Action-packed films and video games have long been a staple in our collective pop culture, and it’s no secret as to why. They appeal to our desire to jump into the fray and see the good guy dispense justice to wrongdoers–with a little flash and high-kicks and haymakers thrown in for good measure.
Fans of the genre will be pleased as punch(es) this March with the tale of Joseph “Saint” Raines and Rex Samson, two characters ripped from that tradition, who are pursuing a man who has touched their lives with murder. The duo hope to bring the heat to this man in the octane-fueled comic Hard Justice. Writer Wesley Gift and artist Bryce Oquaye are launching a Kickstarter to bring the first issue of Hard Justice to life, with more planned in the future. Joined by letterer Taylor Esposito and editor Shawn Pryor—with a variant cover by Justin Stewart—Hard Justice’s campaign also promises some really nifty stretch goals—including a 3-D coin? What-the-what?
Mr. Gift was kind enough to speak with me recently about the conceit of Hard Justice, the live-action and video game influences of the comic, the Kickstarter campaign itself, and what he and the book’s creative team have in store down the road.
The enthusiasm Gift exudes during this interview matches the talent and hard work he and everyone on the book have poured into it. Hard Justice looks to be a treat, not just to fans of a good comic book yarn, but for those of us who have an affinity for the wealth of phenomenal action cinema the 1970s through the 1990s bestowed upon us. Gift and the entire team on Hard Justice are just the types of creative people you want on a book like this: being inspired by what’s come before, giving a tip of the hat to their inspirations, but also crafting a story that stands wholly on its own.
FreakSugar: For folks who are reading this, what can you tell us about your comic Hard Justice?
Wesley Gift: Hard Justice is the story of two street-level heroes, Joseph “Saint” Raines and Rex Samson, as they each seek the man responsible for the death of someone close to them. Little do they know, they’re after the same guy! However, their methods and styles clash, so they will need to figure out a way to work together.
FS: The feel and the look of the book have me sold already. What can you tell us about the cast we can expect to meet?
WG: Our lead is Joseph “Saint” Raines, a former cop turned private investigator. When we first meet him, he’s being do this for awhile and has the reputation of someone that criminals fear. He’s cool, he’s got style, and he’s not afraid to use his prized 1985 Buick GNX Convertible to chase down the bad guy.
Rex Samson is a karate practitioner, kicking and chopping his way to get revenge. He’s high-strung with a bit of vigilantism, and he’s dangerously close to crossing the line when it comes to punishing those who harm other people.
FS: So many things spring to my mind when I see the images, from Double Dragon to action movies from the 1970s. What are some of your influences on the book?
WG: I’m so glad you picked up on these things because you are EXACTLY right! I grew up on action movies from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s as well as old school side-scrolling beat’em up video games. When it came to movies, I specifically pulled from The Warriors (1979), Action Jackson (1988), and, most importantly, Kung Fury (2015). Both Action Jackson and Kung Fury focus on renegade cops who don’t always follow the rules, but their heart’s in the right place as they kick ass all the way to delivering justice. Mix that with the stylized gang characters you see in The Warriors and you’ve got the basis of the people in Hard Justice.
Sometimes there’s nothing more fun than punching/kicking bad guy after bad guy in video games, so as a kid I latched onto games such as Double Dragon and River City Ransom (one of my all-time favorites) on the NES. Later when I got a Sega Genesis/Sega CD combo, I got hooked on Final Fight and Streets of Rage. I’ve always been impressed with the skill involved in hand-to-hand combat/martial arts, and I wanted the same forJoseph “Saint” Raines and Rex Samson—they rely on their “fists of skill,” and not guns.
FS: You have a stacked creative team on this issue. How did the team come together and what has the collaboration process been like?
WG: I am incredibly fortunate to be able to work with so many talented people on this project. Once I had the script written, I wanted to make sure the story was solid and reached out to Shawn Pryor, a prolific comics and graphic novel writer, to edit the script. Shawn has been my mentor for years and what I enjoy most about working with him is his ability to see what you’re doing, where your story is going, and how to make it better.
