Mike Mackey is the creator of Liberality for All, the first issue of which recently saw publication from ACC Studios. Billed as “the World’s First Conservative Comic Book,” the series takes place 20 years after 9/11. In a liberal dystopia of speech codes and censorship, Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy, and Oliver North team up to combat the corrupted U.S. government, helmed by Chelsea Clinton… just as it welcomes Omama bin Laden as Afghanistan’s U.N. ambassador.
If it sounds like Fox News in comics form, you only have to recall Fox’s ratings to know that Mackey’s clever formula has mainstream appeal. Diamond Comics spotlighted the independent comic, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Both G. Gordon Liddy and Sean Hannity have featured it on their radio shows. On 28 August, The Boston Globe ran a piece on the project, and the blogosphere has seen a multitude of responses, often from liberals condemning the project. While people talk about bringing new readers into comics, taping untapped markets, here’s an indy comic that might just be able to do so. So why hasn’t it gotten more press?
JULIAN DARIUS: I must say that your promotional writing comes off as quite partisan, even as invective in places. Yet in our correspondence, you’ve been nothing but genteel, kind, and reasonable. We’ve even found that we agree on politics far more than I would have imagined. How much of your promotional statements is really showmanship, a kind of political version of Stan Lee or Joe Quesada?
MIKE MACKEY: While political satire clings to LFA as tight as Catwoman’s leotard… it is still a comic book. I don’t want it to be branded the political version of anything… just yet. There is a real comic book storyline going on in LFA, which is fun, funny and has some serious subtle questions.
One of the characters in the alternate reality of Liberality For All is Sean Hannity. Bill Moyer (a liberal PBS commentator) criticized Hannity’s talk radio show, calling it a “Freak show of political pornography.” If you want to talk showmanship, that’s it!
The partisan invective statements you are talking about is just sizzle on the stake I am serving. There has never been a Vegas show that attracted attention by saying “we have the most average girls on the strip!”. If you intend on taking any product to market, you best be prepared to get attention, and brother have we ever gotten attention withLFA.
As far as Stan Lee or Joe Quesada… they are both absolute geniuses.
DARIUS: How old are you? Could you talk a bit about your background?
MACKEY: I am thirty-seven, I collected comics as a kid… mostly DC stuff. I was raised in southeastern Kentucky (or as Michael Moore would call it, “Jesusland”). As a poor hick, I never had a lot of money… I mean, really, who could afford 50 cents for a comic book? So I spent a lot of time tracking down old forgotten comic collections. (Thank the good Lord, for comic book-discarding mothers.)
The point that changed my life came in 1978. I was in a book store and had $8, I had to pick between a Star Wars Iron-on tee-shirt transfer book or an Overstreet Comic Price Guide. In the end, the lure of collectible comic books out weighed my desire for a wardrobe of Darth and Chewie wear. Bob Overstreet soon taught me there was far more to comic books than just reading them.
My first legitimate profit from a comic was in 1973, when I was 6 years old. It was a hot summer day in the city of Detroit. My childhood pretty much revolved around when I was going to get my next ice cream fix. The Good Humor man (who may as well have been the neighborhood pusher) was only hours away. My pockets were empty and the family sofa was of no help (traditionally a good source of loose coins). So I gathered up a few of my worldly possessions and set out down the block to attempt a secondary market sale. Within minutes I found some local kids, one of which eye-balled my latest copy of Amazing Spiderman. Before I shot him a price, he dashed into his house and ran out with a five dollar bill and said “is this enough?” It did not take me long to realize $5 for a 20 cent comic was a pretty sweet profit, I said “Uh? Yeah sure!”
About an hour later, his old man came down the street and found me sitting on the curb, still waiting for my pusher to arrive. By that time my old man had gotten home, my pop yanked the guy’s chain a couple of times, and then I experienced the down side of the comic book secondary market: a customer with buyers remorse. Ultimately, I was faced with the reality of the dreaded refund. (Yeah, the old man still bought me the ice cream.)
