Giffen, Denton & Villavert get "ZAPT!"

Created by the venerable Keith Giffen in collaboration with writer/ Shannon Denton, ZAPT! is the story of 12 year old Armand Jones and his bizarre and amazing life. Released as a series of digest-sized graphic novels by TOKYOPOP, the first volume of ZAPT! detailed Armand's painful boredom with every day life in his small American town. Armand learned to be careful what he wished for when he got ZAPT and found himself part of the Pangalactic Order of Police (or P.O.O.P., as it is known). Sure, it all sounds fun, but not when you have to make it home before dinner. With ZAPT! volume 2 shipping this April, CBR News continues our coverage of the shocking new movement we're calling American Comics Made for Kids in a conversation with ZAPT! co-creator Shannon Denton and illustrator Armand Villavert, Jr.

Armand Jones is way ahead of the curve, Denton told CBR News about his protagonist – not to be confused with series artist Armand Villavert, Jr, although he too is in Denton's view also ahead of the curve. Most kids wait until they reach puberty to become this surly. Living in small-town Michigan isn't his idea of fun, either. He would much rather spend his days skateboarding in sunny Florida -- where his family just moved away from.

In volume 2, Armand is dealing with bigger threats in a much more epic storyline. The first book was a great introduction to a very fun universe that we've created, said Villavert. In 'ZAPT!' vol. 2, kids will have a great time seeing the world of 'ZAPT!' in a much more detailed way.

Partnered up with Armand is P.O.O.P. Payleen, an alien officer from a culture with a permanently bad attitude and a penchant for galaxy conquering. The fact that Payleen chose to be a hero is a black mark on him as far as his race is concerned, said Denton. Armand and he have that in common. Also populating the world of ZAPT! is Armand's friend Galdys Aguilar, a decidedly nerdy girl and the only person who believes Armand's outrageous stories of life on pangalactic beat. However, that Gladys is willing to believe Armand's tales of heroism and space adventure isn't because she's a nerd – it's because she's an alien princess from the planet Vyrimion Nine and living on Earth as part of P.O.O.P.'s witness protection program.

Space villains Thadeus Todd Muk Walaku and Gongar the Peeved make life difficult for the citizens of the ZAPT! universe, and for Armand in particular. As his name states, Gngar is prett much in a foul moud at all times," Denton said. "The galaxy should be his to rule and he's angry that not everyone is coming around to his plan."

Denton continued, Thadeus is an ex-operative who despite being the best ever was booted out when he turned sixteen. All [P.O.O.P. operatives] are retired at that age and Thadeus swore revenge when they didn't make an exception for him

That Armand is somewhat annoyed with his having been ZAPT and being forced to spend so much time being a great hero on fantastic worlds beyond most humans' imaginations is just one example of ZAPT!'s quirky humor, and one that probably reminds readers of the often irreverent yet space-faring work of co-creator Keith Giffen, known for idiosyncratic sci-fi series such as L.E.G.I.O.N., Lobo and The Legion of Superheroes. Co-creator Shannon Denton is similarly prolific in the area of children's entertainment, having worked over the years for a variety of kids' animated television shows and founded publisher Komikwerks and its all-ages line Actionopolis. Together, Giffen & Denton created ZAPT! and sold it to TOKYOPOP, who with their recent partnership with publishing giant Harper-Collins will see to it that ZAPT! will be have a chance to actually find its way into the hands of its intended audience.

Keith and I really believe a 'kids' comics' shouldn't be a rarity, Denton said. Most people outside of comics still feel comics are for kids, so it's odd that it's hard to actually find a kid-friendly comic. There are some great kids' comics, don't get me wrong, but they aren't as accessible to the general public as when every grocery store or gas station had them by the register for you to bug your mom to buy.

We're thrilled comics are finally getting recognition for being a legitimate medium that can handle serious subjects like war, cancer, etc., but the reality is we've got so many fewer little kids reading them [than before], continued Denton. Getting comics in the bookstores where parents are hanging out with the kids is hopefully a step towards expanding again this segment of the comics-buying audience.

Contributing greatly to attracting that coveted kids audience is ZAPT! illustrator Armand Villavert, Jr., whose kinetic, East-meets-West style stands out even among TOKYOPOP's impressive variety of styles. Villavert had worked previously with Denton on a few Komikwerks projects, which led to Denton suggesting to Villavert that he submit his portfolio to TOKYOPOP in an attempt to land the ZAPT! gig. Villavert did so, and the rest is history.

It's been a humungous honor to work with [Keith and Shannon], Villavert gushed. I've had nothing but good times working on 'ZAPT!' and I can't wait to get going on 'ZAPT!' vol. 3. Villavert's enthusiasm is especially heartening when one takes into consideration the amount of work the artist puts into each volume of ZAPT!; sometimes fourteen hours a day. That's when I'm in the zone and just completely immersed in finishing the page. My day starts out with me drawing a page for an average of 6-8 hours. Pencils and inks, and then I spend the rest of the night 'greytoning.'

Villavert approaches his ZAPT! work with an open mind, attempting to put himself back into the mind of a child. Pretty much I pretended to be 10 years old again, laying on my bedroom floor and drawing cool monsters and epic space battles.

Indeed, the fact that ZAPT! is made for a younger reader has not made the work any less interesting for its adult authors. Denton revealed that in producing each volume of ZAPT!, the audience the creators have in mind is to a large degree themselves. We're tossing in everything from homages to American and Japanese comics, to giant robot/monster movies to Saturday morning cartoons. Of course, we are applying what we know from years of working in Saturday morning animation to make sure 'ZAPT!' is firmly targeted to its age range, but it's really just a blast for me because I love this kind of stuff anyway.

Besides ZAPT!, co-writers Denton and Giffen will see their other collaboration Grunts released in trade paperback this summer from Arcana. Additionally, the duo's The Common Foe will be collected in April by Image Comics. Denton's own publishing company Komikwerks is also still going strong. We're celebrating our six-year anniversary this month, Denton said. The Actionopolis line of books have been doing great and we're still working hard to make sure they're in every bookstore and library in America. Tell your friends and family!

ZAPT! volume 1 is available in comic shops and bookstores now, and volume 2 is released April 3 rd from TOKYOPOP.

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