We recently spotted Thom Zahler doing a crossword puzzle in the gazebo across the street from our building. We struck up a pleasant conversation with him, and here’s what happened:
THWP: Hello Thom! How are you enjoying the summertime?
Thom: I’m having a great summer, though it feels like I’m looking at it through the window of my studio or an airplane more than I’m actually out in it.
THWP: Tell our readers a little about Love And Capes?
Thom: Love and Capes is a superhero romantic comedy. It’s about a super hero who said “I love my girlfriend and I’m going to tell her that, but if I’m going to tell her that, I’m going to tell her everything.” So he does. We’ve seen Mark and Abby date, get engaged, get married, and now she’s pregnant. As sometimes happens.
The book’s structure is like most sitcoms where, while the characters have jobs, you don’t see them really doing their job much. Who wants to watch Lily on How I Met Your Mother actually teach Kindergarten or watch Alan from Two and a Half Men be a chiropractor? Here, the job is being a superhero. So we see them before and after a mission, but the book is far more about the relationship between Mark and Abby than what super villain is hatching what evil plot.
THWP: Mark and Abby are two of the most wonderful characters in comicbooks today (and very easy for most people to relate to). How did these characters come about in your mind, when you were first creating Love And Capes?
Thom: Mostly, I created characters I wanted to hang out with.
Mark is, obviously, my interpretation of the Superman archetype. I like that Christopher Reeve/George Reeves mix of a really nice guy who’s polite and most of all calm no matter what happens. It’s kind of like that exchange in Men in Black: “We have to tell them the world’s in danger!” “The world’s always in danger.”
I took a lot of care with Abby, too. Female characters can be so much better than the baseline in comics now. To be fair, a lot of that comes from the 40’s creations where characters filled positions, not personalities. The Girlfriend, The Boss, The Bully, The Sidekick.
First off, you have to make sure your female characters (or any characters, really) want something that’s not the other person. Abby loves Mark, but she’s not defined by that. She runs a bookstore and she’s awesome at it, and she wants that as much as she wants anything.
Know what your characters want. It makes them more real.
THWP: Tell us something about your Darkblade character which would surprise most people?
Thom: His parents are alive, he’s actually very funny, and his origins borrow more from the Alec Baldwin’s The Shadow more than Batman.
I like the idea that it wasn’t a tragedy, but the fact that Paul Lacroix was directionless and a party guy. His father arranged for him to get kidnapped by some warrior monks and he took to it so much that he wound up being made the leader of that group.
We meet his parents near the end of Love and Capes: Ever After and I just love the relationship he has with his father and stepmother.
THWP: Tell us something about Deco City which would surprise most people?
Thom: It’s very much Chicago, but I don’t know how much of a surprise that is for anyone who pays attention.
I love Chicago. I spent a lot of time there for a while and fell in love with it. The art deco architecture, the pride in their pizza, the rivers, and the weather are all there in Deco City. It’s even in the central time zone.
All of the streets with names (not numbers like First and Third) are named after U.S. Presidents, too. Abby’s bookstore is on Jefferson Street.
THWP: What is it with red wine exactly? No more love for the white wine? What gives?
Thom: I’m just not a white wine guy, and the red looks cooler visually. Plus, red wine pairs with chocolate so well. I don’t refuse to drink red wine, but it’s not my go-to drink.
THWP: You have a knack for lampooning popular culture in your writing (which we love, by the way). We’re big fans of the appearances of places like Munchkin Donuts and Captain Bellybuster Hamburgers in Love And Capes! What do you imagine would be the top-selling items at those joints?
Thom: Captain Bellybuster is actually stolen from the Stephen J. Cannell universe. It appeared in A-Team and Greatest American Hero. There’s actually a conceit I use in Love and Capes where fictional TV shows and characters are real in the LNC universe. So, in their world, Studio 60 is actually a long running sketch comedy show, SportsNight airs five times a week on CBC, Geoffery Tennant runs the New Burbage theatre festival, and Rick Castle writes bestsellers.
Captain Bellybuster’s big item is the Big Bellybuster, a bleu cheese topped, onion and barbecue drenched half pound burger. And Munchkin Donuts big seller is the chocolate frosted brownie batter filled Choco-Mocha. It tastes just like the chocolate covered, brownie batter filled Men in Black III donut it Dunkin’ Donuts. Not that I loved that thing.
THWP: What ever became of Infil-Traitor, from that Masters Of The Universe contest you participated in that one time?
Thom: They never said anything about him, no reaction, no “thanks for entering” card that I can recall. So he just sat in the back of my brain until he became PsiClone in issue #8.
Ideas never die. They just wait to be the right key for a new lock.
THWP: Tell us a little about Mark’s Atomic Razor?
Thom: Well, it obviously cuts bonds on a atomic level and then uses the resulting energy released to recharge the device. Going down to that tiny level allows it to slip past any invulnerability issues.
Yeah, that’s it.
THWP: What’s it been like for you, working together with the fine folks at IDW Publishing?
Thom: You know, it’s been great. We’ve got a wonderful working relationship and they’ve been nothing but supportive. And the product they put out is just gorgeous. I love the way the trades look. They’re like the gold masters of my work.
They’ve also been fantastic at doing the things that I’m less well-equipped to do. So they handle working with Diamond, and they’ve made sure my books are available on Comixology. I can’t tell you what a help that is.
THWP: What was the wildest thing you witnessed at the San Diego comic con this year?
Thom: The lovely Amy Ratcliffe as a female Crusader.
