Interview: Penguins vs. Possums' John Bring & Sebastian Kadlecik

Penguin Boxer

Creators John Bring and Sebastian Kadlecik

The penguins march with unhappy feet against possums who don’t just take things lying down. An odd pairing becomes into a tense rivalry thanks to creators John Bring & Sebastian Kadlecik. At first, Penguins VS. Possums was a webcomic made on Post-It Notes. With the help of Kickstarter, the big battles with some added mythology will play out as a comic book series. Kadlecik and Bring matches the possums, using old-fashioned methods, up against the technophile penguins. PVP-related updates are on its Facebook page.

After reading the first issue of the PVP comic, I had a desire to continue looking into this piece of animal-brawling action. To me, it’s not about which side wins, but how both species struggle in this potential epic. The very first scene features the possum aggressors fighting the flightless birds in a penguin exhibit at the San Diego Zoo. That is not the true origin of their rivalry, though. For the art, the compositions of the warriors is enhanced by the solid inking work.

Panels from Penguins VS Possums #1
Penguins suit up!

In the first issue’s main plot, possums are sympathetic protagonists of family and honor and the penguins are villainous.  The good/evil alignments in the series are not set in stone, however. The creators’ insights given in the interview supplement what should be a grand and entertaining story.

(The clickable images below link to full-sized versions, so enjoy the artwork!)

Red-Headed Mule: Congratulations on getting issue #1 published. How’s issue #2 coming along?

John Bring: We are actually just now about to start on issue #2. We took a break to do something completely different, a project called Crossover, which utilizes characters Sebastian and I each made up when we were very young men, around 11 or 12 years old. Now that we’re wrapping up on that, issue 2 is on our radar. We’ve broken the story for it and will probably put pen to paper in the next month or so, as soon as we send Crossover to the printers.

Sebastian Kadlecik: We have an arc plotted out for a six issue series, and have done a lot of work figuring out what story we want to tell in issue #2. We just need to actually get to writing it and laying it out. But, as John said, that is happening very soon!

Panel from Penguins VS Possums #1
A human observes the carnage but a penguin tells the possum to cease the fight as the zoo.

RHM: How much time did it take making issue #1? Obviously, a full-length comic book isn’t like scribbling on a Post-It note.

JB: Right, it’s a whole different ballgame. We had a bit of a time crunch for Issue Number One since we had a table at the 2011 Long Beach Comic Con and nothing really to promote with it. We had a vague idea for PVP #1, so about nine weeks before the con, we started putting it together. I drew the majority of the pages (Sebastian came in with the assist and did three awesome pages), and I inked the whole thing in about 6 weeks.

It took a few days for us to format everything, add the dialogue (with huge help from Lindsay Calhoon), and do a little gray coloring to make certain panels pop. We shipped it to Ka-Blam, our printer, and got it just under the wire for LBCC. It was tight, but I think the pressure of a hard deadline really gave the book an extra dose of energy and enthusiasm, which is never a bad thing.

SK: We were definitely under the gun, but I agree with John, that forced us to focus on the project, and gave it the vitality it needed. Plus, we were just so excited about the entire process, having that extra hurdle of a deadline added to the whole experience. I think John did great at cranking out all those pages, and I think I was pretty quick at knocking out my interior pages as well as penciling and inking all of the pin ups and the cover. I really do think being under pressure just forced us to hunker down and get it done.

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RHM: Why are the penguins the side the modern tech & the possums the ones using Old World/hand-to-hand methods?

JB: Sebastian is the one who created the idea for Penguins Vs. Possums years ago, so he would have better insight on the inception of the idea. When I came in, he had done some artwork with the two species that I loved; the penguins were always using Uzi’s and the possums usually had spears. I thought it was a great dichotomy from the start, and always made sense to me.

Penguins are proper, they live in cold environments, they’re very stoic. The cold steel of a gun really went with that. On the other hand, possums are associated with living in dark, dirty environments. They’re known for living in trees, forests, and jungles, so it makes sense that they’re more like guerilla fighters. They aren’t given the benefit of human adoration. They’re a reviled species for the most part, so they have to fend for themselves in the wild, and fight with whatever they can scrape together. Plus, it makes for a killer visual.

SK: John nailed it with his answer. I’ll just add that for me the uniformity of a multitude of Penguins also evokes images of an empire or militaristic community. It stands to reason they would focus on technology, and I see technology as somewhat of a cold, impersonal thing. The possums, on the other hand, are more earthy and tribal. Being unloved, they have to rely on their resourcefulness.

I also thought the penguins would be afraid of spears and stabbing weapons, having seen a harpoon or two in their day. The contrast between the fighting styles of the two species is important for setting up their world and relationship to each other. And seeing that juxtaposition is just a lot of fun.

RHM: I enjoyed #1, but where are the sympathetic penguins?

Guerilla possumsJB: The sympathetic penguins are coming. Issue two is going to be a more penguin-centric book. We got to see a lot more of the possums in issue one because they are at a disadvantage from the get-go in the eyes of the audience. As I’ve said before, possums are usually hated by people, so it was important to us to show them as a warmer, more loving race at the start to even the playing field with the penguins, since most people love penguins anyway.

