Jay Baruchel interview: Chapterhouse Comics, Goon 2, Statham

Jay Baruchel chats to us about comics, X-Men movies, Goon 2 and Jason Statham...

Jay Baruchel is a very happy man indeed. Over the last decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to interview a lot of people for Den of Geek, but Mr Baruchel might just be the most enthusiastic one to date – almost every sentence ended with the kind of joyous laugh that would come from having, quite possibly, the best job ever, twice. Known to most as an actor with a gift for the comedic, having starred in the likes of Tropic Thunder, Knocked Up, Goon, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and The Art Of The Steal (to name a few personal favourites) as well as voicing accidental hero Hiccup in the fantastic How To Train Your Dragon movies, it was about his recent involvement with Canadian comic book publisher, Chapterhouse, that we had a chat with him about.

To get you up to speed, the official press release was as follows:

“Chapterhouse Comics is proud to announce its latest super team-up with Canadian actor, writer and director Jay Baruchel (Goon: Last Of The Enforcers, How To Train Your Dragon), as he joins the Chapterhouse family as investor, owner and Chief Creative Officer.

Founded in 2015, Chapterhouse is Canada’s largest comic book publisher. The company, headed by CEO Fadi Hakim, has been making leaps and bounds promoting Canadian talent and flagship superhero Captain Canuck, along with more than 16 other monthly titles in addition to archive classics, graphic novels and prose novels. Chapterhouse is proudly Canadian, flying the flag for diversity, with an appeal to comics fans worldwide – something that Jay and founder Fadi first bonded over.”

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So without further ado, Mr Jay Baruchel on the joys of Chapterhouse Comics and the complexity of picking a favourite Statham flick, though I should warn readers that some language used is a bit fruity…

Congratulations firstly on your appointment and acquisition – it must be the literal equivalent of being like a kid in a candy store!

It really is man, it’s the coolest, it’s the coolest! When I told my mother that this was something I wanted to do – I guess as an editor’s note, my mother is still my main conciliary to use a Godfather term, I consult her on absolutely everything of importance in my life and when I told her that this was something that I thought I would like to do and what does she think? She just fell head over heels in love with the idea as well, for all the same reasons.

Flash forward to now and my ‘work’ in air quotes consists of reading comics, pitching comics, approving stuff about comics! In my house I’m surrounded by comics and movies and I can’t think of two better things to be surrounded by.

Too right! And your involvement with Chapterhouse came about quite organically, because didn’t it all happen due to initial discussions about a film license?

It did, yeah, it totally did. They were about figuring out what would be a cool way to do Captain Canuck in another medium and when they saw everything that Fadi and Calvin and Keith and Tony had done in the short span of time that they’d been doing it, I was smart, I literally went like this and I met them all on a Friday morning and I saw they got me a lovely care package, a Chapterhouse starter kit and literally that entire weekend, until Monday I thought about nothing else, I just played the fucking Batman Vs Superman score on repeat in my house and read the comics – read all of them and just dwelled on them.

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And then I took the bold move of writing down almost like a decade long plan for all of it! [laughs] Really, really presumptuous on my part and then I took the bold move of saying “Hey, what do you think of some of this stuff and can I be involved in a bigger way?” and it just struck a chord with me and I saw, in that weekend, what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life and I swear to god it was just like the Lego pieces locked in. It was just this thing where I was like ‘Holy shit, yes, yes, yes!’ and this found me for a reason and of course – by the way – I was well aware that they might all be like “Who the fuck are you!? This is the last time we’re fucking taking you out for tea and croissants, asking you about writing a movie! Fuck that!” you know? I was fully prepared for them to be insulted! [laughs] As it comes off as a bit brash, but they saw that it was all one hundred percent of my interest was pure and from my heart – the best way I could communicate how deeply I cared for all of it, was that I would be willing to say goodbye to all that money, because it was something that I don’t give a shit about a return on this investment, I just want to get in there and be a part of it.

