Imagine you are perusing the internet and you stumble upon a web comic. Now, this isn’t just any web comic. It’s a comic that is at times a teenage drama, at others a horror story, and a sci fi romp. Oh, and it’s also filled with white hot action and cheeky humor. PLUS it has lots of swearing and nudity.

No, this isn’t some mirage in a desert of sanitized, politically correct entertainment. This is Satan Ninja 198X, and it is here to rock your face off with wild 80’s awesome. The plot summary is as follows:

Satan Ninja 198X  is the tale of Eddie McCarthy, an unpopular high school senior who pines for the hottest girl in school. Of course, he hasn’t got a chance. But everything changes when Eddie stumbles upon a magical Hell-forged glove with the ability to turn him into a ninja with infernal powers. Unfortunately, the glove also makes him the target of demonic beings from outer space.AD-&-JP - Photo by Michael Cook

Jessica Safron and Adam Dravian in their natural 80’s habitat.

If after reading that you don’t have a huge comic chubzilla you are on the wrong website.

The series was created by the team of Adam Dravian and Jessica Safron who live in Grand Rapids, MI. Dravian is the writer of the comic when he is not being a supervillain (with a name like that how can he not be one?) and Safron takes up co-writing and illustrating duties.

We had the chance to interview Safron and take a deep dive into her background, influences, what it’s like drawing the raddest comic on the Internet.sn_01_001-cover_972x1475_80-qual

AAGG: When did you decide to become an artist?
SAFRON:  I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil, and I was raised by a pair of artists, so it’s a little hard to tell. I spent the first seven years of my life in North Hollywood, California with my graphic designer mom and freelance illustrator/muralist dad. They were both interested in getting jobs at comic or animation studios, but we ended up moving back to Michigan to be closer to family (and away from earthquakes) and they continued their respective professions.

I’d go through different phases as a kid, saying I want to be this or that when I grow up, like a lot of kids. Rock star, doctor, author, video game designer, etc. (Why didn’t I pick doctor??) But I drew constantly throughout childhood.

When I was twelve, in the very early 2000s, there were these guys who hosted a show called Otaku Vision late at night on the local public access channel that I’d catch sometimes, and they’d show clips of obscure anime. I soon learned that two of the guys who did the show, Aric and Yad, also taught a class for young teens called “How to Manga” at Kendall, the local art college. I’d very recently adopted an extremely manga-flavored style, so this sounded like the coolest thing ever. I’d been a voracious anime/manga fan for about a year or so, at the time.

My parents enrolled me, and I got to know the guys I saw on TV, and eventually some of their other comic artist friends, too. I’d made comics here and there before that, but I think enrolling in that class was the start of my being seriously corralled into the direction of comic book artist. The classes didn’t have a whole lot of direct influence on my actual drawing skills or techniques, but I definitely got a sense of belonging and camaraderie out of it, and exposure to their enthusiasm about comics and their own comic book projects. When I was sixteen, I started going to comic conventions with them.

Still, even throughout college, I wasn’t sure which artistic career path I’d be taking. By that time, I started looking at the professional art world as being represented by two major paths: the less-money/more-freedom route of the freelancer like Dad, or the more-secure/more-slavish route of the in-house designer like Mom. I definitely seem to have aligned a lot more with the Dad way of things.

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AAGG: What did you study in college?
SAFRON:  I got my BFA in Digital Media (Illustration Focus) from Kendall in December 2010, and I was one class shy of minoring in Graphic Design. It’s the same art college my parents went to (and met at). There’ve been a few other badass digital illustrators from Kendall. Like Jason Heuser who did the “Welcome to the Internet ’84” piece, and all those paintings of over-the-top U.S. presidents riding bears and firing guns and whatnot. And Darren Geers, who does a lot of video game related art including that famous piece of Gabe Newell in a Half-Life HEV suit. They each graduated a little while before I did. I wish they could serve as proof that Kendall is a magical amazing artist factory, but that sadly can’t be the case.

AAGG:  Also, you were an art director for a while before doing the comic full time. How did you get that position and what was that like?

SAFRON: When I graduated from college, my boyfriend (and main writer of Satan Ninja 198X), Adam, had been looking into different Dungeons & Dragons “retro-clone” systems to glean rules from to incorporate into our D&D game. One such system was the Myth & Magic Roleplaying Game published by New Haven Games. A lot of second edition D&D fans seemed pretty pumped about it online, so Adam suggested I contact the main guy behind the project and show him my portfolio.

I ended up doing a ton of illustrations for the game’s rulebooks over the course of about a year and directed other artists on the project. I worked on that project with about as much fervor as I am on Satan Ninja now. Lots of sleepless nights, constantly drawing/digitally painting.

