Former punk-country bandmates turn talents to new comic

Backward-ass farmer rockets into space with Futility’s launch at Calgary Expo

Having traveled thousands of miles together in a dilapidated tour van former punk-country rockers and Agriculture Club bandmates Rick Overwater and Cam Hayden have now applied their DIY do-it-however-you-can punk sensibility to the only logical next endeavour: writing and drawing their first comic.

“That’s the kind of guys we are” says a cheerful breathless Overwater of their underground comix-inspired Futility the first of a planned minimum four-issue arc which he and Hayden plug this weekend as part of the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo. A launch party will be held as part of Saturday night’s Unofficial Comic-Con Afterparty at the Palomino Smokehouse.

As for the comic’s premise “it’s not far off the bullshit we’d toss around in the band van” Hayden says “only this time we’re shaping it into a story.”

Cross-pollinating what Overwater calls the “old school” feel of pulpy comic books and classic space opera like Flash Gordon Weird Science magazine and artist Basil Wolverton’s strip Spacehawk with the “rough-around-the edges” quality of underground comix like Zap and Zippy the Pinhead the duo’s comic debut chronicles the adventures of Red a Midwestern farmer who rockets to the stars in his own homemade grain bin silo.

The character who Overwater describes as the kind of friendly salt-of-the-earth yet “backward-ass old-world conservative Christian” prairie type he grew up amidst is the writer’s vehicle for his own not-so-buried anti-capitalist socio-political commentary. If socialism the counterculture and feminism flummox poor Red just wait until he gets a load of what surrealistic craziness lurks in the cosmos.

It’s the kind of not-so-understated subtext Overwater can’t help but inject. Nor can he shy away from the kind of black grotesque humour that makes him and Hayden laugh but might horrify others (as when Overwater’s wife ordered him to close Josh Simmons’ horror comics collection The Furry Trap during a flight to Vancouver.)

Overwater has worked his way up to his comics debut evolving from creating his own “cat stories” as a young kid to drawing quasi- Conan characters. On account of his “not being able to do even crappy comics anymore” however he teamed with Hayden who’s recently drawn a comic of short stories and one-pagers for his own band The Cripple Creek Fairies to be distributed at shows (and sold online at indyplanet.com ).

“From the outside it may seem like a lark but mostly to people who don’t understand the effort that goes into it” Hayden says. “Other people who do know how much work it is probably just think we’re stupid. They might be right!”

Overwater long thought about writing a comic having read superhero fare through high school before graduating to the more adult-oriented dark fantasies of Heavy Metal magazine. After gaining a degree in communications and journalism from Gonzaga University in Spokane Wash. he realized comics had changed with the likes of such alt-lit luminaries as Daniel Clowes ( Ghost World ) and Charles Burns ( Black Hole ).

That new level of literary complexity appealed to Overwater and is present in his approach to his protagonist. Red he explains couldn’t be “a hateful SOB” — that wouldn’t be interesting nor would it capture a sense of true human complexity. For that matter that Red fashions his own DIY spacecraft is paradoxically in keeping with the punk worldview. The former rocker may cringe (or not) at the idea but there is inversely something of the warm dare one say folksy Overwater to be detected in Red.

Not that Overwater is uncomfortable with contradiction: both he and Hayden work in what he calls “corporate” downtown Calgary. “I got no problem with that” says Overwater a corporate copywriter by day. “Not all big companies are bent on evil.” And besides he adds it beats digging ditches.

The comic itself is also something of a contradiction in presentation with its comix sensibility in content wrapped in a polished glossy full-colour pamphlet format. “We tried to make it as professional as possible” Overwater says. “It’s the kind of comic a serious record collector might like.”

Issue No. 2 of Futility is scheduled for an August release while Overwater is currently writing the script for issue No. 3. As for what may or may not become a collector’s item — that is issue No. 1 — it’s on sale at local shops. Overwater is also preparing a package for online and digital comics platform ComiXology; other interested readers can mail order it through Overwater’s website.

As for possible adventures for Red beyond four issues the former says the plan is to forge ahead “until we run out of money” — though Red might also return in a one-off book.

The two have “shitloads” of ideas for other projects as well says Overwater including a “weird dystopian future” story featuring such naturally complementary elements as serial killers and papal excommunication. Which means at the same time shitloads more work. “It is unpaid” Hayden says. “If I waited around for someone to pay me to do the stuff I like to do I’d never get to do it.”