The ironic thing was that issue turned out to be the “Death of Gwen Stacy,” now worth about $200.
By the time I had gotten to college, I had thousands of books. I have seen a lot of comic trends come and go. But it was 1989 and what, at the time, was called “the summer of the Bat” — when I made my first real profit from comic collecting.
A large portion of my collection was old Detective and Batman issues, which thanks to the first Batman movie became hotter than a Johnny Storm hemorrhoid. I sold off, or traded away, my entire Batman collection at their peak. Since then, I have been involved in one way or another with comic books, buying, selling, trading, and occasionally reading.
DARIUS: What are your favorite comics?
MACKEY: My all time favorite is Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, both are required reading for anyone that considers ever creating a comic. For some odd reason, I have always had a passion for D.C.’s Deadman (a title that has always been in a permanent state of repose). All the early Punisher stuff. I love storyline in The Hulk were they started cramming in the psychological reasons that affected the development of Banner’s inner Hulk. All the stuff I like seems to revolve around tragic characters.
DARIUS: What are you reading these days in the medium?
MACKEY: Sadly, Not much. However, I would gladly read the back of a cereal box if had a good plot line and good sequential art. I just do not have time to read for enjoyment… I find myself over-analyzing everything, noticing foreshadowing where none exists and imagining plotlines that never develop. It is hard for me to disconnect myself from an analytical mode and just enjoy a comic.
DARIUS: I know this sounds weird, but I think it helps characterize you. What do you watch on TV?
MACKEY: Reruns of Buffy and Angel, Star Trek, Star Wars, The Tick (live action) series, ’70s and ’80s TV show reruns. Unless it has made it to DVD, I don’t watch it.
DARIUS: What movies do you enjoy?
MACKEY: Gattaca, Bladerunner, And pretty much any teen movie. (They seem to bring out my inner 14-year-old girl.)
DARIUS: What books?
MACKEY: Non-fiction. How-to books are cool… I just finished my Time & Life Home Surgery Collection. (Volume 12, Setting Your Own Compound Fracture, was the hardest to find… thank goodness for eBay.)
But seriously, one of my favorite books is about an epic struggle between good and evil, multi-dimensional creatures from alternate dimensions influencing the behavior of the human race in an effort to harvest souls, the name of it escapes me right now… I remember it is written by various writers… It is very old, sort of a book of books… I don’t want to ruin it for someone who has not read it. Some parts are a bit slow, but man… it has a “hell” of an ending! Oh yeah… now I remember, it is called the Bible.
Okay, I don’t want to come off as Ned Flanders, ’cause I am not… but the concept that there are superior beings fighting over our eternal soul… the concept is very very cool.
I have another series that I will be publishing soon called Outcast. It is a tragic tale of a romance between a fallen angel looking for redemption and a lovelorn succubus struggling to keep him from finding it. I use my knowledge of the Bible and harvest a few things here and there. You think I offended Liberals with LFA… Wait until we see what fundamentalist Christians think of Outcast. I may have hell to pay!
DARIUS: There’s a bit about Outcast already up on your website. Coming in February 2006, I believe.
Alright, on to Liberality for All. Where did the idea for the series first come from?
MACKEY: The first spark of LFA started about 8 years ago. I had seen a painting by the fantasy illustrator Clyde Caldwell, called “Rush the Warrior.” It was a satirical painting of a major-buffed-out Rush Limbaugh fighting a three headed hydra. The hydra heads had the likeness of Bill, Hillary and Al Gore. It was hilarious.
DARIUS: Did you conceive Liberality For All originally as a comic book or did you think of other media?
MACKEY: The comic book media was the perfect format for a fantasy like LFA. I was a bit under budget for the multi-million dollar film. And considering how conservative Hollywood is not, I don’t think we will be seeing a green light on any neo-conservative films any time soon. All joking aside, you want to see a pathetic closed minded group of capitalists, go to Hollywood.
