Have you ever wondered what the Avengers might be like if they originated right here in Arizona, with Sheriff Joe as the AZ version of S.H.I.E.L.D. director, Nick Fury; and instead of Hulkbuster armor there was a Kokopelli battle suit? Well, local comic creator Russ Kazmierczak, Jr. has thought of all those crazy ideas and many more, and he’s put them all into his incredibly entertaining Amazing Arizona Comics.
The heroes and villains in Russ’ comic universe are unique in that they almost always have an origin tied to regional news and events, or are otherwise connected to Arizona’s iconic essence. His superhero stories are also morality tales centered on traditional comic book values of truth, justice and our ever-changing American way.
Kazmierczak’s popular comics have been featured on local radio shows, television and newspapers; and he is a regular contributor to the Nerdvana blog as well, with both his amazing comics and his astute pop culture commentary. He was also a recent presenter at Ignite Phoenix, where he talked about, “Superhero Comics as Therapy for Reality.”
Russ and his “Arizonauts” (the name of his superhero team) have been fighting Arizona grown evil in the pages of his handcrafted comics since 2010, and in order to keep up with AZ’s ever-increasing craziness, he’s recently decided to make the magazine a monthly periodical. (You can check out his current AAC subscription KickStarter HERE!)
The inaugural monthly Amazing Arizona Comics magazine will be kicked off at this year’s Phoenix Comicon, starting with its eleventh full issue. But not to worry, Kazmierczak will have all of his back issues available at his booth, and he’s always happy to provide an original superhero sketch as well.
If you are into superheroes, current events and intelligent satire (or any combination thereof), then Amazing Arizona Comics is a magazine you will love. We recently caught up to Russ and talked to him about comic book history, Arizona as a muse, and the 2015 Phoenix Comicon.
First things first, to set the record straight, your Amazing Arizona Comics should not be confused with the Amazing Arizona Comic-Con event, correct?
Correct. Jimmy Jay, a comic shop owner from California and all around awesome dude, hosts the Amazing Comic-Cons, with Arizona among them. I started my first issue right when his show here was announced, but I liked the ring of my title too much to change it. There isn’t a con dedicated just to my comic . . . at least, not yet! [NOTE: Kazmierczak’s Amazing Arizona Comics debuted in 2010, several months before the inaugural “Amazing Arizona Comic-Con” in January, 2011.]
You’ve been publishing Amazing Arizona Comics for over five years. Why the move, now, to a monthly title?
My biggest challenge these last five years has been keeping up with the 24 hour news cycle. Right before the Super Bowl, I became unemployed, so I spent that month writing and drawing a 22-page story all about what was happening in Arizona and abroad at that time.
Governor Ducey’s inauguration, North Korea’s Sony hack, racial tensions with police, Left Shark . . . it’s all in Amazing Arizona Comics #10. That was such a rewarding experience; I’d really like every issue to have that ripped-from-the-headlines thrill.
You’ve been expanding your reach into the social media morass. Is social media important for a pop culture creator today, or is it just a distraction?
It’s an important distraction. How’s that for diplomacy? Ah, but it’s true — every time I take a picture of a page to show off on Facebook, I could just be drawing the NEXT page. At the end of the day, I’d rather show off the finishing product over the fledgling process. But, our tastes as consumers have changed. We like seeing how our favorite stuff is made, almost more than we actually enjoy the result. I blame the Food Network.
Do you have a count of how many locally themed characters you’ve created for AAC at this point? Do you have a favorite?
Speed Cameron was the first, so he’ll always be my favorite. I think he’s the perfect combination of an Arizona trope, a pun-driven superhero name, and a batch of powers that help explore our state’s issues in a fun way. Shortly afterward came June Monsoon, Dust Devil, Snowbird, The Sun City Gunslinger, Sam Brero . . . NOT counting the bad guys, I have at least 20 superheroes, all based on Arizona towns and traits.
What is it about Arizona that inspires you? Do you ever have trouble coming up with new ideas?
What inspires me is the seemingly infinite ideas I get about superheroes in Arizona! Our desert is full of attractions and relics that are already SO CLOSE to the stuff of superheroes, I can’t resist it. And, our politics and contributions to pop culture are very unique, and stereotypically divisive. The conflicts are already there; I’m just putting tights on them.
Of course, I can’t go this far without mentioning Sheriff Joe Arpaio. However you feel about him, I think he’s as close to a real Commissioner Gordon as we’ll ever get. He has his idea of what’s right, and he’ll do whatever it takes to defend that. Whether it’s Batman or Steven Seagal, he’ll recruit whomever it takes.
