In Terminal Punks by Shelby Criswell and Matthew Erman, four teenagers end up trapped in an airport, pursued by the logical conclusion of capitalism (which it turns out is giant, mutated wild animals).
The Beat caught up with Criswell and Erman to find out more about the musical inspirations behind the comic, the genesis of the band (and the mutated animals), and the process of developing the book’s irresistible gore!
PLUS: be sure and check out the included pages from Terminal Punks #5, the thrilling conclusion, which will be available at your local comic shop (or through the Mad Cave Studios website) beginning next Wednesday, March 31st, 2021.
KAPLAN: It’s obvious that a lot of care went into designing characters on BOTH sides of the “band vs. monsters” conflict. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of creating the mutated animals, and/or the capitalist monsters behind them?
CRISWELL: Matt was the one that came up with the names of each character, including the crazy vape flavor names. He sent over a list of each animal and characters’ names and let me run wild (haha see what I did there).
For the band, I pictured kids that I would’ve hung out with in high school, the weirdos that didn’t get picked for dodgeball and were in the art club together. As for the animals and their mutations, I was daunted by it at first because the only animals I had really drawn were simple birds in the sky and my dogs. So I did some studies on each animal and then tried out different ways to distort them while still staying true to their original form. I wanted them to still be recognizable. Think of like a skinny dude who went on steroids and started to work out five times a day. You’d still recognize him, but you’d be like DAMN dude… I basically put all of our animals on steroids.
ERMAN: I think I described or named some of the animals with their vape names, with ideas on what they could be and Shelby pretty much went wild. Same for the main characters, I named them and wrote little personality sheets for them (nothing crazy really) and Shelby came in and really fleshed them all out.
KAPLAN: What was the process of developing the band like? Did any of the musicians pose a creative challenge? Was it important for you to include a character who says some legitimately despicable things (I’m talking about D’Arby)?
CRISWELL: I’ll let Matt take over why our characters say some outrageous stuff, but I found D’Arby to be the character I liked the most at the end of the story. She showed the most growth to me and also seemed the most like a real person.
Other than that, I didn’t have too much trouble developing these characters. Like I said, I created the kids that I hung out with in school. All of the kids in the band felt like second nature to me, as I’ve always drawn musicians, punks, weirdos, etc. in my other works. These ones just happened to be stuck in an airport.
ERMAN: Developing the band was really fun, I really wanted each to be very specific and sometimes that can get difficult — keeping their voices unique. D’arby was the extreme of that in that I needed a character whose voice was so easy to write, that it allowed the other characters to be reactive — which gives the story those character moments. I agree with Shelby as well, D’arby is the weird heart of this story I think.
KAPLAN: Obviously music plays a serious role in Terminal Punks! Was there any specific music allusion that was especially essential for you to include?
CRISWELL: When we were first working together, Matt sent me a ~vibes~ playlist for this and it had Titus Andronicus on it. I immediately knew that we were destined to work together. Both of us love punk and the many forms it comes in and just general noisy shit. So I knew we needed to have this comic as a love letter to this incredible genre. Obviously, each cover is an allusion to punk albums and there are a few times I include other band names and references on patches, guitars, etc.
ERMAN: Not particularly honestly. I envisioned all them at the end of the day to be kind of ravenous fans of all music. They make GG Allin jokes and Metallica jokes and Kind of Like Spitting jokes and Swans jokes. It’s me and Shelby’s music taste at the end of the day, which is all over the place. There are no limits.
KAPLAN: Terminal Punks tells capitalism just where it can stick it. Is there any piece of anti-capitalist art that was particularly formative for you?
CRISWELL: Going back to referencing musicians, one especially important Easter egg to me is Sway’s shirt, “This Shirt Kills Fascists,” and a guitar in issue five that says, “This Machine Punches Proud Boys.” I’m a huge Woody Guthrie fan, and these are spins on the “This Machine Kills Fascism” he had written on his guitar. I truly believe that punk music would not be what it is today without this man’s anti-capitalist music, so naturally I had to allude to my love for his message.
ERMAN: My generation grew up at the start of the Iraq War, music became immediately political because of that and through music I learned about ideas and the different modes of belief in the United States. The violent colonialism that has been this vile force in the world was made pretty clear to me when I was becoming a teenager. And while colonialism isn’t an inherent part of the tenants of “capitalism” (I’m sure there are very good arguments on why it is) part all this is kind of a flagrant disregard for human life at the expense of a business, or a brand, or brand-building or “marketing” and all those things funnel into making a buck.