Over here we have institutions like 2000AD and people like Alan Moore and even their work has really only taken a hold in the bigger sense of popular culture, particularly in terms of cinema, relatively recently – what’s the comic culture like in Canada?

It’s dominated by the big two – Marvel and DC, but in every comic shop across the country there are independent Canadian comics characters voices that are in a street fight, every single day, for shelf space and they’re often lifting and punching above their weight. We sort of grow up very, very aware of DC and Marvel canon of heroes and then we often grow up sort of peripherally aware of Captain Canuck and characters like that, but there’s also a very, very big indie scene up here like Drawn & Quarterly and all that sort of stuff, then we read a shit load of books and comics up here, that’s just the first thing.

This is one of the only countries in the world where one of our bigger reality shows, that happens once a year, is called Canada Reads. It takes place over the course of a week and its five live debates that are broadcast nationally on the radio and on TV, where five sort of celebrities, or whatever, defend a book and each book gets voted off each episode and then at the end of it you have the book which the country should read and its very, very earnest, but it’s also a great testament to how much we read up here.

And so I knew that the caliber of shit that Chapterhouse was doing [phone line break] and exceeds a lot of the stuff from the States and so I knew that like really kids just have to know it’s there. Once they know the books are there they will fall for them, I know that because the art is awesome and the story lines are rich and the characters are deep and a lot of them are very different than the sort of stock characters you get from some of the bigger publishers. So I knew that really, it was just a question of letting kids know that these books exist and once they did, I knew the books would sell themselves.

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Yeah definitely, because I didn’t realise Captain Canuck was born, for want of a better term, in 1975 so he’s been going as long as I have!

Yeah! [laughs] And in spite of all these mitigating factors, like all the things against it – there’s an indie comic in the purest sense of the term, these men and women they made this book with their bare hands, out of their houses and published them themselves and somehow it struck a nerve and connected with kids here, to the point that he keeps coming back. You know we’re in 2017 and this is the little independent comic that could and I think that he captures some bit of esprit national, or something, or whatever term you want to use! And that, well… there’s a reason we’re having this conversation today.

Of course, and in terms of you were saying about the content that Chapterhouse create – I think judging by the official press quote, you said that it could produce the comics that the bigger publishers didn’t necessarily have the “balls” to do…

[Laughing] That’s right, that’s right!

What sort of content were you talking?

Well, we sort of have a bit of an unofficial motto which is ‘a superhero for everyone’. So there is a lot of kids in Canada and in the States and in the UK and Australia, who grew up reading comics, loving them, avid fans who aren’t sort of Caucasian, or Christian, or boys and I think that they are under served, because they don’t often see themselves reflected in their heroes and so that’s something that we have a real instinct for and a passion about, is giving everyone a hero.

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So this is up to and including you know we have a character called Freelance, who’s a sort of an adventurer for hire – it’s one of my favourite books that we do – and this is an out of the closet gay man and it’s not an issue, it’s not a thing that the story is about, but there’s no reason to hide it, so it has a love story and all these different things. And I’m very, very excited because next year I get to add my first original hero to the Chapterverse – this character Star Rise who is a female Afghan super hero and this is not something I’ve seen a lot of!

And so if you were to take a look at the Chapterverse, as it stands right now, it’s already quite diverse and it’s as diverse as Canada is, because the god honest truth is – and I’m obviously, unabashedly patriotic – but the plain truth is, this a very, very diverse country look at the surnames at any of the Olympics, of our Olympic teams, they come from every part of the planet, you see every kind of complexion in the world here in our country and that’s like one of our strengths and one of our biggest prides and so we think that is a huge part of Chapterhouse’s DNA and I don’t mean to get super hokey, but I would say that given the kind of political climate in the western world today, I think that that’s something the world could do with a bit more of.

Definitely, definitely – it’s funny how pop culture always reflects what’s happening in society and obviously we had the situation over here with Brexit.

