INTERVIEW with the Creators of ‘Stoned Master’

May 3, 2021


If you love comics, and I mean really love comics, then Kickstarter is the place to be for some of the best creator owned comics out there. Writer Aubrey Sitterson and artist Chris Moreno, along with Taylor Esposito on letters and Tim Daniel with the logo design have a fresh, fun and action packed comic that brings about all the best elements from the best kung fu and stoner-comedy movies. There are more than enough cape and cowl comics on the shelves these days, and what you will find with what Sitterson and Moreno are creating is exciting to say the least. Aubrey is a former editor with Marvel Comics and Image Comics and knows how to put together great looking comics. Chris Morerno is an accomplished comic book pro with experience that spans 20 years. I had a chance to dig a little deeper into the thought process for Stoned Master, which is now live on Kickstarter until May 20, 2021.

Kickstarter comics seems to be the craze right now. It’s a great way for comic book creators to make the comic they want and make money that goes directly into the book and into their pockets, explain your process into using Kickstarter as the platform for Stoned Master.

AUBREY: Brother, I’ve always loved comic shops, and I’m so very stoked to have so many Dark Horse books coming out in the direct market this year – The Worst Dudes, Savage Hearts, and one we haven’t even told y’all about yet – but I’ve got so very many ideas for gorgeous gonzo genre comics jostling for position inside this brain of mine! I feel incredibly fortunate – blessed, really – to also be able to connect directly with our audience on projects like BEEF BROS and now Stoned Master, all while putting dough directly in the pockets of my co creators and collaborators. Dude, I even love the fulfillment part of things; sending BEEF BROS out to more than 1500 backers, including many comics shops, was a joy. Producing work I’m proud of and excited about, packing it up and sending it to people who are also excited about it, all done the right way? This is the dream, man.

You mention on your kickstarter page that “HOW HAS NO ONE DONE THIS YET!?” Why hasn’t anyone done it yet?  And why are you guys the ones to do it?

CHRIS: The whole process of arriving at this idea was pretty gradual, born out of discussions for our next project after our wildly-popular Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling. I knew I wanted to do something that was wall-to-wall action, and Aubrey and I were talking about some of our favorite action flicks, and that led to my mentioning the delightfully schlocky “Death Promise” from 1977, a story of two best friends who use their martial arts skills to beat the evil syndicate of slumlords who are trying to force them and their neighborhood out of their homes. And then we layered in the Drunken Master-style kung fu elements, which, once we decided to set the story in LA, made weed culture feel like a natural addition to that Popeye-and-his-spinach premise of a fighter who gets stronger with their fuel of choice. Only once all those ingredients were mixed together in the stewpot and we took a taste did we realize what we were making.

AUBREY: I’ll take credit for writing that text at the top of the Kickstarter page and, honestly, I’m still shocked that we’re the first one to do this, a book at the intersection of kung fu, cannabis, and community-based politics. Truthfully, I have no idea why we’re first, but I’m thrilled that we are. As proud as I am of what we accomplished with The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling, I gotta be honest: I feel incredibly guilty about making Chris draw approximately eight gajillion pro wrestlers all with very period- or even event- or night-specific reference. We wanted to do something that leans into our specific talents – big action and belly laughs – that gives Chris room to show off and strut his inestimable stuff as a true cartoonist’s cartoonist, all while serving as a love letter to our adopted home of Los Angeles. That’s Stoned Master, daddy.

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I wonder about making a book like this, with cannabis, martial arts, you compare it to Cheech and Chong and Kung Fu Hustle. Obviously it’s going to be a book that is loads of fun and laughs, but it’s also about gentrification and corporate take over, how do you toe the line of a goofy stoner comedy and the high level stakes of corporate America ruining the culture of a Los Angeles neighborhood mixed again with a martial art action story?

CHRIS: I think trying to find that balance influenced us to create a fictional neighborhood of Chavez Heights, so that we could tell a story about a version of the LA that’s our home while still being respectful to the real neighborhoods that are dealing with this problem. It also helps add a layer to the story beyond it just being a stoner kung fu comedy, taking it one step further from just a pastiche of inspirations.

AUBREY: I make gorgeous, gonzo genre comics – whether it’s left-wing superheroes, fight comic soap operas, raunchy sci fi mysteries, sexy jungle romcoms, or stoner kung fu comics – that’s my wheelhouse. What I love about genre work is not just getting to participate in a creative conversation that spans generations, but harnessing the genre and its tropes to explore deeper, more universal truths. That’s the work that’s always spoken most deeply to me – Ursula LeGuin, Jack Kirby, Jack London, Howard Chaykin – and that’s what we’re doing with Stoned Master. As for toeing the line between the serious and the ridiculous, I think BEEF BROS, which backers have been raving about online for weeks, is a good example of how powerful and effective this approach can be.

