“Get ready, little lady. Hell is coming to breakfast.”
The story opens upon a desert wasteland, with the sun scorching the ground and giant buzzards ominously circling over sizzling carcasses. At the bottom of a grand canyon—its cracked, striated cliffs standing quite like tombstones—a lone figure lies motionless, just beside the piddling yet precious little river that the canyon shelters. As the figure slowly wakes, with nothing but the clothes on her back and the bandages hastily wrapped around her arms, an alien-looking, watery, needletoothed monster descends upon her. She is in no condition to defend herself. And she can do nothing but try to scramble away up the cliff, nearly tearing her fingernails loose on the rocks.
And she falls. She hits the pockmarked ground hard. Her attacker has seemingly disappeared; the only evidence it was ever there are the strange, glowing sigils now seared into her skin and the crystalline shrapnel embedded in her back. Her breathing slows. And then, black.
It is on this ominous but intriguing note that Fyrearm begins. Billed as a “sci-fantasy western action adventure comic” by its author, illustrator, and creator Jeff Johnson (a.k.a. 0tacoon) it follows Ravee-Pyra, a young woman with uncertain origins along with a certain appetite for trouble. Accompanied by the mysterious bearded stranger who saved her from the bottom of the canyon, Ravee is looking for answers and she’ll wisecrack, eat, and facepunch her way through every square inch of the desert hellhole she woke up in to get them.
So far Fyrearm‘s prologue and first chapter have shown us shadows of a serious, complex, very western-themed story. But as seen here, the comic also has absolutely no shortage of comedic moments, ensuring things never get too… well, tired.
Said desert hellhole, by the way, is known as Oustria. Since being rescued from the canyon, Ravee and her traveling companion have come to set up shop in a sleepy little frontier town called Joratt, in the top floor of a cozy little tavern. As you can probably imagine, the comic’s environments are rustic and strongly reminiscent of the American Old West; Joratt itself seems to consist of one long street with saloons and businesses on either side, and you can just picture two disgruntled gunslingers gearing up for a gun draw duel right in the middle of it. One might be tempted to think that this kind of environment wouldn’t have much color or life to it, but if there’s one area in which Fyrearm completely shines, it’s with visuals.
Fyrearm‘s Ravee is an incredibly powerful character, and all of Oustria is her sandbox. Her feats of daring bravado (or, depending on who you ask, bouts of utter foolishness) drive the story with incredible momentum.
Written sound effects are where Fyrearm absolutely excels above almost every other webcomic out there, to the point that Jeff’s SFX lettering is indistinguishable from that of a professional who has worked with major comic publishers for years. They’re flashy, beautifully done and charmingly idiosyncratic (Chapter 1 features such gems as “PANTS!” and “dontwanttodie dontwanttodie dontwanttodie”) and they leap right off the page; if there’s one comic you can hear in your head as you read it, it’s this one. The color palette Jeff uses for the comic tends to be sepia-toned to fit the Wild West theme (the below page and others are exceptions) but he makes sure to throw in enough bursts of color to prevent things from looking samey.
The characters are detailed without being overdesigned, and they’re distinctive even from a distance. As with the environments, Fyrearm‘s use of color palettes goes a long way here: Ravee’s deep red hair and sea-green markings give her a decidedly “not from around here” look, but at the same time, she doesn’t stick out like a polar bear in the middle of the desert. Other characters like The Stranger and Michelle (the hapless tavern waitress who gets front-row seats to Ravee’s antics over Chapter 1) are more muted in terms of color, but still stand out and can be easily distinguished from each other. Meanwhile the panel layout—mainly consisting of plain square shapes with a few exceptions—almost seems too tame for a comic like Fyrearm. But honestly, considering how frantic and full of momentum the pages can be, the simplistic paneling can give readers a much-needed way to get their bearings and reorient themselves if necessary.
Author and illustrator Jeff Johnson’s art is simplistic yet distinctive, as well as stretchy and detailed when it needs to be. It’s a huge part of what gives Fyrearm its catchiness and infectious charm.
And just from this pure unbridled energy that Fyrearm maintains at almost all times, you’d almost think Ravee and company were, well… shot right out of a firearm. In a medium full of slow-paced talking scenes, gentle establishing shots, and fluff, Fyrearm full-tilt barrels through its own story like a Dunn & Duffy circus train across the Utah landscape. Much of the story’s horsepower is provided by Ravee herself. She’s Lina Inverse who’s been grabbed by the scruff and dropped right on her ass into the Wild West—hilarious nonchalance, over-the-top body language, and penchant for wanton destruction all intact—and she never fails to entertain. The world is her playground, and she acts like it. In the span of twelve pages, Ravee snaps bolt upright in bed, smashes her alarm clock with the fist of an angry god, throws on the clothes she hung on the floor the night before, slouches into the downstairs tavern, orders enough food to rupture the stomachs of every single contestant in an eating competition, and indirectly plunges the entire place into chaos as chopper-riding vagabonds speed into town—with about as many bullets and explosions as you can imagine—to come collect a bounty on her and her companion’s heads.