Amazing Arizona Comics has featured national celebrities and politicians as well as colorful local personalities. Have you ever received feedback from any of the people you’ve satirized?
Not once. When I get a pair of pink underwear in the mail with the word STOP written across them, I just might.
You recently presented at Ignite Phoenix and discussed comic books as a reflection of reality and real world events, and you’ve tackled subjects like immigration and race relations in your AAC stories. Have there been any topics that you’ve been hesitant to address?
I’m hesitant to tackle any issue or news story that deals with death. The Jodi Arias trial was a huge Arizona story, but I didn’t want to disrespect anyone by satirizing it with superhero adventure. Now, I have thought of writing a story about Speed Cameron on trial, satirizing our fascination with these high profile cases. The connection would be conceptual, not contextual, and I’m much more comfortable with that.
Do you have a favorite storyline that you’ve used to date?
I think my storyline about Parallel Earth-1070 was pretty ambitious. I alluded to it in a Nerdvana-exclusive newspaper strip style story first, then told the tale in issues #7-9. A parallel Earth Sheriff Arpaio and Governor Brewer kidnap June Monsoon to fuel their concentration camp on a world where SB-1070 is global law, and since NOBODY lives where they’re really from, EVERYBODY is a criminal. In the end, June and Speed Cameron convince “Darkpaio” that his job is done, since everyone is rounded up, so he faces his ultimate defeat: retirement.
You’re an artist who respects the history of comics and entertainingly weaves iconic comic book tropes into your work. What are your thoughts regarding the new wave of pop culture fans, who only know comics only from the movies and who might not see the underlying intricacies of your work?
I respect what Denny O’Neil said about his run with Neil Adams on Green Lantern/Green Arrow. He hoped his using superheroes to explore real world issues would impact a really smart 12-year-old. I think that’s the writing level of the Marvel movies. When Iron Man flies to the Middle East in his first film, we adult viewers know he won’t solve those problems with just a few repulser blasts; those issues go back further than Stark-funded weapons. But a kid that doesn’t yet know the ambiguity of that morality, he might be impacted by Iron Man’s Pyrrhic victory. That’s my mentality with Amazing Arizona Comics. Immigration isn’t as black-and-white as a bank robbery, or a mad scientist’s robot stomping through downtown. Even the HEROES have to think before they act. So, then, I hope the reader does, as well.
One of your stories is even set at the Phoenix Comicon. How many years has Amazing Arizona Comics been at PHXCC?
I think my first year at PCC was 2011. Before that, I exhibited at San Diego Comic Con and the Alternative Press Expo since 2001, with comics written by me and drawn by my friend Brent Otey, so I had 10 years of con exhibiting under my belt by then.
As a pop culture creator, how important is PHXCC to you?
Very. It’s in the capital city of the state that features my comic! It’s where my stories take place, and it’s where my ideal audience lives.
What are your thoughts on Phoenix Comicon’s enormous growth over the past few years?
I’m delighted that we’re moving at a San Diego’s pace. In 2000, I walked up to the San Diego Comic Con box office before lunchtime on Saturday, bought a ticket, walked in, and talked to Jeph Loeb and Greg Rucka without waiting in a line. Now, forget about it. If Phoenix can accomplish that, in a 100+ degree weather, to boot, it speaks to the growth of our geek culture as a whole. However, if I, as a local creator, can’t score a table? And I’m making comics ABOUT Arizona IN Arizona? That would be a shame. And I say that on behalf of every Arizona artist that can’t get a table right now.
What are you most looking forward to at PHXCC this year?
I love the camaraderie with my booth mate Sue. We’ll be at table numbers 12113 and 12115. She’s basically my con mom. She’ll watch my table for me if I want to shop or run to the restroom. She promotes my stuff genuinely, and honestly I was really lucky to have her as a neighbor way back when, so we could continue that relationship now. Sue and her granddaughters make awesome pop culture themed jewelry, cosplay accessories, and crafts.
I’m also interested in seeing Christopher Lloyd in person. Ever since I started driving a taxi, I’ve had some serious questions for Lloyd, Devito, and Danza about the lifestyle.
You can help fight evil in Arizona by contributing to the Amazing Arizona Comics subscription KickStarter HERE! Follow AAC on Facebook at: Speed Cameron; on Twitter and Instagram: @amazingazcomic, or at amazingarizonacomics.com. See Russ at PHXCC at booth/table numbers 12113 and 12115.
Get details and updates on Phoenix Comicon 2015: phoenixcomicon.com
Read all of our Phoenix Comicon countdown coverage: Phoenix Comicon 2015 Countdown