"The great thing about comics is you can literally do anything you want," Zachary Dolan says. "There are literally no limits but your own creativity, so we tried to push that idea to its absolute limit. We tried to include a little something for everyone, and it seems to be working."
It also seems to be crazy -- but, then, that's the modus operandi for Super!, the indie comic co-written by Zack and Justin Piatt. Following up on our previous conversation, the duo discusses their influences, the various natures of parodies, and their (ongoing) attempts at working with traditional publishers.
I got two distinct but overlapping vibes when reading the first issue of your comic: Astro City and The Venture Bros. I wouldn't normally or necessarily mention that, but I know that Zack has previously said that Astro City has been an influence of his, so I'm going to ask: did these serve as touchstones for you during the creation process?
Zack: Oh, yes, absolutely. Astro City was very inspirational to both of us
because of its amazing ability to seem like a universe just as vast and exciting as Marvel's or DC's, but they only had one book to fit it in, and they still did it. The Venture Bros. is fabulous, and I love the style of humor and the way that it knows how to poke fun at its genre in exactly the right way to both be universally funny and still make you feel like you got an obscure inside joke. I have always been a fan of the parody made out of love, like The Tick, Mystery Men, Big Guy and Rusty, Galaxy Quest, and other things like that. It's really easy to make fun of something you don't like, and it can come off as petty and mean-spirited, but it takes a lot more effort to spoof something you love and to find exactly what it is about it that makes it so great and making fun of it without disrespecting it. Sure, we rag on a few things we genuinely don't like, but far more often, we love everything we are lampooning.
Justin: I really didn't know about Astro City until we started Super! - and,
holy crap, did that series set the bar high!
I know you have an end goal in mind, but I'm curious whether that is a certain number of issues set in stone or a specific character beat, regardless of page count?
Justin: We know where we're going to go, story-wise. Right now, the goal is the most insane series finale hitting around issue #50. While we're no longer adding plot material to our outline, we are allowing our plot points room to breathe. Issues two and three were originally one issue in our outline, and when we started [writing them], it just got to the point where we realized there's no way we could hit all of the notes we'd like to hit in 24 or 26 pages - at least, without making it feel like a complete mess. So things are expanding a bit.
Can you talk about your experiences shopping Super! around to the various publishers?
Justin: We were thinking Image or Dark Horse all the way, since Boom! and Vertigo have closed submissions, and we don't have agents or industry experience. Since then, we've reached out to other great publishers, like Avatar Press, Dynamite, and the up-and-coming Action Lab. We haven't heard much as far as responses (we're not being rejected - we're being ignored), but if we keep our heads up and continue to fight, there's a chance we'll get a bite.
Technically, we're publishers, but we're artists first, and there are very real limits to what we'll be able to accomplish on our own. Realistically, it might take us years to build our little bedroom operation into an industry contender.
We're going to continue to focus on making the best comic in the world, and little by little, the demand for our book is growing, as is our ability to turn that demand into revenue. Sooner or later, someone is going to realize what we bring to the table, and we'll talk about transitioning Super! from a great indie comic into a true contender for the number one comic in the world.
So you're not intending to self-publish the entire series yourselves, backed by Kickstarter?
Justin: For our first Kickstarter [campaign], we expected to be picked up by Image by the time it was done. We sent [it] only to Image at the time, and with a successful Kickstarter and the finished first issue that was made in the mold of Saga (oversized color first issue), we figured that we'd have a really good chance at having that 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. Instead, I look at Kickstarter as something for special occasions. Our first Kickstarter 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.
The second Kickstarter wasn't for comics, but for toys and trade paperbacks. Not only will these provide us with some sort of long-term sustainability - if we can get over our very real short-term production costs - but they'll show that there's a demand for not only our comic, but for supplementary products, as well.
Personally, I didn't grow up reading comics - the "X-Cutioner's Song" crossover [running through Marvel's various X-Men titles] lost me when I was little - and it's something that Zack's Astro City and Preacher recommendations got me back into, and I'm very glad that he did. Even so, I was very familiar with Marvel characters because of their awesome trading cards, toys, and videogames. With Super!, we can have all that, too - and it might be those products that hold us up and allow us to tell our story to its completion. We've found that there's a demand for our Supers!, even for people who have never read the comics, which is awesome, because our book is 16+, and toys can be enjoyed by all ages.
You guys have repeatedly said that "comics are supposed to be fun." Should they be any more than that?
Zack: Comics are like any other form of entertainment, and they can and should be a mix of many things to be the best they can be. How many stories can you think of that were literally just one narrow-minded focus that you found amazing or even all that memorable? All of our favorite stories have action, comedy, drama, and, yes, definitely fun. We want our story to be funny, but we want it to be serious on occasion, as well. I
like to think of it in terms of that the situation of fighting evil is always serious, but just like life, our characters don't always take it that way. Sometimes you have to laugh at the absurdity of it all, as well.
It seems kind of generic to say, but we always have been trying to make a "good" comic - nothing more or less. A comic that can be enjoyed and remembered. We want it to have rich, three-dimensional characters that grow and change and have problems and flaws that they must overcome (or fail to overcome) and make people love and identify with them. People want comedy, but they also want substance. They want story, but they don't want to be bored. And they want there to be action, but they want it to serve a purpose in the narrative. The great thing about comics is you can literally do anything you want. They can be about time-travelling cowboys or Norse gods living among us or scientists turned into monsters by their own hubris or robots who learn to think and feel for themselves or, even, visitors from another world who disguise themselves as mild-mannered reporters and fight a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way. There are literally no limits but your own creativity, so we tried to push that idea to its absolute limit. We tried to include a little something for everyone, and it seems to be working.
Justin: Look at Y: The Last Man. It's a good comic, because it's an interesting story, but it could've easily been a movie and never a comic, and very little would be lost. It doesn't really take advantage of the "there's no budget and no limits" factor of the medium. But then you've got Super!, which is so packed with craziness that it would be really hard to make it into a film that wasn't animated, so maybe the decisions to tone down certain books are intentional, especially in this age of comic-book movies.