Thom Zahler talks romance, weddings and the future of <i>Love and Capes</i>

Thom Zahler kicked off his self-published series Love and Capes almost four years ago, and since then has published 12 issues, participated in two Free Comic Book Days, had a trade paperback released by IDW Publishing and married off his two lead characters. With the recent publication of the wedding issue and the announcement that he'll again be a part of FCBD, I spoke with Thom about the series and his future plans for it.

Also check out the first five pages from issue #13, which you'll be able to pick up for free on May 1.

JK: So real quick, in case folks are reading who aren't familiar with your work ... what is Love and Capes?

Thom: Love and Capes is a romantic comedy sitcom-ish comic book about the world’s most powerful hero, the Crusader, and his normal girlfriend Abby. It’s the conflict between the heroic life and the mundane life that drives the series and the humor.

So there are things like “What do you get your girlfriend for Christmas when she knows you can crush coal into diamonds?” and “Is there ever a good time to tell your girlfriend you have X-Ray Vision?”

If I’m doing it right, it’s funny and sweet and you’ll like it a lot.

JK: Last time we spoke, you talked about the special promotion you did with the cover of issue 12, where fans of the series could pay to be in the crowd at Abby and Mark's wedding. How did that work out?

Thom: The cover promotion worked out WAY better than I expected. It was so popular that I had to do two covers, which I’d planned for but hadn’t expected to need to do. The fans were really excited about it, and I was pleasantly surprised at how many different combinations of people I received. I’d expected largely singles and couples, but there were a lot of families who showed up. That was a bit of a design issue for me, because the younger, and therefore shorter, kids needed to be arranged so they still could be seen over all the adults.

Plus, people purchased their tickets not just as a Cool Thing to Do, but as a present for other people. It was nice to be part of other people’s relationships in that way.

Financially, and as a small publisher that’s always a factor, it almost paid for the printing of the double-sized issue, and made it possible for me to do things like have silver ink on the cover. It’s a little thing, but I think it made the cover just a little more special.JK: So speaking of the wedding issue ... you spent 12 issues building up Mark and Abby's relationship, showing us how they fell in love and eventually got engaged. Did the series fall into place as you'd planned it, or did it end up going in any unexpected directions over the last 12 issues?

Thom: Overall, I hit all the landmarks I expected to. Issue #6 was always meant to end with the diamond-creating scene, and #12 was supposed to feature the wedding (although I did toy with making it its own issue, kind of a Wedding Spectacular Annual kind of thing, rather than part of the run).

But while the main path was what I planned, a lot of the side trips were very unexpected.

There’s one particular plotline that will come to fruition in the third arc that I didn’t plan at all. Since that’s yet to come, I can’t really say what that is. It’ll be obvious when you read #13, though.

But more than specific plots, the characters sometimes grabbed their own spotlight and wrote their own stories. Amazonia was supposed to be a one-off character who didn’t have much more to do after issue #1, and she wound up being essential to the story. The extent of her previous relationship with Mark wasn’t originally planned, and now I can’t imagine the series without it. And she’s become a very well-rounded (no pun intended) character over the run.

Charlotte went to go to Paris for school, and I didn’t see that happening. Heck, Abby didn’t even have a brother, at least in my mind, when I created the series. But Quincy is a great foil for Mark, and I’m glad that he came along.

When your characters have that kind of life of their own, I think you’re doing something right.

JK: How does it feel for you, reaching this crucial milestone in their relationship (and the story)?

Thom: It was unexpectedly emotional. When I’d finished drawing #12, I hadn’t yet received any confirmation about being part of the 2010 Free Comic Book Day, which is a huge part of my publishing model. When I hit that point, I didn’t know if or when I’d be doing the third arc. It could have been the last Love and Capes story ever, and that hit me harder than I’d expected. It was a great sense of completion, but tinged with a little sadness.

But more than that, I love that feeling of having done what I said I would. I pointed to a place on a map and said “I’m going there.” Then I did. I’ve been at this for a little over three years, and there’s a lot that happens in that time that you don’t expect. But through that all, I managed to stay on course and figure out a way to make it work. I’m proud of that accomplishment.

Heck, that puts me ahead of some of my favorite TV shows, which always seem to get canceled in mid-run. And yes, I’m looking at you, Fox.

After that emotional rush of getting #12 done, it was a little harder than I thought to start #13. Once I did, though, I started churning out pages faster than I expected. So I’m back in the swing of things.

JK: What are some of your favorite moments of the last 12 issues? Is there anything you'd go back and change if you could?

Thom: The first thing I’d change is easy: I’d catch the stupid typo I made on page 13 of #10. If not for that, it’d be a perfect issue. Other than that, every once in a while I think that maybe I could have used another issue of wedding planning just for pacing between #10 and #12.