Doubtlessly, a few prospective readers will find the comic’s Mad Max style of storytelling to be too disorienting and fast-paced. Still others may just brush Ravee off as yet another amnesiac on a journey to find out who she is. Ultimately, however, Fyrearm excels enough in its execution to warrant a place on anyone’s reading list. It may not be absolutely everyone’s bottle of moonshine, but it’s hardly shy about how it caters to a specific type of reader. And if you happen to fit the mold—and many readers will—it’s like being blasted right in the face with a bullet made out of pure, stupid fun.
As the French would say in this situation… c’est Ravee.
Fyrearm is described as a “sci-fi western” which is a truly bizarre but enticing mix. How exactly did you come up with Fyrearm itself as well as the idea to blend these two particular genres? In your opinion, what about Fyrearm would appeal to fans of westerns and what about it would speak to sci-fi lovers?
- Jeff: Well, to be perfectly candid (I’ve always wanted to say that), I think Fyrearm grew into its own idea over time, I didn’t actually set out to create it as its own story right away. In fact, I would say that the sci-fi western angle didn’t really show itself until I started writing it more as a story. Especially when I found I wanted to set it on a desert country with gunslingers who liked stetsons and dusters.
Originally the world and characters came from an OCT (original character tournament) entry I sprung upon with a single character concept in mind, making it up as I went. The sci-fi element was there from the start, as I am a big fan of both genres!
The appeal for Fyrearm is its expansive and adventurous setting with a wide range of colorful characters, you won’t meet two people that are very alike and you certainly will always find trouble around every rocky corner. It’s just fun!
One of the most distinctive features of Fyrearm is its use of unique camera angles; for example the prologue shifts seamlessly between first-person and third-person view several times. Can you describe your process when conceptualizing a scene?
- Jeff: Oh wow, that’s from quite a while ago so I’ll try my best to remember! One of the core ideas behind that particular set of scenes was I wanted two things to come from it. Firstly, I didn’t want to show Ravee’s face right away, keep things vague and interesting. Secondly, I wanted people to feel what she felt in that moment, her struggles and triumphs should feel just as important to her as they are to the reader!
I’m also a big fan of film and great cinematography, and most anyone in comics will tell you that good shots are very important to get your message across. Angles, composition, lighting and color – it’s all important! It’s not always easy to translate film ideas and techniques to comics but I’m certainly trying my best.
Who or what would you say are your biggest influences when it comes to Fyrearm? Which other stories would you recommend for fans of Fyrearm, and which stories would you say make a great entry point for Fyrearm?
- Jeff: Fyrearm is a weird collage of things I like in the sci-fi, western, and post-apocalyptic genres. Anything to do with people struggling to survive in a harsh environment and refusing to give into it is what makes the world of Fyrearm real to me.
If you haven’t seen what I call the “Scifi-Western Triple of 1998” (Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, and Outlaw Star) then I think you should hop on that quick! Those three shows influenced a lot of my aesthetic and storytelling for Fyrearm. And if it wasn’t apparent before, my style of humor and art draws a lot from anime, despite only watching a handful of shows, haha!
I also take a lot of inspiration from original sci-fi westerns like Firefly, crazy and wild post-apoc ideas and styles of dress from Borderlands and Mad Max. I could go on, but I should focus on one more important point before I ramble off into the sun.
There is another genre that is inside Fyrearm and it’s very subtle, almost barely there. It’s also a superhero comic, in its own way. Ravee always had fire powers since the start of her concept, what influenced and changed how those powers worked came from one of my favorite video game series on PlayStation, InFAMOUS.
Powers within InFAMOUS‘ world feel natural and more utility-based than quirky like “Oh I can shoot lasers from my eyes and fly!” from more pulpy hero comics. That’s because powers are drawn from a source element in the world. Cole’s [the player character of InFAMOUS] electricity powers can come from anywhere in a city and he can recharge at a moment’s notice. He can also use it for mundane things, like powering generators or jamming signals. That’s so COOL to me! I love it when super powers aren’t just for fighting but for everyday life.
You have to live with them, so why not use them all the time? Any power in Fyrearm follows the same principle and are sourced from a natural element in the world.
