TOE TAG RIOT may be the best band you haven’t heard. Of course, nobody has heard them, because they don't exist outside two dimensions. Toe Tag Riot’s adventures are chronicled in the comic book of the same name; they’re a group of punks cursed to become zombies every time they perform live. Naturally, the whole “zombie angle” only make them more popular. Gerard Way, Fall Out Boy’s Any Hurley, and two members of the Aquabats make cameo appearances in Toe Tag Riot, the brainchild (“BRAINS!”) of writer Matt Miner, who collaborated on a comic with vegan straightedge stalwarts Earth Crisis and artist Sean Von Gorman. Toe Tag Riot is available at comic shops, online retailers, direct from the publisher, Black Mask, the comic imprint formed by Epitaph Records founder/Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz and 30 Days Of Night/ex-Gray Matter bassist Steve Niles. Hot Topic has a limited-edition version available in stores and online. Hurley and the creators of Toe Tag Riot were kind enough to answer some questions by email. INVERVIEW: Ryan J. Downey
Andy, how did you first fall in love with comics?
ANDY HURLEY: My half-brother Sean introduced me to Marvel Comics around about 5, specifically The Avengers and The X-Men. I remember this cedar-smelling closet with boxes of comics in it. I would go through the box and look at the covers. I’ve loved comics since then. This was around the same time I discovered the other main loves of my life: Metallica and Star Wars.
How did you first come into contact with Matt?
MATT MINER: We’re both vegan, we’re both straightedge, and I saw him on Twitter talking about how much he loved [my comic book] Liberator, which blew my mind. I couldn’t believe he’d even read it, much less that he was a fan, so I thanked him for the kind words and from there we started talking.
HURLEY: A vegan straightedge comic writer? That person is my friend as a foregone conclusion. We have not met in person yet, though hopefully that changes soon.
Which comics did you first collect?
MINER: Frank Miller’s Batman books that are now much-loved classics, V For Vendetta, Watchmen, and on the Marvel side, I really loved the X-Men books. Back in the ‘80s, they were a little darker and I identified so much with these people who were feared and hated by the people around them just for existing and being different. Growing up in a small, racist and super-homophobic town, I always felt out of place and there’s just so much of being bullied and called a “fag” every day of your life you can take before you begin to really withdraw into a world of books and comics and identify with outcasts in those books.
HURLEY: The X-Men Dark Phoenix Saga, as well as most of the [Chris] Claremont/[John] Byrne stuff, were the first storylines I remember really feeling something after reading. The most important stuff I’ve ever read from comics though is pretty much any and all Alan Moore, obviously. V For Vendetta is so powerful and life-changing. From Hell takes your brain into so many crazy places. Watchmen is one of the most masterfully crafted stories ever. Promethea has moments where you feel like you’re peeking behind the veil of reality and learning secrets of the universe. Those are the kinds of stories I love the most. I get that feeling regularly from Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison and Kieron Gillen, as well.
Matt, you described yourself as an “aging punk.”
MINER: I think a lot of us got into punk rock for the same reasons—we feel like outsiders, we’re smart and sensitive and give a dman about things outise of ourselves, so we seek out art, music and other people who feel the same way.
What were some important records for you?
MINER: The albums I never get tired of that still get me going decades later would be anything by Minor Threat; Defiance’s No Future No Hope; Subhumans’ The Day The Country Died; Feederz’ Ever Feel Like Killing Your Boss?; GWAR’s Scumdogs Of The Universe. GWAR is a special one for me. I know they’re more metal than punk, but their mix of comedy, satire, politics and gore were a huge influence on Toe Tag Riot and, really, on me in everyday life. They remind me to care about the important stuff but never take myself too seriously.
Did you encounter activist culture through hardcore, like many of us?
MINER: For sure, I was a sensitive kid who cared about things and I found a kinship with punk and hardcore bands who in turn helped fuel that social justice passion in my heart. The punk rock I love is loud, angry, smart and politically charged—it speaks on issues I care about and that mean something to me in a real and deep way, like human rights, war, police brutality, sexism, racism, homophobia, the environment and animal rights.
How did you enter the world of comics professionally?
MINER: I lost everything I had in a 2003 house fire: books, records, movies, clothes—and worst of all, my cat died. When I got back into comics a couple years ago, I had turned my life around, gotten sober and was more motivated. I’d given up on my dream of writing professionally when I was younger, but that drive and desire came back and I decided to attack it in a major way. I took a class from Scott Snyder, who’s one of the hottest writers working in comics right now, and I formed the pitch for Liberator, which was a concept I’d always wanted to see in comics but had never been done. After a few successful series with Black Mask Studios, I was lucky enough to hoop up with Vertigo and be in their CMYK anthology, so I did a short near-future piece with artist Taylan Kurtulus featuring a pair of elderly punks in a story that speaks to self-acceptance/forgiveness and revisiting the ghosts of our pasts.
What was the genesis of the TOE TAG RIOT concept?
MINER: I’d been friends with Sean Von Gorman for awhile and we did a piece together in the Occupy Comics anthology. One day I was joking around and asked him to draw me a “zombie Joey Ramone and Sid Vicious” piece, which he knocked out of the park, and that got us thinking about doing a punk-rock zombies book of some sort. We didn’t want it to be a serious book, so nothing like The Walking Dead, more along the lines of Return Of The living Dead. I think of it as a tongue-in-cheek comedy/horror book about this fictitious Toe Tag Riot band, with ridiculous amounts of fun violence—a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. We collaborated and came up with the idea that they’d only be cursed to become zombies when they play their music, a curse which was meant to destroy their careers, but it just ended up making them more popular.
