Brendan McCarthy Brings "The Zaucer of Zilk" to "2000AD"

Artist Brendan McCarthy is no stranger to being different. Having worked with Peter Milligan on "Skin" and "Shade: The Changing Man," he took a decades-long hiatus from comics before bursting back on to the scene last year with "Spider-Man: Fever" for Marvel and "Doctor What?" for "2000AD." What fans have clamored for has finally arrived, however, is a completely new McCarthy creation. In 2012, McCarthy fans get their wish. Debuting in the pages of "2000AD," "The Zaucer of Zilk" follows an inter-dimensional magician who travels across time and space on his daring adventures.

McCarthy spoke with Comic Book Resources about the trippy new story and his new art style, which he dubs "Digital Fauvism," and his theory on why Britain has such a huge tradition of surreal storytelling. He also discusses a variety of Hollywood projects, from his work on "Mad Max 4: Fury Road" to the influence he believes his work had on "Waterworld" and "Inception."

CBR News: Can you give a brief run down of what "The Zaucer of Zilk" is and what the strip will be like? How does it set itself apart from other stories in "2000AD?"

Brendan McCarthy: "The Zaucer of Zilk" strip is a phantasmagorical psychedelic extravaganza that features fanciful fantasy rather than hard-core techno sci-fi. It's something a little bit different for the jaded palettes of the typical "2000AD" reader, I hope.

How did writer Al Ewing get involved with the project?

I pitched the editor of "2000AD," Matt Smith, with the "Zaucer" idea and with Al writing it. He liked it and so Al and I got stuck into refining the concepts and story.

What made you decide to go with Ewing instead of another writer like Rob Williams, who you worked with on "The Walking Dredd," or a past collaborator like Peter Milligan?

I thought Al did a great job on a story I had for Dredd a few years back, which I was unable to draw, about a new Dredd costume that becomes bitchily sentient and goes on a "fashion-police" rampage against bad taste. It was very nicely done and tipped me off to Al's talent. I also loved his "Doctor What" script as well.

What's great about Al is that he can take a totally different style of writing like the "Zaucer" series and make it his own.

Where did the premise for "Zaucer of Zilk" come from? It sounds a bit crazy!

It's not that crazy is it? Steve Ditko comes up with stuff like this in his sleep. And don't get me started on Jack Kirby!

Please, get started on Jack Kirby! Can you pinpoint any specific influences Kirby had on "The Zaucer of Zilk?"

Well, Kirby, Ditko, Moebius, etc. are big inspirations for me. I was recently re-reading "O.M.A.C.," and they don't get much more bizarre than that series. I love pure Kirby strangeness. I'll always buy a cheap '70s Kirby from a Comics Mart if I see one lying about/ Stuff like "Kamandi." That "Captain America and The Falcon" '70s run that Kirby produced has some of his best post-'60s work: "King Solomon's Frog," anyone? Worth tracking down.

How much of "The Zaucer of Zilk" do you have mapped out in your head?

Not too much. I think it's best to wait and see if the series finds an audience or not. I'm sure between us, Al and myself can come up with a decade's worth of storylines in an afternoon. It's a very fertile, imaginative concept that gives rise to plenty of ideas.

The art style you're utilizing for "Zaucer" seems a lot brighter and vibrant than some of your older work. Why the switch?

The digital revolution has changed what can be done in the art, and I'm always looking for the chance to do something new. In this case, the bright delight of "Digital Fauvism" is calling me.

Comic book coloring, in general, has seemed to improve across the board in recent years. What made you decide to embrace a sort of modernist ideal instead of the realism that most other color artists are striving for lately?

A lot of the usual comic book colorists are not very interesting to me, but some of the guys who color books like "All Star Superman" or "Hellboy" are really good, in their different ways. Color is absolutely an essential part of the whole package of a book. "Digital Fauvism" is the style which I like to use for this "Zaucer" strip.

Why the recent resurgence in your "2000AD" output?

I want to keep my hand in getting back into comics and "2000AD" has always felt like home. Also, it's a bit more open to oddball ideas. There's a history of oddities in the comic.

Have you seen some of your stranger ideas rejected by other publishers or studios? If so, are there any in particular you wish had made it through?

I have more projects rejected that accepted, but that's par for the course -- if you're not Mark Millar! Remember, every film studio rejected "Star Wars." You just have to keep coming up with good, quality material, and eventually a publisher or studio will say "yes."

How much longer do you plan to maintain your current level of comic book output?

I have developed quite a few TV, film and new comic series pitches. It's just a case of whoever green lights something first. The "Zaucer" is my main concern for the next period, though.

At this point, what can you share with us about some of the yet-to-be-green lit projects you are excited about?

I understand "Mad Max 4: Fury Road" is going into production early next year, so that's very exciting for me as the co-writer and core designer of the movie. It's taken a long time. I also have a big, new animated feature waiting in the wings, which I created, co-wrote and designed.

In comics, I have about five great new original series ready to go, just waiting for a decent rights deal, so I can get on with them after "The Zaucer of Zilk" is completed. Some of the comics companies often want to take all rights just for the page rate on new material. It's not something I like, but now and then, I'll do it, just to get something fresh out into the market.

Are you a "Dr. Who" fan? The dimensional aspect of "The Zaucer of Zilk," your recent Dr. Who-themed Judge Dredd strip "Doctor What?" seem to indicate you are influenced, at least somewhat, by the show.

Yes, I have always liked "Dr Who." There's a tradition in British culture of a surrealism that has a very English flavor that I really enjoy. From "Alice in Wonderland" to "Monty Python." Things like the Tardis in "Dr Who" are from that kind of quirky mindset. I put a lot of that kind of British surrealism into my "Dr Strange" series for Marvel, recently.

