video production choices, from the makes-your-eyes-watery-with-pain color choices to the first-generation-home-video grain makes you wonder not only how much the restaurant paid for such a caliber of work, but if there was any sort of quality control or accountability to be held along the way, and who exactly approved of the final product.

Add on top of that the worst kind of arrhythmic, off-key rap about food to which you may ever be privy, and you may very well end up leaving the theater with one more brain hemorrhage than you came with.

One that’s just outright bad in production but amusing in execution would be one of the state’s Pro-Abstinence commercials that are aired in attempt to get New Mexico off the top five ranks in teen pregnancy nationally, as it seems people are so starved of imagination they feel they’ve nothing to do except turn to drugs and fornicate. Regardless, the individuals they’ve chosen to tout the wonders of an abstinent life and justify their so-called “choice” are amusing. They’re the type of people who did not “choose” abstinence, nay, abstinence chose them; they are doomed to it. You can see the hopeless emptiness in their desperate eyes as they lie to the camera and fool nobody… not even themselves.

What are your five most favorite books in the world?

Rafael Medina: 1. Big Trouble – Dave Barry

2. Tricky Business – Dave Barry

3. Freaky Deaky – Elmore Leonard

4. 1984 – George Orwell

5. Animal Farm – George Orwell

With an honorable mention to Dr. Seuss’ Fox in Socks.

What is the most boring thing you’ve ever experienced?

Rafael Medina: Probably this presentation in High School called Every 15 Minutes. It was this scare tactic against drunk driving wherein the organizers placed a horrendously wrecked pair of cars on the front lawn of the school, and had some student actors in hastily applied makeup stumble out of it, and others lying about it with strategically visible wounds. It was intended to be gory, with some limbs sticking out of the metal tangle, but it came off as incredibly cheap and ham-fisted. To finish, an ambulance arrived on-scene, covered the bodies with white sheets, and ended up carting one actor off in the ambulance. Then they rushed everyone inside for the purportedly “gripping” part of the half-day presentation.

The school day continued as normal, except that every fifteen minutes, there would play this sound clip – intended to be frightening – of an EKG going flatline. At this point, some height-endowed student would don a grim reaper’s robe and escort a pre-selected student out of the classroom. This continued until lunchtime. During chow, there was much talk of how creepy and enlightening the first part of the presentation was, and how some people swore this would drive them away from drinking permanently. Funny, seeing as we were in high school, and yet there were already so many known, raging alcoholics. But then again, our state was ranking fourth in the nation in DWIs, and there’s so little to do in our city that the unimaginative have to resort to getting stoned, drunk, or pregnant (or all three simultaneously) to pass the time, so it really comes as no surprise.

Near the end of the day, they herded the entire student body to the gym to have a special presentation on the consequences of driving while intoxicated, stating the statistic that every fifteen minutes someone is killed due to drunk drivers in the United States (completely neglecting to mention that it’s inaccurate; more people are killed during the night hours at a much swifter rate, it merely averages out in a twenty-four hour period to fifteen minutes). This part was the most boring thing I have ever experienced in my life.

First off, I already knew the consequences of DWIs. The stats are everywhere, and quite frankly if you manage to get to the high school age without realizing jut how incredibly stupid it is, then it’s gonna take more than cheap scare tactics to make one realize the inherent dangers. Yet here comes the statisticians coming and giving us facts and numbers that we’ve all known for years, and here come the parents and survivors of victims of DWI deaths. I felt for them, I honestly did, but it was all too much in one day. I’ve seen and heard the testimony of so many unfortunate family members that all the MADD and SADD and RADD presentations honestly have no effect anymore. So to further perpetuate the stats by attempting to ram it down our throats is much like bouncing a superball against a concrete wall. Yes, I already know better – to this day I don’t drink, and that was a personal choice I made since before I got into high school – but those who don’t probably won’t until they themselves are involved in a wreck.

