OCT, 2010 – THOM ZAHLER is best known for delighting comic book readers with LOVE AND CAPES, a Harvey Award nominated romantic sitcom where a handsome hero with super powers falls in love with a normal non-powered book store owner. Thom’s mastery of trivia is as impressive as his quick cartooning skills. He recently endured the marathon challenge of 24-hour Comic Book Day at the Great Lakes Mall where his supporters witnessed the creation of a full 24-page comic titled HAUNTED available as a .pdf download on his site.
If you like powerful princesses who can take down any villain, then LNC’s Amazonia fits the bill as an analog for DC’s Wonder Woman. Amazonia is a bit edgy, totally flirty and yet deep down, she has a heart to do what’s right. Our beloved Amazon Princess, Diana has graced generations with her diplomacy, leadership, strength and compassion. In Thom’s donation to this year’s charity auction, you get both stunning princesses for just one bid. To bid, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by Comic Fusion in Flemington, NJ.
Thom took some time away from rubbing elbows with Stan Lee and Nathan Fillion to answer some questions so that our fans and customers can get to know him a little better.
Since your main comic book project is your creator owned LOVE AND CAPES where you do the all of the art, graphics and writing, when you do a project where you are only responsible for the art, do you prefer less direction from the writer or scripts which are as detailed as possible?
It’s been a long time since I did any drawing for a writer who wasn’t me, so it’s more a theoretical question for me at this point. But I prefer a little more open direction from the writer unless it’s a very specific scene where either he/she’s got a very specific vision or something integral to the story that needs to be shown. A script that tries to call out shot-for-shot what the art should be leaves me little room to, well, be me. At that point, it’s more a draftsmanship exercise than storytelling.
That said, I won’t change anything that a writer asks for without a darn good reason and I’ll do my best to explain it to them. Sometimes it’s just a question of pulling out the core of the scene. In that respect, my career as an editorial illustrator comes in handy. I’m pretty good at talking to a client and grabbing the aspect they want to convey. Sometimes it’s just that the writer hasn’t thought of the visual solution that I’ve come up with. That’s totally cool. It’s my job to think visually. That’s what I bring to the table.
LNC is a sweet and safe comic, fit for all ages. There are plenty of comics filled with sex and violence targeted to teens+. How do you tell a heroic story avoiding the graphic details of crime and misfortune?
There are a few things that help with that. One, my book is following a sitcom format, which makes it easy to move a lot of the occupational superheroic action off-panel. It’s kind of like How I Met Your Mother, where Ted is an architecture teacher, but we really don’t see him teach all that much. In a lot of ways, the book takes its cues from Barney Miller, where the law-enforcement situations were real, but always treated lightly, and usually out of camera range.
What fictional character makes the best role model for young girls? boys?
Generally, I think it’s best to pull from multiple sources, that way you can take the good and leave the bad. So, none of my choices are going to be perfect. And I’m going to answer them backwards, just because as a boy, the latter is easier to answer.
For boys, I like Superman, especially the Chris Reeve version. Superman’s a character who’s doing the right thing just because it’s the right thing. He stands up when he has to, and he’s actually pretty humble about what he can do. It’d be easy for him to use his powers for his benefit, or just to act cooler as Clark Kent, but he doesn’t. It sounds kind of pie-in-the-sky, but I think that’s part of what you want in a role model. You shouldn’t just be the best you can be, you should try to be better. Your reach has to exceed your grasp.
For girls is tougher. It’s hard to find a really good female fictional character. It’s something I was really conscious of in Love and Capes. She reads Love and Capes, and I’m always thinking of what she might take away from what I’m writing. I guess, though, it’d be a toss-up between Sam Carter in Stargate and Kate Beckett in Castle. Sam’s smart and not afraid to show it. She knows what she doesn’t know, and she’s not afraid to leap into a problem and try to figure her way out of it. She can play in a male-heavy playground and yet she was never really written as a tomboy. Kate Beckett’s a lot like that, too. Kate’s not trying to prove herself, and she’s very comfortable in her own skin. She goes toe to toe with Castle intellectually and verbally, but she’s also willing to laugh at herself and have fun.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned in life? What about in the biz?
In life, the toughest thing is probably that not everything has an answer, at least not that you’ll ever know. I don’t know why certain clients don’t call back, why opportunities are never followed up on, why some relationships fail. Sometimes things just don’t work, and you have to accept that you’ll never have perfect clarity. As a writer, there’s always the desire to find motivation and what makes your character tick, and while that works well in the fictionalized construct of a story, you’re not always going to get that in reality. I don’t like to lose, and I don’t like giving up on something, but every once in a while you just have to let it go and move on.
In the business, the hardest thing is the networking. You’ve always got to be on, and angling for an in without looking like it. It’s tough to go up to an editor cold and make that first contact. And it’s real easy to stop short on the follow up, figuring that if they really want you they’ll remember you. You have to hit that perfect point of persistent but not being a pest.
I like people, I really do. And I like talking and mingling, but it’s not always easy to get past the inertia of wanting someone else to make that first move.
What’s your favorite subject matter to draw/write?
I like light cartoony stuff. Not necessarily fluff, but just stuff that makes you feel good more than bad. I like a cartoony flair because you get to play. You don’t have to draw every muscle just right, you’ve got a lot more wiggle room. Not that you shouldn’t know your anatomy, but with the more realistic stuff, you have very little room to make a mistake. With a cartoonier style, I can get away with more exaggeration, and by doing so you can really be a little more honest. By stripping away everything to just the necessary stuff, the note you’re trying to hit sounds a little cleaner.
Writing-wise, I love wordy banter. I can’t help it. I worship at the altar of Aaron Sorkin. I read somewhere once that Stan Lee doesn’t write the way people talk, he writes the way people wish they talked. Sorkin’s the same way. From long monologues to clever back and forths I just dig all that dialogue.
To illustrate, I’ll oddly go to Castle, which *isn’t* a Sorkin production. In the second season, Castle’s done something that has potentially ended his and Beckett’s partnership. He apologizes, and Beckett lets him back in saying “I like having you pull my pigtails, Castle.” It’s just a mind-numbingly brilliant choice of words. It sweeps in the sexual tension between them, but leaves the possibility to both of them that that’s not what she’s talking about. It covers all the bases, but doesn’t reveal anything and keeps the tension alive.
Every once in a while, I hit that sweet spot and I write a line that sings. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s what keeps me coming to the plate.
Have you ever had to handle a domestic violence storyline in comics? If so, how did you approach it?
No, I haven’t. I briefly referenced an abusive relationship between a prostitute and one of her clients in one of my Raider stories, but with that I figured less was more. Characters talked in sweeping enough terms that I didn’t have to get too specific. Doing that served two masters: it allowed the reader to fill in the blanks and make it as bad as they wanted it to be, and it kept me from having to reach in and show that dark place.
What does it mean to you to participate in a fundraiser for a social issue that no one wants to talk about?
I think we’re all called upon to do the things that we can. I didn’t study to be a doctor or a therapist or a police officer. Those things aren’t in me. I know I’ve been placed on this planet to tell stories and draw pictures. If I can use those God-given and practiced honed talents to draw a little more attention or raise a little more money, I’m very happy to do so. I think it’s my duty, my responsibility and my privilege.
All proceeds from the auction will benefit SAFE in Hunterdon to raise awareness of domestic violence issues.