Describing I Heart Skull-Crusher! from BOOM! Studios in just a few words or sound bites is a nearly insurmountable feat—in a good way. Post-apocalyptic landscapes. Over-the-top violence by way of a sport called Screaming Pain Ball. Hero worship. Finding oneself. A Mighty Ducks/Miracle-esque underdog story. And a coach named Blood-Bone.

And that’s just the beginning.

Written by Josie Campbell (My Adventures with Superman), with art by Alessio Zonno, colored by Angel De Santiago, and lettered by Jim Campbell, I Heart Skull-Crusher! is a book that you don’t know what you’re getting from one issue to the next, one page to the next, but you’re always emotionally satisfied and drained and invigorated for the journey.

I spoke with Josie Campbell recently about the idea behind I Heart Skull-Crusher!, the wide and varied cast that populates the book, the Mad Max aesthetic and feel of the series, and how the COVID lockdown inspired Screaming Pain Ball.

I Heart Skull-Crusher! has been a bat-crazy, utter delight of a comic book series, with everything being thrown at the wall and all of it sticking. What’s even more impressive is that the creative team is able to layer in a brand-new sport on top of a brand-new world and populate it with characters who are wild and compelling and who prompt you to root for them every step of the way. Josie Campbell mentions in the interview a desire for more Skull-Crusher stories and I echo that sentiment. More Screaming Pain Ball and Mutant Bear-Man, please!



FreakSugar: For folks who might not be familiar with the comic, what is the conceit behind I Heart Skull-Crusher!?

Josie Campbell: I Heart Skull-Crusher! follows Trini, an 18-year-old from the boonies with just one dream: to join her favorite athlete’s team playing her favorite sport in the whole world! That sport just happens to be Thunderdome meets soccer, where you murder the other team your way to the goal, because Trini lives in an insane Mad Max post-apocalyptic America. Now Trini is on a mission to make her dreams come true, assembling a rag-tag team of misfits in order to win the National Tournament – moving up the ranks one murderous match at a time!

FS: I LOVE fictional sports. Gotta ask: Where did the idea of Screaming Pain Ball come from?

JC: I LOVE a great sports underdog story. I’m a huge fan of sports manga and anime, like Slam Dunk. I also love movies like Thunderdome and Blood of Heroes, and started coming up with the idea of essentially soccer/football where everyone is armed, and every team has its own array of weapons and violent strategies to steal the ball. From there came the formation of everyone’s new favorite game: Screaming Pain Ball!



FS: On that same note, what was the genesis for the series?

JC: It honestly began during the 2020 lockdown; the whole world shut down, yet somehow within months this became the new status quo, boring even. It made me think about a world where the most extreme disasters could befall, yet everyone treats it normally: “Oh yeah, the Acid Monsoon burned off my face, but did anyone see the latest game?” I was also watching a lot of my favorite sports movies and shows to try and escape reality at the same time, stories where people triumph over often absurd obstacles. From these two different ideas came I Heart Skull-Crusher!.

FS: The cast is so fleshed out. What can you tell us about the characters populating the book?

JC: I had a lot of fun creating characters that displayed the insanity of this world. The very first character I came up with was Skull-Crusher – she’s the epitome of the cool, confident, muscle-bound jock that is so capable and talented you can’t help but be in awe of her. Frankly the character of Trini came out of me going, “Oh my god, I would 1000% crush on Skull-Crusher.” The team is as rag-tag as I could possibly make it: you have David the Mutant Bear-Man (who is DEFINITELY just a bear), and the alcohol-drenched, Walter Mattheau-inspired Coach Blood-Bone. You also have the cocky and overconfident egomaniac that is Cutter Dan, and the Twins – bandits who are bribed into joining with promises of allowing them to rob the rich at the end of the tournament. They are a prickly, wild bunch, but their shared drive to win is what makes them work.



FS: The art in the book is just so dynamic and gorgeous. What can you tell us about the collaboration with the rest of the creative team?

JC: I got immensely lucky finding Alessio Zonno, and it’s been incredibly rewarding to work with him. The instant we spoke, it was clear we had the same loves and influences, especially our shared love of Studio Trigger, anime and manga like FLCL and DBZ, and the same sense of humor. So much of the dynamic action and comedy comes from Alessio, and working with him has been like sharing a hive mind! Angel’s colors are fantastic, and he was instantly I and Alessio’s first choice – he just clicked with us. Throw in Jim’s fantastic lettering, and you have the explosively fun book you see today!

FS: Is there anything you can tease about what we can expect to see in the latter half of the series?

JC: Trini has been incredibly single-minded in her goal to get on Skull-Crusher’s team, thinking winning the National Tournament will impress her idol and make Skull-Crusher love her. But Trini has forged powerful friendships with her team on the way – and the second half of the series will see her start to realize that in this game, friendship and love are liabilities. In the American Waste, you must be careful what you wish for – and Trini has NOT been careful…



FS: Do you have more I Heart Skull-Crusher! stories in your back pocket you’d like to explore?

JC: Absolutely. I’ve also got an idea for how I want to end it – but fingers crossed we get many, many more issues to explore!

FS: Are there any other projects coming down the pike you’d like to talk about?

JC: Outside of I Heart Skull-Crusher!, I am writing the comic tie-in to My Adventures With Superman, the TV show I also produced. The first issue of that comes out June 4th, and serves as our Christmas special, with a story that bridges seasons one and two and sheds a bit more light on Krypton. Then in the ongoing space, I just took over writing DC Comics’ Shazam, working with the fantastic artist Emma Lupacchino; the first issue of my run starts with issue #11, and issue #12 comes out June 4th as well.



FS: What are you reading right now?

JC: I went on a real kick reading Apothecary Diaries and Dungeon Meshi recently, as well as Pornsak Pichetshote’s Man’s Best series; rounding it out is Green Lantern, which is currently being written by my pal Jeremy Adams. All great comic book reads!

FS: If you had one final pitch for I Heart Skull-Crusher!, what would it be?

JC: If you have been craving a funny, action-packed, bisexual-as-hell coming of age story that deals with trying to achieve your dreams in a world that loves to rip dreamers apart, this is the book for you! I’m excited to take you on a ride that starts with laughter, ends with tears, and introduces you to your new favorite fictional sport. Check it out!

I Heart Skull-Crusher! #3 is out now from BOOM! Studios. Issue #4 goes on sale Wednesday, June 19, 2024.

From the description of issue #4:

The penultimate issue heats up in tandem with the continuing tournament! The finest teams of the Wasteland battle it out, but our heroes’ unconventional team draws the distaste of the ruling class. In a lead up to the finals featuring will-they-won’t-they romantic tension, no one will be prepared for the upcoming battle and the identity of the secret guest of honor…