Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen: an Adventure Across Media…to Doom!

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Over the last 10 years, Stephen Colbert has broken unprecedented pop-culture ground through his character “Stephen Colbert,” an obnoxious blowhard pundit whose narcissism and disregard for reality allow him to insert himself constantly into the news he reports.  What began as a (relatively) simple Bill O’Reilly parody has grown into one of the last decade’s most beloved and inventive comedic characters, complete with an extensive mythology and an extensive list of appearances outside his original medium (TV).  In particular, this ability of “Stephen Colbert” to transcend his original format has allowed for great innovation in comedy.  Beyond The Colbert Report, the character has appeared as a guest on other programs, written two books (not counting a third children’s book), fronted a (fictitious) 80’s synth-pop group, led  a large-scale rally, ran for office, wielded political clout, testified before congress, and (much) more.

 

In this space, I will examine how Colbert’s function as a cross-medium character is applied in comic form through Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen Adventures, a 5-part series of comics that tell the story of a futuristic version of Colbert’s character as a space adventurer.

 

The idea for Tek Jansen came from an offhand reference from the Report about a fictional science-fiction novel Colbert had written and was attempting (unsuccessfully) to get published.  This was itself a reference to a novel O’Reilly had published earlier in his career, and was developed into a running joke meant to play off Colbert’s self-serious, oblivious nature, as he rails against the injustice of a publishing industry that would deny the world his 1,800 page opus.  Eventually, the show commissioned 9 animated Jansen shorts that aired during the Report over three years.  Starting in 2007, The Tek Jansen character was further embellished in a brief 5 issue comic run by the Oni Press with art by Scott Chantler and Robbi Rodriguez, and written by John Layman, Jim Massey, and Tom Peyer (along with help from Colbert and his staff). TEK_JANSEN_02_PG_13

In the comics, Tek Jansen is the loose-cannon hero of the intergalactic spy service/army Alpha Squad 7, an organization tasked with protecting myriad planets from the evil threat of the Optiklon’s (among others).  The plots of each issue revolve around Jansen jetting around the galaxy, stumbling into firefights with various enemies, causing tremendous collateral damage, and then moving on to his next adventure, constantly fooling himself and others into buying into the myth of Jansen as the greatest hero around.  Along the way, he never fails to seduce just about every female he encounters, paying no regard to species.

 

The character is drawn to look like an exaggerated Colbert, complete with a skin-tight red, white, and blue spandex suit and Colbert’s trademark glasses and coiffeur.  When combined with Jansen’s impressive musculature, his portrayal as an ass-kicking super-soldier irresistible to the ladies makes it clear that Jansen is a sort of character within a character; the delusional self-image projected by the Colbert character.  To a fan of Colbert, the entirety of Tek Jansen is an extended inside joke; another version of the Report, which is also viewed as if authored by the titular character.  When viewed as such, the comic functions not just as a self-contained work, but as one of many extensions of the real Stephen Colbert’s true project, the Colbert character itself.

 

All told, the real triumph of Tek Jansen is not as an isolated satire of the comic medium, though it does work as such, but as an offshoot of the Colbert mythology, one of the most innovative pieces of comedy ever. stephencolbertstekjansen2