I parted ways with NHG shortly after all the art for the Player’s Guide was completed. There was a successful Kickstarter for the hardcover Player’s Guide book, but then it kind of turned into one of those Kickstarter horror stories. I think they had some trouble with the printing company they were going through or something, and it took an insane amount of time for a lot of people to get the books that they’d ordered. Literally years, in most cases. I ended up ordering one second hand later on, and it turned out beautifully. It’s sad that things couldn’t have gone better so more people could’ve at least seen it, especially after all the work that had been poured into the project.

Myth and Magic Player's Guide coverA sample of some of the work she did while at NHG.

AAGG:  What advice would you give to up and coming artists?

SAFRON: Oh man, are you implying that I’ve made it? No longer just up and coming, myself? Well, that’s flattering!

Hmm. Setting up a Patreon page seems like good advice no matter what kind of artist you are. It enables your fans to pay you whatever amount they want per month to support you, and gives you a platform to reward your fans for their support. It’s kind of like Kickstarter, except it’s a subscription model. I just launched mine a couple months ago. My hope is that it’ll eventually serve as a more steady, substantial source of income and allow me to spend more time on the comic and less time trying to scramble to do enough other work to make money.

For those of you considering art college: There are a ton, a TON of free resources for artists on the Internet. Think really hard before spending money on training, college, anything like that, when it comes to art.

While I’m sure there are people out there who feel like art school greatly helped them develop as an artist, there’s no guarantee that school will dramatically improve your skills. From what I’ve seen, artists who were really good by the end of college were really good when they began, and there are people who graduate who don’t seem very skilled at all. The biggest contributors to sharpening art skills seem to be plain old practice and drawing from life (or from photos, if you must).

And even if you’re highly skilled, there’s a really good chance you won’t be making much money after you rack up all that student loan debt, especially at first. And even if you do get lucky and end up rolling in dough, you might not have needed a degree to get there. The classic advice is “the only thing your prospective employer cares about is your portfolio, not your degree.”

I did meet a lot of cool people in college, and I’m glad I did. It’s a good way to network, but then again, so is the Internet.

Many of my fellow alumni are swimming in hopeless soul-crushing debt, but I was lucky enough to have the following:

  • A lot of help through scholarships. Ask your prospective colleges for scholarship info and check out fastweb.com.
  • Living with my parents for low rent.
  • A nice part-time job as a weekend security guard at a furniture factory. This kind of job could also be a good way to continue supplementing your income when you begin your career as an artist.
  • This was huge: Taking as many classes as possible at community college that could contribute to Kendall’s Digital Illustration course plan.
  • Filling out the FAFSA each year and only taking out Direct Subsidized Loans.
  • Being an insane miser. I wouldn’t recommend pursuing an art career without this trait, let alone a degree.
  • I was fully aware that I wouldn’t need a degree to work freelance, but I thought that since I had the means, I might as well get a degree in something I was already good at in case I needed/wanted to go the office job route after all, though I’ve also heard that a degree doesn’t always matter a whole lot for an art job like that, either. Think about where you want to work, and do your research.

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AAGG: As an artist, what would you say are your biggest influences? Whose work do you admire most?

SAFRON:  I’m actually not sure who my biggest influences are. I really like the barbarian-laden paintings of Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo, but at times I wonder where my style actually came from. When I was a young kid, I drew almost nothing but animals and animal-people, and didn’t really start drawing people-people very much until I was twelve and became obsessed with anime/manga. A few favorites were Dragonball, Bastard!!, Outlaw Star, and Ranma 1/2.

dirty_pair_by_jessicasafron-d90len0Jessica’s fan art of Dirty Pair, another one of her influences! Awesome!

By my mid-teens, it seemed like every young artist was drawing in a manga-inspired style. I’ve remained a fan of plenty anime and manga, but my taste in comics started becoming less exclusive around that time, thanks to the local library carrying more comics, and to my friends for letting me borrow theirs. I wanted to start going in a different direction with my own art. I began drawing portraits from photos of my friends, and started reading the likes of Transmetropolitan, Preacher, Hellboy, Sandman, The Maxx, and a bunch of others . I was suddenly consuming comics with a huge range of art styles, and I must have pulled something from who knows how many of them. Oh yeah, and then there were all the webcomics I’d read, and animated films and shows I’d seen. I really have no idea what influenced me most.

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AAGG:  Satan Ninja 198X is very heavy on the 1980’s influences. What is it about the 80’s that draws you and Adam to this era? Are there any particular movies/comics/music that influence the story?

SAFRON:  Adam was born in the spring of ’81. He spent a huge amount of his childhood watching movies on a pirated premium cable movie channel. Bombarding his developing mind with 80s movies all day long all the time must have had something to do with it.