So there goes about an hour of otherwise potentially productive time down the toilet. Then for the last part of the presentation, they herded in the students that were carted off during the day, in white and black face makeup, dressed in all black to represent their being “dead.” Whilst they were out being dead, they were made to have an even more focused assault of stats thrown at them, while having to write an obituary for themselves and their parents to read. Then they were paraded into the gym to have their at times poorly worded and inappropriately sentimental eulogies read aloud. Some were heaving and sobbing, while their bereaved parents stood by their sides and gave them moral support. The whole time, I couldn’t help but think how beautifully hypocritical it would be to see half of the newly enlightened stumbling around shitfaced even as soon as prom; it was a prediction about which I hoped I was wrong, but come prom a mere month-and-a-half later, it might have seemed a case of clairvoyance to see how right I was.

So for the whole daylong event, I couldn’t help but think how old and tired the facts were, how ineffective the fear-mongering presentation was, and how the hypocrites were preaching to the congregation. It made for a very cynical and bored day, seeing as my dad at that point had recently come out of knee surgery and there was much I could have done during that wasted day to help him out at the house. So whereas people are learning lessons they were gonna forget the moment someone dangled a cup of jungle juice in front of them, I was busy making MST3K-like snarks during the entire day. It was uninspired, unoriginal, and worst of all, uninteresting, and yet had at least seven hours dedicated to it. To slip into a coma for that time stretch would have proved a more interesting, and arguably more productive, use of my time.

If you could name a child anything in the world, what would it be?

Rafael Medina: If I could get away with it, I would name my children after some of the most taboo biblical individuals – Judas, Delilah, Lucifer (I’d call him Luke for short), Lillith – and bring them up to be the most upright, accomplished people I could make them. Kind of like a Boy Named Sue, they work past their names to show that it’s not the moniker one carries, but the person behind it. Of course, they’d think I did that to them because I didn’t like them, but that’s simply not true – if I didn’t, I’d give them names like Eugene, Skyler, Apple, and Pilot Inspektor; not that there’s anything WRONG with those names, I just happen to hate them.

Other than that, perhaps I’d name a boy Vengeance, and a girl Aja. Not like there’s any chance in hell of me getting to name anyone that, either. I believe there are constitutional amendments against such things.

What would be a better weapon, a gun that fires dogs or a gun that fires cats?

Rafael Medina: Depends on the context. What type of dogs and cats? If we’re talking German Shepherds and housecats, then gimme the former. However, if we’re talking projectile Chihuahuas and other such useless miniature canids versus ill-tempered Tigers, Jaguars and Leopards, then definitely the latter.

However, the most useful weapon would be an even bigger gun that fires all four of these types of guns as projectiles, which fire whilst they are still flying through the air.

What is your favorite meal?

Rafael Medina: My favorite meal is one I’ve not yet had the joy to experience yet, but one glorious day I shall. It will consist of one part medium-rare steak, one part king crab with an assortment of cooked and fried shrimp, another part spaghetti with meatballs, finished with a slice of chunky-tomatoed-Chicago-style-deep-dish pizza with a side of both French fries and Panda Express Orange Chicken. It shall be so delicious that I cannot handle the sheer amounts of culinary awesome and will die of a massive heart attack. Or maybe that’ll be due to the fat and grease in such a delectable dinner.

Seriously, I love each of the above named foods all equally, so any meal dealing with any one of the above would constitute my favorite meal. And I am aware that such a clashing of tastes and flavors sounds more unappealing at this moment than it does irresistible, but a man can dream, dammit! A MAN CAN DREAM!

What is reality?

Rafael Medina: Reality is what one perceives it to be. I have to agree with a statement Stephen Colbert once made about reality being the perception most people agree upon. I don’t particularly like that definition, but upon reflection, it’s frightening how true it is. Any two people may perceive the same things, but a third person may see or hear things that the others don’t, but to them it’s as real as the sun, sky, and the earth. But the majority doesn’t agree that the illusions are real, so the third is deemed insane because their reality does not agree with that of the majority.

Not that the majority was wrong, but it just goes to show you that if most people believe it to be true, then it is so, even when there is proof to the opposite. Look at how early cartographers and astronomers were treated if they were to suggest that the earth was not flat and the universe was heliocentric; the majority agreed them to be wrong, and it took years to get people to come around to the facts, which some select few still choose to ignore. It will be interesting to see how our perceptions will change if we were to discover some indisputable fact which is counter to current trains of thought, and the societal circus that will surely ensue to attempt to get it to fit in with a current train of thought wherein it clearly doesn’t fit will be deliciously entertaining and equally frustrating.
Part the Second

What was the genesis of Suicide For Hire?