DARIUS: Well, that may well prove an error on their part. I must say, producing a comic book along the lines of conservative talk radio, or the long line of commercially successful conservative non-fiction books, or the success of The Passion of the Christ, is ingenious. Am I right in assuming this was your intent?
MACKEY: I really loathe how The Passion of the Christ was labeled by many on the ultra left as a conservative movie, as if half the south is not made of Christian Democrats.
The Passion of the Christ slapped the movie industry in the face with the reality that mainstream America is either Christian or certainly people of faith. But the politically correct bubble of the Hollywood film industry turned their back on Gibson… and hundreds of millions in profit.
The issue with POTC was not that Gibson was a ingenious… it was that Hollywood executives were running their studios with blinders on. Consider the marketing opportunity for a second, Gibson had over 100 million hard core Jesus fans in America. Is providing such a mass of humanity, a realistic depiction of Christ’s final hours, based on Biblical scripture, that tall of an order? Gibson’s produced a rockin’ film, but the wide open marketing niche was obvious.
When I set out to develop the LFA concept into a comic, I searched the phrase “conservative comic book”. I got less than 30 hits on that phrase, none of which referred exactly to a conservative comic book. Further searching, it took very little time to determine that the conservative talk radio audience was nearly 100 million weekly listeners.
DARIUS: Where did you go from there?
MACKEY: In the concept phase, I had to determine the legality of using the names and general likenesses of Hannity, Liddy and North in the comic. You get in to a tricky area with laws regarding “rights of publicity” of public figures vs. first amendment artistic rights. So I decided to keep each of them very transformative, in a satirical sense.
Could they sue me? Yeah sure, pretty much anyone can sue anyone for anything, in this lawsuit-happy country. (Thank God for years of Mad Magazine legal precedent.) The bigger question is why would they? I treat their characters with respect, and attempt to role-play their actual personas, in a slightly jaded sense, into versions of themselves in the world of LFA.
And I am donating 10% of the profit of the comic to the Freedom Alliance Scholarship fund, which provides scholarships for the children of slain soldiers. The fund was started by Oliver North and is heavily supported by Sean Hannity. Somehow donating to the fund seems the right thing to do, while simultaneously showing my intentions were not to defame them. It is very tough to express your intentions to very high profile people. It is not like you can just call them up.
Ultimately, I am sure Hannity, Liddy and North will think it is cool because, in a way, I guess it lionizes them as heroes, while it echoes many of their societal worse-case-scenario fears. Their loyal conservative fans will appreciate that and find the lampooning of the left a blast. Liberals who already hate these real-life personas will end up disliking them more… but, in a bit of a train wreck trance, be horrified and yet not able to turn away.
DARIUS: Producing a comic book is expensive, notoriously difficult work.
MACKEY: Other than being a comic creator yourself, you can never appreciate this until you are on the inside working your tail off.
DARIUS: How did you find an artist?
MACKEY: On advice from a fellow Lexington native creator, Robert Kirkman, I found my artist via a talent search page on DigitalWebbing.com.
DARIUS: Do you own ACC, which publishes the book? Is it incorporated as a company or is it just you? How is it funded?
MACKEY: Well, actually, ACC Studios is just a front company for the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, which Hillary warned everyone about. I take all of my orders from the White House, The RNC, and Halliburton… I am just a pawn, really. President Bush’s advisor, Karl Rove, really runs the show here at ACC Studios. At least given the paranoia of many on the ultra-left that will more than likely be the inevitable conclusion. This is my favorite media quote about LFA, thus far:
Does the comic amount to a conservative attack on a liberal straw man, in an effort to divert people’s attention from the long, brutal slog through Iraq? (8/9/2005 By Chris Jones- Daily Texan)
Yes, I am your basic capitalist comic creator. Not incorporated. When you set out to do an independent publishing project, it takes a lot of personal investment. So you had really better believe in any project you begin or at least have a good marketing angle.
