Jacob Semahn and Jorge Corona Talk No. 1 With a Bullet, Technology, and the Perils of Social Media
At 2017’s Rose City Comic Con I was lucky enough to hit the floor and talk with writer Jacob Semahn (Goners, Man of Action) and artist Jorge Corona (Goners, Feathers) about their upcoming book No. 1 With A Bullet.
The book follows a social media celebrity that becomes the victim of hacking and the pitfalls of social media. Covering a wide array of topical themes ranging from the media’s involvement in victimization to our own reliance on technology, No. 1 With a Bullet will surely be cemented as one of the more culturally aware books of the past decade.
GWW: Hey guys, give me a brief overview of the book as you see it.
Jacob Semahn: In the near future and in the ever-expanding world of social media people are now able to put in contact lenses and play video, augment reality, and the new future is recording video. It’s kind of funny because Sony themselves are actually doing this very thing and they put out a patent for recordable video contact lenses which is crazy. But in this future, a social media darling who is very famous on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and all that kind of stuff, her life comes under attack after sex video surfaces that was taken with those contact lenses and now the world around her is crumbling. As she tries to build a life backup her number one fan comes out of the woodwork and that’s when the bodies start piling up and the terror begins.
GWW: I read the prelude and saw how well that led into story with the news that surrounded the events which is great.
JS: We did kind of a Scream thing where we were kind of like, “well we could do a relevant thing that ties together to the point of the story” but we didn’t want to get into Nash.
GWW: It’s like a slasher horror opening that sets the tone for it which I really liked. You get into the press part [of issue one] where you’re uneasy because the tone has been set for the with the prelude.
Jorge Corona: Exactly. It helps relate a little bit better because Nash, our main character in the book itself, has a negative opinion against Vanessa who was in the prelude. She is like, “Oh you’re playing the victim,” but when it starts happening to her she sees the other side of what that feels like.
GWW: What made you choose to go with a second-tier celebrity and not going with the main celebrity? Going with the assistant Nash, I mean.
JS: It was more of a way to deal with someone who did have some degree of celebrity but at the same time it was more relatable to like everyone else because nowadays we have a lot of web celebrities and stuff like that and it’s just like people who through social media, through following, through all of that have become celebrities but also it’s a very normal life per say that they live so we felt that was a better point to get the readers to come into the story instead of being just like this is a top-notch celebrity who is a little further away from everyone else.
JC: Also, it’s been done before.
GWW: Yeah exactly. We’ve all seen The Fan.
JC: Every stalker thing is with the biggest fan and you’re an opera singer or a movie star or a pop singer.
JS: And the lines now with privacy and what’s private and what’s not when we’re constantly posting everything online and constantly sharing our lives, that’s something that no longer exists. Like now everyone can [be a stalker] if you become obsessed with someone, it’s not as hard as it was to follow that person. It’s a very vulnerable position that almost everyone is in by now because almost everything now is media related or social media-related and it’s very approachable from every angle. People put themselves in very sensitive situations.
GWW: That’s what’s tough.
JS: And you don’t even think about it, you just do it and I think once a negative outcome happens people back out. They’re like, “oh this is too much” and they erase everything and the scary part is, that the more I research talking in general, there’s not a lot of laws against it especially when it comes to social media stalking. Most of it is done by ex’s or people you know and that’s terrifying because it’s so available to anybody and everybody and if you get blocked you can get around it, can just start another account which I read about. I’ve read about boyfriends that literally try to bait their girlfriends.
JC: And the anonymity behind it is what really creates the danger.
JS: It’s true. And there are people who are very sophisticated with technology that easily stalk and do things whereas some people who are just there to be a celebrity, well not to be a celebrity, but ultimately subconsciously to be a celebrity. People just go on there for fun they don’t really think about the risk in it.
JC: There’s a lot of the ‘what’s the purpose if it’s not too create followers and if not to build up a following’ then what is the purpose of just sharing everything that you do and sharing where you are, what you eat, what you know, and everything.