Rafael Medina: Suicide For Hire started as an idea way back in the worst month of my life, September 2001, and I was a senior in High School. It wasn’t bad enough that mere days after I turned 18, the attacks of September 11 happened; a little more than two weeks later, my godbrother – less than two years my junior – decided that life wasn’t worth living anymore, and opted to terminate his own existence. The reasons he gave were that the girl who had fleeting and superficial interest in him decided that he wasn’t worth her trouble because he had been grounded, and rightfully so by my godparents, and thus could not hang around with her late nights for a short period of time. My godbrother was very fond of this girl, who did not care for him in any way to the degree he cared for her – why does it always have to play out like this?

When I found out, I was hurt and lost, wondering what if anything I could have done to have changed the outcome. I thought I knew the feeling of being crushed and defeated before, but no – this unequivocally defined those emotions for me. And if I felt that way, then there was no way I think I could ever imagine the hurt, loss, and sorrow his parents felt over his death. And the more I thought of that, and all the hell he had put me through, only to imagine the loss of his mother, father, and sisters, I became angry.

How could he have been so selfish? How could he put everyone who ever loved him through that kind of anguish? Why couldn’t he see the situation and that girl for what it was and who she was? Why did he throw everything he had going for himself – at that moment and for the future – away for the sake of this unrequited lust? Was it worth this bullshit romantic idea of dying for his “love” at the expense of anyone who ever gave a damn about him? Why didn’t he come to us? How could he have been so stupid? How could he have not seen the better way to handle everything? 

And the more and more I thought of it, the angrier and angrier I grew. There was a hurt planted that day that I would never smother. I vowed that everyone I know would know that I cared for them and no matter what, life is always worth living, for yourself and for those who would go to the ends of the earth for you. I sought a way to express all these thoughts, on both the benefits of life and the stupidity of suicide, but did not know how to vent my frustrations until a year or so later.

I was sitting in calculus class the spring semester of my freshman year at the university, and I was attempting to stay awake by doing a little bit of quick illustrations before class. From the back I heard an unidentified classmate – I never bothered to learn names or faces – bitching and moaning about having spent the night prior to class in jail, having lost his car, which didn’t help that he was trying to get over his ex and forgot his textbook on top of all that. Really stupid things that were utterly preventable and completely his fault. Through the years, I had only grown more cynical and sarcastic, and hearing the stupidity of his complaints I couldn’t help but recall how I felt about my godbrother, and if anyone needed to perish so I could think again it should’ve been this idiot sitting behind me. It was then and there that I illustrated my frustrations on a project handout that we had been given a class beforehand. That comic was the first iteration of the very first SFH comic I ever created. It was crude, it was vulgar, and it gave me an outlet for my frustration, and I actually did feel a little better.

Now, I had been working on another comic idea since I had gotten into high school, and it had been festering in my brain for a long time. A short while after producing the first ever SFH, I thought it the perfect opportunity to unfurl my creation when I stumbled upon KeenSpace, which would later become Comic Genesis. However, while signing up for the comic, I realized that I lacked both experience and skill in producing comics. Feeling that I could use a lot of both, I decided that I would produce a “starter comic” to help me get my feet wet. Yanno, practice my characters and anatomy, learn how to keep to a schedule, that whole bit. I decided that I would take the two most disposable characters from that original project and give them their own plot. That plot was Suicide For Hire, and the choice of characters allowed me to let them do pretty much whatever they wanted – they were villains, after all, and ultimately I didn’t care what people thought of the two.

So on a whim, I changed the project, and SFH, which was originally intended to be a much shorter comic than it’s turning out to be, came into existence. Arcturus and Hunter developed established personalities, and as a result I’ve further developed their roles in that aforementioned primary, now secondary, project. And through the viciousness and mercilessness of the two protagonists, I also attempted to highlight the stupidity of the act of suicide. And the more I continued with SFH, the more that the characters have had to say, and so it continues. It also doesn’t hurt that with the continuing plot, I’m getting much, MUCH more practice on all aspects of comickry for future projects.

Do you often get mail from offended readers?

