@’s by Thom Zahler!!!
It is this lack thereof that inspired Thom Zahler to create LOVE & CAPES. At Comicpalooza, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Zahler, discussing a range of topics from the numerous iterations of Superman to Teri Hatcher’s unique talent and even CLOVERFIELD.
LYZARD: There have been so many parodies of superheroes. THE TICK took the absurdist route, KICK ASS went for shock and awe, the list would go on and on if I included film and television. But what is LOVE & CAPES’ direction? What exactly are you aiming to parody specifically, in regards to superheroes?
THOM ZAHLER (TZ): It’s not so much parody as it is putting the spotlight on one of the aspects of the superhero genre that’s not focused on, that being the relationship. LOVE & CAPES is drawn in a cartoony style, and it plays for laughs, but it’s a very real relationship at the core of it, and that’s what I’m focusing on. If you want to read a book about superheroes having fights, DC has 52 of those, Marvel does another bunch, but nobody is really focusing on the in-between moments. It becomes like CLOVERFIELD, which was almost a Godzilla movie, and you can do that with a not-Godzilla because then it’s really interesting and you don’t see the monster and it’s cool, but if you did it with Godzilla everybody would be ticked off. So the same way, I can take superhero relationships and focus on it and it works for my book, but if DC ever let me write Superman and I turned it into this, it wouldn’t work.
LYZARD: More than just parodies of superheroes, there are thousands of web-comics available online for free. You've had time on your side, having worked on LOVE & CAPES since the mid-2000s, but how long did it take for the strip to catch on? What do you think makes it stand out?
TZ: I don’t know when it became popular. There’s a level to that that I’m a little uncomfortable talking about, because it’s like “when did you become awesome?” I think what helped with the popularity, first of all, was I gave out the book for the first three issues. I had somebody take out ads in the book and part of the promotion deal was I will give out a 100 copies of this book at every show I do for the rest of the year, and then I got people to see it. I wasn’t so much concerned about selling the book at that point as I was getting people hooked into it. The problem with the marketing model that I had is I didn’t have a lot of other books for them to buy when they came back to the table, so they got interested but there was no more stuff. With issue 4 I became part of Free Comic Book Day, and hands down that’s the best promotion I did. As far as I know I’m one of the first publishers to do an all-original book, because my feeling was if I can get you hooked into LOVE & CAPES and buy another issue, I’m willing to give this one away and because of the bizarre marketing mechanics of FCBD, the FCBD book was my best selling book of the first six issues, because I could sell advertising for FCBD since I could point to a spot on the wall and say its going sell 15,000 copies, whereas with the regular run of the book it was selling much less than that so I wasn’t able to get advertising as easily.
LYZARD: How has your experience been working with IDW?
TZ: So one day I’m having dinner with Harlan Ellison, who I know and consider a friend, and he asked me what a good show would have been for me (I just finished San Diego). So he asked “Did you have a good show?” and then I gave the typical reaction of “we’ll have to see how everything comes out.” I told him that I wanted to trade it up. “Alright, I’ll take it to IDW” he said, and I wouldn’t have expected him to do it--it’s just an awesome thing that he did, and he fought for it and he’s the one that got them to notice the book. Now, they are the ones that looked at it and said, “Yes, we want to publish it,” but he just sort of walked it in, and I can’t imagine a better way to knock on their door than have it be Harlan.
When I first started working with IDW, they were collecting the existing issues into trade form and after issue 13, which was the last time I was part of FCBD, they started publishing the book as first run.
Everything is published way backdated, so the strips that appear much longer ago, they are in lo-res format and even books like THE DREAMER by Lauren Ennis, her book existed web first and then they collect it up.
LYZARD: Obviously, LOVE & CAPES’ biggest influence is Superman.
TZ: Clearly--and “Mad About You”.
LYZARD: So I have got to ask you about a Superman film. What did you think of SUPERMAN RETURNS?
TZ: If you accept the premise that you are going to do a sequel to SUPERMAN 1 and 2, it’s a love letter to Richard Donner and there are a couple aspects that bother me tremendously, like that his son is a murderer because his son, this really bothers me, his son kicks a piano at a bad guy and I don’t care that he’s protecting his mother because Clark never killed as a kid and there’s no reason to have that guy die. He could be knocked out, but they actually go through the effort of making you know that the guy’s dead. It’s got a lot of Superman stuff I like in it, but I don’t understand doing a sequel to a movie that’s 20 years old. It feels like you are just designing it to alienate, to put barriers in front of the audience. I thought Routh was decent, he didn’t have a ton of stuff, there wasn’t a lot for him to grab hold of, but he did the Chris Reeve alienated character, I thought, pretty well. Kevin Spacey was brilliant, and Kate Bosworth, she did a good job with a character that is not allowed to be Lois Lane because Lois Lane as a mother is a very different person than Los Lane as a straight up solo reporter who will put herself in danger because she’s that focused on getting the story. It was set after he disappeared; they could have done a much better job letting us know why he had gone away and the movie takes place five years later and yet everyone is three years younger.
LYZARD: In all seriousness, what are your expectations for MAN OF STEEL?