But that pacing thing is because of #10, which is one of my favorite issues. I never expected to do the “Abby gets powers” storyline. But when it hit me, I knew it needed to be done. And I knew it’d be a perfect stand-alone FCBD issue, too. The only daunting thing was that, when I realized how that story needed to end, I knew I’d need to really stick the landing to make it work. It’s got a bit of a downer ending. I think I did. But, because of the story taking me by surprise, it didn’t advance the wedding planning as much as I thought it might.

Issue #12 was another rough one, because it had to be emotionally big and satisfying. Having read the finished product, I think I did that one pretty well, too. There’s a moment in the middle where I can actually hear the soundtrack swell in the background, and I think that means I did it right. I may run a contest on Twitter to see if anyone else heard the same song. (It’s page 26, for those of you reading at home.)

The little things are my favorites: I love the sequence in #8 where Mark flies alongside Charlotte’s plane. I know my book runs dialogue heavy, and it’s nice to pull off a virtually silent scene. Planes have been very good to me, comedically, too. In #5 we find that Mark followed his parents’ plane to make sure it got home safely. Abby says “You know, plane travel is pretty safe” and Mark responds “You wouldn’t say that if you’d caught as many of them as I have.” That still cracks me up.

I’m really happy with the Mark/Abby/Amazonia arc. It’s got a natural ebb and flow to it. Amazonia releases the tell-all and kind of nukes her relationship with Mark. They reconcile, and they’re in a good place until Psi-Clone impersonates Mark and gets back together with Amazonia. By the time that’s over, Amazonia’s in a really messed-up place with rekindled feelings for Mark. Then she tries to push through it, eventually getting very drunk with Abby and reaching a kind of detente with her. There’s still conflict, and therefore funny, in their relationship, but they’re no longer as adversarial. It’s been very organic.

JK: What can we expect from issue 13, the Free Comic Book Day issue?

Thom: Lots of shark jumping.

Nah, I kid. I know there are some people who think you can’t have a romantic comedy after the characters get together, but Love and Capes has never been a “will they or won’t they” story, so I don’t think their marriage will ruin anything.

The book’s always been about the relationship, in whatever “season” it’s in. I’ve done dating and I’ve done engaged, so it’s time to do married. These two characters are now living under the same roof, trying to make a life, and that’s going to set up some new conflicts and stories.

In #13, specifically, we’ll also see some of the honeymoon, including page 3, which may be the funniest page I’ve written in a while. There will also be some fallout from the wedding reception. I don’t want to spoil it, since the wedding issue is still fresh on the stands, but there’s something that happens at the reception that will ripple throughout the remainder of the series.

JK: What does the future hold for the series? You mentioned earlier this year that you pictured the story as three six issue arcs. Will we see that last arc, about Abby and Mark's married life?

Thom: Yes, you will see the third arc. Issue #13 is the start of that story. In fact, it sets up everything that will play out over the rest of the series.

As to where, when and how the third arc will happen, I have to give you a mysterious “Stay tuned for a big announcement.” Sorry about the obliqueness, but don’t worry, it’s coming. I just can’t really say anymore. We all know the comics marketplace is rocky terrain, especially for a small publisher, but things are in place to make sure I can clear it.

Expect an announcement and some good news about the time of FCBD, if not sooner.

JK: You've been self-publishing the comic series, but IDW released the trade paperback. What was it like working with them, and how did the book do overall? Are there plans for a follow-up trade?

Thom: My relationship with IDW has been great! The books are absolutely gorgeous. In my mind they’ve become the “gold masters” of the story. IDW is happy with it, too, as far as I know, because, yes, they’re going to do a second trade collecting #7-12. More details on that as I have them.

I can say, though, that the first six issues are now available on the iTunes store through the IDW app. Approval just came through. I think Love and Capes will work pretty well on the iPhone, since the book is mostly iPhone shaped panels anyway. Plus, I figure that it's best to make the book available through as many channels as possible.

But, since I’ve held so much back from you in question #7, I will say that I’ve already designed the cover and that I’ll have an introduction written by Kurt *and Ann* Busiek.

Chris Ryall and the gang at IDW are just wonderful to work with. I was really touched at San Diego this year when I swear the entire company came over to my booth a person at a time to let me know how much they love the book. They’re fans of the book, and I’m fans of theirs.

JK: What else do you have on your plate, comic-wise, besides Love and Capes?

Thom: Over at IDW, I just did a cover for the Weekly World News comic that’s pretty cool. I’m actually a big fan of Bat Boy, even having seen the musical a couple of years back. That was a lot of fun to work on.

I continue to letter Deadbeats for Claypool Comics and do lettering and design for Lone Star Press. Those are professional and personal relationships that have been going strong for years now.

Past that, there are more irons in the fire, but nothing I can reveal yet. Hopefully soon. I’m always busy, but I wouldn’t mind being busier.

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