Kevin Colden: Man of Mystery, Man of Scandalous Intent

A couple of years back, I interviewed Kevin Colden for CBR, and we talked about his just-then-published graphic novel, "Fishtown." Since that time, Colden has been nominated for an Eisner award, gone on to produce one of the strangest and most enthralling Zuda "instant winner" strips, and started to become even more of a force to be reckoned with, with some upcoming work with Joe Lansdale on the horizon.

I ran into Colden at the MoCCA art festival and I wanted to ask him about his Zuda strip -- Zuda's first major superhero comic, entitled "I Rule the Night" -- because it was going strong until page 37, and then it just...stopped. Clearly unfinished, with plenty of bizarre mysteries left unanswered, "I Rule the Night" looked like it was a long way from completion, but it hadn't been updated since last summer. So I asked him about that, and about his career -- past, present, and future:

Timothy Callahan: What's going on with the Zuda stuff?

Kevin Colden: Starting with the hard questions.

TC: Yeah, we'll jump right into Zuda. "I Rule the Night" -- we haven't seen it in a while, right?

KC: No, we haven't. At this point, we're in April. And it went on hiatus in June of last year. What originally happened was we went on hiatus due to certain content things that we wanted to do with it, but -- and we didn't know at the time -- DC was trying to install a new publisher. And I think that got accelerated by the Marvel announcement.

A lot of it has been just trying to figure out how to maintain the integrity of the story without censoring it, and I've been working on it the whole time.

TC: Is the delay because of the particular content you're doing or are things at Zuda in general on hold as we wait to see what the new publishing team decides to do?

KC: No, no -- Zuda's not on hold. But with this strip in particular, we haven't been able to continue with it at Zuda, but I HAVE been continuing to draw it.

TC: How much do you have done?

KC: I have about twice as many pages in the can than have actually been published.

TC: So how big is the book right now?

KC: The book right now is 110 pages, and it's going to be 180 pages, finished. It will be done by the end of the year.

TC: But you still don't know when it will relaunch.

KC: I don't know, but I hope it will be soon.

TC: As far as you know, Zuda still wants you to continue with it?

KC: Oh, yeah, they do. They do.

TC: Are they paying you?

KC: Oh, yeah, they're paying me, they just haven't published it yet. But everybody wants to. It's just all technicalities and formalities, which happens with a publisher as large as DC, where you have to make sure everybody sees it and signs off on it. But the book will get finished, one way or another.

Whether we'll see it in the next five years or not, I don't know [laughs].

But I have word that we may know soon.

TC: Is the delay caused by content-specific problems with "I Rule the Night" because of the Batman relationship?

KC: Not the Batman thing. As far as I know, nothing like that. There was some racy content that we had to make sure was okay, and I just don't know if that's been cleared yet.

TC: Is Zuda supposed to be all-ages, in theory?

KC: At the moment, yeah.

TC: So yours would be like "Zuda Blue" or "Zuda, After Hours."

KC: Yeah, "Zuda After Hours."

TC: Okay, so lets back up a bit, and why don't you give me some info on "I Rule the Night" in general and the feedback you've been getting online? How about a quick synopsis of the series?

KC: It's a dark satire that's sort of based on the vigilante sort of archetype, and the basic premise is that this vigilante called Night Devil has died -- he's been dead for seven years -- and his sidekick, Shadowboy, has been continuing his work, which basically consist of assaulting criminals. With lethal force [laughs].

And we start to find out very early in the script that things are kind of weird. We find out in the first few pages that Shadowboy is a girl. And it sort of goes on from there, and we find out the backstory on Shadowboy and how she was mistreated by her mentor. And so she's been driven crazy by this sequence of events, by being a sidekick, and she starts to peel back the layers and find out that her reality wasn't quite what she thought it was. And that's pretty much all I can say without ruining it.

TC: It's shrouded in mystery.

KC: Well it's all about her journey, and her peeling back the layers, so I can't really say what the layers are. And it's a pretty decompressed story, as we slowly see what happens and she confronts her own demons.

TC: Last year you had the Einser-nominated "Fishtown," which was a big deal...

KC: I did, I did.

TC: "I Rule the Night" is your first superhero strip, so what are you finding about superheroes that's a little different from what you've done before?

KC: I'd never wanted to do a superhero strip. I always said I would never, ever do a superhero book -- if I were writing it.