JS: It’s ultimately to feel important.
GWW: Definitely, it’s the pedestal and tear down of American culture.
JS: It’s this reality show mentality that you no longer have to be on TV to feel that way. Kind of like reality TV started with making people that would not necessarily celebrities famous just by recording their lives. Social media now is just an open door to everyone.
GWW: Is it fear that I realize more and more every day.
JS: And we were talking about that reliance on technology that we have right now. Everything is directly linked to your phone and your computer and tablet and everything, so if someone wants to hurt you that way it’s fairly easy to do that and you’ve already collected the evidence for them.
JC: You open the door and it’s funny when you see people and artists and it’s like, “this is my private account” but they’re still posting everything online. The meaning of privacy and what exactly it is right now [is crazy] because it’s just you and private and close to you but you’re still sharing it with an open window to everyone and when that flips it’s like, ”that was just something I said in private in my account” but it’s not.
JS: And then people are putting Amazon Echoes in their house and some of the transcripts are being pulled for court cases. It’s just like, why are you putting this in your house, just because you want to say “Hey Alexa, order me some pay-per-view.” Just go to your computer and type it in! We were talking the other day about Wells Fargo doing this thing where you have your phone turned on and it will always be tracking you but if you’re next to an ATM you don’t have to log-in.
GWW: Like the recent credit scandal [Equifax], one of the underlines of that is that if you go online to inquire if you are hacked on the website then you automatically waive your rights.
JS: And now we’re all made to believe that we need technology and if we don’t have it we don’t have a life, a proper life, and it’s messed up. You can still mail in your checks, you can still do all those things, but it’s for the ease of everything you’re giving up rights and in doing that you’re also slowly desensitizing yourself to being like, “Oh, I can go online to pay my bills, I can go online and post my pictures, who is it hurting?” It sucks because I deleted Facebook and I wanted to delete Twitter but once again I was made to think Twitter is the only way I can really promote my book.
JC: We have to look at it as a business tool.
JS: It’s a business tool of hate.
GWW: Like a LinkedIn where people can tell me I’m an [expletive].
JS: Legitimately it’s like people tell you they love your stuff or you should go die.
GWW: There’s no in-between. How has this affected you on social media?
JC: We haven’t had to deal with it yet but when it comes out we’ll see how it goes. We’re waiting for it.
JS: It’s one of those things where it’s going to touch someone, not in the right way but in the wrong way and it’s going to bother somebody. We knew that going into it and we’re just hoping that people can read it and get a better understanding of what goes into these things and have an [understanding] of the hurt when you write something and send it thinking ‘they can take it, they’re a celebrity.’ It’s like, they know they are a celebrity but just because they want to do something that they actually love doing and they’re doing it successfully doesn’t mean that you can tear them down. It’s not open season on people.
GWW: It seems that a lot of the message of the book is anti-cyber-bullying/pro-privacy.
JS: And it’s an underlying message, it’s not in your face.
GWW: Exactly. I noticed that a lot. [As a reader] you draw your own conclusions from it and that’s the best part. I read the first two issues and I was floored by them and I can’t wait to see where it goes from there.
JC: And if you talk to us we’re horrified by the vulnerability of just putting everything out there but it’s also not something that shouldn’t be done. You can put yourself in that position if you’re comfortable or decide to do it but then it becomes a part of you. You don’t want to judge anyone who does it at the same time because it is vulnerable in that way and it’s that balance that is a very grey area right now. You don’t want to say also that this is wrong and that this is not the way to do it because it shouldn’t be. It’s that excuse that you’re looking for and it’s not that.
GWW: Like Education without condemnation.
JC: Exactly. Because it shouldn’t be that. That’s the flip side of all this is that it does open up things to a certain level.
GWW: I read the ‘afterwards’ in the book that were from females talking about Cosplay at conventions, which is where we are. As a male writing in the female perspective, how do you go about writing that? I see you’re working with your wife here and I imagine you’re around it quite a bit.