THWP: We love your Grand Moff Tarkin art for the Star Wars: Galactic Files cards which Topps is releasing soon. How did you come to be involved in that project, and what was it like?
Thom: It was a confluence of things. I’m always looking for new markets for my work, and I hadn’t been doing any sketch card work. But the big thing was that my girlfriend is a huge Star Wars fan. We’re different religions, she and I. She’s Star Wars, and I’m Star Trek. Not that I don’t love the Wars, of course. My heart is vast in how much geekdom it can love.
So I did it to impress her. Steve Sansweet, who I met at Rancho Obi-Wan when she and I went earlier this year, pointed me in the right direction and Topps liked what they saw. Next thing you know…
THWP: You really did draw a Bea Arthur card, from the Star Wars Christmas Special, didn’t you?
Thom: I was sooooo tempted. But you know, it was the first bite at the apple, and I didn’t want to pick any off-limits characters.
I had to do over 100 cards, which to keep things interesting, I broke into nine cards a day. Each day was a theme. So I did droids, and bounty hunters, and bad guys, and Jedi and so on. I really wanted to do Bea Arthur and Art Carney and Lumpy and the Imperial Commander so incompetent that he didn’t even have a British accent… maybe next time.
THWP: Your illustration style is both distinctive and refreshing. Who were some of your major influences?
Thom: For this style, Darwyn Cooke was the big influence. His New Frontier really kicked me in the complacency and showed me a whole new world.
Animator Steve Silver, a little bit of Claire Wendling and a little bit of Ty Templeton, and, of course, the DC Universe animated style also got put into the mix.
THWP: When did you first realize that you wanted to be an illustrator?
Thom: Honestly, there has never been a time when I didn’t know I wanted to be a cartoonist. All my life. I can remember being three or so and saying this is what I was going to be, and I never wavered.
I like that I was so directed. It made a lot of things easier when you knew where you were going. But I do kind of miss some of the “finding yourself” stuff that other kids had. Stand up comedy, theatre and stage crew were all things I loved that it might have been nice to spend more time on. But I think those things are all related, and they all find their way into my work.
All of this, though, makes me obsessed with why people choose the careers they do. I love hearing why people are passionate about the things they’re passionate about, and how they get into the work they do.
THWP: As a kid, what were some of your favorite television cartoons?
Thom: Super Friends, obviously. It was DC super heroes. The Challenge of the Super Friends was my favorite, followed close by the Galactic Guardians year. The first because it was heroes and villains fighting with no redeeming value. And all the villains got a turn to suggest a plan. “Solomon Grundy have a plan!” Really? Lex Luthor is following Grundy? Then again, they gave Bizarro a turn.
Galactic Guardians was some of the first serious super hero stuff on TV. The animation took a huge step up, too. The Night in Crime Alley episode is still pretty sharp.
Beyond that, I loved the kinetic energy of Mighty Orbots, I’ll stand by Gummi Bears and their awesome theme song, too. And I was big into G.I. Joe and Transformers, too.
THWP: What was the best advice anyone ever gave to you?
Thom: I don’t know that it was advice, but my grandmother always thought I could do anything. From her I really learned that the only limits are those you impose upon yourself. Having that kind of positive reinforcement really helps you dive into an opportunity. You become willing to try things because you’re not scared of failing. Not that ypu don’t fail, but you never don’t do something because you think you can’t. You always try.
And it’s always better to know you failed than not know if you could have succeeded. That’s my advice.
THWP: What’s your go-to graphic novel these days? For instance, you’re going on a long train ride, and you can bring a graphic novel along for the ride. Which one are you bringing, and why?
Thom: I’d probably bring the All-Star Superman collection. It’s one of my favorite Superman stories, and I think there’s always more you can read in that story. The whole theory that Leo Quintum is Lex Luthor, that’s just mind-blowing. I know it’s disproven, but there are aspects of it that are just there. And that Superman goes back to say goodbye to his father, that he’s the masked Superman. Man, just so rich a story.
THWP: What do you enjoy most about living in Ohio?
Thom: Weather. I like cold. I like warm. I like rain, and I love fall. Ohio’s eventually got it all. I know people who hate snow, but really, it’s no big deal. Admittedly, I don’t often have to leave the house. My morning commute is about a sixty seconds if I don’t stop to toast a Pop-Tart on the way to the studio. That makes looking out the window and saying “I ain’t going out there” easy. There’s also the part of me that loved rainy day recess, because when you stay inside, you get to draw.
And, it’s conveniently located. Chicago, Charlotte, Toronto, New York, Baltimore, Columbus, Cincinnati… they’re all driving shows. That isn’t a bad thing.
THWP: If Galactus selected you as his new herald, what do you suppose your herald name might be, and what powers would you have?
Thom: Arclight the Announcer! I’d fly around on a Jack Kirby designed Green Machine and tell people to get off the planet for Galactus is hungry. Powerwise, I thought they all had the Power Cosmic, whatever that is. I’d be cool with that, but force beams and a the ability to control communications equipment would be all I’d need.
THWP: What’s coming up soon that Thomas Zahler fans ought to be on the lookout for?
Thom: Obviously, the Love and Capes: What to Expect series is coming out through the end of the year. And I’ll be at Dragon*Con, Baltimore Comic-Con, Cincinnati Comic Expo, Wizard Ohio, New York Comic-Con and maybe a couple others this year. That’s a lot!
I’m also going to be lettering a project for Image, my Star Wars cards come out in September, I believe.
And there’s always something else stirring, even if I can’t announce it yet. I don’t do bored well.