Chip Zdarsky is the first person with a pseudonym I have ever interviewed. He’s actually the first person of any kind that I have ever interviewed. I have answered questions before but never have had to ask them. Luckily Zdarsky is a very easy-going laid back dude so it was easy.
The comic book writer and artist has a lot of projects out there right now with gigs on critical darling Sex Criminals, reboots of Jughead and Howard The Duck and Zdarsky is now writing his own project Kaptara with artist Kagan McLeod. Kaptara is a wonderfully zany story of a gay science officer named Keith stuck on an alien planet populated by He-Man-esque musclemen. The first Kaptara TPB hits next month so Chip battled through a grave illness to talk to me on Skype...
So I heard you might be under the weather?
I am. I never go on vacation but my girlfriend convinced me to go to New York for three days and on the second day I had the worst head cold I’ve ever had so I stayed in the hotel the whole time.
I took my daughter to her first Comic-Con and she had a fever the whole time, so I sort of understand.
Maybe she had a bad reaction to comics. From now on she’ll get a weird fever whenever she sees a comic book character.
How about I take your girlfriend to Comic-Con and you and my kid hang out at the hotel?
So this is my first time on this end of an interview. I’ve been interviewed but I’ve never had to ask the questions, so I just want you to know I’m gonna try not to ask anything cliché okay?
Okay. See I kind of have the opposite because I used to be a journalist and always had to ask the questions.
So here’s my first non-cliche question: what kind of tree would you be?
Oh my God.
[We laugh at my brilliance]
That reminds me of a story. I loved soap operas as a kid which is kind of a basis for all of my comic book love, and when I was in Grade 7 or Grade 8 I went to see a soap opera star at a signing at a mall. I was the first one there and I was in the first seat in this giant room at a big Q & A with him and I actually asked him “what kind of tree would you be?” He answered, got a lotta laughs, and then I quickly asked another question which was “What is your favorite color?” He kind of shamed me a bit and all the housewives laughed at me and I left before I got his autograph.
Was he from Young And The Restless?
Another World. Cass.
So your name comes across my...well I don’t have a desk...
Your virtual desk.
Yes. Your name came across my virtual desk so I looked up your stuff. I started reading your Jugheads and now I’m super into Kaptara, I think it’s wonderful.
I know you’ve been working on it for a long time with Kagan McLeod, but between Keith and Jughead, the way they kind of come at things are maybe similar.
Yeah, it’s kind of hard to write a non-sarcastic character! I’m also doing Howard the Duck for Marvel and he’s sarcastic as well, just a little bit angrier. That definitely seems to be my type!
Well hey, you need a type. And this may take a lot of luck and a lot of meetings but maybe a Keith/Howard/Jughead team-up could happen in the future.
A Zdarsky Cinematic Universe maybe?
I would totally do that. I immediately asked my editor at Marvel if I could do a Howard/Jughead team-up and I have yet to receive a response.
Well Jughead met The Punisher, remember that one?
I know, that was the basis for my pitch! If we could do that, which was probably my favorite crossover issue ever...because they had the two artists doing the different styles. We’re actually doing a Howard/Squirrel Girl crossover and I kind of want them to do it that way as well where one artist does Squirrel Girl and the other does Howard.
So I’m reading Kaptara, had no idea where it was going, and it starts with the space team. One thing you did that other space/science teams never address is that they actually have issues with the way the A.I. tells them things.
Computers have always been shitty and they always will be shitty.
Right. So on a scale of 1 to a million, how much do you guys like He-Man?
It’s a part of my DNA. It’s the animated show I watched the most as a kid and they were the action figures I wanted the most as a kid, and Kagan was the same way. I shared a studio with him a long time ago and during that period he would draw these barbarian He-Man-style muscle men and they were so funny that I kind of conspired to create this project specifically for him. He’s got that amazing imagination that kind of taps into these ridiculous characters. And you know, at the end of issue 5 when we have the giant spread of all those characters, those are all actually quite plausible He-Man characters!
They totally are!
Like no matter how outlandish you go with that style, it could actually still be a He-Man character.
Yeah they could totally make the Defenistrator or the veiny guy...what’s his name?
It escapes me.
I should have brought that spread with me.
[Veiniac. Love it.]
I love how the story in Kaptara is moving along and I’m loving the humor, loving the characters, and then BOOM here’s a hundred new bad guys! And I love the little guide you made for them.