TZ: I think that’s the way they should have gone with SUPERMAN RETURNS. For the most part, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Superman films because I know I’m going to see them. I can’t imagine what they would do that would make me not show up at the theater opening weekend. I’m not putting that out there as a dare, I don’t want them to try, but I’m pretty well committed at that point so I don’t become consumed with it. That said, the trailer featuring the destruction of Krypton and young Clark saying, “why can’t I still be your son”, that was the first one where I knew what to see this film.
LYZARD: Instead of feeling obligated?
TZ: Yeah, I was interested in it. There’s a lot of stuff they are doing in it that I think is really interesting. For the people who said when it came out that they were going to darken it a bit, that works as long as Superman remains relatively untouched. You can go darker, but he has to be the bright spot. You don’t want to make Superman dark, you want to make the world dark but not bleak and overwhelming dark, just a little less the wacky 70s and 80s world that it was or the way it was in the LOIS & CLARK TV show.
LYZARD: Which was a huge influence for you.
TZ: It was. Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain had chemistry. I have this pet theory that Teri Hatcher has chemistry with anyone. Those Radio Shack commercials with Howie Long were brilliant. I would have paid to watch Hatcher and Cain in an elevator for an episode. The problem is that with the TV budget and with the way that they cast it like it’s the ’66 BATMAN TV show, the superhero stuff always felt forced or weak, but the Lois and Clark stuff was always pretty good. That’s what interested me the most, was the idea of focusing on that aspect of it. And to loop it back around, it’s what I’m really interested with Man of Steel because I think we’re finally to a point technologically where you can make Superman as awesome as he actually is. You see some of that in the Bryan Singer version. Singer does a really good job finding interesting ways to make supers use their powers both visually and creatively. There’s a ton of stuff in the first two X-MEN film, I’m going to slip examples here, but it’s like that scene in THOR where Thor puts his hammer on top of Loki and you go “there’s forty years worth of THOR comics--how did nobody ever figure that out?” Singer does that on a regular basis, and he does some of that in SUPERMAN RETURNS, like Superman picks up the boat and he’s grabbed Richard White and says “do you got them (Lois and his son)?” and the he drops the entire boat from around them. Visually, that’s a stunning scene. I think now you could actually do a Superman-level fight scene without having to resort to the stuff you do in SUPERMAN 2, and this could be a really interesting point to be where you could make a Superman movie as awesome as a Superman comic is capable of being.
LYZARD: When you started LOVE & CAPES, you felt that the exploration of the in-between moments was missing in the market. Do you think that has changed over the years?
TZ: If there’s a comic out there that is exploring it, I haven’t seen it yet. I do not pretend to read every book that comes out. Some of that by virtue of what DC has done is they are putting the characters at an earlier spot and they are putting them in different positions, which if executed well can be interesting. You see a little bit of that getting Superman and Wonder Woman together. I think ultimately Superman should wind up with Lois Lane. I think that is genetically coded into everybody. Superman has been around for like 75 years, that’s the way it’s supposed to go, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it interesting to get there. So I’m interested to see what they are going to do with that, but I also understand why there’s a lot of bad reaction to it.
LYZARD: Do you think that LOVE & CAPES has remained popular because it fills a hole in the market?
TZ: Yes, in the sense that’s it. In the PEANUTS comics strip, Charlie Brown doesn’t get to kick the football, ever. That’s necessary to the entire strip, whereas I can say what if they did get together and what if they were happy and what if their wedding actually went off well? It’s a little bit of wish fulfillment, saying what if these two people got together, but doing it in a way where I’m not blowing up either the paradigm I’m referencing or the original source material. It’s why I was opposed to Superman marrying Lois Lane in the comics--because once you do that you burn the Superman/Lois Lane/Clark Kent triangle for everybody that comes after it, unless you completely reboot the universe or you get them divorced, which nobody wants to do.
LYZARD: I know along with LOVE & CAPES you have also done some work for the MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC series with IDW as well. Your endeavors thus far have seemed to be in the PG range; have you ever wanted to do more "mature" material?
TZ: The first book I did, I did a book called RAIDER, and it was an action adventure spy book and I thought it was a little more mature. I tend to write probably PG-13 at best. Part of it is that’s the level at which I play anyway. I don’t tend to swear a lot, that kind of stuff, it’s not in my nature. It’s far more interesting to me to introduce a really chilling or intriguing concept but not show it. CLOVERFIELD was an excellent example of that principle in action, for there are lots of really good shows on television that they’re not showing you anything that you couldn’t see in a PG movie, it’s just the way they are presenting it, like THE FOLLOWING on Fox. It’s a fairly intense show. As a writer it’s far more interesting to me to build people up to be scared of the knife than it is to actually show the knife. That’s the famous Hitchcock example from PSYCHO is that you never actually see Janet Leigh get stabbed, even though you think you do. That’s the range of which I like to play.
LYZARD: You can purchase collections of LOVE & CAPES published by IDW or follow the comic regularly updated on the web at www.loveandcapes.com.
Lyzard is Lyz Reblin, a graduate student at the University of Texas pursuing a master's degree in Media Studies... which is just a fancy way of saying she plays a lot video games, watches far too many horror films, and then tries to pass it all off as "research."
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G