Rafael Medina: Honestly, no – not that I haven’t received any, but the positive responses I get from readers far outweigh and outnumber the negative input. Whether it be from people enjoying the comic to those who are “getting” that I’m actually not advocating rampant self-elimination and am attempting to highlight many alternatives to suicide, I receive more accolades than I do condemnations from readers. And what negative responses I do receive I generally dismiss anyhow, as they have utterly no effect on the comic or how I’m going to go about producing it. I really don’t care if people are offended; if they are, they have every right not to go back to the site.

Was it a conscious decision to move the strip into more serious subjects like euthanasia and spousal abuse?

Rafael Medina: Yes, it was a concerted effort to move the comic in that direction for a few arcs, but I also feel it was a natural and logical progression to follow. The first few clients were focused more on the extreme ludicrousness of their self-destructive desires, with the emphasis on the sadistic glee the characters derived from their extermination. This was more in keeping with my feelings towards my godbrother’s situation, and that no matter how temporarily overwhelming the situation may be, the path he chose is hands down the most selfish and most idiotic way to go. There are so many options open to these individuals, and yet they are so absorbed in their own self-pity and perceived misery that they cannot see the vast alternatives that lay before them, some of them blindingly obvious. But instead of relying on their logic and reasoning, people let the heat of their emotions get the better of them – and it’s a problem for every aspect of society, not merely the suicidal.

However, there’s only so much sociopathic fun that can be enjoyed without examining some other aspects of suicide and the societal culture of death. One thing that gets my goat to this day is the legal ban on euthanasia for the terminally ill whereas abortion is still allowed in the United States. Now I don’t want to vouch one way or another here – this is not particularly the medium for such things – but I do detest the hypocrisy with which both are enforced. So third parties are able to determine whether another life – completely uninformed and with no say in the process – lives or dies, but someone condemned to death via a slow, incurable progressive disease has the option of terminating the last wretched, insufferable days of their agonizing existence denied to them?

So with such kinds of topics in mind, the past three chapters of SFH have pertained to more sympathetic characters, more “victims” of circumstance, than the purposefully less-sympathetic types of personalities that were featured in earlier portions of the comic. However, after this latest chapter, dealing with learned and somewhat newly acquired firsthand experience with the subject. I want to have the victims of these somewhat more undeserved fates explore their options, even if they aren’t necessarily the most publicly acceptable alternatives. However, I’m feeling that I’m slightly further than halfway through with the entire plot at this point, so I’m sensing a return to the somewhat more idiotic clientele after this spousal abuse arc and get the characters back to their unabated joy of stupidity elimination.

As a comic reader, do you have a particular preference on hand- lettering versus typesetting?

Rafael Medina: No, I do not. Though I do appreciate the extra effort put into traditional hand-lettering, it doesn’t necessarily make a difference to me. Unless, of course, the lettering is artistically implemented to accent the action in the panel; then I honestly consider it as critical to the comic as the art itself. But if the lettering is critical of the plot and only incidental to the action, then I really don’t have a preference.

Do you consider yourself involved in the furry subculture? 

Rafael Medina: No, I don’t. Truthfully, I really wasn’t fully aware of the subculture – nor the admittedly disturbing depths of some aspects of it – until after I started the comic. I chose anthropomorphic animals to feature in SFH for two reasons: first, I wanted to avoid such issues as race or ethnicity in the comic and let the societal aspects speak for themselves without hearing backlash such as “well, what are you trying to say about X culture?” “What are you saying about Y race?” I haven’t the patience to deal with people who get stuck simply on such triviality without grasping what I’m trying to convey.

Second, I suck ass when it comes to drawing people. However, because of the choice I made in character design, I automatically got designated by the public at large a furry artist. I suppose I don’t mind the label – I don’t use it and just draw whatever the hell I want. I could go on and on about how labels have destroyed such things as the music industry, where people get criticized for doing what they want but it doesn’t “fit” into its assigned category, but that’s a topic for another comic.

As for the subculture itself, I don’t mind it, but I don’t partake in it either – I haven’t attended a convention, I don’t dress up in the mascot suits, I don’t believe I was born the wrong species, or really do a lot of anything that involves such devotion to the style. But really, except for the lunatic fringe (who I believe HAVE contacted me, and despite my chosen profession and my penchant for drawing ultraviolence, still manage to disturb me, and that may not be something to be proud of) they’re fine by me, they ain’t hurtin’ anybody.