I mean, I’m more of a penguin guy, but after making issue one, I was even swayed to the possum cause. That being said, the idea behind the book is choosing a side; penguins or possums. We want to have it fairly balanced between the two, with no clear-cut good guy or bad guy so that people can make a choice all their own.

SK: While the book may be black and white, the relationships will always be shades of gray. It was important to set up the possums in the first issue, for the reasons John said, as well as to introduce the spiritual/mythological infrastructure of the possum society. And, while we see them as savage beasts in the first few pages, we get the reveal that they are a community with hopes and fears and honor.

Hopefully the reader takes that journey from possums as ugly beasts to possums as three dimensional characters. I think the possums needed more pages to get people on board, and, as John said, level the playing field. On the flip side, the framework of the penguin world could be established in just a few panels. But as I mentioned before, even the penguins have shades of gray. There is a lot more to these penguins than we’ve seen thus far. I don’t want to give too much away, but I’m very excited to explore their world and the beliefs that go with their community.

RHM: What would the other animals think of the penguins vs. possums conflict?

Law and Order PVPJB: Good question… one that we may address one day down the line. We definitely don’t want this to become a Disney movie, so we have to be aware of the cute threshold. If we have cats and raccoons and hummingbirds and dolphins talking, it will get ridiculous. Well, it will get more ridiculous. What we’ll definitely see is humans getting pulled into the conflict. Humans will be a big part of the comic very soon. As far as other woodland creatures, you may have to wait.

SK: Yeah, as ridiculous as a world headed toward Armageddon at the hands of Penguins and Possums may be…it has its own reality and set of rules. Part of what I like about it and makes it funny to me is that we focus soley on these two species and how they relate to each other as well as humans.I like that these two otherwise unrelated species hold the key to the fate of the earth in their hands…er paws/flippers.

RHM: Do you try to put specific bits of culture from San Diego & Valdosta, Georgia into PvP?

JB: Not specifically, no. Using possums at all could be seen as a reference to growing up in south Georgia. We had cats, so possums would constantly end up on our back porch (which was enclosed) to eat our cat’s food. I did battle with those hideous beasts many times in my youth, so I kind of grew up with getting creeped out by possums. At least in the beginning of the comic, I tried to capture a bit of their scary nature. The line “aim for their black, soulless eyes” really encapsulates how I feel about possums. That’s what I brought to the table in terms of my background.

SK: Well the reference to San Diego is because of the San Diego Zoo, which introduces us to these creatures in a setting we’re comfortable with, and with attributes we, as humans, ascribe to them. Then we see all of those preconceived notions fly out the window when the possums descend upon the penguins and the battle begins. I’m from San Jose and we had plenty of possums in our back yard, let me assure you. I’ve had my fair share of encounters in the dark with these bad boys. They were definitely a part of my life, and that’s where I was living when I first created Penguins VS. Possums. That said, I don’t make any intentional nods to Bay Area culture in the comic.

RHM: Does making PvP bring out your inner fears and concerns about society?

JB: At this point, no. At the point we’re at in the story, it’s all about mythology and world-building. I think the commentary and the subtext, although there’s some in the first issue, will really come out as the story unfolds. Something to look forward to!

Boxing penguinSK: This is an interesting question. In Issue Number One we definitely had a take on the Hero Story, and now we’re excited to flip that on its head. But that was our focus more than intense social commentary. My favorite stuff to do is just what John mentioned, mythology and world-building. Part of that world-building, however, includes setting up how the societies function, the conflicts they have, and the relationships between the characters.

The crux of Penguins VS. Possums is conflict/war. I think whenever two communities are presented in conflict within a story there are bound to be some societal parallels. We want to relate to the story and we all have concerns or hopes about society. The very act of anthropomorphizing allows us (reader and author) to both relate to, and at the same time, objectively distance ourselves from what is being explored in the story. And while we don’t necessarily sit down with an intention to make a commentary on say, the Sunnis and Shiites or what have you, that conversation may come up as we explore general themes of conflict, territory, and age old feuds. That is one hypothetical example, but I think you get what I’m saying.

Penguins VS. Possums isn’t intended to be Watership Down or Animal Farm, but it just so happens the story that we are telling in this series revolves strongly around conflict, hatred, choices and the war that leads to the end of the world. I think my inner fears are similar to a lot of people’s inner fears. That was probably a very unnecessarily heady and meandering answer. I’ll try to be more concise from here on out!

RHM: What would the soundtrack for PVP be like?

JB: It would be EPIC! The soundtrack to PVP would probably include a lot of very dramatic score. In fact, you can see some of the score in the trailer we made before the comic was a reality. It’s the soundtrack to Children of Dune (which I’ve never seen), and it is some of my favorite score ever. More of that, but even more epic. The possums would have tribal motifs, a lot of drums. The penguins would have booming, Inception-like score. If Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Danny Elfman, Alan Silvestri, and of course John Williams were melded together a la “The Fly,” that hideous but incredibly talented monster would write the score of Penguins Vs. Possums.

