The Indie Index – Interview with Jason Pittman
Mental illness – or Mental Illness, depending on how you envision it – is a topic that has worked its way into the comic book medium, for better or for worse. The topic travels different paths in the various taless that it is featured in, you’ll never find yourself reading a story that defines mental illness in the same way as others. The War For Kaleb is a story that takes the topic and merges it with the superhero genre. The War For Kaleb by Jason Pittman is currently on Kickstarter so read this interview and check the campaign out.
I’m Jason Pittman. I am a self published writer/artist for the series Leftovers, and most currently The War for Kaleb, which is a superhero story about an anxiety disorder that I have just launched a Kickstarter for. I went to the School of Visual Arts in NYC, and The Joe Kubert School of Cartooning in Dover, NJ. I’ve been self publishing comics since 2004.
The War for Kaleb is a superhero comic book series about anxiety, what made you decide to tackle such a tough subject in this popular genre?
As a child I grew up on the superhero genre, starting around the age of 11. I personally had always lived with anxiety, even at a young age. I was a horribly shy child, who tended to keep to myself all the time. I was the the kid on the playground who was trying to stay away from the other kids. I do that to this day. When I became a young adult I discovered indie comics. I was reading stuff by Nate Powell, Farel Dalrymple, Jessica Abel, and the Meathaus crew. Even though I found these comics that explored slice of life drama of the mundane variety, I still loved the fantastic worlds of superheroes and sci-fi. For some years, I had a problem, with my not knowing where I fit in the genre boxes with my own work. Being a person that hates boxes, and labels to begin with, I decided to do something on my own terms, by creating The War fo Kaleb. This book allowed me to explore the simple to complex elements of the superhero genre, while maintaining a balance of that aspect, mixing it with the real Kaleb, and the turmoil of living daily life with an anxiety disorder, while his superheroes play out the feel of the disorder as a visual metaphor.
There are splashes of love and romance in TWFK, how did you go about balancing it all out?
I think the key to the romance aspect was 1) start the book with Kaleb and Addison’s relationship in effect. I didn’t want to see the courtship. I find courtship in stories played out, and are usually designed to string along the reader, or viewer if you talking about movies or TV, along. And 2) have the relationship act as the catalyst of Kaleb’s decision to cold turkey his medication, in which he has been taking most his life. I didn’t want the romance to be the focus, just the vehicle to help move the story.
You’ve mentioned “validity”, and the way Kaleb questions it, within the book – how would you define validation?
I guess I would define it as an element that helps someone feel justified in their actions or integrity as a person. Kaleb, due to being medicated, feels like he has lost his sense of validation. Everything that he has done since starting his medication as a child, has felt to him as an automation, including the developing relationship with Addey. Addey being one of the biggest things to happen in his life, including being the first person he has ever “loved” created a need in Kaleb’s mind, to find that validation. In turn, he goes looking for it by leaving his medication behind to find out how he feels about Addey without it.
Was it difficult including the topic of medication when there is sometimes a stigma in doing so?
Absolutely. I’m not anti medication, nor am I pro medication. I am pro giving people the tools they need to deal with their inner turmoil. When I began writing medication into The War for Kaleb, I will be honest, that I did not know where to go with it. I mean I knew how Kaleb felt about the medication: a necessary evil to be used as tool to make the outside world around him bare-able. The challenge I ended up with was what was going to happen to the medication in the end. The main thing I did not want, was some over romanticized idea, of leaving medication behind, in where we can all convince ourselves that we can be better if we just make ourselves better. There is a stigma, in particularly this country, that Mental Illness is born from people just not sucking up their problems and dealing with the reality that is life. It is way more complicated than that. Without spoiling the story, I wanted to show that without demonizing medication, but also expressing the need that we need to talk about our issues, and find answers for the basic pain of existing, and coping with that pain without diluting our senses and using medication as an exclusive solution for mental illness.
Light and Dark feature prominently within TWFK, when did the idea of placing them inside heroes come to you?
I love the doppelganger! The idea that something as simple as the light in things, have an absolute dark side. And then I love the idea of complicating that, by adding the grey areas. Originally the heroes were not even in the story. Rather than the heroes acting as the visual metaphor for Kaleb’s disorder, I had Kaleb acting out his feelings, and in turn the viewer find out it was just in his head. It was rather too dark. By creating the superheroes in the vain of Superman and Bizarro, as a mirror image of Kaleb’s well being I was able to better represent both aspects of an anxiety disorder through more of a spectrum. On the surface things seem either good, or bad. But when the reader starts to peel back the layers, hopefully, they see it is much more complex than that.
You’ve admitted that you have struggled with anxiety, yourself. Has the experience of creating this series helped or worsened the struggle for you?
It has definitely made it better. There are a feel new perspectives of reality I have taken from this experience. When I started working on comics towards the ultimate goal of being paid to live off of doing what I love, it just never seemed to happen. I have come close before, but things kept falling through. By the time I got to The War for Kaleb, I was distraught, and struggling with why I’m still making comics due to the fact that I was not being paid for it. I was constantly wondering “when will I make it in the industry.” Eventually, it got so bad I would hit hiatuses and hinder my progress. Because of this I had to get back to a mindset of why I started drawing in the first place. Doing it because I just love to do it, pure and simple. The other reality I came to is the fact that in the grand scheme of things and the known universe, my stories don’t matter. Don’t get me wrong I do love making them. But when humanity is gone, more than likely, so will my stories. Knowing this for me personally is liberating. It takes a tremendous pressure off of why I do it. Stripping away the superficial reasons leaves me with the fact that I only do this for personal self fulfillment.
The War For Kaleb is currently on Kickstarter, is this your first crowdfunding campaign?
This is indeed my first campaign. This is the main reason I wanted to completely finish the story (which it is) before launching. Some of the biggest mistakes someone can make, I think launching a KS, is to launch it with an uncompleted project without the street cred.
How does the weight of the Kickstarter affect you, positive or negative, and why?
It’s mostly exciting on the surface. But it is a ton of work. I, along with some good friends and my wife, have been working on it for 2 months before launch. Mostly budgeting, testing shipping, rewards, making videos, etc. But because of that, the experience has taken me out of my comfort zone and had me start looking at what I do from a logical business perspective. I have always admired people like George Lucas, and Todd McFarlane. Besides being great creators of new, imaginative content, they always worked hard to bring their visions to life. If someone told them they couldn’t do something, they would find a way to do it themselves. I think that is the foundation of what Kickstarter is. It is a way to empower the creators that keep getting told, “no, you can’t do that.”
What have you learnt throughout the campaign this far?
Kickstarter is like having a child. You constantly have to keep an eye on it and take care of it, or it will amount to nothing, haha!
What’s next for you and for Kaleb too?
As far as Kaleb as a comic book, his story is told. I’m not one to stay on one idea forever. I may try to see where he might be able to venture outside of his comic book form, but we will see. After the Kickstarter is over, I will be finally moving onto a 3-part sci-fi epic called The Exodus, which examines where religion came from and what our world will be like in 100 or so years. It is a story I have been building for the past 20 years.
Interview by Mike Speakman.
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