JS: The back matter of the book is actually curated by Casey Gilly from CBR. She’s a great writer, she’s doing some stuff in comic books right now, and Sarah Sanders. They have actually been getting a lot of people in the business and industry of comics, video games, TV, and just lawyers that do stalker cases or that do female studies when it comes to technology and doxing, and they want to do a highlight piece on it. So we’re trying to grab all these people that have these personal stories and also post links for people that things like this are happening to. They can go to these links and maybe get more information on how to fight it. While the book is obviously a place for entertainment, while it’s kind of dark and scary, it’s supposed to be entertaining. We didn’t want to be flip about it. We don’t want to just be like we’re two guys acting like we know what’s going on. We don’t. We don’t know what it’s like to be women. I was raised by a single mom and I have aunts that are lesbians and they also raised me. My dad was out of the picture until I was in high school, for the most part, was always surrounded by females, great powerful females, that really kind of informed how I am as a person. And I’ve been very much a sensitive advocate for female issues and empowerment. When I write my stories I kind of always want to make a female character, even if it’s not the main character, I want them to be very powerful, not vulnerable, I want them to be kick ass and do something . It’s something that it does suck coming at it from a male perspective when you write all this stuff but ultimately I hope that people can kind of see between the lines on that and realize that we’re trying to do some good here.
GWW: Some of the things from the comic are taken straight from the headlines and political press, whether it be the presidential blunders or the sexual stuff in politic, the Celebrity cell phone hack, etc., how much did that influence this?
JS: The celebrity hacking thing in 2014 was a big deal. It was strange because when it happened one big thing that everyone talked about was that they shouldn’t have just taking photos like that if they didn’t want that to happen. I was like, “what?! how is this the thing that everyone says?!” When you see photos like that you realize that that is taken between a person and her lover or husband or wife or whatever and it’s a private thing that should be shared and it shouldn’t have any rules on it. It’s so dumb that people say, “just don’t do that and it won’t happen.” It’s like someone targeted them, actively targeted them, they hacked their accounts, they posted their phones to 4Chan and eventually Reddit and all the things that followed when it caught on fire with ‘the fappening’ or whatever and all of these things happen. They are on the internet forever and the guy that finally got caught by the FBI only got 18 months. That’s it. 18 months and he’s out and the rest of the celebrities now are online forever and they’re no longer as private as they once were and that’s kind of a bummer. It’s like the culture where you become entertainment.
JC: Yeah, like you are a commodity.
JS: You’re no longer a person and it’s a bummer because I don’t think people realize how much heartbreak goes into getting to where you are to all of a sudden be shit on or judged by people that just see what people are talking about.
GWW: The end game of a celebrity seem so raw as it is. It seems like 1 out of 100 celebrities can finish their life on top but everybody’s goal is to tear down others. That’s the game of celebrity and you know the outcome when you’re getting into it and that’s the most terrifying part.
JS: It’s absolutely true, people really like to see people fall. People love seeing people that were on top suddenly fallen and then they talked about it and it becomes fodder for most news because it gives you hits and becomes clickbait. We live in a world now where scandal is the name of the game and some people actually may create scandals just to get their name out there.
JC: It’s insane, not long before we were working on issue 2, that was a while back ago, back home in Venezuela a sex tape got released between two actresses and an actor and I was amazed because everything that we were talking about with the story, everything shitty thing that can happen was happening to these people and it was almost play-by-play what was happening back home. The guy was admired because he was with two girls and the two girls were shamed and the rumors of like “she just did it for the celebrity,” it was play-by-play of all the things you hear people doing in this situation.
GWW: And it’s becoming the new normal. The three scariest words I’ve heard in a long time are ‘online is forever.’
JS: There was a scandal on Bachelor Paradise recently where no one saw what happened but one of the contestants accused them sexual assault. I don’t even want to say that because it wasn’t come you don’t know and the two people involved said it wasn’t but then everyone ran with it and now that guy’s name, if you looked it up on the internet, is forever tied to sexual assault
GWW: Something just happened like that here in Oregon where Para-Educator and got accused of sexual misconduct, got drug through the mud, and then was later acquitted but all you find when you Google his name is that mugshot.