Yeah, we wanted to do something special for the trade and Kagan had just done a “History Of Rap” poster which is like everyone up until the point where he finished the poster, everyone major that he associated with rap music, and he wrote little bios for everyone. It took him like months to make this, just crazy. And I feel like most artists, especially in comic books, have short-term emotional memory.
Like we can’t remember the feeling of a thing, so when you finish something like that, like when Kagan did the History Of Rap poster, he should have just gone “I remember how hard that was, I should never do it again.” But as an artist you forget that, and then when the next thing comes along you say “oh yeah, I should do it like that thing I did, that History Of Rap poster.”
Comics in general are like that. It’s so hard for an artist to do an issue of a comic, like it takes forever, and by the end of it any reasonable sane person would be like “well that’s it, I’m done, I can’t do this anymore” but you just forget how hard it is and then you do the next issue immediately.
So all of these villains...I know you watched He-Man when you were little, I know Kagan did, are any of these villains holdovers that you made up when you were little kids?
I don’t think so. Some of it might be kind of subconscious. I didn’t like flip through my old childhood scrapbook to see if any ideas would work. I think when I was a kid, the characters I came up with were almost exactly the He-Man characters. Like you know how you kind of convince yourself as a child “Oh this character isn’t Beast-Man” even though it clearly is Beast-Man. We’re just a few more steps away from that with these characters
We’ve discussed sexual identification and gender identification so much this year. I probably get into at least two Facebook fights a month about it.
Well that’s on you, man.
Yeah that’s my fault. But I love how gender identification and what you’re “into” is less of a thing on Kaptara than it is on Earth. At what point did that become part of what Kaptara is?
Yeah, part of the idea was like when you’re a kid and you move to a new school and you’re like “this is a fresh start.” There’s a bit of that feeling with Keith on this planet because any kind of issues he was dealing with back on Earth no longer apply on Kaptara because they look past sexism and racism and homophobia.
So everything is more fluid and everything’s a bit more accepting there. And the representation of all of those bad things kind of falls on those Glomp characters but they left society a while ago. So it’s interesting and freeing to see what a person can do without people telling them who they are and what they can and can’t do. So that’s part of the hero journey for Keith.
He’s clearly had some problems on Earth that we’ll get into later on and once you kind of strip those problems away and you have this fresh start, what do you become? Will you be held back and be scared, or do you rise to the challenge? And I wanted to write a romance story too, so Volume 2 is going to get a bit more into a romance for Keith that is unencumbered with family and friends and media dictating what you should and shouldn’t do.
I read this and think “if I ended up on this planet and I was surrounded by all these hot muscle dudes that don’t wear any clothes, would I just decide to go with it?”
Yeah, the world of these kind of action figures is so wonderfully homo-erotic. I don’t think He-Man ever quite intended to be that but the end result is...these are hunky dudes. I think the first time I made the absolute connection between Masters Of The Universe and homosexuality was my first year living in the big city.
I went to Gay Pride and I was having a great time being squirted with water guns by dudes on floats and 90 percent of these guys look like they’re straight out of He-Man! It was almost exactly the same thing - leather criss-crossing their beautiful, beautiful bodies and little underwear Speedo-style outfits. And it was so attractive and I was like “oh man He-Man really was tapping into a homoerotic kind of thing!”
Yeah and a lot of stuff did that. G.I. Joe was just all these dudes broin’ out shooting lasers at each other.
Yeah it’s all there. It’s all there.
So you and Kagan have been working on this for a while. Do you have an exact ending planned or will you just keep going until there’s a Cyclowl Origins spin-off movie?
Oh man, Cyclowl is one of those characters that as soon as Kagan drew it I thought “he’s too good.”
I laugh every time he shows up.
Yeah and he’s only in like three panels.
We have major plot points along the way that we need to hit and an ending in mind but part of the fun of this, and something I’ve learned over the years, is that you can’t be too strict with that stuff. I’ll always remember interviews with Vince Gilligan about Breaking Bad and how Jesse was supposed to die in Episode 2 and then they realized he was great and they needed to keep him around. And it’s the same thing with comics whenever Kagan draws a character like those Cat Tanks!
The Cat Tanks make me laugh so much that now I’m totally trying to figure out a way to make like a one-off issue featuring mostly Cat Tanks.
[I explode in orgasmic laughter. Once you have seen the Cat Tanks you will understand.]
They’re so great!
They’re amazing. How did they get in that situation?