That’s the thing! And it’s this great kind of wakeup call, like ‘Oh! So the whatever you call it – the empty delusion, that we’ve been getting better and better every year isn’t true in every house!’ and it’s a good thing, because free countries depend on their citizens scrutinizing them and… I don’t mean to get too fucking hoity toity, because our number one goal is just to make awesome comics, with awesome superheroes and great stories and entertain people. That is the most pure mission Chapterhouse has, but one of the equally important ones is that we want to make sure that our pages, look like our readers.

That’s a great ethos to have. One of the things I haven’t asked about in detail is what does your actual job involve on a day to day basis?

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A few things, so in addition to the pure writing I’m doing, which I’m super excited about – working on Canuckia 1 and starting Star Rise and all that stuff – I also get to put my two cents in and chime in on everything from title logos and layouts to big five year story arcs that effect the entire shared universe that we’re working in. It’s pitching ideas, a lot of pitching ideas, we have this amazing think tank where we get together, usually once every week or two, at this diner for breakfast and take stock of everything we’ve got and where we can go and what’s the connective tissue for our characters and ‘What’s this story line you had and can it link to this person? Oh ok awesome, because we were looking for an event like that in this one and maybe they could meet up!’

And so… you can hear me getting excited! [laughs] So my day to day job is being a ten year old boy in a treehouse! It is the most pure, creative sandbox that I’ve ever had the privilege to play in – it’s so much fun, man and I’ll say this, because I’ve been quite fortunate to write stuff that’s been in the movies and get paid to write stuff and that’s my first passion and I’m very, very lucky to be able to do that, but also there’s a very unforgiving turnaround in movies and a lot of scripts will never become movies and a lot of ideas are either too big, or too small for movies, but there is no idea too big, or too small for comics.

So the comic of this conversation that you and I are having, is just as valid a subject matter for a comic as the one where you and I each turn into a planet! [both laugh quite a lot] There’s something sort of unfettered and honest and just pure fun that like… I’ll go so far as to say it made me fall back in love with writing, you know?

Now you and I both know that the term ‘comic book movie fatigue’ is a nonsense and it’s one that makes me mad, because it infers that comics are just XY and Z – that there’s no depth, or variety to them. Is that a term that makes you wince?

It does, yeah. It’s the same sort of thing as when people say ‘Oh, I don’t like video games’ – it sounds as obtuse to me as someone saying ‘I don’t like books’, or ‘I don’t like music’ it’s like, really!? [Exasperated] There’s not a single thing in either of those categories that you connect to in anyway whatsoever? Yeah I think that when people say ‘comic book movies’ I think they mean super hero movies and when I hear ‘super hero movies’ I think they mean DC and Marvel movies. I don’t think they’re thinking The Crow or Blade II! [laughs] I don’t think they’re thinking of History Of Violence, or Road To Perdition!

I think every year, we’re a bit further and further away from that, but still one of the fights left to fight is the misconception that comics are for kids. I’m floored that it’s something that survives to this day, but it does nonetheless, but listen – all you’ve got to do is give people one, that’s the thing. I’ve done it myself, I’ve converted people, tons of people. I have like a stock pile of comics that if people don’t like comics I’m like ‘read this and still tell me if you feel that way’! And more often than not, it results in creating one more fucking comic junkie!

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[Laughing] See now you make me look bad, because I do it with films like Big Trouble In Little China!

Amazing! Amazing! I do the same thing, of course but first and foremost for me – though it obviously depends on who I’m talking to, because different people like different things – but basically I usually start with Mark Millar’s Wolverine: Enemy Of The State with John Romita Jr and that’s a trade paperback of that thing, because I’m like ‘this is better than most movies, it has a more awesome story, better action, crazier character development and the most beautiful art – you read this start to finish and if you don’t fucking love it then, well, make sure there’s blood pumping out of your heart first![laughs] and you might be beyond reproach!’

