Jody LeHeup & Sebastian Girner Brawl Ursine-Style in Shirtless Bear-Fighter!

Plus An Exclusive Expanded Preview from Artist Nil Vendrell Pallach

Comics Features Jody LeHeup & Sebastian Girner
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Jody LeHeup & Sebastian Girner Brawl Ursine-Style in <i>Shirtless Bear-Fighter!</i>

STL046942.jpeg Subtlety isn’t an option when your story follows a well-endowed, heavily bearded nudist with a raging vendetta against bears, and that’s exactly the protagonist you’ll find when you scroll down to meet Shirtless in all of his pixilated-man-parts glory. Co-created and written by former Marvel editors Jody LeHeup and Sebastian Girner (the latter of whom currently edits a host of Image’s most popular titles), Shirtless Bear-Fighter! offers audiences exactly what the title promises—and even a bit more, until Shirtless begrudgingly dons some pants.

Along with artist Nil Vendrell Pallach, colorist Mike Spicer and letterer Dave Lanphear, LeHeup and Girner have created a world where bearkind presents an ever-present, supernaturally strong threat to humanity—a threat that can only be answered by a naked man who lives in the woods. In the tradition of Chew, Shirtless Bear-Fighter! brings bawdy, gag-a-minute comedy to the Image Comics line-up, and Paste has an exclusive expanded preview of the first issue along with an interview that’s anything but hibernation-inducing.

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Shirtless Bear Fighter #1 Interior Art by Nil Vendrell Pallach & Mike Spicer

Paste: What do you have against bears?

Jody LeHeup: Man’s natural enemy! They walk around without pants rubbing their ass all over this god-fearing country! Eating all the salmon! Breaking into beehives! No wonder the bees are vanishing!

Sebastian Girner: No bees means no honey. Way to think that through, bears! Also, they undermine our democracy.

LeHeup: Yeah! By bearrymandering!

Paste: You’ve both been in and around the comic industry for years on the editorial side, from Marvel to Image and Valiant.

LeHeup: Yeah, Sebastian and I met in the X-Office and we eventually became roommates. At Marvel I edited Rick [Remender] and Jerome [Opeña]’s Uncanny X-Force, Deadpool and others and then I was at Valiant for a year where I edited the relaunch of Quantum and Woody. Now I’m at the writing desk developing a handful of creator-owned properties for Image. Sebastian is writing as well but he’s also currently editing a slew of brilliant Image books like Southern Bastards, Deadly Class, Black Science, etc…

Girner: I edit all! Jody and I have been working together in some capacity for almost 10 years now. I think it was clear from day one that we’d eventually write a comic together.

Paste: What made Shirtless Bear-Fighter! the right first major foray on the creative side and how has your editorial experience shaped your approach to writing together?

Girner: Editing at work-for-hire publishers was a great experience. We learned much about storytelling, art direction and all the different facets of comic book craft, the nuts and bolts of a comic going from inception to print. And we got to work on a lot of different books with a slew of fantastic creators, many whose work we’d been reading since we were kids.

At the same time, the continuity and organizational red tape can sometimes limit the kind of stories you can tell, and I think a thing that Jody and I have in common is less a rosy-colored love of superheroes in general, and more a desire to use them to explore new and weird ground. So we’d often have all this creative energy and inspiration and nowhere to put it.

LeHeup: When Sebastian and I were finally able to return to the writing desk it was like our imaginations had been let off the leash. We had so many ideas and we’d pitch them to each other constantly while we were living together, all in an effort to create the most fun comic of all time. Without hyperbole, Shirtless Bear-Fighter! IS that comic. It’s the most joyful comics-anything we’ve ever been a part of and we cannot wait for people to read it.

Girner: Yeah, and to be honest with you…SBF! kind of saved comics for us. We didn’t just want to make the most-fun comic of all time, we needed to. We needed to find the joy again. The good news is…we did! And now we can share it with you.

LeHeup: 100% uncut. Just like Shirtless.

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Shirtless Bear Fighter #1 Interior Art by Nil Vendrell Pallach & Mike Spicer

Paste: How did Nil Vendrell Pallach get involved with the book?

Girner: Shirtless Bear-Fighter! is a deceptively tricky book to draw well. You really have to be great at a lot of things—cartooning, comedy, fight scenes, selling emotional moments…and drawing bearded babies, pig monsters and toilet robots as it turns out—so when we were looking for artists there was a point when we weren’t really sure we were going to find the right person. But after we saw Nil’s work it was immediately clear that he was the perfect fit.

LeHeup: Nil’s a Spanish artist based in Barcelona and he is just insanely talented. There’s an animated quality to his work that we love. He makes SBF! look like a hilarious Saturday morning cartoon for adults. And he draws a hell of a bear-fight.

Girner: Mike Spicer came on board as well and his colors really bring the pages to life. He does a fantastic job of selling the tone and atmosphere of SBF! And we top it off with Dave Lanphear’s stellar and often hilarious lettering.

Paste: Does Nil actually draw what’s beneath Shirtless’ modesty-preserving pixelations?

LeHeup: Love the pixelation…it’s like he’s on an episode of Cops!

