Truth is Always Strange

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Jonathan Adams’ Truth Serum first caught my eye in 2002 as a funny, painful, and vertically challenged three issue series from Slave Labor Graphics. Since then, Adams has offered up Truth Serum comics on Dark Horse Comics’ website, several short stories (including one featuring two Stormtroopers reading Darth Vader’s diary – check out Star Wars Tales #16 or TPB #4 for this can’t miss tale) and design work for the Ryan Montbleau band. Last month, things came full circle for Adams with the release of the collected edition of Truth Serum (containing the SLG series, the first DH webcomic called Truth Serum: A Love Story and several other goodies) from City Cyclops. Surprisingly enough, when I talked with Adams, we just happened to touch on a few of those things…

Broken Frontier - For the benefit of those too lazy to click over to  The University of Myopia, what is Truth Serum?

Jonathan Adams - This is one of those questions for which I never have a good answer. Truth Serum is a comic about people who are too emotionally stunted to be able to achieve any kind of happiness. And those people happen to wear capes and live in a stagnant suburbia called Manchester. It's funny and poignant and semi-autobiographical.

BF - How did Truth Serum come to Slave Labor Graphics?

JA - I submitted Truth Serum to Slave Labor through the mail. I'd never met anybody there, but Dan Vado liked it and decided to publish it. Not counting the years of rejections and failed projects, it sounds as easy as it was. At least the getting accepted part was easy. Once we were in a business relationship, things got a bit more difficult. Which is why I eventually left them.

BF – Which then led you to Dark Horse’s website, right?

JA - Truth Serum ended up on Dark Horse's site because an editor over there had seen my stuff and liked it. And instead of paying me hundreds of dollars to draw Hellboy, he recommended that I contact Adam, the guy in charge of the site, because they were looking for exclusive comics for the site. So my next story [Truth Serum: A Love Story] started running on darkhorse.com. It lasted much longer than it should have, since I apparently draw really slowly. I'm still doing another story there called Truth Serum: The City of Village Charm.

BF – How did the decision come about to self-publish the collected edition of Truth Serum?

JA - I'd shopped Truth Serum around to other publishers, and everybody was kinda interested, but ultimately nobody wanted to publish it. Diana Schutz, who wrote the intro for Truth Serum, had wanted Dark Horse to publish it, but Mike Richardson preferred to publish books like Barb Wire instead. So I decided to self-publish under the name City Cyclops. It's a name I came up with by accident, when a sign I saw that said "City Cyclops" turned out to say something else entirely. Had I been wearing my glasses at that moment, my publishing name would probably have been something more like Batttle Comix or Infinity Publishing. If those names aren't taken.

BF - Truth Serum takes a rather satirical look at the modern world, often focusing on themes of loneliness or emotional isolation. Where does the inspiration for these observations come from?

JA - Well, it's a lot of observation, definitely, and it's also some commentary. I think a lot of people are suffering and don't have the emotional tools to figure out how not to be. And I think a lot of the problems in the world stem from unhappy people, lacking compassion and getting too caught up in their own suffering to be able to see things around them clearly. So with Truth Serum, I try to point out a lot of truths in human interaction and say "Hey, look how funny and sad it is that these people are hurting." And most people would hopefully identify with that, because they've probably found themselves in similar dynamics.

BF - Truth Serum literally has a cast of dozens - do you have some favorites?

JA - Oh, I definitely have favorites. All the main characters I enjoy, like Don Sequitur, who really seems to resonate with people for some reason. But there are others that I've yet to explore, and those are the ones that excite me. The Barnacle is one. He's just such an unabashedly lonely person. More so than others. But his drive to be with people ends up pushing them away and he has no control over it. I've met people like that. An old roommate of mine was so desperate to have people in her life, that she consequently had no boundaries when talking to strangers. She would tell people things they would never want to know, so her openness was alarming and off-putting. Like when she told me she and her greencard-needing fiance' had gotten into "really heavy phone sex." I didn't need to know that so much.

