Matt Miner, writer of the new comic book Liberator, a story about two activists that go under ground to rescue animals, as of this writing over 2/3’s has been funded on Kickstarter. Miner has been an Animal Rights activist for over a decade and a life long comic book fan. After being exposed to the heroic real life stories of the Animal Liberation Front, Miner was inspired to bring them to a new audience in the world of comics. VSB spoke with Miner over the phone at his home in the Rockaways, New York. -Mr. Fakie
Matt, let’s do some work for the feds since you don’t have a wikipedia page. How old are you, where are you from and what was your first comic book?
I’m almost 38. I’m from California and moved to New York 6 years ago. I’ve been into comics since I was a kid and I think the first one I ever read was this freebie give-away that was in my dentist’s office. It was Spider-Man fighting Dr. Octopus, but soon after that I moved into Batman and V for Vendetta, the darker grittier stuff in the 80s really appealed to me, like the Punisher and Wolverine and stuff like that.
When I got into comics I was all in for Marvel. So Marvel or DC?
I was all over the place. It was about good stories for me and not about staying true to one publisher. I didn’t have any brand loyalty.
How did you get involved in the comic book world, from a reader and fan to writing?
When I started with animal activism I was still a comic fan, and when I learned about the animal rights underground I thought, “man this would make a comic book” because these people who put on masks and save animals in the middle of the night are like super heroes but they’re saving animals. So I was like, “this shit is straight out of a comic book” and I started learning how these people are prosecuted and persecuted as terrorists and I thought there needs to be more out there that paints these people as the heroes that they really are.
And so that was almost 10 years ago and about a year and a half ago I was just like “I want to do this.” I took what money I had and found an artist, a professional art team that believed in this concept and so I got into it that way.
Did you have any experience writing before?
Oh sure, I mean I went to school with the intention of becoming a writer. No comic book writing, but for years I’ve written articles for various organizations and the BSL News website. I was an English major. (Laughs) Writing is definitely a passion of mine. I had just never done it for comic books before which makes no sense because I’ve loved comic books my whole life and I never thought to try and write them.
Well we could also say that the subject matter of Liberator is pretty serious, and that’s not new to comics. Joe Sacco’s Palestine was like a documentary-comic on the conflicts and lives of people in the West Bank and Gaza strip. It’s deeply entertaining and at the same time tragic. That seems a pretty easy direction for a comic about Animal Liberation, but you went the more traditional comic hero route. Tell me about that?
Well I think that part of my reason for going this more traditional comic book hero route is because I want it to be read and consumed by more then just the animal rights people who are going to read it anyways. I wanted to make sure that I wrote this in a way that anyone could pick it up, read it and enjoy it. It’s written for literally anyone to enjoy and we’re not preaching to them, we’re not making them feel bad for their choices. I want people to pick up an issue and feel like this is sort of a cool gritty super hero comic book and, you know, if they learn a thing or two through the course of it, then that’s great.
So lets talk about the animal rights stuff. You mentioned BSL NEWS and that’s Breed Specific Legislation. How did you first become involved in animal rights? And maybe you can talk a bit about BSL.
Well I was dating somebody and they were vegan and I wasn’t. I decided one night that I would google animal cruelty videos to see what it was about what goes on with animals that made her go vegan and drove her to adopt this lifestyle. The first video I pulled up was “Meet Your Meat,” which is a PETA video and, you know, I don’t care for a lot of what PETA does but some of their videos are pretty spot on and, you know, that kinda just rocked my worldview and sort of changed my life after that very first video.
Right after that, the next videos I found, were the SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) videos about Huntingdon Life Sciences. I just couldn’t believe the way these animals were being tortured and abused and the people doing the abuse were laughing and having a great time and nothing was being done by law enforcement or the government to stop it. That night I went “pescatarian” and after six days I realized how ridiculously easy it was to give up red meat and poultry and all that, so I was like “Fuck it, I’ll just go vegan.”