SK: It would be the most epic thing you’ve ever heard. I think the trailer is a really good example. Also anything John Williams-esque. Imagine if you will a movie where hobbits will join forces with the Jedi to stop a meteor from hitting earth while robots rise up and attack us from the future…the soundtrack from that would be similar.

T-Shirts
Penguins VS Possums T-shirts: the start of a media empire?

RHM: Do you have any non-comics merchandising ideas?

JB: Well, we already have T-shirts, buttons, stickers, iphone cases, and prints for sale at conventions. In the future, I think we would like to do plush dolls of penguins and possums. That would be awesome… and cute.

SK: Definitely the plush dolls. Hm…one day waaaay down the line action figures would be sweet. As for near future, I might make some Penguins VS. Possums hooded sweatshirts. And maybe a sun visor for my car.

RHM: What’s it like connecting with other comics creators in LA?

JB: Connecting with other independent creators has been the most surprising and rewarding thing about making a comic book. I guess it never occurred to me that there would be a huge network of comic creators out here before jumping into it, so that wasn’t anything I expected to happen. I guess what I really didn’t expect was the pretty universal support of fellow creators. That has been a breath of fresh air in a town where everyone is typically super-competitive. Recently, we’ve gotten to know the folks at Fanboy Comics, who are super cool. Fate has been good to us with conventions, too. We’ve been put next to some great people, and look forward to that continuing as we do more shows.

SK: The absolute best. We have met so many great people. There’s a diversity to everyone, but it also feels like we are all united by our individual passion projects. Meeting the other creators, as well as the people buying comics, has been one of my favorite parts of this whole experience. I always look forward to meeting new creators, sharing ideas, and running into people we’ve met before. At the last con I couldn’t wait to meet back up with the Fanboy Comics crew. I totally look forward to the next convention!

RHM: Where is the best place a penguin and a possum can chill out in LA?

JB: Best place for a possum would probably be the Farmer’s Market at the Grove. Lots of stands to steal food from. A penguin might be out of luck in LA. It’s pretty warm here year-round. I think there’s a new penguin sanctuary at the Long Beach aquarium. Perhaps they can all party there.

SK: For a possum…hmmm, I don’t know if it’s the best place, but I’d love to see a possum hanging out on the Hollywood sign. For a penguin, the beach dude. The beach. Put their Oakley sunglasses on and just chill.

RHM: What’s the worst interaction you’ve had with a penguin and a possum?

Indy PossumJB: Haha… not a whole lot of interaction with penguins. I saw one swimming at the zoo in Jacksonville, Florida as a child, and the talons on that thing freaked me right out. As for possums, I have many more stories. I can vividly remember their hissing when they’d get trapped on our back porch. They are scary little creatures. One time, one brushed up against my leg on its way out of our porch. That was the worst. Possums are gross.

SK: I don’t believe I’ve had any interaction with a penguin outside of a zoo/marine world. I thought they were awesome. I watch a live penguin cam online pretty often too. So I guess there is no “worst” there… As for possums, man, we had a family of them in a tree in our backyard. That was freaky. Also there’d be the occasional dead one back there too. The scariest would be anytime my eyes met theirs. I mean the glowing demon eyes they get at night when you accidentally catch one with your flashlight on your way to turn off the pool filter. My family knows what I’m talking about. It’s as if the barrier between earth and hell has just been blurred.

RHM: What was the biggest honor you’ve received from a comics creator for PvP?

JB: Actually, stuff like this is a huge honor. The fact that someone wants to interview me about a comic book I helped create is just wild. I’ve been dreaming of putting a comic out since I was 11 years old. It took me a while, but every moment since we put out the first issue has been amazing. So, thanks!

SK: Creators expressing a real interest in the book or being generally supportive of the hard work we’ve put into it are both big honors. Also a couple creators have reached out and invited us to comic creator groups or expressed interest in having us collaborate with them on projects. It’s a great feeling when that happens. It’s also an honor when they take the time to share information. I feel like I learn so much from the other creators and love hearing about each person’s process.

Cover to Issue #1RHM: Any other comments you’d like to share?

JB: Thanks to anyone at the conventions or on our facebook page that have supported the PVP cause. We’re hoping to have issue two out for Comikaze in September and issue three out for Long Beach Comic Con in October. Wish us luck, ye faithful PVPurists!

SK: Just a huge thank you! We appreciate all the support. Thanks to everyone that stops to talk to us at the conventions or finds us on facebook. It’s such a cool thing when people post on our page or send us pictures of them wearing our shirts or reading our comic. Thank you so much!

FIN

On that note, it’s time to show your support for these guys (and either penguins or possums) at their Facebook page. The battle rages on at PenguinsVSPossums.com where you can buy a copy of the first issue. Also, see how it all began. Respond to the animal mania below in the comment boxes.

Author: Clarence

Webmaster, editor, writer of Red-Headed Mule. RHM was founded in 2011. Currently is liking British TV better than U.S. TV, mayhaps.