Girner: Those pixels are all post-production. Nil draws Shirtless just as God made him: too much man!

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Shirtless Bear Fighter #1 Interior Art by Nil Vendrell Pallach & Mike Spicer

Paste: Humor is notoriously difficult to nail, especially in a medium in which the reader controls pacing to an extent. How do you workshop the gags in Shirtless Bear-Fighter!? Are there any action/comedy stories that have a heavy influence on your humor here?

Girner: Jody and I have worked on comedy books before so we have some experience there. But a lot of the gags in SBF! spring from the days when Jody and I were roommates, and would rapid-fire jokes at each other over beers while watching bad movies, almost like a writing exercise. Just to see how much trajectory we could get from one silly idea if we ran with it.

LeHeup: A whole lot apparently! SBF! started out that way as well, as a one-off gag of a character. But as soon as we made the joke we couldn’t get the character out of our heads and he eventually took on a life of his own.

Paste: The bears of this universe seem to have their own, almost Disney-esque society before Shirtless starts collecting their pelts. Does this extend to any other species? Is there a Shirtless Shark-Fighter! sequel in the works?

LeHeup: That would be telling! Let’s just say there are a lot of ideas we want to explore with our Bear-Fighting friend.

Girner: Yeah, the world around SBF! is pretty ripe for further exploration. But for the first foray, we wanted to build a strong lead, and cast of secondary characters and, of course, a great villain. Shirtless is backed by Agent Burke, veteran of every major American conflict (as he’s quick to remind you); Agent Suzie Silva, our Everywomen, whose journey is pivotal to the plot as well; and of course Jackson Logger, CEO of the Fuzzy Wipes™ toilet paper company, a vindictive and megalomaniacal moneyman who will stop at nothing to rip Shirtless’ world to 3-ply shreds!

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Shirtless Bear Fighter #1 Interior Art by Nil Vendrell Pallach & Mike Spicer

Paste: RAPID-FIRE BEAR ROUND:

Paste: Best fictional bear?

Girner: Kozlov from Tsutomu Nihei’s Biomega.

LeHeup: Kuma from Tekken.

Paste: Coolest bear species?

Girner: My vote goes to Hollywood Grizzlies Who Get to Maul Actors Who Go Oscar-Fishing A Bit Too Hard: Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall, Alec Baldwin in The Edge and more recently, Leo in The Revenant.

LeHeup: Gonna have to go with my man Jim from The Office when he dresses up like Dwight and says “...False. Black bear.”

Paste: Favorite real-life bear tale?

LeHeup: Okay, so there’s this guy, Troy Hurtubise, right? He’s a Canadian conservationist who spent years and like a gabillion dollars trying to build a bear-proof suit that would completely protect him in the event of a grizzly attack and he is THE BEST. He’s obsessed with the suit so he does all this testing and quality control and goes through suit prototype after suit prototype until he finally makes the one suit that’s exactly what he’s looking for. So he and his team get word about a bear in the area and then they CHOPPER THIS DUDE’S SUIT IN so he can climb into it and confront the bear. Except by the time they load him into the suit, the bear’s not even around any more. Oh and he can’t walk in it. It’s amazing.

Girner: He’s like Canadian Tony Stark. He spent years building all these different marks of bear suits, and throwing himself in front of cars and into ravines to test them. He also wears the best leather jacket in the world, has a bowie knife and talks about “riding the thunder” a lot.

LeHeup: There’re a lot of videos online and someone made a documentary about him.

Paste: Could you best a bear in hand-to-paw combat?

LeHeup: Yeah, but only if it was really small. But then I wouldn’t want to fight it, I’d want to raise it as the bear-son I never had.

Girner: Then I’d make friends with it and help it realize its dreams, like put it through bear college. We’d be best men at each other’s weddings and go to our kids’ little league games.

Paste: RAPID-FIRE BEAR ROUND OVER.

Paste: What’s next for each of you in the comic world? Do you plan to continue straddling the writer/editor divide?

LeHeup: I’m personally fully focused on my writing projects for the moment. Aside from SBF! there are two other projects I’m developing. One of them is quite far along and we’re hoping to announce it at NYCC. It’s a very big, very exciting project with a mind-blowing art team. Can’t wait to share more about it. Completely different than SBF! The other project is still in the planning stages.

Girner: I’ll be doing the Van Damme split between the counters of Editing and Writing for some time. I want to see all the editing projects I’m currently involved in through to their end, whenever that may be, and I have a few exciting new ones coming up, too. At the same time I’ll be wading deeper into the writing side of things and announcing another project pretty soon, which I’m really looking forward to sharing. Stay tuned!

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Shirtless Bear Fighter #1 Interior Art by Nil Vendrell Pallach & Mike Spicer

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Shirtless Bear Fighter #1 Interior Art by Nil Vendrell Pallach & Mike Spicer

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Shirtless Bear Fighter #1 Interior Art by Nil Vendrell Pallach & Mike Spicer

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Shirtless Bear Fighter #1 Main Cover Art by Andrew Robinson

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Shirtless Bear Fighter #1 Variant Cover Art by Tom Fowler

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Shirtless Bear Fighter #1 Variant Cover Art by Andy Suriano

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