Kaptara writer Chip Zdarsky talks about writing a sci-fi adventure
When Image Comics announced the debut of Kaptara — a new and original comic from Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals, Howard The Duck) and Kagan McLeod (Infinite Kung-Fu) — readers weren’t quite sure what to expect, other than a “gay Saga” that promised to be a sci-fi space adventure filled with strange creatures and interesting characters. Over the course of its first story arc, Kaptara has become of the most original and intriguing stories thanks to its protagonist, Keith Kanga, and hilarious characters such as Motivational Orb, Melvin the wizard, She-La, and the Glomps. EW spoke with Zdarsky about the wild ride that’s been the first five issues. We also asked the big question: Is McLeod still drawing small, hidden Zdarskys in every issue? “Yes,” laughs Zdarsky. “Every issue. And the thing is, as long as the series goes on the more haggard and old I’m gong to look. Bloated, hairless…so sad.” Read on for more.
EW: Kaptara was a real original story. Looking back at the first arc — which was really your first big foray into writing a comic rather than drawing it — how does it feel to see reactions from readers now that they’re familiar with the characters and stories you’re telling?
CHIP ZDARSKY: I don’t know if I sold it well in the beginning — like, comparing it to a gay Saga was a mistake. I did it as a joke to be like, “you know that thing that everyone absolutely loves that is cherished by millions? Yeah, we’re essentially that!” That’s not the best way to start. And then issue one, we wanted to do the bait and switch: it starts off sci-fi, but by the time you end up on the planet, it ends up as weird fantasy, really, and then kind of goes off the rails from there. And by issue two and three with the Glomps, those are the reactions I love the most. Because everyone thought we were talking about men’s rights or Gamer Gaters, but in actuality, we were just trying to figure out what the worst qualities were in human beings and we just put them into these trolls and put them into this forest. And everyone knows s—ty people so they instantly thought we were making fun of this group or that group. And in reality, we were just saying hey, these old trolls are s—ty. Tada!
You and Kagan have known each other a long time, and that collaboration really comes through when you’re reading. Has Kagan ever drawn something that’s been so horrible (in a good way) that you’ve thought, “Oh no, what do I do with this?”
No, the more horrible the better! He’s so talented. I was there when he came up with the Glomps, the look of them. I was at his studio when he was sketching, and watching him draw those shriveled little faces on those giant heads…I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard. You can’t tell if they’re terrified or happy, if they’re ugly or adorable…he’s so good at making adorable grotesque things. He’s so good at kind of bridging all those. There’s nothing he’s done where I’ve been like, “that’s too much.” It’s similar to Matt [Fraction] and I on Sex Criminals, where people ask us, “is there anything where you’ve felt like you’ve gone over the line and you have to revisit it?” There’s never been that point, same with Kagan and Kaptara, because we’re old enough and we’ve been around long enough that we know when something would be too much. So we wouldn’t even draw or write it. With age comes the wisdom of the line, like, understanding the line of it better, if that makes sense.
Kaptara has so many interesting, fun characters…and now we’ve got new ones! Is there a possibility of ever seeing a kind of “spin-off” of one of these characters, or having them explored out of the universe?
The tricky thing now is that the last two pages of this arc, Kagan has drawn and introduced 80 new characters. So it would be so hard to pick one to have their own standalone story. Now, there’s literally 100 characters in this book, and the next arc is showcasing as many of them as I possibly can. Because they’re so fun and such great drawings that I just want to see them in action. So there’s not a lot of time and space for focusing. We still have the specific stories in mine for individual characters or background characters. So there’s stuff like that: everyone has a backstory but it’s whether or not we have the space and time to do it without taking away from the other characters. It’s tricky, because I know a lot of writers who’ve done a lot of theme books — Matt’s done X-Men and that’s the hardest part, is making sure that nobody falls to the wayside for too long or else a reader will lose interest in the character. So that’s been kind of the most challenging part with this. Maybe we shouldn’t have added 80 new characters in the last two pages!
So, finally getting down to business, what can you tease about the second arc? What can readers expect?
We had this one interesting thing with the first arc, because I wanted it to be a romance story for Keith. And that didn’t happen in the first volume, because I realized pretty early on when you’re running for your life, there’s not a lot of room for love. So the second volume kind of goes more into Keith’s backstory and his romantic prospects. Kagan’s working on issue six right now, and there’s a lot more to the characters in that one issue then there are in the first arc. We give them space to breathe before the 80 new characters descend on them. And then it becomes big space opera battles and revelations.
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By the way: Motivational Orb…the greatest hero of our time, yes?
Almost every issue starts with a Motivational Orb scene in my head: how can he help move the plot along or show a character the error of their ways. I love how he’s such a stupid character, but he’s revered. Like, I really want to build up in the book that people look at Motivational Orb as being the wisest of the wise, and he’ll come through for you no matter what. He’s just the heart of this all, even though he doesn’t say anything, even though he’s like, a ball with two arms. Motivational Orb is the oldest character in the book in terms of creation. I drew Motivational Orb back in 2000 as a one-off dumb joke when Kagan and I were sharing a studio. And then Cameron Stewart was doing Seaguy with Grant Morrison, and they had a two-page spread in which hundreds of superheroes were fighting this giant galactic-style character. And Cameron needed characters, he needed to fill it with stuff, and Kagan and I were brainstorming and coming up with new characters to throw in there, and we gave Cameron Motivational Orb. So if you look at that spread, there’s an orb floating trough space with two arms and I think he’s carrying a briefcase, because he used to carry a briefcase in my drawings.
How would characters from your other books fare on Kaptara? Who would survive and who would ultimately not make it?
Howard [The Duck]’s already survived being thrown to another planet, filled with violent creatures, a.k.a. Earth. I know he’d be fine. Jughead would be smart enough to assimilate into society and hide out and introduce hamburgers to the world. Jon and Suzie [Sex Criminals] would probably die immediately. I feel like Jon already has a problem kind of living day-to-day with an entire structure around him that he’s come to know and grow up with, that with something as foreign as Kaptara, he’d die instantly and Suzie would probably live on for a few years beyond him.
The Kaptara trade paperback is available in comic shops today.