There is such a history of weird time travel and mysticism in British story telling. Is there something in the way British kids are raised or the culture itself that lends to creating such insane storytellers? How do you think your contributions will be looked at years from now?

I think my body of work is yet to be "discovered" in a bigger way. Mainly because I left the comics scene for about twenty years, as that rather insular life of endless drawing at a desk started to seriously bore me. 

I think it's a criminal state of affairs that none of the work I did with Peter Milligan is in print! I think a collection of our work would be a good idea, bringing together some of the best comics from the '80s, like "Paradax!," "Freakwave," "Rogan Gosh," "Skin," "Sooner or Later" and "Mirkin The Mystic" -- all collected in one pulse-pounding publication. Whoops, I'm channeling Stan Lee!

Interestingly, in comics the writers now tend to get the credit as the author of the piece, but that's not how it works creatively for me: I see myself as something like the "Tim Burton of comics," in that I have my own particular vision, which has undoubtedly influenced other creators, and for which I am sought out by film and TV companies.

I'd love to create and design a whole new digital game world. That would be a great challenge creatively.

"The Zaucer of Zilk" is a kind of bonkers "Monty Python" version of "Harry Potter" and "Dr Who" with bits of "The Wizard of Oz" thrown in, and fits into that wonderful British surrealist tradition rather well. It could be a nice performance-capture CGI animated TV series that would play well to the ever-increasing US "Dr Who" audience. When "Zaucer" is completed, I would like to talk to the BBC to see if it could be turned into a good live-action/animated TV series, with people like "The Mighty Boosh" and other British comedians and actors playing different roles. Noel Fielding as Errol Raine, Bill Nighy as the Zultan, etc., would be just dandy.

Earlier, you mentioned your recent "Spider-Man: Fever" work. Do you currently have plans to do any other stories with Marvel or DC Comics?

I had thought about doing a new Fantastic Four mini, which features Dr Doom teaming up with Dormammu to imprison Galactus inside Eternity. One of those huge and epic cosmic '60s storylines! I'm very interested in Dr Fate for DC, as well. A character that could be great, but is never used properly, in my view.

Considering your self-proclaimed Ditko influences, would you consider the offer if DC approached you to tackle The Creeper?

I've often wondered that myself. They just can't get that character right, can they? Even Ditko didn't quite nail it.

No one does better hair in comics than you, especially the Quiff! Did you rock one in the '80s like your character Al Cooper from "Paradax" did?

But of course. I was the Morrissey of the cartoon world. My quiff was indeed a towering wonder to behold!

Do you have any plans for further adventures of Mirkin? The industry is ready for an ongoing series!

I would love to do a big new series with Pete Milligan, he's probably the best writer for me, I think. We "get" each other and he's very open to unusual working methods, unlike most other writers who are essentially creative dictators. I'm not sure if he is really into it, though, as he has a good career going with all his various Vertigo and DC Comics work. But ,you never know.

Mirkin is one of our best creations, so a nice "Mirkin The Mystic" comic series would be a lot of fun. But that's not a character I'd want to give up the rights to. So, it all depends on a decent deal, I'm afraid.

There were, at least at one point, plans for an American release for your art book "Swimini Purpose." Is that still in the works?

I am going to release a new expanded edition of "Swimini Purpose" in about 5 years' time. I have accumulated and rediscovered lots of new visual material from old folios and found loads of artwork just lying around. When comics art dealer Albert Moy asked to buy whatever I had, I unearthed a lot of forgotten gems.

I'm even considering doing a "Swimini Purpose Volume 2" to go with a re-issue of a modified version of the original book. And a nifty slipcase for both editions. Getting legal clearances from comics companies and film studios etc. is a massive pain in the bum, though.

But it's something to look forward to, some years hence!

Shifting back to Hollywood before we finish, what were your thoughts when you realized how blatantly Kevin Costner's box office bomb "Waterworld" was influenced by "Freakwave?" Did it give you fever dreams about what the movie would have been like if they'd given you that 175 million dollar budget, instead?

Back then, Pete Milligan and I got approached by some Hollywood lawyers looking to launch a lawsuit to sue the makers of "Waterworld," due to an article by some journalist that pointed out the blatant similarities in our comic and the later movie. But the amount of legal work and hassle to get that going was a bit daunting, so we couldn't be arsed.

But then again, it all somehow led to George Miller calling me and asking if I would like to talk over a possible Mad Max movie, which became "Fury Road." So it all works out in the end... Oddly, he was even aware of "Freakwave" from all those years ago, which astonished me.

More recently, the film "Inception" had a lot of similarities to a comic series/movie pitch that I had the shown to the film's producer over ten years previously. He had flipped out and really loved my Z-Men pitch, as it was then called. A sort of "X-Men in dreams" -- lots of dinner jackets and Bond-esque surrealist espionage. DC Comics offered to buy it off me as big new project for them about 13 years ago. Sometimes you watch a film, and can pretty much smell if your work has been seen or not. I found "Inception" really tame; too much swiping of "The Matrix" and those Kubrick sequences. They should hire me to create a sequel and really go for something new. And while I'm at it, Marvel should hire me on a "Dr. Strange" movie. Or at least hire Ditko! 

NOTE: CBR's thanks to Isotope owner James Sime for contributing questions for this feature.

"The Zaucer of Zilk" by Brendan McCarthy, Al Ewing and Simon Bowland goes on sale March 21 in "2000AD" Prog 1775.

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