JS: It’s a weird line where you never want to like a victim blame but you also don’t want to take a side because you’re not part of it.
JC: And then it becomes a public property where everyone gets the chance to comment and then because of the internet it becomes a direct one to one person and we’re involved and you see your feed and it’s a thousand people just screaming at you.
JS: And not to get political, because I know politics are real hot-button issue, but one of the big reasons I wanted to do the story right now was because of what happened at the elections. People have false ideas about emails and upset over all these things about Benghazi or these emails that no one has ever seen and have been discounted by the FBI numerous times. Yet there’s a guy who openly admits on tape that he sexually assaults by women and grab them by the [expletive] because he can do whatever he wants. And you’re just like, “holy shit, people are like ‘we’re with him and they were fine with it’.” And then [with Hilary] all you can get online is that she has these emails that multiple people said weren’t actually existing she’s the one that’s drug through the mud. It just gets so tiring to see. It’s like people go, ‘no, it’s other things, X,Y and Z and you’re like “no, subconsciously it’s because you wanted this man and you didn’t want this woman in office.’” It’s how all the media does it, that’s how people see it. People see strength, people see weakness, people see assertiveness and authority, people see someone who’s under attack and weak. That’s not how it goes, it’s just how the media paints things and it sucks. Fake news wasn’t a term until Trump was an office and now fake news is everywhere and unfortunately there is real news out there but people don’t seek it out, people seek out the scandal and the hot-button issues of clickbait as real things. There are Pulitzer Prize winning publications out there that people should be reading and then people discount the New York Times and think it’s false. Same with the Washington Post, they think it’s false.
JS: Yeah. But it’s so funny because these publications get Pulitzers every year for their reporting and it’s like, “guys, think about it they do their research.”
JC: And it is the extreme of what we’re living right now with social media and the internet having spread the stream of thought. It is either one side or the other, you’re either love it or hate it, there’s no time to melt into the middle of that and it’s like you have to pick side and it’s Team Jacob and Team whatever. It’s like exactly that but with everything, with life. It’s like you have to pick a side.
JS: It’s like everyone has a team.
GWW: It feels like one of the underlying themes in the book was that was that we are being held hostage by the internet and social media. You have to post to be famous you have to post to be productive.
JC: You have to post to have a job
JS: And we’re at the point of what are you going to do? They’re Paparazzi sitting outside celebrity compounds with drones and cameras on poles and what are they going to do?
JC: There’s one panel in the whole book that I loved before I drew that I had to start putting words for it and it’s just a family watching TV and they’re watching the news and the daughters like what’s a sex tape and the mom says don’t worry you never have to worry about that and the dad’s thinking in this world? Yeah right.
GWW: What are you guys see the story going in the future? You’re two issues in now, are you going to be limited or on-going?
JS: It’s the same as it was with Goners, it’s one of those things where if it does really well we’ll start talking about doing more of it but it’s really hard when you’re doing independent comic because it’s a business that you kind of got to front the money on and you want to do more of course but it’s ultimately up to the readers.
JC: And then we want tell the story that has a beginning a middle and end that is open. Depending on how it goes, if we want to continue it, but we also don’t want to cut it in the middle of rush it to the end.
GWW: That’s a really tough balance.
JS: There are indie people out there that will promise that this will be 50 issues and then you get to the first trade and it’s over and they’re quietly resigned and leave. But with us we definitely try to keep it as open to the reader is possible and if it does really well, we’ll talk about having more issues but right now we definitely want to make it something special that you can kind of read it and get your good story and if that’s it that’s it. We don’t want to say it’s a limited series and we want to keep it open to having it being ongoing.
