Chip Zdarsky is one of the most unique minds in comic books. Most would say he's best know for drawing the acclaimed Image Comics series "Sex Criminals" written by Matt Fraction, but in truth that's merely the thing he's best known for within comics. He struck up an online friendship with his local Applebee's in 2013, becoming hilariously close with the account and going viral after Buzzfeed covered the interactions. Zdarsky says it led to some very strange news coverage and that the whole thing is definitely going on his tombstone.
At Comic-Con International in San Diego, Zdarsky shifted gears from his art and online bromances with chain restaurants to talk with CBR TV's Jonah Weiland about his current and upcoming writing work, including his new Image Comics series "Kaptara" with artist Kagan McLeod and his upcoming run on Archie Comics' new "Jughead" series with Erica Henderson, which fits into the newly rebooted Riverdale style begun in Mark Waid and Fiona Staples' Fiona Staples'
In the first part of their conversation, Zdarsky talks about the origin of his name, which is a pseudonym stolen from a friend of his and her ex-boyfriend, eats a sandwich and explains how "Kaptara" all began with a failed Hollywood pitch. From there, the writer/artist discusses his online antics, the Applebee's friendship, and just how the artist of a mature readers title like "Sex Criminals" came to write the all-ages "Jughead."
On the Hollywood secret origins of his new Image Comics series, "Kaptara":
Chip Zdarsky: A few years ago I did this dumb thing online -- most of my career is about dumb things online -- it was called "One Page," where I would do these one-page snippets from novels that don't exist. The first one was an erotic story called, "The Petals Fall Twice," pre-"Fifty Shades [of Grey]." It was fun and it took off, people do audio recordings of it and stuff and I guess it made its way to Hollywood at some point, producers passing it around. I ended up taking meetings at Fox Animation, as a result. The guy found it and he's like, "This guy's funny, maybe we should get him to write something. Oh, he can draw, too!" It was like that weird bonus, like, "What?! Can he dance?"
So I ended up going out to the Fox lot -- I also don't know how to drive, and I'd never been to L.A. so a taxi basically dropped me off in front of the Fox lot. I didn't know what to do because it's such a car culture that it was like the lineup to get in through security so I just stood in line with the cars, as if I was like a teenager going through McDonald's drive-through late at night. So I just kind of pretended to be a car, "Beep beep. I'm here to see so and so on the Fox lot." And so we had some meetings and I came up with a bunch of ideas that they didn't go for and one of them ended up being "Kaptara." It was like the idea of a planet full of action figures. Yeah, so thank God for those meetings that never went anywhere because now I have a comic with Kagan.
On how the artist of "Sex Criminals" ended up writing Archie Comics' "Jughead":
"Sex Criminals" did well, and then I started doing some cover jobs for Marvel, and that turned into like a little two-page gag strip, which turned into a "Howard [the Duck]" pitch, which turned into [writing] "Howard." So like around that time I saw the "Archie" news break that Mark and Fiona were gonna do it. Mark's like one of my favorite writers; Fiona's one of my favorite artists; and Archie's one of my favorite characters. I was like, "I've gotta do something. So I contacted their PR guy, Alex [Segura], I just said, "Can I do a variant?" I just want to do a variant cover just to say I've done a variant for an "Archie" #1. That's so much fun. Alex, I've known him online for years, he's a smart guy "Yeah, but maybe there could be something else for you..." I'm like, "Whuuu?"
So I end up having a call with the Archie president, Mike [Pellerito], and it was just so surreal, I was just talking to this guy about Jughead; talking about my history with the character, he talked about his history with the character. It was like two old friends talking about Jughead and it turned into this pitch and this process. I didn't think it was going to go anywhere. One day I was on the phone with him, he was talking to me about something else, he's like, "I was talking to Mark, Mark Waid, he's really excited you're gonna be writing 'Jughead.'" "Oh-- what?" He kept like avoiding it. We'd have these e-mails where -- it was a joke with me and my girlfriend like I don't know if I was gonna do this or not -- because I'd write him, I sent the pitch and I never heard back. I'd write, "So, what are your feelings about the 'Jughead' book?" His answer would be, "I think no matter what happens it's gonna be an amazing book and people are gonna love it. I'm like, that doesn't include me at all in that statement. Wow, that's like a weird breakup call.
So I didn't think I was gonna get it because I knew other people were up for the job and they were considering a lot of people. They had considered a lot of people before they started to talk to me and then they had the realization -- it's funny, the Applebee's thing played into it, too, because I think Mike sent Jon [Goldwater] the Applebee's link. "This is the thing Jughead would do. This guy is like a weird version of Jughead who's probably too old to be Jughead. Maybe he should stop doing that." But, besides that, it's weird 'cause it's like the perfect character for my personality. I'm so glad it worked out. I'm still kind of amazed that I'm doing it.
In the final part of their conversation, Zdarsky explains what readers can expect from his "Jughead" series starring Archie's burger-loving best pal, and how what he loved about the character was in stark contrast to the new Archie status quo from Mark Waid and Fiona Staples' new series. The writer explains how he managed to merge the new feel with the classic stories he loved in a way that seems to simultaneously work for the new audience while honoring Archie and Jughead's comic book past.
On his approach to Archie Comics' upcoming "Jughead" series following the "Archie" reboot by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples:
I was lucky enough to see Mark [Waid]'s scripts for the first few issues, so I kind of knew how the character was gonna be handled -- really well, so I knew I would drop the ball. The thing is, what I loved, and I think a lot of guys when they read "Archie" as a kid, they're kind of drawn to the weird, alternate tales of Archie. I really love Super Teens and Agents of R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. and the spy stuff, and like a lot of people read ["Jughead's] Time Police" so they're probably a bit younger than me. I wanted to incorporate those, but it clashed a lot with Mark's idea of them being real teenagers so I've made it so Jughead daydreams and has fantasies that involve these situations. I'm gonna be able to incorporate kind of the weird continuity of those old stories and update them and keep them within the "Jughead" story. So he'll have problems that happen in his real life and the fantasies kind of like present the solutions to the problems. It's weird, it's like all-ages. I'm writing it as all-ages as I can while still tapping into all the stuff that I liked as a kid and I like now.