I was born in the summer of ’88. Even though I sort of “missed out” on experiencing the 80s first-hand, I still grew up on a ton of the same movies and shows and music that Adam did. My parents also exposed me to a lot of stuff much older than the 80s, and older than themselves. I ended up with an odd familiarity with media from throughout the 20th century that kids my age didn’t tend to have. Then in my teens, I suddenly gained a bunch of comic artist friends who were born around ’75 to ’81, and they’re almost certainly to blame for fully catalyzing my extreme 80s fixation.SN Video - Totally Cool - Screencap 6Jessica takes time to stretch before knocking out some art. (jk, this is a still from a promo video)

As far as particular influences, there are waaaaay too many to list, but we tried to do it anyway on our website’s FAQ.

As badass as this story is, the core of the comic is based on Adam’s love of 80s teen movies like Can’t Buy Me Love. I’m not a teen teen movie fan in general, but I enjoy stuff like Weird Science. Teen Wolf (1985) probably has the most in common with the comic’s premise. Very early on, when we started talking about doing the comic together in 2008, we thought a good log line would be something like, “It’s like Teen Wolf, but instead of getting popular at school by becoming a werewolf, the main character gets popular by becoming a magical ninja.” And instead of being a basketball star, Satan Ninja Eddie fights monsters and demons. I’m sure Eddie would be pretty sweet at basketball too though, if he ever gets time to try it.

sn_03_00-cover_972x1475_75-qualThe 80’s references are hard to count in this comic

AAGG:  Your comic has healthy doses of profanity, nudity, and satanic imagery. Has anyone been offended by that? Any fun stories about people being outraged?

SAFRON:   Surprisingly, almost nobody has been openly upset by the comic. Actually, I JUST received what’s probably my very first nasty comment about the comic, only about a week or so ago on Reddit. This guy was really annoyed by all the boobs. Besides him, people have been very nice and polite to us about the comic so far. It does make me feel a little awkward when certain people press me about what I “do,” but people are usually just amused when I tell them about Satan Ninja.

At one convention last summer, my tablemate noticed that as one interested guy approached our table and started asking me about the comic, the guy’s friend took a look at the Satan Ninja stuff, slowly backed away, wide-eyed, shaking his head. Most of the time at conventions, people will either glance at my table and keep walking, or they’ll do a double take, then come over and be extremely tickled by the comic.

Our biggest local convention, Grand Rapids Comic Con, doesn’t allow the sale of any material “worse” than “PG-13,” even if you don’t have it out on display. This is the strictest content rule I’ve ever heard of for a comic convention. Since our comic has some boobs in it, it’s not allowed. It’s not as though it’s porn or anything, and I feel like it’s overkill to treat it as such.

 

 

AAGG:  What are you excited about reading/watching when you have some spare time?

SAFRON:  Adam and I have a Netflix queue about ten miles long filled with basically nothing but 80s movies. We’ve been chiseling away at it very slowly, since I’m so busy drawing all the time. Looking at what’s coming soon on the list, I’m pretty excited for The Fly (1986) and Gymkata. Adam has seen Gymkata, but I haven’t, and we’ve already made a reference to it in the comic, which makes me feel like a big poser! It isn’t often that Adam has me draw a gag based on something I’m not familiar with, but when it does happen, I usually want to rectify it asap.

We were recently told that we should watch TurboKid. I know nothing about it except that it has something to do with 80s-type radness.

As for reading, I’ve been excited to finally dig into Comfort Love and Adam Withers’ The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics. I started reading it and already gleaned some solid advice. I know the authors, and they’re insanely hardworking people making a living creating comics.

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AAGG:   Are there any new projects that you are working besides Satan Ninja 198X?

SAFRON:  Besides Satan Ninja 198X… Adam and I made some videos a couple months ago in which we play a bunch of different 80s-inspired characters. They are related to the comic, but they were a separate undertaking in themselves, and more people need to see them because they turned out waaay too rad: https://SatanNinja.com/Extras/Videos/

One video can be seen here:

AAGG:   What trends do you see coming down the road? What is coming out in the future that you are excited about?

SAFRON:  I’m pretty out of touch when it comes to new trends, I think. I guess one thing that’s been rising in popularity is the outspoken disapproval of gratuitous sexualization of women who conform to the most mainstream standards of beauty. It’s a nice sentiment in some ways, but I can’t say it’s the most exciting trend for the sake of my comic, given its nature. I don’t forsee it really hurting us either, though.

As far as things coming out that I’m excited about … Gosh, I live in such an 80s cave. A couple of my friends took me to see Krampus in December and I was happy to see something new that I liked, but I hadn’t heard much about it before seeing it. I like things better that way, though. Then I can be pleasantly surprised when something cool just sort of falls into my lap.

End of Interview

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So that wraps it up. We would like the thank Jessica for doing this interview with us and wish her and Adam nothing but the best!

Now go read Satan Ninja 198X!

Once you realize how awesome it is you can support them on Patreon here. But don’t listen to me. Here is Jessica herself to tell you all the cool #$@% Patreon can get you.

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