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Chip Zdarsky, Kagan McLeod preview sci-fi adventure series 'Kaptara'

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Among the many announcements at January’s annual Image Expo, Kaptara—a science fiction series from Chip Zdarsky(Sex Criminals) and Kagan McLeod (Infinite Kung-Fu)—emerged as one of the most interesting. Described by its creators as a “gay Saga,” the new ongoing follows a bioengineer named Keith Kanga, who ends up stranded on the Kaptara… and that means danger for Earth. Can he safely make it home? More importantly, can he figure out how to save his home? As the premise suggests, the comic promises to be a lot more than just a space adventure.

Known primarily for his art, Zdarsky is taking the writer’s seat on this project while collaborating with McLeod, a fellow Toronto illustrator who is making his return to comics. With two crazy Canadians at the helm of their own original story, you can be sure the result will be something epic, exciting, and probably a little off-beat. EW talked to Zdarsky and McLeod about their creative process, how Kaptara came to be, and whether McLeod would really be willing to draw in a reader as a cannibal Smurf. Read on for more, including the reveal of exclusive preview pages from the first issue of Kaptara, in comic stores this April.

EW: Okay, so you’ve gone on record to call this project a “gay Saga.” In your own words, what can the world expect from two crazy Canadians creating their own original series? Where did it come from?

CHIP ZDARSKY: It came from Canada, duh. So it’s PURE and steeped in apologetic socialism! Kaptara is The Wizard of Oz set on a world of classic action figures. It’s a hero’s journey but filled with outlandish characters and settings. It’s Kagan and I making each other laugh and, hopefully, dozens of other people laugh as well.

I know you guys worked together before and have known each other for years. When did you start to talk about collaborating together? What was the moment when you said “we’ve got this idea—let’s do it. Let’s show the world Kaptara.”

ZDARSKY: After it became evident that Sex Criminals could go farther than three issues, I started thinking about what could be next, since it seemed like my career was now comics instead of scrounging for old muffins in alleyways. I’ve had the idea for a while of a world populated with classic toys and action figures, like an alien version of Toy Story, and it felt like something that would be a good fit for Image and Kagan. Kagan’s my favourite artist AND one of the most creative guys I know, so this was my excuse to work with him and watch him take dumb ideas and make them GLORIOUSLY dumb. He’s so ridiculously talented and funny, I’m mostly just looking forward to seeing everyone take more notice of him in comics.

KAGAN MCLEOD: Last year Chip won an Eisner award, had a New York Times #1 and Time Magazine‘s comic of the year, as well as an invite for an Applebee’s lunch with the mayor of his home town WHICH HE SNUBBED. So when he says “draw”, you say “How many cat tanks?” We did some self-published work and comic conventions together in our twenties, which was fun, so it’ll be great to relive the magic as real grownups. Maybe Kaptara is like our mid-life crisis sports car, we’ll see.

And how has working together been so far? Chip, I hope you’re not keeping Kagan in a cage like Matt routinely does to ODY-C‘s Christian Ward.

ZDARSKY: Christian enjoys the cage. The cage is consensual, emphasis on the sensual. It’s fantastic. This has been my first taste of the power of a comics writer, where I type a few words and then someone creates beautiful art that’s a hundred times better than what I envision. The only downside so far is that it makes me question my abilities as an artist. I spend a lot of cage-time just thinking about that.

MCLEOD: We trust each other enough to hand over the reigns for each of our jobs, and we want to impress each other so that keeps us on our toes. We both live in Toronto so meeting up and sketching together is part of the fun.

Right now, there’s only a little bit that’s known about the world of Kaptara. Without being too spoiler-y, what can you share with us about the book’s plot?

ZDARSKY: Keith Kanga is a bioengineer who gets stranded on Kaptara, along with his crew who are scattered across the planet. But what brought them to Kaptara has also put Earth in perilous danger! Can Keith, with the aid of a ragtag crew of locals, find his missing crew and a way back home to save it? Probably not! I’m getting reallll good at pitching this, obviously.

As with everything Image puts out, your book features all original characters in an all original world. Can you tell me a little bit about where the inspiration for Keith Kanga came from? And Kagan, can you talk about what influenced you when starting to create the character?

ZDARSKY: Keith is a guy who keeps others at a distance, who uses humour as a defence. He hasn’t had the best time on Earth, so he’s looking for something else, or at least looking for an escape from what he’s known. It’s bad breakups, family problems, and difficulty fitting in that’s found him on Kaptara. He’s kind of a Peter Parker-type character…though…his family problems aren’t, y’know…failing to stop his uncle’s murder…

MCLEOD: Keith is Earth’s representative on this planet, and I’m looking forward to seeing him start to adapt to being there and adopting the local costume and slang, etc. My favourite action figures as a kid all seemed to be technologically advanced barbarian beast men, which is definitely a jump off point for this project. You might say Kaptara is to technologically advanced barbarian beast men what The Tick is to superheroes.

