This interview was conducted 05/06/2019
Comic book artist,writer, journalist, Sex Criminal, Part-Scots, illustrator and designer. Only one of these is untrue about the next person in the interview room at Sequential towers. Chip Zdarsky is currently writing some of marvels hottest titles such as Daredevil and Spider-man Life Story and we were lucky enough to knock him unconscious, strap him into a chair and revive him while he had enough energy to answer our questions but not so much he could escape.
What was your introduction to comics as a child?
I can’t remember my FIRST comics. Probably Archie Digests or Spider-Man issues. But the first comic that made me go “I need the next issue” was SECRET WARS #7. Just seeing all the Marvel characters fighting all the villains, with life or death stakes, was thrilling.
When did you first get an inkling that you wanted to be an artist and how did your journey take you to comic books?
I drew a lot as a kid and went to school for Illustration after high school. I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I’d long given up on the idea of being a comic book artist as it seemed pretty impossible. After I graduated from college I did freelance illustration, newspaper graphics, and my own self-published comics for over a decade before Sex Criminals came along.
How did you and Matt Fraction decide to work on Sex Criminals together?
We’d been online friends for years, and also mutual fans of each others’ work. One day I found myself getting pretty tried of my job and wanted to have some fun. So I emailed Matt and said we should do a comic together, just something stupid for the two of us. He wrote back with the basic premise for Sex Criminals and we went from there!
Is it deliberate that Jon looks like Matt?
Ha! No! He’s actually based on a friend of mine named Alex, who honestly looks nothing like Matt.
When Sex Criminals started it was a very much a straight up comedy but as it went on other real life issues started to come in was that planned or was it just something that developed as the series progressed?
It just developed. I mean, there were still proper, serious themes in issue one, but after our first arc we realized we could do what we wanted with the book, and it grew into something even more relatable, I think. Most of that is Matt, for sure.
One of my favourite moments from early on in the book is when you break the fourth wall for Queen “Fat Bottomed Girls” sequence. Is it true that you were you trying to obtain the rights to the lyrics?
To be honest I think it works better without them.
Yes! We used two lawyers to try and get permission, but never got a response. We added the “post-it notes” over the actual lyrics in the book and waited until the last possible second to turn that layer on for the printing press, once we realized we weren’t getting the permission.
And yeah, it definitely works better without them, so I’m glad Queen never got back to us.
How did Howard the Duck come about? Were you a fan of the character?
I was! I read them when I was a kid, so getting the call to pitch was pretty surreal. It turns out his movie cameo at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy was what prompted the idea of bringing him back, so I’ll be forever indebted to James Gunn for starting my Marvel writing career.
You planted the character right slap bang in the Marvel Universe what was the thinking there?
The classic series satirized popular culture a fair amount. It seemed to me that popular culture nowadays IS Marvel, so it made sense to really put Howard in the thick of it as the “normal” character.
At the time did you think that the Spidey appearance was going to be your only chance to work with that character?
Oh, absolutely. It’s why he was in the book right away. I honestly thought Marvel would realize their mistake and fire me after one issue.
In your Howard run, you called back to the original Secret Wars event as an important plot point. Do you enjoy playing around with the continuity of comics that you read as a kid?
Yeah, that’s probably the most fun part about working on a Marvel book, getting to play off of the stuff you read growing up. And then hopefully creating work that some other creator plays off of decades later.
Howard and Kaptara were the first titles I remember you writing and someone else drawing. How did that feel to hand over that creative control for the first time?
Very weird! Mostly I feel guilt, knowing how hard it is to actually draw comics. It’s also I little upsetting when the people I write for do a much better job than I could ever do with the art.
How did working with Kagan McLeod on Kaptara come about?
We’re best friends! We graduated from the same art school and worked together at a newspaper for years. He’s one of the greatest artists alive and insanely funny, so doing a comic together just felt right.
When tackling a beloved character like Howard or Spider-Man, how do you balance being faithful to that character, while still putting your stamp on it as a writer?