Once the script was finalized, I obviously needed an artist, and contacted my friend Bryce Oquaye. Bryce and another mutual friend of ours, Ken Kirk, released a book called Warden’s Watch in 2019, and what I admired most about Bryce’s skill and style is his ability to capture big, dynamic movement in a still image.
Bryce got to work on character designs and building the world within Hard Justice, and we began chatting about launching the project on Kickstarter. We knew early on that we wanted a variant cover, and so I contacted another friend who has mentored me, Justin Stewart, to draw an homage to the original NES game Double Dragon.
My original intent was to letter the comic myself; however, after studying the craft and watching many tutorials, I realized that 1), my lettering skill would not be up to par for this task and 2), lettering the book myself would take a long time. So I found Taylor Esposito on Twitter, an award-winning letterer in the comics industry, reached out and asked if I could hire him to join our creative team. Lucky for me, he said yes!
With so many people involved, it’s been helpful for us to set a plan and stay in constant communication throughout this whole collaborative process. As we approach the finish line, Bryce and I chat just about every day to finalize pages before we send them to Taylor for the lettering, while at the same time talking crowdfunding strategies. It’s been a long, wild ride, but seeing everything come together has been truly amazing.
FS: On to the Kickstarter itself, what can potential backers expect in terms of the issue and rewards?
WG: Hard Justice is 33 black & white pages of non-stop action in the traditional comic book format. We are in the home stretch of completing the book, that way it is finished and ready for printing once the Kickstarter launches on March 1st.
We’ve got a number of awesome rewards, including logo stickers, trading cards, character prints, even a tier that will allow you to claim a piece of original art from the book! ALSO—if we surpass our funding goal of $3,000, we’ve got some cool stretch goals planned, including an indie comics bundle, more pinups and stickers from other talented artists, even a Hard Justice 3-D printed coin!
FS: Off topic, what books inspire you? What are you currently reading?
WG: While I’ve always been a fan of superheroes, I didn’t really get into reading comics until my late 20s. One of the first stories I read was 4 Kids Walk into a Bank by Matthew Rosenberg and Tyler Boss. I was captivated by Rosenberg’s ability to weave tension and characters with depth in a story that’s full of heart. I’ve read it multiple times and to this day, it is still my favorite comic story, and it inspires me to push myself as a writer.
I’m currently reading a few titles; there’s Shirtless Bear-Fighter, which is a hilarious action/comedy from Image about a guy who punches bears, and Blood Force Trauma, another action story by my friend Jake Smith, about a teenager who finds himself the unexpected star of the world’s most popular fighting TV show, which is set to release later this year from Dark Horse Comics.
DC Comics has two limited series I’ve really enjoyed—Dceased: War of the Undead Gods and Dark Knights of Steel. Both titles explore the DC heroes and villains we love and admire in alternate timelines, which gives way to unexpected surprises.
FS: This is issue #1. If this issue is fully backed, when do you have plans to launch issue #2?
WG: The script for issue #2 is complete and has already received Shawn’s seal of approval. In fact, Bryce is already laying out the storyboards! Our plan is to launch Hard Justice #2 in Summer 2023. We envision the complete story to be five issues total, so #3 will come along in Fall 2023 with #4 and #5 soon after.
FS: What would be your final elevator pitch to anyone to back Hard Justice?
WG: “When gangs rise up to take control of the city, two street-level dudes, Joseph “Saint” Raines and Rex Samson, decide to take matters into their own hands—the HARD way! It’s LETHAL WEAPON meets DOUBLE DRAGON! Check out the Kickstarter campaign and help us reach our goal at www.hardjusticecomic.com!”
The Kickstarter for Hard Justice launches NEXT MONTH on March 1st! Make sure to sign up for notifications when the campaign launches, and check out the official website for news and announcements. You don’t want to sleep on this one!