Besides, I recognize that they make up a sizeable portion of my fanbase – so it’s all good. And once I get my printed comic finished up after far-too-long, I’m probably gonna have to go to conventions to sell merch, so who knows? Perhaps I may have to become more involved by the laws of good business etiquette.

How do you choose which character is what animal?

Rafael Medina: When I began the comic, I had a list of characters that I had designated as certain animals not to reflect their more obvious qualities, but more subtle qualities that had to be reflected upon than just their surface characteristics. For example, a character might be portrayed as a lion not because of courage and power, but perhaps more because of their laziness and general lethargy (if one watches even ten minutes of a Discovery Channel special on Africa, one learns that lions are one lazy breed of mofos, lionesses do all the work for them). In the same respect, I would portray someone as a lemming if they were to be misunderstood and prejudiced against (i.e. the myth that lemmings follow each other mindlessly, even to their deaths? Completely fabricated by the Disney Company back in the early days of color television.)

But some plotlines I had not accounted for when I started, and so some characters got arbitrarily assigned animal types based on the fact that I don’t think I’ve drawn enough of them yet. So though I’d like to pretend like I have the foresight to appropriately assign each character its most perfectly fitting creature for its personality, sometimes I get stumped and kinda just toss it on them.

However, the main characters are selected carefully for their particular traits. Hunter, for one, is a fox, crazy like a fox, crafty, cunning, and deceitful, whereas Arcturus is a mouse due to his outspoken yet ultimately timid, callow and weak-willed personality. The main characters – some of whom have appeared, some of whom may not seem to be main characters because they have only been seen in one or less storylines (or in one character’s case, my style evolved so much that the character wasn’t recognized when they returned).

One general suggestion for myself that I follow is that I try not to have predators be put in too negative a light – I feel that generations of clichéd bedtime stories and fairy tales have done enough to disparage these beasts, and I don’t need to slight them any further. Plus I have a soft spot in my heart, or head, for those who feed on the weaker and less… well-prepared species. It’s not the coyote’s fault that rabbits decided to stay smaller than ten feet and not grow a mouth of three rows of razor sharp teeth… complete lack of planning on the species as a whole.

Are there any trends in webcomics that irritate you? What about trends you’d like to see continue?

Rafael Medina: I hate the childish infighting that occurs with comics communities, such as “X has better art / writing / menu system / etc.” and other comics creators citing others’ creations as something “not to do in comics” simply because it’s not the way they’d produce their own. And then the readers are sent out as trolls, agents of the infantile bickering, and kindle the spark of stupidity into a raging blaze of idiocy. I don’t think I’ve been a perpetuator nor a victim of this sort of thing, but as a reader it does irritate me to see them stoop to these grade-school levels of combative interaction. I always liked the idea of a community of artists coming together to celebrate the comic form, but as it stands now many are too myopic and egoistic to embrace that concept, which for now remains an illusion.

Trends I’d like to see continue: Programs like Comic Genesis that allow anyone with an idea and drive produce a comic. I’ve seen some with more elitist ideas seek to implement some sort of Quality control, for which the criteria are known only to them, to prevent material they feel is “inferior” from being broadcast. I mean, if the subject was truly unforgivable – child porn or the illustrated equivalent thereof, for example – I have no problem with that. But for those who are merely seeking a launching pad for their story, it’s extremely discouraging to read those snips and snarks – they seem to forget that they, too, had to start somewhere at some time – why do they feel the need to take that opportunity away from them? So I applaud those who give that opportunity to creators and hope for them a long and prosperous future.

If Arc’s Steely Dan shirt were to somehow disintegrate in the wash, what do you think he’d replace it with? 

Rafael Medina: He’d replace it with one of his reserve Steely Dan shirts, or if he was feeling saucy, simply grab a plain T-shirt and a big thick Sharpie Marker to scrawl “Steely Dan” upon it in his own handwriting. I’m fairly certain he’s got a closet full of them. He’d have to, wearing that big thick trenchcoat in all weather, even in the summer – he’d have to throw it in the wash at the end of every day, it’d probably have all kinds of terrible funk on it by the time he went to sleep. Best to have spares, I say.