DARIUS: What can you tell us about your artist on the series, Donny Lin?
MACKEY: Again, a talent search page on digital webbing. Donny is from Indonesia, he offered to do a page of art from my script page, to show me his talent. No one had offered this. When he sent me back the page, I was impressed by his talent. But I was more impressed when he commented “this page only took me eight hours.” I was in awe of his willingness to invest that much time just to get the job.
I was impressed with his work on issue #1 and the stuff I have gotten back on issue #2 and #3 is blowing me away. Donny Lin will be a permanent name in the comic business, no doubt.
DARIUS: How did you convince fantasy artist Larry Elmore to return to comics for your cover?
MACKEY: Larry is a fellow Kentuckian, and has been a friend for many years. Poor Larry, he has caught hell for even being associated with LFA.
Larry is one of the finest men I know, or have ever known. I have had several large business dealings with him on nothing more than a handshake — how many people can you trust like that? If the bristles in his brush fell out, I give him my hair… if he ran out of red ink, I give him my blood.
Larry had zero to do with any element of LFA. He did not even read the script. He did the cover as a favor and has gotten far too much grief over it.
People are attacking Larry for the use of his art on a product that he did not produce. This is no different than some whackjob in the 80s saying Larry supports devil worship or some crap, because his art is on a Dungeons & Dragons box set. Attacking an artist over the use of his art is akin to censorship. All censorship is total crap.
I loath censorship in any form. Sadly, the lack of news coverage on many mainstream comic sites that claim to oriented toward comic book “news” apparently do not share my views on comic book censorship. I am very glad to see Sequart.com is not one of them.
DARIUS: Well, I think that’s high praise. I guess I figure that news is news, whatever one’s personal feelings. You have to believe in democracy, that people can decide based on the facts…
I’m a Democrat, but to me an American ought to fight to protect others’ free speech even if they disagree. Maybe especially if they disagree. I was moved when Rush Limbaugh and others on the right came out in defense of Bill Maher after he’d put his foot in his mouth after 9/11. That’s America to me, or what America ought to be.
But I’m getting off-topic. And I swore I wouldn’t make this interview about me. Weren’t there any other sites willing to cover LFA?
MACKEY: One final thing from your last comment, Sean Hannity was one of those who came to the defense of Maher, if I am not mistaken.
Regarding other comic news sites, no one was exactly filling my in box with requests for interviews. Typically there was only an occasional pathetic comparison to “Reagan’s Raiders or Civilian Justice,” but so far nothing of any substance. Far more was discussed in non-comic related blog and sites; comic news sites have not touched the story.
I honestly don’t know if it is bad news reporting or a realization of the often rumored comic industry’s Liberal bias, but then again which is worse for a comic “news” site? The mandate of any comic news site should be to keep their audience informed with news and information; most are really sucking the hind teat on reporting news surrounding LFA. If there is another comic that is out right now which has gotten more mainstream press than LFA someone please tell me what it is? Certainly no independent has come close. LFA has had mainstream press articles in The Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle. Even the UK favorite leftist paper, The Guardian did a story, while on the other end of the political spectrum, the highly respected new website CNS News.com featured it.
We have been on G. Gordon Liddy’s nationally syndicated talk show twice extensively talking about LFA (in total a full hour). And have done teasers on Hannity’s radio show twice, collectively that is something like 1300 radio stations nationwide… to millions of listeners (easily over 10 million).
I have sent press releases to pretty much every comic news site and the only one wishing to do an interview or story was Sequart.com. The other sites seem to be ignoring it like the elephant in the room… I am beginning to wonder if they hope it will just go away if they ignore it long enough.
On November 3rd, we harpooned a whale; approximately two million viewers saw a segment on LFA on Hannity & Colmes (number one in its time slot on cable television). Yes, two million viewers!
Correct me if I am wrong but an independent publisher that has his book plugged to two million TV viewers, ten million radio listeners and over a million newspaper readers, is a comic news-story from at the very least a marketing standpoint… right?