TC: Why?

KC: I didn't really think that there was much more that could be done with superheroes, but then I started to think backwards and think, "If I did a superhero book, how would I do it?" And I knew it wouldn't really be about superheroes, it would be about their psychoses. And it sort of harkens back to what was going on in the 80s, with the Frank Miller stuff and even the Grant Morrison type of stuff which is kind of ironic, because a lot of the stuff I had originally planned to do with the script was very Morrisonesque, and when I started doing more research, I realized that what I had planned was stuff he had already done.

Some of the elements of the story are kind of like that, but I'm approaching it from a different angle, and it deals very much with the psyche of the character. I guess that's kind of how I work -- I'm interested in the psyche of the character. I'm fascinated by human psychology.

TC: So is it based primarily on the psyche of a child or teen sidekick? Is that the psychology you want to unravel?

KC: If we were in the real world, and someone said, "hey, I really want to be a vigilante, and I really want to have a sidekick," and they took this six-year-old and turned the six-year-old into a sidekick, what would happen to that kid? How crazy would that drive someone? And that same thing had been explored by Rick Veitch in "Brat Pack" which I read as a kid -- as a kid, and that should tell you something right there [laughs].

TC: [Laughs] As a seven--year-old reading "Brat Pack"...

KC: I was actually probably about 13 or 14.

So I took "Brat Pack" and said, "okay, how can we amp this up even more?" And kind of started going in a lot of weird directions with it, to the point where, by the time we get to the end, it isn't really a superhero book at all. It's sort of taking all the deconstructionist superhero books that have come out over the past two decades, throwing them into a blender, and making them into something new. I certainly don't claim to have created a lot of the ideas. Well, a lot of the ideas I arrived at myself, but I'm not claiming that the ideas are completely original, because I don't think there are a lot of original ideas left in superhero comics, anyway.

You can do an adventure story, and the story about the secret identity -- early Marvel -- and you can explore the emotions of the people who are the superheroes. But as far as deconstructing superheroes, I think that probably everything has been said about that as well. So I stop thinking about it as a superhero book and realize that it wasn't ever really that at all. That's not what the book is at all.

TC: So is that on the forefront of your mind as you're writing? What is you actual method for writing this comic?

KC: I knew where the ending was going from day one, and I had to fill in the gaps to get there. Fit it in a three-act, 60 page format, which was interesting because that's not something I usually do. Usually I just write until it's done, and then however long it is, it's that long. But this had me think in three acts, and each act is a completely different story -- different genres.

TC: Really? And we've only seen Act I so far?

KC: You've only seen half of Act I.

TC: Two-and-half more acts and two more genres coming?

KC: Pretty much. And hopefully people will keep with it and not get infuriated with all the left turns, because that's pretty much what it is: all left turns. The entire plot keeps turning back on itself, eating itself.

So hopefully the readers will bear with me when all is said and done, but the reader feedback has been really positive, and a lot of readers have been screaming, "where is this? Why is it on hiatus?" Which is kind of why I'm talking about it now, because it's not that anyone involved doubts the quality of the story, and I've been handing it in on time, but we just haven't been able to get the final approval on certain things so we've been a little held up. It's just a matter of getting that taken care of.

TC: When it was running, was it strange to get "real time" feedback on Zuda? Would that affect you in any way?

KC: That kind of thing makes me very nervous, because I like to work in a vacuum. I get very focused and I know what I want to say, and I know that I have to find a way to say it, so sometimes the reader feedback can be kind of distracting, but it's great to know that people are reading. For good or ill, it's nice to know that people are still interested.

And there was a little kerfuffle, early on [laughs]. I made a joke about music, and one of the villains was this guy called the Jazzmeister who was this little slicked-back white guy who made this comment about how he was going to "steal music from black people and use it to corrupt white youth" which was supposed to be an obviously over-the-top satirical 1950s comic kind of thing, and there were some people who were like, "what the hell?" and, yeah, it was racist but that was the point, but I'm mocking racism, I'm not actually racist. It's pretty well documented that white music is pretty much about stealing music from black people [laughs].

TC: Let's talk about "Fishtown," which had great critical reception -- how did "Fishtown" affect the way you created comics? What was it's affect on your career, on your future?