Who are your biggest influences in comics?

Rafael Medina: I have a few influences. Art-wise, I’m a huge fan of Mark Bagley and his work on the old Spider-Man comics; his was a striking visual style that was distinct and individual and always very cool to see. But the first comic I ever got into as a little kid, well before the Marvel and DC universes, was Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comics. It was mostly because I was a fan of the games, so I can’t point out any particular favorite writer, but I artistically I was awed by the work of Patrick Spaziante, and long after my subscription ended I still enjoyed the occasional comic penciled by the awesome J. Axer.

Writing wise, I enjoy the style of Kevin Smith, as he is just one of my favorite humans to exist all around, and Frank Miller, though I must admit I never really was aware of his awesomeness until around the time Sin City came out in theaters, so I’m pretty new to his works.

But my biggest influence altogether is probably Jhonen Vasquez. Before discovering his essential Johnny The Homicidal Maniac, I had this preconceived notion that comics were all like the worst elements of third-rate superhero writing; the triumph of good over evil with the corniest of dialogue and infinite loopholes allowing thrice-dead villains to make yet another appearance to battle the overly empowered hero. JTHM changed that for me. It let me know, hey, it’s okay to have dialogue and monologue in comics – they can be whatever you want, more successful formulas be damned. It let me know that a comic can be anything you see fit, whether it be a visually arresting tale of heroism or characters’ introspective musings on existentialism. Certainly there have been other comics that did that for other creators before and since, but JTHM was my own epiphany, and for that I owe a debt of creative gratitude to Jhonen Vasquez.

The strip can be rather graphically violent — do you have any limits on what you wouldn’t show?

Rafael Medina: I figure that, in practice, I’m somewhat like the FCC – I really don’t have a limit on what I’ll show violence wise, though I have in some instances implied a gruesome event with an off-panel action. However, there is one type of self-censorship I readily employ, and that involves the adventures of Hunter sans-pants. That is a conscious, deliberate, and concerted effort to refrain from having SFH even for a moment begin to emulate the efforts of some other illustrators who, as far as I can discern, are only concerned with producing little more than furry porn. Not that it’s wrong for them, mind you – it’s just not something that rocks my boat, and as such I’d rather not have my product be associated with that particular genre. So naughty bits and no-no parts, though very much having their rightful place in comedy, still must be strategically utilized, and even so I think the censorship bubble adds more of a comedic effect still.

Speaking violence wise, my choice of anthropomorphic animals also made it easier for me to depict the comic’s bloodshed, as I think it’s easier for readers to dissociate the action and the character if it’s less humanoid. In addition, like the aforementioned justification, when a character meets a particularly gruesome death, it avoids idiotic implications as to what I mean about a particular race, ethnicity, etc.

So long answer abbreviated: No limit on gore, yes limit on T&A.

How long have you been playing guitar?

Rafael Medina: I actually started playing bass when I was… a junior?… in high school, because my brother played guitar and I figured it was redundant to have two guitarists in the household. However, that changed about a year later, when I first heard Joe Satriani and his unparalleled track, “Surfing with the Alien.” After hearing that, I set a goal for myself: if I could develop as much skill and talent as that man has in one discarded toenail, I would die a happy man. That is still my Everest to this day, to be able to master the song that turned me onto the guitar-playing world.

So about my senior year in high school I donned the axe, and my passion for it soon led me to becoming lead guitar in our band. I love it, and regret that my schedule doesn’t allow for as much playing as I used to have- but then again, back then I didn’t have SFH either.

Does The Anderson Council have any plans to release a record?

Rafael Medina: I’d love to have us release a record – I’ve got tons of music written out, but my problem is that I can’t seem to write lyrics to save my life, and when I do they’re cheesier than a bowl of macaroni with nacho sauce, served a la limburger topped with a puff of Cheez Whiz.

Even so, I can still write some lyrics, and have on quite a few occasions, but I write music a lot faster than I write the words to accompany it.

