Super!, a brand-new, Kickstarter-backed indie comic book, is all over the place.
It has superheroes, as the name might suggest, but it also includes robots, drunkards, and corporate entities that seem too big to fail. It's a story mostly played for laughs, containing loving parodies in the mold of Cartoon Network's venerable Venture Bros., but it's also a giant, far-reaching narrative that could last for at least 50 issues -- if only the small creative team can find a way to make it happen.
"We can't go to Kickstarter for every issue -- it's just too much to ask for financially, and we'd be there every month," Justin Piatt, the co-writer and letterer of the comic, says. "Our first Kickstarter [campaign] proved that there was a demand for our comic, and we can now hold up our issues and demonstrate that we're capable of making the best-looking and -written superhero comic in the world." Being the best of the best is a tall order, and they're hoping to pull it off by attracting one of the industry's hesitant-to-take-on-anything-risky publishers to sign up for the effort.
In the meantime, the tiny team has formed Unlikely Heroes Studios to publish the first three completed issues, and a second Kickstarter campaign to release both a collected edition and a range of action figures has just successfully been concluded. The future looks bright, if a bit uncertain, and filled with the absolutely insane antics of a city filled with dozens upon dozens of superheroes and -villains.
To chat about the inspiration, writing process, and possible future of Super!, Justin Piatt and co-writer/penciller/occasional inker Zachary Dolan sat down for an in-depth interview. Topics that came up during the lengthy conversation include the follies of "Big Two" publishers Marvel and DC, the role comics should play in the overarching world of art and entertainment, and how to stop the industry's double standard of depicting female characters.
I'm curious as to how the writing process works for you guys. Does one of you come up with the outline, and then you pass it back and forth? Or are you both in the room simultaneously, working it out beat by beat?
Justin: There's a lot of back and forth as well. Zack made the characters and developed a lot of the story -- certain iconic moments. When I came into the picture, I started taking these characters and moments and started cramming them into a cohesive outline, something that was kind of hard to do! We pretty much kept ironing out our outline again and again until we were happy with it -- a process that took well over a year. Characters were cut and added, and a lot of plot elements were changed.
But were both in the same room, and that helps things tremendously, the ability to change things on the fly if we need to. It's something we rarely do for issue sequence, but we do all the time with dialogue. If we say a line and it makes us laugh the first time we hear it, we almost always we keep it, even if it was an 11th-hour change. The Blood Death "shitty shoes" line in issue #1 was a great example of that. Here's a book that we had finished and lettered for a good year -- because Zack was doing pencils and inks on that himself, it was taking a while -- so we put a ton of time into it. Then, the day before we sent it to the presses, we decided that we hated Blood Death's lines, and we cranked up the crazy.
Do you guys write in full script or the so-called Marvel style?
Justin: We write a script, but during the process of drawing and staring at the page for so long, usually what's written on the script changes considerably. Once everything is finished, we'll go over it again to see what we need to axe and what we need to keep.
At what point in the story development process did you decide to make the protagonist female? And what was the specific impetus behind that?
Justin: I'll let Zack handle this one. From the moment I jumped into this, the story of Super! centered on Blitz.
Zack: Actually the very first characters created were Blitz and the Fire Ant. I have always been a fan of the Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, and I originally wanted to do a story about superhero best friends and all the ups and downs that comes with. Shortly after that, more and more characters were added, though not the ones on the main team that you see today -- at least, not right away. There were a lot of changes and roster alterations, but Blitz and the Fire Ant were always the center of the story from the start. The idea to make her female was just an instinctive decision; it just felt right, so it wasn't exactly about making a female superhero book, as much as it was just to make a good one.
However, once the decision was made, it was very important to do it respectfully. I have always been bothered by the idea of the half-naked, vapid underwear model with impossible anatomy as a superhero, and it was very important to me to make Blitz a superhero first, and a "female superhero" second, without that double standard that seems to apply to superheroines as if they were a different genre from "regular superheroes." I've always hated that mindset, and I was determined never to go down that road. She was designed to be a good character that both men and women can get behind and care about, and the way to do that was to make her like a real person. Many comic creators have stated they "don't write for women," and I find the idea patently absurd, and we wanted Super! to have a lead that women didn't have to roll their eyes at, be ashamed of, or feel insulted by.
Is there a reason that super-powered individuals exist in your world, or is that something that you guys just take as a given and serves no narrative purpose?
Zack: We do have an "in-story" reason why there are super-powered beings all over the world, but it's not discussed 'til later, so we'll keep that under wraps for the moment. However, the idea to have a world that was filled to the brim with superhumans, robots, monsters, and aliens was a core part of Super! from the beginning. This mostly stems from the fact that so many non-Marvel or DC superhero comics seem to get stuck on the idea of adding real-life problems to their super universes, that they forget about the "super" part. It seemed that if you were reading a well-written/funny superhero comic/TV show/movie, you were forced to do without the action and the spectacle, and you get a lot of stories about superheroes moping about, breaking up with their girlfriends/boyfriends or eating BLTs in a diner. We have plenty of that stuff, but we definitely think spectacle should be a key component of superhero comics, so we thought that we should go big and just have every kind of crazy supernatural thing we could think to stick in. There's no reason it can't be well-written and funny, as well as action-packed and awesome, so that's always what we've been trying to do.