by Scott Bachmann
When I first talked to Aaron about writing for CHN, we were only talking about convention coverage as I go to a lot of cons, but I pitched a column about superheros on the web. I’d do reviews of superhero webcomics, point out a few web resources, but mainly interview the creators making superhero comics on the web. Aaron had been wanting to do something similar for awhile, and thus the birth of this column, Webhead.
Thom Zahler and Love & Capes
To kick things off, I knew immediately who I wanted to interview first, Thom Zahler of Love & Capes (www.loveandcapes.com). Thom hails from Timberlake, Ohio so we share a neighborhood since I grew up in Cleveland. I first met Thom at Mid-Ohio con in 2010 after being a fan of the webcomic version of his story, and immediately learned he was as nice as he is tall and he towers over a crowd. Thom self published his comic for a time in addition to having a web presense, and then moved up to a mini series for IDW that’s been widely praised and reviewed, and for good reason, Thom makes the kind of superhero comics that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. In addition to his comic, you can see samples of Thom’s graphic art at his Deviantart page.
Love & Capes is a superhero romantic comedy. It’s about a superhero who says “I love my girlfriend and I’m going to tell her that… but then I have to tell her everything.” The series has shown their full relationship from courtship to marriage, and Thom is currently working on the next chapter which brings his the Crusader into facing his greatest foe, parenthood.
What have you enjoyed the most about your comic?
Thom Zahler: Really, the response from the fans has been the best part of this. I wrote this book as something that I found funny, and I didn’t realize how much of a chord it’d strike with readers. The letters, e-mails and general outpouring of support has just been humbling.
So much of the life of a cartoonist is spent in isolation, working on something, waiting for reaction. So when you get that overwhelming sense of approval and validation, you appreciate the heck out of it.
My book has, according to readers, brought people together. There are fathers and daughters who read it and now have that in common. It’s been the first comic to draw girlfriends into the hobby. I’ve even heard it was the thing that kept one bride sane through the wedding preparations.
While sales could always be better, the thing I’ve noticed is that I don’t really lose readers. I don’t have that half-and-half-again dropoff. Once people read it, they seem to be hooked.
What was the hardest thing to accomplish when you first started out, and has it gotten any easier?
Thom Zahler: Being funny. Writing the joke is always the roughest thing, to be consistently funny with the book and use those jokes to advance the story. I don’t know that it’s gotten any easier, and I had a fairly bad case of block around issue #3 of Ever After. I generally know where the story needs to go, but it’s finding the funny in the car ride or the bookstore scene that causes the anguish.
[Thom writes in a four panel format each, and collects two sets to make a page. Each four panel stands alone as its own comedic work, making for a minimum of 80 jokes in a 20 page comic. ~Scott]
I can’t say it’s gotten easier, but I’ve gotten more confident about the joke once I write it. My characters have become so three dimensional, that they can be funny just by being them, and I’ve stopped worrying about it and started trusting it when that happens.
What’s your favorite story, character or arc that’s occurred in your comic?
Thom Zahler: Generally, whatever the last thing I’ve written is my favorite. The recent character death story came out pretty well, and I was very happy with it. The wedding issue was a challenge, too, because there was so much buildup and I really had to make that a satisfying conclusion. That was tough.
But, I still think issue #10, the issue where Abby gets powers, is my favorite. It’s the first one where I wrote what, in sitcom terms, is a “very special episode”. It wasn’t going to have a very happy ending, and there were a lot of things that had to be handled just right. It was the first time we see civilian death being part of a superhero and how that weighs upon them.
[This storyline was running on the web as I wrote this, and it brings out all the joy of one day getting to be Superman, some of the less commented on problems, and as Thom alluded to, the consequences. ~Scott]
It was also a storytelling challenge because I took away the artificial time limit for her to have powers that’s present in so many of these stories. Abby was going to have powers for as long as she wanted them, which meant I had to have Abby realize she didn’t want to be a superhero without weakening the character.
Artwise, I’ve recently been enamored of Darwyn Cooke and Steven Silver. But before that, it was Ty Templeton and Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger. Man, Kurt was so amazing. If you haven’t done so yet, get that DC Comics Shazam! showcase and look at the stuff he inked himself. So amazingly tight and smooth. I can’t rave about that enough.
As far as writing, Mark Waid and I have a lot of the same Silver Age sensibilities. He wrote a lot of those early Flash issues almost like a sitcom. Wally’s person problems would often dovetail with the crisis he was solving. And Impulse, that whole thing was comedy.
Outside of comics, Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon stand out to me. Sorkin writes lyrically. People don’t talk that way, but man, wouldn’t it be cool if we all did? And Joss works a lot of humor and interesting conversational quirks into his dialogue.
Not that stories are all about dialogue, but mine are obviously heavy on the talking, so I see the direct lines to other people’s dialogue.