We’ve released a bunch of demos, and probably have enough material to release a full-blown record; it’s just a matter of having the time to sit down, record, produce, and get some sort of well-polished end product out in the public. We have some recording material at my house, and there is a small amount of semi-professional studios in-town to full-blown pro studios about thirty-five miles east of town, so it’s a game of balancing out what we want with what we can afford.

In addition, we’ll probably have to have at least a name change – The Anderson Council has been swiped by at least two to three other bands in the US. And just when I thought I was being original, too. Damn Wikipedia for destroying my blissful ignorance.

However, I figure I’ll have time for that once I finish at least the first print comic of SFH. So yes, I do have plans for us to have a record published – but for the time being my commitment to the print SFH is taking precedence.

If I recall, you’re in training to be a police officer — do the people you work with know about your strip? 

Rafael Medina: While I was in the academy, I did my damnedest to it be like my time at the university: basically remain anonymous and have everyone know as little about me as possible. Unfortunately, it soon was demonstrated to me that such is not the case in police culture. For instance, before being allowed into the academy, we were subject to an intensive background check, which did include my needing to mention my comic. It probably also didn’t help that my father was a somewhat popular figure in the police department, and was a supervisor to many of the officers who are, in turn, now my supervisors. To put it another way, word got out, and it got out fast.

However, I attempted to keep that fact out of the hands of my academy mates, who did not at that time know my comic existed. However, this too was a futile effort and dashed hope. The detective who did my background check – great guy, mind you, I’ve known him forever – is also a prominent instructor for various subjects, from ethics to crime scene investigation to defensive tactics. During one of the approximately gazillion classes he taught, we were discussing the impact that dealing with death on the job may have on our psyche. There came a point in the lecture when he was stating that it was normal to think about death, and especially in police work and in his own specialty on violent crimes, he thought about it all the time. At that point, a wide smile crept over his face as he turned to face me, sitting in the middle of the room, and said, “Have you told any of these guys about your comic yet?”

They looked at me, puzzled and confused while I did my best to keep my cool, or at least from turning beet-red. Asked to explain what it was all about, I left out some details; for example, I neglected to tell them it featured anthropomorphic animals but did mention that it was a story of two high-school-age assassins who go around killing people.

I didn’t tell them the address or anything; it took them about two weeks before they figured out how to use Google to access it.

So some of my fellow officers know about it that I’m aware of, and anyone who wanted to find out could ask a handful of other people – it isn’t exactly confidential information anymore. However, I do know of a couple of officers who have read and actually enjoy the comic, so that’s actually really cool.

What drew you to that profession?

Rafael Medina: Quite a few factors, some legitimate, others being more geeky. First off, as I mentioned, my father was a police officer here in town, and I was brought up somewhat indoctrinated into the culture. It’s a life I’ve been used to, and though I must admit that starting in the profession myself is new, frightening, and amazing all at the same time, there is a sense of familiarity to it as well.

When going to college, I had three choices in mind in which to major: Art, Criminal Justice, and Electrical Engineering. Art, while I love it to death and can easily die at my desk because I forgot to eat for a week, doesn’t really pay the bills, or at least it wouldn’t for me because I am not NEARLY good enough to be making the kind of money I’d need to live the life I want. There are many, many others out there who can, and kudos to them for that – I just do not have the confidence in my illustrating abilities to rely upon them to bring home the bacon. Plus, when I wanted to major in Art, Disney had just terminated its traditional hand-animation program. And now that I’m already employed, they’ve started it up again, now that I’m already committed. Jerks.

The other, which I devoted my entire high school career to, was engineering. I took the math, did the necessary computer stuff, and when it came to my first semester at the university, I went to the bookstore and picked up my introductory EE book. I opened it up at random, saw some incomprehensible squiggle which I was expected to know by the time I got there, and saw a vision of myself forever cramped at a desk, every day, until the day I retire, getting old and arthritic while my vision slowly escaped from me through countless hours of staring at monitor radiation and tiny diagrams. Though that vision may work for some people, it didn’t work for me. I could not be like the Jedi: I craved adventure, I craved excitement, I craved action, and more than that I craved a career where no two days were the same. That day, I switched my major to Criminal Justice, and that has brought me to where I am now.