So I went vegan and I never looked back. Then it took a couple of years for me to get active; I was involved in a few campaigns here and there, Ringling Circus stuff, stuff against some seafood places in LA, but it took until I moved to New York 5 or 6 years ago when I got involved with the HLS and anti-fur campaigns that I really found my calling.
You mention PETA and one of the Videos about HLS. In your bio it mentions SHAC. In the Kickstarter page there is a premium offered with a video, “Your Mommy Kills Animals,” that deals with PETA, and the SHAC campaign. Why don’t you tell us about how you got involved in SHAC and what Huntingdon Life Sciences is?
Well for clarity’s sake, in New York City at the time when I got involved it wasn’t SHAC any more, the HLS campaign was being handled by WAR, “Win Animal Rights.” The SHAC 7 were already in prison or they were just about to go to prison and I guess that name SHAC just raised all kinds of red flags. So the HLS campaign continued but under a different banner.
How I got involved with that, after I moved to New York I was cleaning out my junk mail and I had got an email from WAR that was like, “protest at Andrew Baker’s House this Sunday.” Andrew Baker, he’s the CEO of Huntingdon Life Sciences and he’s got an apartment uptown in New York City.
For whatever reason I thought that the HLS campaign was over with the conviction of the SHAC7 – I don’t know, at that time I wasn’t following it as closely as I should have been. I know better now, that the campaign will never be over until HLS’ doors are closed for good.
So I went out to that first demo and then after that I was going out to one or two, sometimes three or four days of demos a week for years. So you know that’s really where I found my calling. I even met my wife outside of a demo at Andrew Baker’s house at a demo a couple years ago.
This lab, they’re just pure evil. They have two labs in England and one in New Jersey. They kill 500 animals a day to test crap like Splenda, bleach, and toothpaste. You name it they’ll test it. They’ve been caught out in all these undercover investigations brutalizing the animals in their care, you know punching beagle puppies in the face and dissecting live monkeys without anesthetic, simulating sex with animals and choking them and stomping them. You know, all this stuff and all they get are slaps on the wrist. So you know SHAC and the HLS campaign exists for the sole reason to shut them down and stop them from killing animals.
And if people want to find out more about SHAC?
People can always go to shac.net or grab one of SHAC packages from the Liberator Kickstarter. SHAC actually sent a bunch of stuff to use in the Kickstarter so you can get your self a SHAC hoodie and a newsletter and a copy of Liberator all in one package.
As far as SHAC goes, the one thing that people might be surprised to know is that the SHAC 7, they ended up in prison for federal counts of the Animal Enterprise Act. They originally where brought up on racketeering charges, but basically they were sent to prison for effectively telling people how to shut Huntingdon down. Producing media and a website to do that. Do you have any fear of doing that with a comic book?
Uh, I mean I’ve been involved in the movement long enough to know that if you put something out there you’re going to get a reaction and you have to weigh what the potential benefit is versus the potential consequences. I’ve decided that it’s a better idea to put this comic book out there. It’s a super hero that protects animals and is a positive role model for kids and young people reading it and I think it’s worth it to put that out there.
I’m not really concerned with something like what the SHAC activists had happen to them, simply because the only reason they were, um, handled the way they were and the reason they were charged with these terrorism charges was because they were being effective against some very important and high dollar corporate targets. So you know when you’re pissing off Glaxo-Smith Kline and Bristol Myers Squibb, who were all customers of Huntingdon Life Sciences ,and you’re pissing of Novartis and Merck and they all have multi-million dollar teams of lawyers and you have all these people that want to end the SHAC campaign, of course they’re gonna get it a lot worse then I am for writing a comic book that says, you know, you shouldn’t fight dogs or that the guy running the fur farm is a dick.
If some legislators had their way with the Animals in Industry Act they would see all of this as pretty dangerous material, right?