The thing I most noticed about the title Fyrearm is the fact that both spaghetti western and pulp sci-fi stories tend to feature firearms rather prominently. A shared element between the two genres. What other significance does the title have that you can share, and how did you come up with it?
- Jeff: Funny you should say that because Fyrearm has almost nothing to do with firearms, despite the fact they are still prominent enough. I actually did a lot of reading up on westerns and the comparison to the real Wild West vs. American history.
People had guns but shootouts and high noon showdowns were not commonplace and it’s something I’ve been mixing into Fyrearm as I write it. You can bet I will play on tropes like that but I certainly am going to point to the reality of before while doing it too, such as leaving your guns at the Sheriff’s office so you don’t go around “accidentally” killing someone in a pub brawl.
But back to your question, the title came about after mixing a couple words together while thinking about westerns and the world of Oustria itself, the land which Fyrearm takes place in.
First word was “Pyre,” which was the original title since that was the character’s name before. Once designs shifted and concepts changed (and after adjusting the spelling), it became Ravee’s family name: Pyra. So while I was thinking on western tidbits, namely objects and concepts you’d think of in a western, I had thought: “What if I just took the word “firearm” and then took the Y from Ravee’s name and replaced the I. Fyrearm, with a Y.”
I realize now it sounds a little silly, but it’s something you should easily remember and it became a bit of a catchphrase for a time on an old podcast show I am a part of that is sadly on hiatus. Plus, it does make it sound more fantastical and maybe sci-fi-y? Maybe? …Trying too hard? Haha!
Do you have any “behind the scenes” content to share, like concepts that you drew for the comic but were ultimately cut out, or plotlines that you wrote up but later decided against?
- Jeff: Hmm, I generally keep some of this stuff for my Patrons, especially since a lot of it is lost to time and a computer crash that nearly halted the comic completely, but I can share some stuff!
For one, there have been chapters upon chapters cut from Fyrearm due to time constraints and necessity. I had a mild panic during the Prologue production when I realized what I wanted to do was going to take far too long in years to complete than I would like to do, that’s when I cut out was essentially 2-3 months worth of in-game time between the prologue and what is the current Chapter 1.
It would’ve involved a lot of fun little things like Ravee learning how her powers worked, her getting to know Stranger and some other locals, some dramatic moments that might be hinted at or shown in later chapters and just… a slower paced start. Westerns are known for their slow deliberate pace, it’s to create tension, atmosphere and fear for the protagonist. Once Upon a Time in the West and the True Grit remake are some great examples of this.
I personally thought it’d be better to get to the meat of the story and while it could be cute and fun, Ravee stumbling more than she is now would’ve gotten old fast, I think.
Beyond this, I’ve rewritten the story probably dozens of times now. It’s a first for me and I want it to be great, so plenty of plotlines have been cut, rehashed, brought back, removed again and so on. The story was going to be three large arcs long once, but I don’t have 30 years to make one comic, haha!
What would you have to say to someone about to read Fyrearm for the first time, i.e. what advice would you give them? About how many chapters is Fyrearm planned to be, and what can readers expect from it?
- Jeff: I would say that you’re lucky to be reading it now as opposed to when it first came out. It was slow going before with only one-update-a-week schedule. But now you can just binge it! You’ll get to see a whole lot more a lot faster and hopefully that’ll hook ya!
I would still recommend some patience. Fyrearm is not a weekly webcomic anymore since I am a very busy guy, so not it uploads in batches! It means when there is an update, you can binge away just like the rest of us webcomic bingers. You’re welcome here, bud! Fyrearm is planned to have 12 chapters, at the very least. That will probably change with time but for now that’s my goal.
If you like some buff girls beating down on bandits while cracking jokes as an old man groans with disapproval, you’ll probably like this comic a lot, haha!
Oh, and rock porn. So much rock porn.
Let’s close the interview with a fun prompt: if you were trapped in the world of Fyrearm for a day, what would you do? And if Ravee was trapped in the real world for a day, what would she do?
- Jeff: I would most definitely melt into a puddle as I sweat profusely in the heat I was not built for. I’d mostly definitely take pictures of all the rocks and I would talk about nerdy stuff with Redd all day long.
Ravee unchaperoned would get into trouble, get out of it, and get back into it while she tries to chow down on whatever she can get her grubby mitts on. You can’t take her anywhere, honestly.
For real, though, she’d dig it here. A whole new world to explore and so little time to do it all. Relatable as heck.
Did you have a hog-killin’ time reading this article? Is just the thought of not reading more Fyrearm makin’ you want to hang up your fiddle? Don’t get your dander up, just giddy on over to the comic site and Jeff’s social media sites below: