Over the weekend I caught up with comics creator and writer, Jon McCarthy, to talk about his recent battle with the dreaded Covid but he didn’t let that get him down.
Interview with Jon McCarthy – Comic Book Creator and Writer
This interview goes through his current motivations as a writer, studying the artform of writing, publishing his comic entitled “Endangered” right through science fiction, horror and some chance nostalgia as we discuss the effect Beastie Boys had on his youth. He also sets the record straight on just how hard the coast guard really is…
If you enjoy this interview then be sure to go check out some of Jon’s work.
Hi Jon, how are you going right now? How is this chaotic world treating you?
Jon McCarthy: I’m well. I tested positive for covid 5 days ago, but I’m luckily getting better. I had a fairly easy go with it, compared to many others, so feeling thankful at the moment.
Damn mate. Did you get the choking coughs, the chills or the headaches?
Jon McCarthy: Luckily, my experience was fairly minor symptoms. I had the chills a bit, and a slight cough, but it was mostly a lot of nasal congestion. My wife had a rougher go with it and still has a crazy cough two weeks removed from her testing positive. It’s a really weird virus in that the symptoms would change from day to day.
Typically, we get sick and feel bad for a few days and slowly get better with mostly a standard group of symptoms. With this, it seemed like something new would pop in randomly and other symptoms would disappear, only to show back up a day or so later.
What projects are you currently working on?
Jon McCarthy: I am getting started on the second, four issue arc of Endangered currently. Re-working some plot points and laying the path towards the end of this eight issue series.
Perfect. How would you describe Endangered to those not in the know?
Jon McCarthy: In a nutshell, it’s a science fiction/action story where humans are on the verge of extinction and have to fight to take Earth back from insects the size of cars. At its core, I feel it is a character story though, and one that explores the experiences of placing atypical characters into near impossible situations.
How did you first get started?
Jon McCarthy: I’ve always fancied myself a storyteller in some capacity. As a child, I’d make up stories and bring them to life with action figures, and the imaginations of my younger brother and I. As far as “officially”, I began studying the intricacies of writing in the early 2000’s and that’s when I really began to put in the effort of learning the craft.
When you say ‘studying the intricacies of writing’ can you expand on this a bit more for me?
Jon McCarthy: When I made the decision to really try and become a writer, I knew early on that I wanted to tell stories through a visual medium so I chose to study screenwriting. I actually applied to film school, but didn’t get in. Although that was disappointing, I was really only interested in the screenwriting aspect and quickly discovered that you don’t need film school to learn how to write.
There are a ton of books out there that can teach you the “craft” of storytelling, so I dove into those books pretty deep and began cranking out scripts. In hindsight, this may have been a path of least resistance thing, in that I feel it’s technically easier to write in that style, as opposed to long form fiction, such as novels.
In my particular case, I have always been a reader of novels, but tend to gravitate more to visual storytelling like films and comic books. For anyone out there interested in a similar journey, I recommend starting with, The Screenwriter’s Bible. That one was where I started and it led me to reading several other books on story and act structure. To this day, I still write all of my stuff using the screenwriting software, Final Draft.
That has a lot of the formatting things built in, and although I don’t think it is the typical go-to for comic scripts, it’s worked well for me.
What’s your favourite era of creative work by other artists?
Jon McCarthy: As far as comics, I’d say I tend to gravitate towards a lot of the stories being told, mainly by Marvel, in the 70’s and 80’s. Of course there is a lot of great work done in all eras, but that period of comics I feel I enjoy the most. A lot of great characters were created then, and even many that were created earlier saw some of their best stories told during those times.
Are you more of a horror or sci-fi nerd? What are your go to films to check out?
Jon McCarthy: I’d say probably the combination of those two genres are my sweet spot. Films like Aliens, The Thing, Terminator, and Predator are some of my favorites and I frequently revisit those for entertainment and
inspiration. I think that anyone who has read Endangered can easily see it is a love letter to those types of stories.
As a big fan of Sci-Fi Horror what would you say about Event Horizon or Galaxy or Terror?
Jon McCarthy: Event Horizon is one of the all time great horror films, in my opinion. I haven’t seen Galaxy of Terror, at least that I remember, which is odd because I grew up in the 80’s and thought I’d seen ever horror film ever made. I couldn’t get enough horror as a kid and would always make a beeline to that section in the video stores when would would get to rent VHS tapes.
I’ll definitely be on the hunt for Galaxy of Terror now, though.
Who are your main creative influences and what aspects of your creative work can we find them in?
Jon McCarthy: I know this is a copout answer, but there are too many to list. Honestly, I feel that any content I consume, be it writing, films, music, or anything that entertains, or affects me, is a grain of seasoning that is inevitably sprinkled over whatever I may be working on. I’m sure a lot of that is on a subconscious level, but I believe that any form of art is inspired by other art, no matter if the artist in question realizes it or not.
Who are your go to musical jams to put on while you’re working?
Jon McCarthy: Typically anything by Queen of the Stone Age are my go to if I’m hung up on something. I can jump through their songs and, inevitably, I’ll land on one that gets me in the right headspace to get through the problem at hand.
Naturally there are a million other songs, from as many artists, I turn to for certain things. For example, sometimes I’ll come across a song and think, “Oh, X character would love this”, and I’ll play it on a loop
while I write their scene. Two recent examples are The New Style by The Beastie Boys for one character and then Flirtin’ with Disaster by Molly Hatchet worked for another one.