Yeah exactly! What’s the origin of the Cat Tanks? Are they happy with what they do? They don’t look happy!
They’re always frowning.
They’re always like terrified!
And another good example is Justified. Boyd Crowder was supposed to be killed immediately and then he became the main villain of the entire show.
Yeah you can’t get rid of Boyd.
I don’t even know what that show would be like without Boyd. I probably would still watch it because, talking about gender fluidity, Timothy Olyphant is the one dude that if he showed up here I’d be like “Yeah let’s give it a shot.”
Yeah he’s insanely hunky.
And the guy that plays Luke Cage. But before we get too into my weird stuff…
It’s not weird man.
You’re right! That’s the point: it’s not weird. Here in South Dakota things get a little old-timey and sometimes it seeps into my brain.
[Does he hate me now? I’m not sure. I don’t even know what I think about me at this point]
So you and Kagan have been working on this together for a long time. Is there a very well-defined line on who is writing and who is drawing or is it more collaborative?
No, you still need a certain amount of division so that things get done or else you’d just be kind of back-and-forthing forever. The way it usually works is, we get together before each issue and bounce ideas back and forth and really figure it out, but then we part ways and I’ll write a script. I’ll keep things like character description and scene descriptions to a minimum when I write, just because I can trust Kagan to fill it in better than I ever could.
So when I get the art back and there’s things there that weren’t in the script that I can play off of, I’ll tweak dialogue and change things on the go. But we are both super comfortable with each other so there’s never any issues. Like for the giant spread of the characters and all the bios, Kagan kind of wrote a couple of those then I wrote the rest and he went through and added jokes to ones he saw opportunities for and then I did the same. It’s at the point now where I read that and we’re so similar in style that I can’t tell whose joke is whose.
Yeah I’ve been there. Hey I just wanna say thank you for the term “He-Maiden.”
What is that guy’s name again? The older dude?
[I am now oozing professionality]
Not the wizard. The beefy barbarian guy.
[Way to narrow it down idiot]
Wait that’s nineteen different characters.
The dude who gets in trouble at the bar.
Thank you. Dartor. I should have written that down.
I just call him “The Barbarian with the Judith Light hair.”
He is such a fantastic character. Have you ever read Discworld by Terry Pratchett at all?
No I haven’t.
He wanted to have an old barbarian guy but he made him an old Jewish guy named Cohen The Barbarian.
Characters like this are so fun because this stuff has been going on so long and I feel like Barbarians are the one big unhealthy body image for little boys.
Quite possible, but we were also raised on the media that always shows the nerds getting the girls, so I think it’s pretty balanced out for us guys.
That’s true, especially if you put on a Darth Vader mask and just take the girl like in Revenge Of The Nerds.
Oh Jesus Christ. So many of those movies are just unwatchable now once you’ve figured out what’s going on.
And that’s another thing I love about your story! It’s got crazy action and lasers and monsters and stuff but it still has a much more progressive and future-thinking curve to it. That is something to be appreciated because you could easily make a comic like that and have it be just as sexually stupid as everything else.
Yeah, and I don’t even know if it’s a conscious thing, it’s just...it’s just who I am.
Right! I guess it’s just what happens when smart people have fun.
“We’re just smart people havin’ fun!” That’s a great pull quote for the comic.
This comic is so freakin’ wacky. Do you have a wacky ceiling? Is there a limit on yourself or is it just anything goes as far as how silly you’ll get?
Anything goes as long as it doesn’t break the reality of what you’re working with. Our reality is obviously very very elastic but you don’t want things to take you out of the story. That’s always a tricky thing when you’re thinking of your jokes: “Would that happen in the context of the story?” But again, because we’re kind of creating the planet on the fly there’s not a lot we can’t get away with.
There’s no plan for a Dark Tower-esque “showing up as three copies of yourself” sort of thing?
Well maybe. I don’t wanna quite give that away yet.
Ha! Well you’ve answered a lot of my questions. Is there a chintzy inspirational quote that you would like to end this interview with?
Umm..always remember: the first trade of Kaptara is only $9.98.
That’s something we can write on the Motivational Orb.
And there you have it, Chip Zdarsky and I getting serious about hunks. Check out Kaptara Volume 1 this January! It’s awesome and you will love it.
You may know Timmy from the sketch group The Whitest Kids U' Know, and you've probably seen him in a gas station buying snacks on his way to do stand-up somewhere.
He's also a huge nerd, as you can see by his Twitter handle:@TimmyIsANerd