Well, it’s got to the point were you can almost be charged with ‘’thought-crime.” They’re rounding up Anarchists because of their beliefs. Anarchists are these boogie men and what have they done wrong? They have a political ideology that the government doesn’t like. It’s not necessarily that they’ve done anything, it’s just they want to round them up and take all their black clothing and their quote unquote anarchist literature.
You know, so if they want to get you, they’re gonna get you. And if they’re gonna get me for putting out a comic book about heroes that don’t hurt anybody, then I would like to point them to book like The Punisher, with a hero who kills people or the Wolverine who slices people up, and ask why they’re going after me when our fantasy comic book heroes are only damaging property and saving animals.
So let’s talk about some of the boogie men, tells us about some of the characters in Liberator.
Well we have Damon Guerrero, he’s a mid 20’s barista Hispanic guy. Kind of a slacker, quiet guy and kind of insecure but then he becomes really empowered and he’s found his calling doing this secretive direct action for animals. His equal and eventual partner is Jeanette Francis who is also in her mid-20s. She’s a college student who got an eye-full of what was going on in her university’s lab and it kind of changed the way that she views animals. She decided to get active for animals in the above ground and got frustrated in the protests and how slowly change would happen and eventually moves to the underground.
So the boogie men in Liberator are, like in real life, your neighbors and they’re your uncle, they’re the guy down the road who has a farm and keeps to himself. They’re your everyday people who contribute to this systematic torture and abuse of animals. So, um, I will say that all of the bad guys are loosely modeled on real life bad guys, people I’ve considered to be enemy number one for a while here. It’s kind of therapeutic to put them in the pages of a comic book and have bad things happen to their business.
I wanted to bring that up too. So we also look at comics and there is this whole genre sort of like fictionalized history, like the Berlin series for example that is set in-between the first and second world war. So in Liberator there are lots of real world stories to draw from, some of them don’t have names that we know attached to them. Should we expect or see some factionalized histories of the real ALF actions or are these coming completely out of fiction.
They’re inspired by true events but not based on true events. So you’ll see actions where I’ll be able to tell you, like, that one was inspired by Walter Bond doing the arson at the Tandy Leather Factory, and you’ll be like, “Oh yeah I can see that” but you won’t see a cartoonish version of Walter torching a cartoonish version of that store – it’s all just loosely inspired by the real world actions.
Did you get any inspiration from Ingrid Newkirk’s “Free The Animals”
You know, I never read that, I have my feelings about PETA and I know that was written at a time before PETA adopted this anti-underground, breed ban supporting, animal killing kinda thing, but all of the policies I don’t agree with are the reason I tend to avoid things with the PETA name attached.
For the record, they started supporting the killing of what some may call “Bully Breeds”?
Well they support breed bans and breed specific legislation. It’s personally offensive to me to know that PETA, considered the biggest animal protection organization in the world, has a vendetta against my dogs.
In addition to that, it’s well known that they kill a lot of shelter animals. It’s something like 97% of the animals that they bring in they kill and you know I can’t get behind that. My wife and I spend a lot of time rescuing animals off death row and I know that people who bring their animals to PETA think they are doing the best thing they can aside from keeping their animals and, you know, being responsible. They probably have somewhat good intentions, I guess, but anyone in the know, knows that those animals are likely going to die by PETA’s hands. I can’t get behind that.
So lets talk about some other sides of this, because I think that this side of it really inspired a lot of the folks who got involved in SHAC and the younger generation (of AR Activists)
I guess I should ask this, do you think comics can make a bridge for some kids to the animal rights world? Like the hardcore music scene introduced a lot of people in the 90’s to radical politics and Animal Rights and ideas of Animal Liberation.
Well I definitely think there is a good chance of out reach to some people, but like I said, you know the comic really is about the story first and getting the message through the story, rather then preaching the message at the reader. So you know if someone reads this and all they get out of reading volume 1 is that these guys who put on masks to help animals in the middle of the night are cool and not terrorists then I feel I’ve won.