SEAN VON GORMAN: We also wanted to explore the concept of part-time zombies. What if you had to eat people sometimes? Who would you eat? One of the members is a vegetarian—what a conflict!
MINER: Since the band is a bunch of politically-minded punks, the do the most-ethical thing with their “zombie powers” and only eat the really shitty people of the world like racists, homophobes, gross dudebros. It all culminates in a showdown with the Westboro Baptist Church.
How did Gerard Way and Ian Fowles come to be involved?
VON GORMAN: I became friends with Ian through Twitter. The Aquabats had just come out with The Aquabats Supershow! Which instantly became my favorite TV show of all time. If you haven’t already seen it, you need to drop everything and watch it on Netflix right now. I had posted fan art of Ian’s alterego, Eaglebones Falconhawk, which he saw, then reached out to me and ended up buying it. We stayed friendly when the Aquabats came to NYC later that year, I went to the show with my oldest son and got to meet the rest of the band. This was all right before Toe Tag was announced. I had mentioned the book to Ian and Jimmy The Robot and they were super-supportive of the project on social media. My dream gig right now would be to work on an Aquabats comic of some sort. A while after that, Ian became the guitarist on Gerard Way’s solo album Hesitant Alien, which is also amazing. When Ian was on tour as part of The Hormones, they played NYC. I hit the show and was blown away—went home and immediately did a sketch of the band. Gerard saw it, started following me on Twitter and started messaging back and forth with me. So I sent him the sketch and a copy of Toe Tag Riot and he’s been very awesome about spreading the word about the book. It’s really great to see people who are so insanely talented also be super-nice. So we gave Ian, Jimmy The Robot and Gerard cameos in the book to say thanks for being so rad!
Andy, how do you feel about your likeness in the book?
HURLEY: I think it’s amazing! Being translated into a comic character based on me in a book that’s fighting actual bad guys? Nothing could be cooler. Definitely a highlight of my life.
Talk to me about art as a means of expressing socio-political ideas.
HURLEY: Art is such a powerful way to communicate bigger ideas and to be able to find connections that you wouldn’t otherwise find. I’m so glad someone like Matt is becoming a more known figure in the comics world, as he is a part of a shift in representation and of more subversive and underground issues coming to the forefront in that community and artform. It can definitely reach a whole new group of people who haven’t thought about some of the animal liberation or human rights issues that he’s bringing up. As for me, my brand is obviously not a vehicle for the message and ideas I believe in, but we all believe in important and far reaching things that are important to us as a band, and we also have our personal vehicles for expressing our personal beliefs, as well. I think the more general message of the band is a really important one for the people who listen to us: Just knowing that you’re not alone, that weirdness is not a bad thing, that it gets better. And on my personal social sites, it’s really important to me to shine light on important causes and things that I hope at least even one person may learn something form looking into and could change that person’s life, and further the world in some small way, because of it.
Brett Gurewitz from Bad Religion and Epitaph Records has a cool thing going with Black Mask. Have you considered a similar venture?
HURLEY: I’m a horrible businessperson, so I prefer to remain a fan of different things like this. I have dabbled in a label and publishing some books by friends on anarchists/ant-civ issues before. I’m just not very good at keeping my focus on things like that to make it anything successful or with reach beyond a few friends. But I would definitely love to be a part of something that put out stories or info about good things like [what] Black Mask does if something every came up… That I didn’t have to do too much for. [Laughs].
Have you considered creating a musical companion to the comic book?
HURLEY: That would be awesome. I fear I don’t write too much music myself though. Perhaps a band could be brought together for such a thing, someday.
Fall Out Boy were a huge part of Big Hero 6, one of my favorite comic book related films of late.
HURLEY: Yeah, that was a really amazing thing to be a part of. It was really surreal and almost too big to wrap my head around. Getting to see early versions of the scene we wrote for and see how it all came together and evolved and how well it fit with the movie was just crazy. It was all just so well done by the filmmakers. One of my favorite films recently as well.
Any hopes for a theatrical adaption of Toe Tag Riot?
MINER: God, I hope so! And I know just who I’d want to direct it—there’s an indie splatter horror comedy movie out right now that white hot—a heavy metal horror comedy called Deathgasm that seriously everyone needs to see right now. It is freaking hilarious, bloody and amazing. It’s in select theaters plus on VOD through outlets like iTunes and Vudu. I feel it’s primed to be an enormous cult classic like Shaun Of The Dead. So yeah! I want to do a Toe Tag Riot theatrical adaption! And I want Deathgasm’s director, Jason Lei Howden, to make it!
VON GORMAN: In cas Jason Lei Howden is booked, I think Lloyd Kaufman of Troma would be great. Toxic Avenger was one of my influences going into Toe Tag Riot, and ultra-violent green protagonists seem to be in his wheelhouse. I can also see Toe Tag Riot as a big budget Broadway musical.
HURLEY: That would definitely be an amazing thing! And a great message to bring to a different art form and audience. I’m ready to play my part. ALT