ZDARSKY: Ooo, I like that. You’re much better at this than I am.

Chip, you’ve primarily worked on books as an artist. What made you decide to make the switch to writing, and how has it been different from your experience as an artist? Did you take any advice from people you’ve worked with in the past?

ZDARSKY: The big thing is that illustrating a comic is a full-time job, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to draw another book on top of Sex Criminals if I wanted to do more while that book continued. Writing is easier on time, and, unlike drawing a comic page, I can do it anywhere. So all that free time on planes, or in hotel rooms, or making love? Gone! Writing’s filled all my spare voids! And you know, the only person who’s ever written for me is Matt, so my only real frame of reference for writing comic scripts are the scripts I get for Sex Criminals, which are just chock full of Matt yelling at me. I’ve tried to bring that feeling over to Kaptara scripts.

Kagan, from the previews I’ve already seen, I’m really interested in how you designed this world. It’s fascinating to me how there are so many books out there that take a sci-fi approach, but they’re all completely different aesthetically, depending on the story being told.

MCLEOD: There’s so much great sci-fi and fantasy art out there that it’s hard to feel like you’re doing anything new or particularly good. The whole concept art genre is really amazing and in vogue right now, but at the same time kind of humourless for people who are drawing blue cat men or pizza-shaped spaceships. I find it easier to come up with stuff on the fly when I’m not taking things too seriously, so doing a humorous book helps with that. The dumber the idea, the funnier. I prefer to draw organic things, so expect a lot of fur coats, mossy castles and wacky rock formations.

You both come from being known for distinct and specific books (Sex Criminals and Infinite Kung-Fu.) How does Kaptara compare to what people know of your work, and what was it like entering the sci-fi world?

ZDARSKY: Sex Criminals feels welcoming to me, and I wanted to make sure this had that feeling as well. Like, “Hey. Come on in. Put your feet up. Open this new book about a fun alien world. Can I massage your back a bit?” That kind of feeling. And Kaptara is sci-fi, but loose on the sci and heavy on the fi, if you know what I mean. We just wanted a setting without real limitations, so it feels more like a cross between sci-fi and fantasy, really. Like, we have a wizard, but we also have a giant cat-tank. So, you see, we…uh…oh god what are we doing…

MCLEOD: My main interest is action genre stuff, so this fits in with Infinite Kung Fu in that respect. They may have similar tones in humour too, though Kaptara should be a bit more bonkers.

Can you talk about how much of this story you have mapped out right now? Or how many main characters you know you’re going to introduce?

ZDARSKY: There’s a nice, big story full of twists and turns and kissing that we have loosely mapped out, featuring characters like The Motivational Orb and Dartor, Master of Darts, for the whole family to enjoy! I’m hoping people like it enough to keep it going so we can introduce even MORE characters, like The Inspirational Cube and Slingor, Master of Slingshots!

MCLEOD: I’m thinking of having a contest to have a reader appear drawn as a grotesque cannibal smurf in issue 3.

What’s been the most fun thing that you’ve discovered or done so far while writing this and drawing this?

ZDARSKY: Oh, man. I think just the realization that this is actually going to come out. That we can have so much fun making a thing so ludicrous and to have it actually enter the world, unencumbered. Also, that Kagan’s love of the cactus finds its way into everything he does.

MCLEOD: If Chip doesn’t work my tribe of cactus people with vestigial root systems into the story, they’ll just be all the more mysterious I guess. I know they’re on the planet somewhere. For fun discoveries, I’ve never done a monthly before and I’m seeing how fast it all happens; story, art, solicitations, variant covers and everything. It’s a ton of work. My graphic novel was spaced out over years. I’m sure in a month or two I’ll describe the pace as “hellish” and not “fun.”

Give our readers one pitch as to why they should go pick up Kaptara (aside from the fact that they should pick it up because you two are a crazy talented duo that will make this worth reading). 

ZDARSKY: It’s beautiful and everyone’s going to be going, “Hey have you read Kaptara yet?” and you don’t want to look like a dummy when you say, “No” and then they say, “Oh, that’s a shame cause I was going to give this bag of money to the first person who says they’ve read it.”

MCLEOD: I just might hide one disguised Zdarsky per issue like a modern day Lucky from She-Ra. Do you have what it takes to find him?

Kaptara #1 with Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod goes on sale in April.