Kevin Scalzo talks candy, kids and 'Sugar Booger'

There's been a wealth of children comics available recently, but I feel pretty safe in saying there hasn't been anything quite like Kevin Scalzo's Sugar Booger. At least, I haven't seen any comics involving a large, boisterous, bright blue bear with the uncanny ability to make delicious candy spew forth from his nose.

Although he's been a part of the alternative comics scene for several decades now, Scalzo is jumping into serialized waters with the release of the first issue of this ongoing series (two more issues are planned for 2014) from Alternative Comics.

Combining a DayGlo pop sensibility with some Margaret Keane-like eyeballs, a dash of (PG-rated) underground grotesquery, and a dollop of Casper the Friendly Ghost for good measure, Sugar Booger is a rather tart confection that, while perhaps not for all tastes, will be appreciated by those who like a salty edge to their confectioneries.

I talked to Scalzo over email about the new comic, writing for kids, and his plans for the series.

Chris Mautner: The Sugar Booger character has been around for a few years, correct? When and where was his first appearance? How did you come up with the idea for the character?

Kevin Scalzo: I created Sugar Booger around 1999. I was doing a lot of auto-bio stories back then and I wanted to do something different, so I worked on coming up with a character that was a little more cartoonish, more fantastical. I'm a big fan of Japanese cartoons, Harvey comics and cartoonists like Hironori Kikuchi, so Sugar Booger is kind of a combination of all of those influences. His first published appearance was a small 8-page mini-comic, which I call Sugar Booger #0. It did pretty well, so I just continued from there.

I’ve seen most of your work in minis or anthologies. Is this your first ongoing series? How did you hook up with Alternative Comics?

Yes, this is the first time that a comic book of mine will be published by someone other than myself. Marc Arsenault approached me last year, and I said sure! I have known Marc for almost 20 years, starting with Wow Cool, and we also worked together at Fantagraphics in the late '90s. He's been really great to work with.

Do you have a specific audience in mind for Sugar Booger? I think Marc said it was aimed as an all-ages title, is that correct?

Yes. I would say it's aimed at ages 9 and up. When I first started the book, it was aimed at an older audience, but I've made changes to it over the years, and now it's definitely suitable for kids. I have a 9-year-old, so I try out the material on her first. She tells me if she thinks it's too gross, or if she doesn't like something. So it helps to have a tiny in house editor!

If it is an all-ages comic, there’s something a bit … subversive about having your main character a blue bear that makes edible, candy snot come out of his nose. Are you worried at all about getting angry letters from irate moms?

I'm not too worried about it. I haven't had any complaints yet! It's always been a bit nebulous, but I kind of like it that way. Like I said before, Marc and I have cleaned up some of the material that was aimed at more of an mature audience. The first issue had the word "hell" in it and we took that out. I have added a lot of supporting pages that are all ages. I'm keeping it light and fun, whereas before it was maybe a bit darker. Being around kids, I've found that they have a pretty high tolerance for gross stuff.

What made you decide to take the plunge into doing an ongoing series? Have there been any unique challenges so far with that versus doing self-contained short stories and minis?

Marc and I are seeing how everything goes, so nothing is set in stone. We both like the idea of more issues coming out, so that's our plan for now. The only challenge that I've had so far is doing the work quicker than I'm normally used to. But I've set a schedule for myself, and so far it's working out well. Having the luxury of not having to publish it myself and not dealing with all of the printer headaches has really freed me up to just concentrate on putting out the best comics that I can.

I wanted to ask you about the size and format of this first issue, which is rather small, about the size of the traditional minicomic. What led you to choose this particular format?

I come from that world, minicomics. I guess it's what I'm used to. I like making little books in my spare time too. Of course, I have nothing against bigger formats, and I look forward to doing books that are larger, but small is where my comfort level is. I also think it serves the character in a way. I remember someone reviewing the book a few years back, and they described it as a small, candy-sized book, and that seemed like an appropriate description.

How many issues of Sugar Booger do you hope to produce in 2014? Do you see this as being a regular, ongoing series or do you have an end of some sort in mind?

It's an ongoing series. There are two more scheduled for this year, and it will keep going after that.

Are you and Marc doing anything special distribution-wise to get this in the hands of kids? Are you doing any outreach to, say, libraries, or any sort of promotions aimed at the younger set?

With the comics we're just going to see how it does with the direct market. When the collected book comes out, there will be outreach to bookstores and libraries. Marc told me that kids they've tested it out on have responded well to it.

Sugar Booger #1 has a real DayGlo feel to it, which makes sense given the subject matter, but I found it striking all the same, given I’ve seen most of your work in black and white. Can you talk a bit about your color choices for the comic?

Some people don't know, but I have also been a painter for 25 years. I show in galleries when I'm not making comics, so that's where most of my color choices come from. I think the colors are amped up more in these books because I wanted them to have a "candy-colored" look.

Will each issue of Sugar Booger have a stand-alone story or do you plan on eventually introducing continuing adventures?

That's a good question, I'm not sure! I do like continuing stories, books like Bone really appeal to me. It is something I have thought about doing, so maybe that is something that might happen in the future ... or not. We'll see!

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