I sort of chuckle now, when I send out another press release to comic news websites, about how another major media outlet publishing a story on LFA… It is like “Hello… comic news folks… where are you? This story is not going away.” Thus far, my enquiring voice to these comic book news sites has been met only with the echoing sounds of crickets chirping. I would be embarrassed if I owned a comic news website and the mainstream media was scooping me on any comic book making news in the mainstream media.
If someone honestly looked at LFA and said, “Okay there is a market for it… it is an original idea… it is going to get an amazing amount of press… the artist has a great grasp on the sequential form… but, I still personally don’t like it” — then that would be perfectly fine. I am not saying I dislike criticism, just back it up with something, for example.
My favorite web article thus far was from Sequart’s very own Amy Dean. She is a fantastic writer… and loathed the entire concept of LFA. To Amy’s credit she did not a have access to the full comic to read so she could not properly criticize it. Instead of making herself look foolish by attempting to review a book she had not read, she focused her passion on the concept of the book and its real life characters, both of which she seemed to hate.
Anyway, I was apparently able to invoke a lot of passion in her liberal babe heart, which was gratifying.
DARIUS: How did you solve other problems associated with producing comics, such as finding a printer? Your comic is in color, which most independent studios can’t afford — was this a conscious choice to make the title accessable?
MACKEY: There is one place to call for comic book printing, and that is quebecorworld.
Regarding B/W: On rare occasions, for example Kirkman’s Walking Dead, B/W works better than color. Color vs. B/W is all about cost for most publishers. B/W is the only affordable option for some creators.. But LFA was always going to be a color book. I will never sacrifice quality for profit.
DARIUS: What percentage of your readership do you expect to come from curious liberals? Or is their role merely to promote your book through angry blogs and the like.
MACKEY: Here are two emails I got, which address that.
“Thanks for making such a great comic! I never laughed
harder in my life! Leftist Oppression, haha! Man,
“Your new comic book has to be one of the greatest
pieces of satire I have ever seen. I’ll be buying a
few copies of this for some of my friends. My hats
off to you for putting it to these self-absorbed
idiots. Keep up the good work.”
The mystery here is: Are the authors of these emails conservatives or liberals? I still do not know, but I get a sense they are liberals. We have sold a lot of issues to those on the left, some of which are amused at the concept of LFA; but mostly liberals do not appreciate being poke fun at. Like most people, it is fun to dish it out… but taking it is a different matter.
Yet there are aspects of the story that liberal readers should love: there is no war… ever! Michael Moore is the Vice President. The “Coulter Laws” have made conservative talk radios and other such conservative “hate speech” virtually illegal. America clears all international decisions through the United Nations. And last but not least, George W. Bush is not even a blip on the radar. Liberals should love this book, shouldn’t they?
DARIUS: More provocative stuff. I don’t think most liberals would agree with such measures, as much as they may dislike Coulter or even like Michael Moore. But I’m sure you know that.
Do you think it’s fair to say that most comics shops are run by liberals?
MACKEY: No, they are run by capitalists. Any liberal (or conservative) retail shop owner who actively chooses to suppress his customer product selection based on his own personal opinions will be out of business very soon.
DARIUS: You don’t think they’ll underorder your book in protest?
MACKEY: The concept that someone will underorder Fantastic Four, for example. because they personally do not like the series, is a deadly business decision. It is just a silly as a retailer over-ordering a book he likes. Consumer demand dictates sales, not personal preferences of a retailer. Only a poor businessman would suppress orders for his own political beliefs, but hey… if you sleep better at night depriving your customers the opportunity to buy a comic, go for it. Just don’t start complaining about censorship in comic books when you are practicing it.
I think most people who feel they have over-ordered LFA will find instead they have grossly under-ordered it.
DARIUS: I’d imagine a few shops might even boycott. Or at least order no copies.