[Thom chose early on to keep the heroics ‘off panel’ and show the characters lives in and out of costume. ~Scott]
Who deserves a public thanks for helping your comic exist today and why?
Thom Zahler: That’s a loaded question. If I leave someone out, there will be trouble. So, let’s talk about three people who don’t get enough credit.
First, John Gallagher of Buzzboy. He was my Virgil when I was considering doing a Free Comic Book Day issue. He gave me advice that made that book work as well as it did, and he gave me a lot of information that I wouldn’t have had access to. And Free Comic Book Day is, hands down, the best thing I did to promote the book. It gave it more notice than anything else I could have done.
Second, Harlan Ellison. I don’t bring this one up too much, because I’m worried that I’m name-dropping. But Harlan is a friend, and one day at dinner after San Diego, he asked if it was a good show. I said that I was really looking for someone to trade up Love and Capes, and he got in touch with IDW on my behalf. He moved that part of the project forward in a way I couldn’t, doing far more than I could have hoped or expected.
Third, my Grandma Maerkle. It’s for her that Maerkle Press is named. She was always so supportive of me, and encouraged a lot of my reading and art. When I was aiming for art school, she was the one who talked to my Mom and assured her that I was going to be okay. It’s not that Mom didn’t think I could make it as an artist, but not knowing the field well, I think becoming an artist sounded like me saying “I’m going to play in the Major League” or “I’m going to become a rock star.” People do it every day, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Grandma was my biggest fan.
What haven’t you done yet in your comic that you’ve wanted to do, or what are some things we can look forward to that hasn’t happened yet?
Thom Zahler: They haven’t had a baby yet, but Abby’s pregnancy is the arc of “What to Expect.” My original notes had this as part of the last arc, but when I started working on it, I realized this had to be its own story.
We’re going to see a lot more of Amazonia and Darkblade as well, and more of Charlotte. I’ve been building up to what role she plays in this story for a long time.
As for anything else? Well, Borders and Barnes and Noble have all had problems. What about a small bookstore?
[The character Abby run’s a small bookstore, and she has a real world twitter account where she makes book recommendations. Thom also sneaks in books he likes into the background art for the bookstore. ~Scott]
What is one thing we don’t know about one of your characters?
Thom Zahler: A lot of people miss this part in issue #12. We see Mark and Abby on their first date. Mark kind of knows things are going poorly and he’s flailing. So he goes for broke and asks if Abby’s store will get copies of the latest “Wally Wizarder” book, my Harry Potter stand-in.
It’s a scene that reveals two things about the character.
One, his love of reading comes from the fact that he can actually do that at his own speed. He can’t watch TV at super speed, or listen to a baseball game at super speed. But he can read at super speed. So it’s the one past-time he has that his powers don’t affect his enjoyment of.
Two, he asks because he doesn’t want the book spoiled. Imagine if you had super powers, including super hearing, and a job that means that you can’t assuredly get to the store on time. You’re going to hear someone say “Dumbledore dies?” long before you get to read it. So he wanted the advance copy not just because he was a fan, but because he was a fan trying to preserve the enjoyment of reading it.
As someone who burned through the last “Harry Potter” before Comic-Con so he could walk around without NO SPOILERS written on his shirt, I can relate to this.
What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since this comic started?
Thom Zahler: It’s the much larger world that I’ve stepped into because of working on it. While I’m still not necessarily fending off offers for comics work, the book has put me on people’s radar. People who I’m fans of have become fans of mine. I had to go to LA and pitch the series as a sitcom to a major studio. It’s gotten me invited to conventions as a paid guest. It’s all those things that came about because of my work on this book.
What should we have asked you that we didn’t, and what’s your answer to it?
Thom Zahler: Well, I will say one of the little things I’m proud of is the women’s fashions. In the first issue, I was on auto-pilot, but after that, I started researching fashions to make sure the characters dress right. Abby has a very different style than Charlotte, and Abby’s mom dresses very different from Mark’s mom.
As a guy who grew up on superheroes, it’s not what you focus on first. It’s usually superhero costumes and things like that. And, honestly, a lot of male fashion are variants on shirt-pants-shoes whereas women have blouses and dresses and skirts and flats and heels and boots and… yikes! There’s a lot of options in there, and I’m pretty proud of the looks and outfits of the females in the book.
[Mark even parodies the outfits that female heros wear in the arc where Abby gets her powers and they put her in a holographic chamber to try out classic costumes for inspiration. No one escapes unscathed. ~Scott]
I hope you enjoyed reading that half as much as I did. Thom has a FAQ on his comic with tons of background information on his comic, characters, and real world impacts to his story, and none of this is in there. So thanks Thom for stepping up, and making my first column a great read. Now you the reader do your part and go read this comic on the web, or better yet, pick up the tradebacks. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.