How sad was it when the world lost Beastie Boys member Adam “MCA” Yauch?
Jon McCarthy: As I mentioned, I grew up in the 80’s and have several vivid memories during that time that are associated with License to Ill. Before that album came out, my hip hop experiences were limited to Fat Boys and Run DMC. When Beastie Boys hit, it was something I’d never heard of before. It was truly punk rock hip hop and the fact that they were white guys was a big deal, if I’m being honest. It was one of the earliest lessons, for me at least, on the power of representation verses appropriation.
The Beastie Boys came on the scene and it never felt like they didn’t deserve to be there. They were genuine and I feel their importance to the growth of the genre maybe isn’t appreciated enough because they brought a lot of kids, who looked like me, into records stores a couple years later for the NWA,
Kool Moe Dee, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock, and other hip hop artists who came afterwards.
I owned all those artists’ cassettes back in the day and feel like that may not have been the case, were it not for License to Ill making it OK for a white kid to enjoy that genre of music that really wasn’t made for us. So when MCA died, I saw it, and felt it, for what it was; the loss of one of the most influential
artists of my generation.
What strengths in previous jobs have helped strengthen your creativity?
Jon McCarthy: I spent almost five years active duty in the Coast Guard and that time in a military environment proves useful quite often. I’ve also been a paramedic since 1997, so I’ve seen a lot of terrible, and wonderful, things. That job also introduced me to just about every type of human being imaginable, so that’s super useful when creating diverse characters.
The coast guard often cops a lot of jokes in pop culture references. Namely TV and movies. Usually TV. Would you like to settle the score now? Just how hard is it being in the coast guard?
Jon McCarthy: Oh man, I’ve heard all of those “puddle pirates” jokes. Look, I went to boot camp in 1990 and, at that time, it was pretty well known that Coast Guard boot camp was the hardest one to get through after the Marines. I think that may have had something to do with feeling disrespected as the fifth branch and they decided to make it super challenging.
The mission of the Coast Guard is heavily based around search and rescue and law enforcement, more so than war, so in that regard it’s more like a federal agency than a military branch, however we had all the military gear and spent a lot of time training on machine guns and all that. One of the last ships I was on was a law enforcement vessel. It was 110 feet long and 21 feet wide.
We would go out for 2-3 weeks a time on patrol, would come to port for a week, and then head back out for another 2-3 weeks. Now those massive Navy ships stay out for way longer than that, but I will say it’s a hell of a lot tougher to be out that long on a tiny ass ship, with hardly any room to move, than some floating city. Plus, the Coast Guard has been around longer than the Navy so we automatically win.
What weaknesses have you identified in your current project that you’re going to work on in the future?
Jon McCarthy: On this book, I’m the writer and creator, but because of how everything panned out, I also have to oversee the entire project. I had no real experience with that role. It has caused some problems with organizing things and has made it difficult for me to just focus on writing. I think going forward, I’d want someone to take on a larger share of that so I can focus more on creating.
Not sure if it will work out that way, but it would be nice.
Let’s talk about some memories that you had when you first started getting creative? How has this changed from childhood to adolescence to creating as an adult?
Jon McCarthy: My earliest memory of thinking I might be decent as a writer was when I was in middle school. My class
was given an assignment of writing an original poem. I recall my teacher insinuating that I had plagiarized mine after I turned it in. At first I was pissed, but then I saw it as a badge of honor that an adult thought my poem was written by another adult. I believe that was the original seed that was planted inside me to want to tell stories.
As a grown up, I find that I am inspired to try and entertain people with my stories. Is there anything better? So much of who I am is based on things that have entertained me throughout my life, and the notion of being able to do that for someone else is something that really appeals to me.
What’s the worst nightmare you’ve ever had?
Jon McCarthy: That my oldest son was killed right in front of me and I was unable to help him.
What does a nightmare like that do to a parent?
Jon McCarthy: I think every decent parent lives with a constant fear for the safety of their children, and I suspect most parents have that similar sort of nightmare. For me, it was so vivid that it took me a couple of days to come down from that experience. I’m pretty sure I kept both our boys on lockdown for a bit after that and I remember being pretty freaked out for a while when they weren’t in my sight.
One of the worst things about being a paramedic is that you see terrible things happen all the time and you fully understand, way more so that most, how easy it is for tragedy to occur.
Do you have a favourite soft drink?
Jon McCarthy: Diet Coke, unlike that trash known as Diet Pepsi.
Who’s your favourite telepath or gifted character in pop culture?
Jon McCarthy: Darth Vader for sure.
Which creative work would you most like to be remembered for?
Jon McCarthy: I think I’d rather be remembered because my work had a positive effect on someone, more so than the specific work itself. For example, a few years ago I wrote a nonfiction book about being a paramedic. In it, I spoke freely about the mental health impact that type of work had on me.
Shortly after it was published, I had a lady reach out to me via social media. She told me that her husband had been a firefighter and became severely disabled due to PTSD from his job. She said that he had not
been able to enjoy much since he had to leave his job, but after she read my book, she was able to convince him to read it. By realizing he wasn’t alone with his struggles, he had begun to heal and get his life back.
Man, I can’t think of anything cooler than that and to know that words I had written played a role in helping someone, in that way, is something truly special to me. It means more to me than anything related to the book itself. That’s the power of storytelling, and I just want to be remembered
as someone who told some stories worth remembering.
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