GWW: As far as the art goes, I’ve noticed they’ve been a lot of cutbacks and a lot of Sam Raimi-esque scene settings that I love. I’m reading it and I get that whole vibe, and it’s hard to label the genre on it, I want to say it’s a social piece, I want to say it’s horror, it’s on that wave of indie horror like Get Out or The Witch that has the social tones to it. When you’re doing the art like that are you writing it into the script or are you sitting down saying, “okay I want to see this and this and this”?
JC: Well the way that we’re doing this, and it’s a little bit different, we have the experience with Goners and working together so we know where we’re going with the story and we talk a lot while we’re working on it and the way that Jake is writing the script is more open for me to interpret the panels and the pages and the layout of the whole issue. So in that way we know I get from him exactly where he wants the story to go and I can play around and since it’s a book that’s very set in real life and at the same time we wanted to play with the fragility of the mind and how crisis and chaos in your life can slowly crumble the way you perceive reality. We wanted to play with that idea too and it’s the constant fear and its making that something visual or tangible for the main character. That was one of the things we wanted to do and we had to look at how to visually represent all that. Jim Hickman is doing the coloring –
GWW: And she is great.
JS: That’s the one standout that everybody’s been saying, ‘Jen’!
JC: I also have had the pleasure of working with her on Feathers, which was my own book before that. We wanted to do something completely different for this one because the story on this one was completely different. It was a lot of back and forth in the beginning to find the visual mediums and language to deal with it. We wanted something very simple and abstract on the same wave, [something] that could be more relatable for the reader as the emotions go through the story. It wasn’t very much about [creating] a good-looking book, we wanted a book that every visual element helps the reader feel what the main character does.
GWW: The first note that I made when I was reading it was that the style changes during the opening augmented reality sequence and how it’s intended to give that perception. I even flipped back from other pages to compare.
JC: The joy that working on this book is tricking the reader into messing up with the whole surrounding of the main character and how to play with that reality. That’s been one of the highlights as well as Jen’s work when she sends the colors.
JS: It’s definitely interesting. When I saw it I remembered it was so stylized. We do something in the beginning with augmented reality and contacts, and I was like “it’s so stylized I can’t tell what’s augmented and what’s not!” Then we went back and forth on it forever and eventually when I saw what was happening with the rest of the book I saw that this was amazing. This is so brilliant I’m glad that they fought me on this one because I was like “it needs to be more realistic” and then I was like “no, this is great heightening the stress and danger.” It’s shown in the colors, it’s like Suspiria.
GWW: I was just going to say that it’s a lot like Suspiria or The Shining with how they augment their reality within the hotel to show what part of Jack psyche you’re in.
JS: There’s a lot of underlying symbolism with art which is great. It’s a subconscious thing that we do that makes it stand up a little bit more on its own or than it was before. Before it’s like your writing and you start getting art back and it’s like, “oh, this sparks an idea” and you start moving into something else and it feeds into it. It’s been really cool and Image, in general, is really awesome about supporting us. Their new policy of trying to get three issues in the can before you can release the first issue has been great because we have such a head start and we can start promoting it and taking it to shops and showing it off. I used to work in a shop and I know it it’s like trying to order a book, three books, before you can even get the first one in and you have no idea what’s happening so it’s nice to be able to show them hey these are what the three issues are if you want to order more you can. It’s been great and people have been responding pretty well.
GWW: So when is this book coming out when we look for this on the shelves?
JS: The day after Halloween, November 1st. The closest we can get to Halloween.
GWW: Are you doing any events or pressers before that or for the release?
C: Well I just moved to the states, I’m living in Denver now.
JS: I live in LA and I’m doing a signing at Fletcher’s Paradise on November 1st. I’m also doing a signing at the comic Factory for Comic Fest which I believe is the 28th of October.
For more information on cyberbullying and protection please visit HaltAbuse.Org, StaySafeOnline.org, and the Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Be sure and check out the GWW’s preview of No. 1 With a Bullet from Image Comics and pick it up this great book when it’s available on November 1st. As always, stay tuned to the GWW for more comic news and interviews.