It may not come through in my comic, but I have a strong sense of both karmic and social justice: I love to see those who try to work the system at the expense of other innocent people get what’s coming to them. That I could be an agent of that sensibility was an allure I could not resist.

I think of it this way: I am on the front lines of law and order, sworn to uphold the Constitution and ensure that the rights of the innocent are protected while bringing the wrath of lady Justice on those who would choose to victimize the hardworking people of my hometown. I am furthering the cause of the virtuous versus the forces of the wicked in the perpetual struggle of good over evil, protecting law-abiding citizens from those who would seek to do them harm for their own selfish gains. Or at least I tell myself that to make the more mundane things like writing tickets for seat belt violations seem much more epic.

Now, the geeky reasons I became a police officer:

1.) Get experience, work for the FBI and get assigned to the X-Files. Find out who really killed Kennedy and tell the world before my certain assassination.

2.) Preparation for the possible zombie apocalypse. In Resident Evil (the games – I generally don’t like to admit the movies even exist) all of the survivors are cops during the events of Resident Evil 0-3. And I am not a fan of being eaten, so I’m that much more ready for the end times, when I let the shotgun do the talkin’.

3.) My sense of humor is derived from my dad’s, and as such I was already imbued with the type of humor often associated with police work: a little sadistic, a lot sarcastic, and for our own mental health, very detached from the events we have to deal with. Some aspects of SFH were my adaptations of stories my dad told about being on the streets – and I could always use more story ideas for the comic.

In addition, I can retire in 20 years, so if I’m still pushing around the pencil and digital ink by then, I can go back to school and get my art degree, see if I can’t get a job as an animator after all.

While talking to some of my friends pertaining to my current employment, a horrible realization came over us: Much like we had become the very people our parents warned us about, I had become The Man to whom I have for years been trying to proverbially “stick it.” It almost made me cry, ’til I realized that my office supplies included a nightstick and a taser. That made me feel much better.

How far in advance do you have Suicide For Hire plotted out?

Rafael Medina: As for actual dialogue down to the precise words and exactly how many panels will constitute a single comic, maybe to the next comic if I’m lucky. However, as far as story arcs and the overall plot go, I have it all planned out to the end. I know what I want to happen in a given story arc, and what exactly has to happen in it to help Arcturus and Hunter progress towards the end I have in store for them.

Have you done any other comic strips?

Rafael Medina: Yes, a few, actually, but none on the scope of SFH. I was really into drawing and comic strips in middle school, and jotted down a few comics of this teenager who had a genius little brother. I entered one such strip into a contest for a local independent paper, and ended up winning the contest in the comic strip division – a testament to nothing more than how few people were actually interested in entering the contest. Regardless, when I got it printed, I picked up about twenty copies and held onto them, to this day. Based on that, I was given the chance to be the exclusive provider of the comic strips for the school newspaper that year. It was awesome.

The other strip I had been working on, which is what I intended to be my first true online comic when I decided to try SFH as a “practice” comic, I’ll go in-depth a bit more in a second…

Do you have any other projects you’d like to mention?

Rafael Medina: The comic idea I’ve been pushing around in my head since High School is one that I can’t wait to get started on, but the more I work on SFH, the more I refine my illustrating skill and finer details of the plot. It’s a story based on some of my favorite dreams I have – ones of complete isolation, amidst the fresh ruins of modern civilization – turned into a science-fiction tale of the survivors of a perceived apocalypse. Motivated by my favorite writer/directors Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, it would incorporate many geeky elements of my various fandoms and utilize a few of the characters introduced already in SFH. However, this story would be in a completely different continuity and universe than SFH, basically deeming that the two never happened at any point during the other’s timeline.

Other than that, I can’t think of many others, besides various musical projects with both the guitarist of the aforementioned local band Ferrum, and perhaps joining some of the department’s musicians for some unfocused and freeform noise making.

Enhanced by Zemanta

2 comments

  1. LFG Fan

    Wow, I got here from the link on SFH, I never even knew you were in a band. I might have to go and see you play one day.

    Anyhoo keep up the really good work, I enjoy SFH a lot and I really want to see more of it.

  2. Pif

    Excellent interview and enlightening answers. It’s always good to learn more about an author/artist. Little bit shocking to hear about the police thing, though definitely cool.

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>