I don’t think that reading Liberator is going to turn everyone who reads it vegan. You know I wish it would, but, you know, that’s not my end game here. My end game is to try and peak their interest and hopefully they’ll go and check out stuff on their own if they’re interested. You know, if it just makes them think about animals in a slightly different, kinder way and makes them look at activists in a more positive way then I think that’s a win.
I noticed this on your twitter feed, you just posted a picture of a Subhumans record, tell us about music and how it’s played any role in this?
Well I’ve been in the punk rock scene since I was a teenager, that Subhumans record I posted was one of my favorite albums ever, um, and definitely the punk rock music scene helped shape my activism and how I view some things like animal issues. Bands like Riot/Clone and Subhumans, Crass, and Icons of Filth. They all have very strong pro-animal messages and pro-people messages.
Matt Pizzolo from Halo8 worked on a project called Occupy Comics which addressed the Occupy Movement that we saw come about last year. How did you get involved with Pizzolo?
I’m doing a piece for the Occupy Comics anthology because I was out here in Rockaway during Hurricane Sandy. The first floor of our house was flooded and destroyed. I saw first hand how Occupy Sandy was out here the next day handing out flashlights and blankets and stuff. They’re still here and still helping and, you know, they’ve absolutely been the best thing to happen to Rockaway since that fucking storm. Um, so I was live tweeting the storm and tweeting pictures during the whole thing.
It was a really scary time and it made it feel less real if I was tweeting it. By the time the storm died down in the morning we didn’t have cell service any more but would still be able to get out a tweet here and there. Apparently a lot of people were reading my tweets. I guess I was keeping people up to date with what was happening in Rockaway and Matt (Pizzolo) was following that. He asked me if I wanted to do a piece for the Occupy Comics Anthology, and I absolutely did. Occupy Sandy really helped to save the Rocakaways.
Without them we wouldn’t be in as good of shape as we are out here. I mean, nobody’s great out here and not everyone is doing as good as us with rebuilding but it would be a lot worse without Occupy. So I really jumped at the opportunity to do a piece and say thank you in that way, because their presence really meant that much to me.
How did you find the artist Joel Gomez who you are working with?
I was getting a commission from Freddy Williams Jr. who is one of DC’s bigger artists. I was getting a commission of a Batman scene and when he sent me the line art for approval, I was looking for a pro artist. Kind of as an afterthought when he sent me the art and I approved it I said, “Hey Freddy do you have any artist friends who might be looking for some work for hire gigs?” And so he put me in touch with Joel, and after I started talking to Joel and really looking at his work I was like, “damn he’s really good.”
Joel thought it was a good concept and a good story and even though he’s not an animal rights person or vegan, um, I think the inclusion of Joel makes the piece stronger. He’s able to dial me back when I get into this zone where I want to spew out facts about animals and start screaming to people about the issues and Joel’s like, “you need to dial it down and keep to a story people are interested in, instead of screaming at them.” In the early days that really helped me, because I was still learning how to write comics and how to appeal to someone outside the core audience and so the inclusion of Joel has been incredible.
Have you seen it change him since he isn’t involved in the animal rights world?
I’ve seen that he’s started to get it. In the beginning he would be like, “Why doesn’t Damon just shoot these animal abusers, why isn’t he just blowing them up with a bomb?” And I’d be like “Dude that’s not how it works, they’re not going to kill people.” You know, because they aren’t going to hurt people. They’ll burn an abuser’s house down, but nobody’s going to be home when it happens.
So I sent him a copy of Shannon Keith’s movie, Behind the Mask, and he watched that and he started to get it. I doubt he’s ever going to go vegan or whatever because of this, but at least he understands the movement a bit and he understands it enough that I don’t have to explain the ideology to him any more.
Well this is a skateboard blog and you mentioned growing up in California. So I should ask you if you have ever skated or are you still have a board hanging out somewhere?
Uh, no. A lot of my friends skated. I was kind of the nerdy kid who was into computers. I got on a skateboard once and nearly broke my tailbone. After that I was too scared I think. So I regret it now but I never really learned.