And there are other characters, like Placentaur or Alphalfabet, who are really nothing more than a funny name to me. And I think I might love to do a short story, a fight scene between somebody and Passive-Aggressive Man. He could never confront them directly. I think that could be really funny.

BF - When we first talked during the original release of Truth Serum, you mentioned that you were pleased how the book had helped you grow creatively - partially in terms as an artist, but more so as a writer. Do you still look at these earlier comics as fondly? How do you think you've grown creatively since the SLG series wrapped?

JA - Well, my art continues to grow. Fortunately. I look at a lot of the earlier work and it just looks embarrassingly awful. I have no idea what I was thinking when I put some of those lines down. But my work has gotten refined and cleaner, though without losing a lot of the detail that I put into it. And I think my writing has improved immensely. I still like a lot of my earlier stories, but I've learned how to pack more of a punch with some of my lines and to fit more depth into things.

BF – You mentioned earlier that Truth Serum: The City of Village Charm is running on Dark Horse's website. The premise of it might sound somewhat familiar to people - could you tell people what it's about?

JA - Sure. The premise is that Manchester's greatest team, The Manchester Justice Squadron, gets their headquarters attacked. They try to track down the villain responsible but can't find him, so instead they attack another villain in another town, who had nothing to do with the original attack. There are some less-than-pleasant consequences of their actions and lack of forethought and things don't go quite as smoothly as they'd hoped.

Obviously it's a parody of the Bush administration and the Iraq War. Regardless of whether or not people think we should have gone to war, nobody seems to think it's going really well. One thing after another has gone wrong and thousands of people have died. Not just the 2,000
plus American soldiers, but the "30,000, more or less" (as Bush stated) Iraqis who have died. So it's hard to not want to speak out against something so egregious and immoral. But rather than having a heavy-handed response, I thought it would be fun to just show a bunch of bumbling idiots ruining things while wearing capes and masks.

Having superheroes stand in for the Bush administration works surprisingly well. They both claim to protect us from "evil," and each think they're above the law. Completely self-righteous and just, taking an absurdly black and white view of the world.

BF - Since the original mini-series and Truth Serum: A Love Story, you seem to be doing more illustrated prose. Is there a reason for this change in look?

JA - The only reason I've been doing more illustrated prose is because it saves me a hell of a lot of time. The City of Village Charm is primarily just people talking. Even when things are happening, the characters are talking about what's happening. With such a dialogue heavy story, it would be repetitive and time consuming to draw head after talking head.

And as for the illustrated prose story in the Truth Serum book, that's actually written by my brother, Lawrence Fahey. He's credited in the table of contents, but I'm regretting not also crediting him on the actual story. It makes it look as though I wrote it. That one ended up
being prose because there were several things in that that I didn't want to draw. I thought that visually they wouldn't work. There's an explosion, for instance. That's not the kind of thing I want to draw in a story generally, it seems too flashy and distracting.

BF - You've avoided any major disasters and have gotten the collected edition of Truth Serum out - what's next for Jon Adams?

JA - There were a couple of small disasters, but we don't need to discuss those. I just finished doing all the art and design for my friend Ryan's new CD which is coming out mid February. It's available at http://ryanmontbleau.com. After that I'm doing a window display for 826 Valencia. It'll be an enormous 3-D comic about compassion, the absence of evil and our flawed prison system. But funny. All crammed into 18 little dioramas stacked on top of one another. It should be fun. Then I'm preparing for the Alternative Press Expo and after that I'll begin focusing on publishing my next book, which will be The City of Village Charm. That'll be a small, hardcover volume. Once that's done I'll start the next big Truth Serum story, with Captain Force and all the regular characters.

Oh, and I'm opening a Truth Serum theme park.

Truth Serum is available in comic shops now, as well as directly from http://theuniversityofmyopia.com/main.html

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