KC: I look back on that as being the first really good thing that I did. Especially now, a few years later. It was the first major, large long-term project that I ever did. So just proving to myself that I could do it, and executing an idea that was so difficult to work on, and doing it in such a way that got me an Eisner nomination was sort of astounding. I mean, I felt like I was working on something special, but you always feel like what you're doing is special, and so that was kind of validated -- well it was validated the second it went up online. That was the first real taste I had of people paying attention to what I was going. And it kept me going.

I had been saying for years, "well, if nothing major happens this year, I'm going to quit comics. I can't keep doing this." By the time I had started "Fishtown," I had been trying for like seven years to get a break in the business, and every year from around 2004 or 2005, I would say, "if nothing happens next year..." And in 2006, I started working with "The Chemistry Set" which got me some attention, and then "Fishtown" got me even more attention and I couldn't get out. And now I'm actually doing quite well. I'm doing about as well as anyone who's not doing superheroes for Marvel or DC -- well, I guess technically I am doing superheroes for DC [laughs], but I'm not doing superheroes in the DCU. I'm not working on Batman or Green Lantern or anything like that.

TC: Do you have any interest doing that stuff?

KC: I would, but it's sort of the matter of finding a story I would do well on. I don't think I could sit down and do a superhero story, I don't think I could go in and do just any superhero. I think it would have to be a very specific thing. A specific type of story that an editor would think I'd be well-suited to, or working with a writer I'd be well-suited to. I certainly do have an interest in working on that kind of stuff. But I wouldn't be the guy they would call to do a major crossover event or anything like that. I'd be the guy who does like a one-to-three issue fill-in [laughs]. It would a complete anomaly.

I guess the equivalent would be that Spider-Man book, that mini...

TC: "Spider-Man: Fever"? Brendan McCarthy?

KC: Yeah, it would have to be something like that, where it's very specific. I don't think the majority of the superhero readership would be into what I'm doing, but I think that there might be a contingent of people that might see it as something different from what we normally buy.

Kind of like Seth Fisher, who was brilliant, and it was unfortunate that he died when he did, because I think he would have revolutionized comic book art. I think he would have brought a more varied art style...

TC: Because he was embraced by the mainstream, even though his style was so personal.

KC: Very much so, yeah. His style was very distinctive, and I don't want to sound like I'm ragging on mainstream comics, because I'm not one of those people who says, "all mainstream comics suck," because I do like a lot of those comics, and I respect the artists who work on them. But a lot of times it does look kind of homogenized to me, and...

TC: And that's just not what you do.

KC: No, and that may be a function of a lot of things that I haven't really sat down and analyzed, but I think what I do probably wouldn't jive with a regular run on Spider-Man or Batman -- and maybe it would. I'd love to do a back-up in something like that, but I don't pine for it. I don't harbor a secret dream of drawing Batman. That isn't what I've always wanted to do. What I've always wanted to do is what I'm doing right now, so everything else is just gravy.

TC: Can you talk about your upcoming stuff -- the Joe Lansdale stuff? Who's that with?

KC: That's with IDW. It's actually with Joe and John Lansdale, and it's an adaptation of Robert Bloch's "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," which is the first piece of Ripper fiction -- I think -- ever written. It's going to be a three-issue series, and it's a period piece, and I never thought I would do one of those well, but as it turns out, it's going well. It looks great.

TC: Are you consciously using a different kind of style for this?

KC: I always try different things. I always try to adapt my style to the story, and this is probably a little closer to what I did on "Fishtown," but I'm doing some things differently. I'm doing a lot of color abstractions in the background. It's still a two-to-three color palette.

TC: So you're coloring it.

KC: I am coloring it. The only thing I'm not doing is the lettering, as far as the visual side. And I'm doing this thing with these one-color geometric abstractions for the background which is partially a preparation for another project that I've had brewing -- something that hasn't been greenlit yet. I developed it for that project, and I've adapted it for "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper."

TC: Is this other project...

KC: I can't even talk about it yet. It's something that doesn't even exist. There's a rights issue -- rights that need to be aquired.

TC: Is it "Find Me," by Rosie O'Donnell?

KC: It is. Don't print that.

TC: How much of the Lansdale project is done already?

KC: It'll be done in a few weeks. I just finished inking the third issue, and then hopefully there will be more of that.

TC: More Robert Bloch adaptations? More from IDW?

KC: Hopefully both.

In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

Follow Tim on Twitter: TimCallahan

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