It’s interesting. Shelby and I don’t own any of Terminal Punks, so we got to make this anti-capitalist intellectual property for Mad Cave which is kind of a paradox or conundrum. I don’t really know what that says about any of this.
If I could give this away for free I would, so maybe some egalitarian art that’s for everyone. Memes maybe. I don’t know.
KAPLAN: Between the “flavors” of the mutated animals (which are beautifully debuted) and the fact that the band is unnamed, names play an important role in Terminal Punks. Can you tell us a little bit about why that might be?
ERMAN: Before comics I worked in advertising and I think advertising for big box brands or for products that don’t inherently make the world a better place is kind of ridiculous and maybe also evil. I don’t like lying and there is an insincere irony to marketing that really bothers me. Just tell me what it is and why I should buy it. I hate how sneaky marketing tries to be, and also with social media it’s all been melted down to social advertising demographics. It doesn’t even matter. Upstart companies don’t understand this. It’s all about hyperbole. The most delicious. The most incredible. The best tasting, the most effective, the most new. It’s all lies because most of these things are mass produced, namelessly in a facility somewhere and shipped to some white person and they decide that this mass produced egg roll is now the hallmark product in a product line of heavily branded Egg Rolls, there is no difference between anything and it’s colors and shapes. The person that likes green likes this egg roll and the person that likes the color red likes this one. It’s all arbitrary sneaky tricks.
I don’t know if this answered the question.
KAPLAN: Terminal Punks makes it clear that Kee is trans, but in a way that’s not in your face. Was it important for you to include trans rep, especially in a different way than readers might be accustomed?
CRISWELL: My whole life until I came out as genderqueer, I searched for representation of trans and non-binary people. I feel like we’ve moved past stories about trans characters where their identity is the central focus of the movie, book, etc. Kee shows that trans people are normal human beings that live out their lives as anyone else (although most of us aren’t trapped in airports with mutated vape flavor animals).
ERMAN: I am not trans, but I know many trans people whose lives and stories aren’t defined by them being trans or genderqueer. I would never write a story about what it is like to be trans or to transition, but I want to write characters that live unique lives and have dreams and ideas that also happen to be trans or something beyond the white cis-het POV. I hope that inspires other white writers to diversify their casts of characters and work with artists who they trust to tell them when their shit stinks and to work with artists that have a vested interest in seeing either themselves or their communities represented in ways that feel authentic to them, without me taking someone else’s story.
KAPLAN: Terminal Punks has some of the best gore in comics. Which gruesome panel was your favorite?
CRISWELL: I never thought of myself as a horror or gore artist until this comic, so thank you! I’m glad that a lot of people have been enjoying the blood aspect of this book. The most brutal thing I’ve drawn is in issue one where the pilot has his whole intestine splattered across the inside of the airplane. That panel really set the precedent for how the rest of the violent scenes would pan out visually.
ERMAN: Yeah when I saw Shelby’s panel with the crossed out eyes, on the severed skull on the conveyor belt I knew this was going to be something very, very unique. Head trauma really hits me in a weird way.
KAPLAN: Have you read any comics that you’ve especially enjoyed lately?
CRISWELL: I’ve been on more of a nonfiction book kick lately, but Matt let me read an advanced copy of Witchblood recently that is to die for!
ERMAN: There are creators that I pay attention to because they are my peers and I love to see them find success and create new stories. I try to support them anyway that I can but I’m pretty bad at reading comics.
I was reading Unbearable Lightness of Being until I got bored in the middle when all the characters you’ve been reading die in between a chapter. I also read Suehiro Maruo’s Ultra Gash Inferno which was much better at keeping my attention but also features some baby cannibalism and some poop eating, which I’m sure some people would consider a deal breaker.
KAPLAN: Is there anything else that you’d like me to be sure and include?
CRISWELL: Shameless plug here, but I have my first graphic novel coming out with Street Noise Books on October 12. Queer as All Get Out: 10 People Who’ve Inspired Me is available for preorder on all major sites and through local libraries and bookstores!
ERMAN: Buy Shelby’s Graphic Novel on October 12 and follow them on twitter please. They deserve to own acres of bountiful land in Texas.
If you want to support me, Witchblood (Vault Comics) comes out March 31st and Good Luck (BOOM! Studios) comes out June 2021. I have a lot of books coming out, so please buy and support them otherwise you’ll never see or hear from me again. That is not a threat, but just the nature of the business.
The final issue of Terminal Punks, published by Mad Cave Studios, will be available at your local comic shop on Wednesday, March 31st, 2021.