New Kickstarter comic Beef Bros combines '80s action aesthetics with solidarity politics
Like so many other industries, comic books have been hit hard by COVID-19. When lockdowns first began in March, the industry's primary distributor shut down operations, resulting in a months-long period of no new comics. Though publication has since resumed, there are lasting logistical changes (for instance, DC Comics now releases new issues on Tuesdays instead of Wednesdays, since it has moved to a different distributor), as well as a newfound understanding that the whole system is more fragile than it appears. But this time of upheaval has also created opportunity. When the industry shut down, comic creators took initiative, modifying their work for webcomic formats and turning to Kickstarter for funding. Although comic projects have been raising money on Kickstarter for years, 2020 has seen a definite uptick in fascinating new projects that might never have made their way through the development system of the big publishers. The latest comic to launch a Kickstarter campaign is Beef Bros, and it wants to use colorful '80s aesthetics in service of community politics.
"Seeing the flood of Kickstarter projects in the past few months has been creatively really invigorating and encouraging," writer Aubrey Sitterson tells EW. "On the one hand, you had all this dire doom-and-gloom when the direct market shut down for months. It was a drastic thing where everybody thought, 'This is the end of the comic industry in America.' What happened instead was it sort of bounced back. People who have never been involved with Kickstarter are starting these things up. It's a brand-new way to connect directly with the audience, which is what I think all artists want: to find a way to fund our work and get it made and get it in the hands of fans."
Created by Sitterson and artist Tyrell Cannon, with colors by Fico Ossio and lettering by Taylor Esposito, Beef Bros is "a revolutionary, leftist take on superheroes," to quote the Kickstarter page. Five pages are available now, which you can find below or on the Kickstarter page, and they find the titular brothers (Huey and Ajax Beef) protecting a homeless man from violent police officers. If the project reaches its fundraising goal, the creative team will finish a full 32-page comic of Beef Bros, with hopes of more to come if there's enough interest.
Cannon is no stranger to Kickstarter. While Beef Bros is Sitterson's first comic project on the fundraising platform (he's previously published No One Left to Fight through Dark Horse and The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling through Penguin Random House), Cannon has already funded several projects through Kickstarter. His latest, Eris, is a sci-fi story set in a dystopian future defined by intense inequality. Cannon and Sitterson decided to collaborate on Beef Bros because of their shared interest in '80s video games and action movies and a shared distaste for the often-reactionary politics of such art.
"We started off by just saying, 'Well, what is this stuff you're into?' I think I had just finished up an 'Inktober' drawing based on the Doom video games, and Aubrey had seen that," Cannon tells EW. "So then we were talking about Street Fighter and '80s movies like Bill & Ted and we were just like, 'Oh man, if we could just get something like that!' The big things for me were I wanted to have these sort of idealized male muscle guys that we saw a lot in our childhood, but then infused with something that's a little more positive and a little more about community, and a little less about working for the government or the superhero team. We wanted it to be more about the people around them and how they can help those people. The other thing that was a key for me when we first started talking was how in something like Bill & Ted, they're not trying to tell anybody how to live their lives, they're just being excellent to each other."
For Sitterson, Beef Bros is an homage to an earlier era of superheroes who were more rooted in working-class values and experiences rather than serving corporate monoliths.
"A big starting point for me was the fact that so much of what I love in entertainment and pop culture has really ugly underpinnings and foundations," Sitterson says. "Superheroes originally began as very populist, working-class heroes, and that's who they were typically created by: working-class Jewish guys from New York. But they have very much evolved into super-cops who work for the government and are authoritarian. Wrestling is one of my favorite things, but at its heart it is an exploitive business. The same is true for action movies, right? It's hard to find a big cool action movie that doesn't take as a starting point some really unsavory stuff, whether it's what that action hero's goal is or how they treat other people."
By contrast, the brothers Beef are himbo heroes who just want everybody to live together in peace. That's why they take the side of a poor unhoused person when they find police taking advantage of his helplessness.
"They don't need theorizing and they don't need PhDs to understand this stuff because it's all really simple ideas that people work best when they work together," Sitterson says. "Humanity's natural state isn't competition, it's cooperation. That's the one thing they believe, and because of that belief, they love each other and they love everybody else. That was the mission statement: It was taking all the stuff we love about mediums and genres that can be kind of cringe-inducing, and put them in service of what we see as pretty foundational moral and ethical ideas."
Check out the first five pages of Beef Bros below. If you want to see more, support the Kickstarter campaign here, and keep your eyes out for more cool projects to come out of the platform.