When word first arrived that movie producer and comics writer Jeff Katz would strike out on his own with comics publishing/movie producing shingle American Original, the assumption from many was that the line would float on the backs of Hollywood screenwriting talent like so many recent Hollywood comics crossover have. And while Katz certainly has a hand in with L.A.-based screen scribes, the announcement of his first four American Original titles (to be published by Top Cow starting in the fall), proved that the producer was casting a wider net.
This week, in conjunction with the year’s biggest Hollywood/comics party at Comic-Con International in San Diego, CBR starts taking a look at some of the creators behind Katz’s comics projects, starting with comedian Scott Aukerman and his “Comedy Death-Ray” anthology. Planned as a four-issue miniseries to start, the book sets its sites on bringing some of big name talent from the world of stand up comedy into the comic book format in the vein of classic humor magazines like “MAD” and “National Lampoon.” Working as editor and occasional co-writer on many projects, Aukerman hopes to expand the idea of the “Comedy Death-Ray” show which he’s run to much acclaim in Los Angeles for over five years.
“It’s going to be the funniest comic book every made,” Aukerman told CBR. “I mean, how funny are comic books anyway? Peter Parker occasionally gets off a good one, but hopefully this will be super laugh-lout-loud funny the entire time and not a vanity project. We want everything we put out to be the funniest thing possible. We don’t want it to be weird. We’re going for gut laughs here.”
“I’ve been doing comedy since ’95 back when my partner B.J. Porter and I got started – we came up in the scene that had David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Silverman and Janeane Garofalo and people like that,” Aukerman said of his history behind the mic. “I was a writer and performer on ‘Mr. Show’ on HBO, but around that time I stopped performing and doing the clubs because there wasn’t a lot going on. I just started focusing on writing. That’s one reason we started the show. After a couple of years, I got to feeling so entrenched in the comedy scene, so in 2002 we found this cool little bar and started doing a show and doing it every week. After a couple shows it exploded and got really popular. Every week since the second week, it’s been sold out, and since then it’s become its own thing. We put out a record, have a radio show every week and have a podcast. And it’s become this huge scene in a way that a lot of comedians are attracted to.”
While the official lineup for the series remains under wraps until this weekend’s panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Aukerman’s association with comedians in the national spotlight (including sometimes comic creators like Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn) should give an idea as to what kinds of talent will be bringing their “comic” sensibilities to the printed page, although the editor noted that like the “Comedy Death-Ray” live show, a mix of talent will reign. “In a way it’s sort of a loose collective of friends, and we’re always also looking for new talent coming up. That was another way that it started. We were seeing a lot of new comedians back in 2002, but no one knew who they were and they couldn’t get a lot of stage time – people like B.J. Novak from ‘The Office’ and Morgan Murphy who’s a really funny writer on ‘Jimmy Fallon’ right now – so we said, ‘Hey, let’s do a stage show that’s a mixture of our friends like Bob and David and Louis C.K. and people like that along with these up and coming people.’ That’s the principal we try to do every week – a mix of established people and people you’ve never heard of, which is also what we’re going to try and do in the comic, getting some established people where everyone will know who they are and some new voices as well.”
Aukerman stands suited to help so many comedians fit into comic books as he’s been a longtime reader of four-color classics from all over the rack. “I have been a comic book fan my entire life,” he said. “I go every Wednesday to pick up new stuff, so I’m into mainstream comics, but I also really love alternative comics, especially from back in the ’90s like Peter Bagge’s ‘Hate’ and Dan Clowes’ ‘Eightball.’ I think the feel of the early issues of ‘Eightball’ is what we’re trying to go for where it was a variety of different tones and types of humor in the book.
“That said, I’ve never written any kind of comic book until now. I got hooked up with Jeff where we were judges on the panel of this comedy show here in L.A., and I was a big fan of his ‘Booster Gold’ work and told him that. We started talking about what he was doing, and I pitched him on this idea. In the same way that I wanted to do a record and pitched it to Comedy Central saying, ‘Let’s put out a CD with all these people’ where people are used to working with me and having me put things together. I think Jeff saw the opportunity to put some names that aren’t normally in the comic book world into comics.”
And like his past projects, recruitment and creation on “The Comedy Death-Ray Anthology” is moving fast and furiously. “When I’m contacting people, I’m seeing what they want to do. For some people, they’re really gung ho and want to write a lot, and some people say, ‘I have an idea’ but then they’ll pass it off for me to write the script. Some people we’re hoping to have them drawn into the book. So if one comedian has an idea that they want to ‘star’ in the artist will draw them as a main character.”
On the art end, Aukerman is trusting Katz and Top Cow to put together the majority of the lineup, although he himself has ideas for who he’d like to get involved eventually. “I know a few artists – like Phil Jimenez and I went to high school together. And I’ve met a few along the way, but I think Jeff is mainly going to be in charge of that. There’s one artist we’ll definitely talk about in San Diego who has ties to the comedy world. And luckily a lot of comic book people are comedy fans. Kieron Dwyer drew our logo for the show, and Rick Remender is a big fan. So we’ve known a lot of people for a long time, and hopefully some of those people will pay off.”
Until the first names start to roll out this weekend, Aukerman is putting his nose down to the grindstone to make sure the anthology will strike the right notes for the comics format. “This is more challenging because everyone has a level of time that they can put into this, and it’s almost like doing a TV show, trying to chase everyone down, get them involved and get their scripts in. It’s definitely one of the more challenging things we’ve done with ‘Comedy Death-Ray.'”
Check back to CBR later in the week for more word on developments with Jeff Katz’s American Original comics imprint and all the news out of Comic-Con!