I tend to find, for me, that the closer you are to the material the more difficult it is for the film version to live up to the source material, so I’ve collected and read a lot of X-Men comics and as a result the films have never quite felt like they should, or got to where they should be for me.

The closest have been Logan and The Wolverine, the last two, are the best cinematic versions of the X-Men I think that I’ve seen so far, but I would agree and I think it’s because those are the only two nailed the angst of X-Men. There’s like a dark bed, that the whole thing is on and you don’t really feel it in most of those films, I find in Logan and The Wolverine obviously because he’s the angstiest of the X-Men! But you do feel that sense of the epic and gravity but also, the most important thing is, they do a very personal story – one guy defending, or avenging another person – it’s simple, it’s easy to communicate and most of the X-Men, like in the Avengers films, they’re all McGuffin movies with one CG object that everyone is vying for and it’s sort of impossible to give a shit! [laughs]

(At this point we’ve hit our time limit, but he graciously gave extra) Goon: Last Of The Enforcers has already come out in Canada – we got the first one in the cinemas over here, but do you know when it’s released in the rest of the world?

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It’s been a bit of byzantine process, for matters that are above my pay grade, but yes it’s coming – it was always, always, always coming to the UK no matter what. It’s a point of pride amongst all of us the following our movie got over there and it means a great deal to us, so it was something we always knew was going to happen. So September 1st I believe, will be the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland release and I’m very, very proud of this film – obviously I’m slightly biased towards it!

We set out to make an old school kind of movie. It sounds hokey but we wanted people to get their money’s worth, so if you watch our flick you see some awesome sport, you see some great fights, you’ll laugh and I think hopefully you’ll be surprised by how much you end up feeling and giving a shit – it’ll be a great time. We also set out to make a rock concert of a movie and so it has got such a huge, tremendous heart that it wears on its sleeve and it’s got a pace and it never quits and it’s got a massive soundtrack! [laughs] There’s over thirty songs on the soundtrack and then there’s over an hours’ worth of original score – there’s like seventy seven different individual pieces of music in our film and it looks like so mother fucking cute, I’m quite proud of how pretty it is! So I hope people dig it, it’s Goon and then some, that’s what we set out to do.

And finally, our standard super quick last question – do you have a favourite Jason Statham film?

[Laughs] That’s a very loaded question! [Can’t stop laughing] No, I do! Hold on, hold on, give me a sec here… There are movies that he’s in that I like more than others, but I don’t know that they’re Jason Statham films…

Like what?

Like The Expendables and Expendables 2 and 3 – I’m a fan of The Expendables in case that wasn’t clear! [laughs] I have to say… ah god forgive me… there are very few movies I love from start to finish completely, one hundred percent and these movies have things that I really don’t like, but they also have a lot of things that I really do kind of like… obviously Crank and Crank 2. They’re fucked and they’re cool, but there’s also some very objectionable stuff in there, that people would be well within their rights to end up fucking hating, but I also think that there are sequences and images and there’s just shit in that movie, that’s in no other movie whatsoever!

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And good on him for being up for it, because there was no reason for him to do those movies! [laughs] But he did, so it’s like – I remember it made me be like ‘this mother fucker is kind of cool’ or at least has something funny to say and saw what the movie could be. But anyway, profoundly flawed but also have a bunch of really cool shit in them.

There’s no shame in it! Every few years I update a list of Statham’s best movies and nothing ever tops Crank and it’s very difficult for those reasons! I can’t even think how it’s possible…

It’s his fucking ode… that’s as close to being in an auteur film that Jason Statham will ever be, because it’s like this weird, meth head, punk rock art film and it just looks fucking crazy! And you know that they were like holding cameras on the front of motorcycles and people really shouldn’t do that as it’s so dangerous, but they survived and we got to see some pretty cool images as a result of it!

Jay Baruchel, thank you so much!