Howard was tricky, as there’s only one real version of that character: Steve Gerber’s. So I didn’t want to do an imitation of that, as it felt almost disrespectful? So I tried to retain the heart of the character while changing some traits and dynamics to make it feel new and distinct from the original, if that makes sense.
With Spidey it’s almost easier since there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of writers who’ve tackled the character and each one deviates slightly (or greatly) from where the character started. With someone like Spider-Man you need to observe what came before, but you can’t be beholden to everything because some if it is, well, bad, or inconsistent. So you figure out the heart of the character, an amalgam of other versions and stuff you want to bring to it.
Peter Parker Spectacular Spider-Man 310 is an amazing comic and a favourite of mine. How did that issue come about?
I gave my notice right around issue 305, I believe. I knew the Sandman two-parter was coming up, and after that I’d have one more issue. It felt like the perfect time to do a solid single issue thesis statement on how I feel about the character, y’know? Also, at the time Fraction needed some breathing room on Sex Criminals scripts, so I told him I could ask to illustrate this Spidey issue to give him some time. After that I just needed to convince my editor, Nick, who I think really came around to the idea when I pointed out that with me writing, drawing and colouring the issue he’d only have one person to yell at instead of three or four.
How did you research Life Story did you go back and read past runs?
I re-read all of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN! Or, at least, up until around 650, as the ones from 650-800 were more fresh in my mind. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything that could be used. Like, I have a pretty deep knowledge of Spidey stories, but better safe than sorry, y’know?
In Spiderman Life story each issue has taken in a decade of Peter’s life and there’s been some fresh takes on some classic moments. How did it feel to bring this to life with a classic Spiderman artist like Mark Bagley?
Surreal! When I was doing my re-read, I eventually started hitting Bagley issues of AMAZING, which was just such a strange feeling, knowing he’d be the one drawing THIS series. I also felt a lot of anxiety once I realized exactly how fast he was. Staying ahead of a man who can draw a page or two a day is tricky, especially on a book like this that requires a ton of planning.
There’s no other way to put it but your covers on Life Story have been fucking amazing. Did you have a set idea for those when you conceived the series?
Oh, thanks! I didn’t have a set idea, but I knew they should look different than normal Marvel covers. Keeping them consistent while still referencing the decades was the tricky mandate. I’m pretty happy with how they turned out!
Daredevil is probably one of the most human and complex Marvel characters. What is it about these characters that make them so appealing to write?
I mean, you just answered it! He’s one of the most human and complex! I love writing Daredevil because it’s the title where it feels like anything can happen.
How far into the planning stages of the series did you find out that he was being killed off in Charles Soule’s run and did that effect the way you approached it in any way?
Ha! Well, I had lunch with Charles and told him my plan, and made a joke about how outgoing Daredevil writers always write tricky cliffhangers/situations for the incoming writer to deal with. At that point Charles said “Oo! I should kill him!” And then he did. But thankfully not a read death.
Daredevil is one of those titles that the longer creative teams seem to spend on it the better it gets so with that in mind how long can we expect to see you both on the book?
I’d love to write this book for years and years! And Marco is so perfect for it, I’d love to have him with me the entire time. But the fact that he’s levelled up so much on this book probably means he’ll be offered bigger and bigger gigs now!
In Daredevil you really get across the catholic guilt complex and how Matt’s reconciles what he does with his beliefs very well. How deep do you intend to go on that one?
As deep as Marvel will let me!
When Sex Criminals returns it’ll be the first time we have seen interior art from you in a while. How hard is it to balance your time between writing and drawing?
As of last week I started drawing a new issue, and it’s … tricky. I try to get a full page drawn every day before I switch over to writing, so my days are now very long.
You are a guest at Glasgow Comic Con is this your first time in Scotland? Is there anything in particular your looking forward to during your time here?
It IS my first time! I’m bringing my dad with me who was born there, so really I’m mostly looking forward to touring around with him and my brother.
Looking forward to seeing you there Chip!
Who would have thunk it! Chip Zdarsky is half Scottish……that kinda explains a lot.
You can find Chip
On Twitter – @zdarsky
And on his website here – http://www.zdars.co