MACKEY: Are you implying that the “free thinking” left, the champions of “choice,” crusaders against censorship, defenders of the first amendment, would deprive their customers the right to “choice.” Are you saying some liberal comic shop owners would actively prevent their conservative customers from a comic book?
If a comic shop wants to boycott one of the most talked-about comics of the year, and choose to suppress its sale because of their personal bias, it is their loss. To them I would say, “sleep well, sweet hypocrite.”
If some shop wants to boycott it, I totally support their right to lose money. But when the comic book news media boycotts it, that is different matter entirely. Media which claims to provide “comic news” need to be 100% unbiased.
Sadly, thus far there has been a deafening silence among many such comic news watchmen regarding the internet buzz around LFA. Perhaps they are not as up to speed as Sequart.com — that would be understandable. But to continue to ignore one of the most talk about comics of the year will mean one thing… that there indeed is a liberal bias in the comic community. It may then be asked , “Who is watching the Watchmen?”
I guess this interview proves Sequart is clearly a “fair and balanced” comic news media outlet, and one in which it site visitors can rely on for unbiased reporting.
DARIUS: I’m trying not to get too much into politics here. But suffice it to say, regarding any individual stores boycotting, that I wouldn’t be surprised. As for this site, “fair and balanced” isn’t as much the issue as “everyone’s welcome”: comics come in all types for all people, and far be it for me to exclude perspectives. I like diversity, intellectual and otherwise, and I want a big umbrella here.
You seem to have had great success in promoting the book. How much time do you work on this? How much of a promotional campaign did you plan prior to soliciting the first issue?
MACKEY: There was no great rocket science involved here. I evaluated the pros and cons (or should I say neo-cons?) of publishing LFA and saw a huge marketing opportunity. It was nothing your average Ferengi couldn’t have figured out. I have always been pretty fortunate God has given me the ability to see the forest while I was among the trees.
I have hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars invested in the creation of LFA. My promotional campaign was pretty much broken up in to phases. Traditionally, the only certainty in a project like this is that nothing is certain. But you look at your best case scenario and push towards it. Thus far, every phase of this project has gone off by the numbers, in fact even better than our first expectations. This is aside from the lack of motivation to inform the comic community about a comic that is making waves in the mainstream press. So far, it seems many feel if they just ignore it long enough it will eventually go away.
DARIUS: You mentioned earlier that you’ve pledged to give 10% of the profits on the book to charity. Could you talk about that?
MACKEY: All neo-con / ultra-lib rhetoric aside for a moment, everyone should agree that each fallen soldier is a hero. They have paid a price for our freedom that can never be repaid, and their families have paid just as high a price. A lost mother or father is felt each day, missed ball games, ballet recitals, birthdays, those things can never be made up for. Everyone will agree that our government does not do enough for the families of fallen soldiers. It is the least we can do to see that their children can go to college. That is what the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund is all about. Oliver North helped found the Freedom Alliance in 1990. A few years ago, Sean Hannity got involved and since 1990 the organization has raise something like 6 million dollars for the children of these brave souls.
Somehow it seemed right to donate a percentage of the profits to them. On May 20th 2005, live on Sean’s radio show, we donated $1000 as an advance on our donation pledge.
DARIUS: We’ll have to end it there for the moment, given that we’ve filled up most of a book by now. But thanks very much for all your time, of which you were very giving. I hope you’ll come back, however, and we can get a little more into the politics of the book.
MACKEY: Politics…yeah! I got an ear full for all those tree hugging anti-war pinko commi leftist out there… but that is for another day.
DARIUS: Readers can scout out ACC Studios and Liberality For All at accstudios.com. It has a 5-page preview of the first issue. Which is out now, right?
MACKEY: Yep! Liberality For All, officially begin offending and amusing readers nationwide on November 2nd. It is available in finer comic shops everywhere. If they don’t have it tell them to order it; if the shop is owned by an anti-captalist idealist bleeding heart, who refuses to stock such… neo-conservative political pornography, then you can order it directly from our website www.accstudios.com.