You mention that “It’s all the intense, artful fight scenes you expect from a martial arts epic….” Tell me a bit about your love for all things kung fu? Jackie Chan? Sonny Chiba? Who or what influenced you in your love for martial arts and then working that into wanting to make Stoned Master?

CHRIS: Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung are the top of the pyramid for me in terms of that combo of comedy, action, and inventive fight choreography and directing that I’ve always been drawn to and was drawing upon for this project. For example, in the course of my research I just caught a movie called “Knockabout” from 1979 that Sammo directed and starred in, and Sammo’s character’s look is so close to where we landed with Frankie’s design in Stoned Master that I feel like I was somehow channeling it.

AUBREY: Jackie Chan was my first real introduction to martial arts done well. Specifically First Strike, which I still adore. The influence of he and Sammo Hung’s comedic, anything-goes style of martial arts on Stoned Master can’t be overstated. But if you’re asking for my favorite, it’s gotta be Gordon Liu. I think there’s such a considered elegance to his movements – it’s breathtaking, really – and to me, that’s a huge part of the genre’s appeal. The beauty of motion. And that’s another reason why Chris is the ideal cartoonist to bring this to life: His preternatural control over gesture and character acting panel to panel. It’s the central tenet of truly puissant cartooning, creating the illusion of motion where there is none, and there’s no one better at it than Chris.

Frankie Wong seems inspired, both physically, mentally and spiritually. Tell me about creating this character and how he “leads” the story.

CHRIS: Frankie’s just a dude who likes getting bombed out of his mind, hanging with his pals at the local dispensary, and occasionally straightening some fools out with his Blazed Fist – a martial arts style with moves based off the pothead’s actions (pinching the joint, gripping a bong) in the manner of Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master style. At the start of the story, he’s not interested in, or aware of, his place in his community and the larger world. But little does he know in this first issue, the corporate influences disturbing the peace of his neighborhood are going to force him to figure that out.

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AUBREY: Man, let’s not beat around the bush: Frankie Wong is a slacker. He’s a good dude and he means well, but his only real priorities are doing kung fu and getting absolutely STB (stoned to the bone, natch). Without giving too much away, the story of Stoned Master is really Frankie’s journey of figuring out what matters beyond kung fu and cannabis, which, obviously, are also extremely important.

Chris, your colours are bright, lush and vibrant and also there is a sense of scale to the background panels we have seen so far, what is your process for creating this book?

CHRIS: Thanks! For me it was just trying to visually communicate what I love about living in LA. I was born in CA, but spent most of my life on the East Coast, and I was immediately struck by the contrast when I first came out to the West Coast as an adult. It’s so bright and color-saturated- the skies, the architecture, the neighborhoods, the murals! I wanted to show it all. I’ve also seen, over the past few years, this movement of color in comics returning to those bright, vibrant hues that made me fall in love with the medium in the first place, and that gave me an additional incentive to crank it up.

Let’s talk about the working relationship you two have. How do your styles mesh together? How do they not? Is it a collaborative effort or is it strictly you handle the words and I’ll handle the art?

CHRIS: At its best, comics is a kind of leveling-up of the participants, and the collaborations I’ve shared that have been the best are ones where the script gives me all kinds of ideas to bring to the art, which then gives the writer all kinds of ideas that weren’t there on the page but can influence what they do next. The ideal is that the participants want to be better and better for each other and that helps the book as a whole. Aubrey and I have that kind of great collaboration, and that’s stretched back to our first project together, WORTH, and through our previous book, The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling. I write and draw my own books, like my self-published Zombie Dickheads, so I’m happy to discuss the story and give input where it’s needed, but I also know when to sit back and let Aubrey shine.

AUBREY: There’s a lot of things I love about working with Chris – that’s why this is our third outing together – but aside from the fact that he makes me cackle with laughter, it’s this: Chris doesn’t need me. Not really. Because he’s a cartoonist – not a penciler/inker/colorist, or a comics artist, or an illustrator – Chris is a full, true cartoonist, the most impressive thing an artist can be, someone capable of doing it all. But like Chris said, the true joy of collaboration is elevating one another, creating something that could have never done on your own. When Chris sends pages over, I can’t wait to open them up and see what he changed or added or improved upon. It’s a dance, something you do together.

Be sure to check it out where you can find all the perk and information about Stoned Master.

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