This December, Z2 Comics will launch a new ongoing fantasy series grandiosely named "Allen: Son of Hellcock." The epic fantasy follows the medieval hipster son of a great warrior who has become a medieval hipster. The ghost of his great father pushes Allen to go on a quest which, needless to say, doesn't go the way that anyone expects.
Writers Will Tracy and Gabe Koplowitz were college friends who began crafting this tale together after finishing school. The bring experience to "Hellcock" from their busy, non-comics careers: Tracy wrote for "The Onion" and is currently a writer at HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" and Koplowitz is a writer/director at VH1. Both writers share a love of comedy, comics and fantasy stories and, along with artist Miguel Porto, they're putting all that to good use on "Allen: Son of Hellcock."
Ahead of "Allen: Son of Hellcock's" debut from Z2 Comics this December, Tracy and Koplowitz spoke exclusively to CBR and present a sneak peek at the cover of the first issue.
CBR News: Where did the idea for "Allen: Son of Hellcock" come from?
Gabe Koplowitz: Around 2008, I was reading a lot of old "Heavy Metal" and "Conan" comics, which are full of wonderfully imaginative names and fun descriptors -- "the mighty," "the decapitator," "the wanderer"; "Groo" was one of my favorite comics growing up. I tried my hand at coming up with one of my own, and "Son of Hellcock" just made me chuckle. I figured it would be even funnier if that descriptor belonged to someone with a really boring name, like Allen -- no offense to anyone named Allen! I think you're great! I called up my good friend and fellow comic book reader, Will Tracy, [and asked] "What do you think about the name 'Allen: Son of Hellcock'?" When he produced the same chuckle, I knew we were onto something.
Are you guys big fans of fantasy literature?
Will Tracy: We're fond of the fantasy tropes and cliches, for sure, and I think that's why the book reads more like an homage than a parody. We may be poking fun at the idea of quests and giants and wizards but then, lo and behold, Allen goes on an actual quest with an actual giant and an actual wizard, so we're clearly suckers for the stuff. It's irresistible, and also irresistibly fertile ground for comedy.
How did you come up with this idea of a medieval fantasy version of a hipster slacker?
Koplowitz: I guess you could chalk it up to "write what you know." Will and I were a couple of college grads living in hip, gentrified Brooklyn -- ground zero for hipster slackers. We were surrounded by so many great, hilarious characters in our neighborhood and we thought a medieval version would be that much funnier. Our local ornery bike shop employee became Allen's ornery boss at the cart repair shop, our friends' gregarious landlord became Allen's gregarious minotaur landlord, and so on and so forth. We swore we'd never reveal our inspiration for "A:SoH's" terrifying horse-donkeys, though -- just too damn scary.
Allen's father Hellcock haunts him like an annoying version of Hamlet's ghost. Were you always thinking that it would be about this father/son relationship?
Tracy: To be honest, the title came first and everything sprang from the title. We're very literal. If we'd started with the title "To Kill A Mockingbird," it would have been the story of a courteous Southern lawyer in the Deep South who longs to strangle a mockingbird. So, yes, we always knew it would be about a guy named Allen who is the son of a hero named Hellcock, but what unlocked all the comedy for us was the idea that Hellcock was not, in fact, alive anymore, and was following his son around and making his life hell.
We're also such unwashed simpletons that the "Hamlet" parallel literally did not even occur to us until you just asked us. But now we're going to tell everyone we meet that we wrote "the next Hamlet."
You're welcome. So how did the two of you connect and start working together?
Koplowitz: Will and I attended Vassar College together, where we were acquaintances who typically hung out through mutual friends -- I think we both always thought, "Why don't I hang out more with that guy? We have so much in common!" When we both landed in Brooklyn after graduating, we bonded over a mutual interest -- comics! We had both grown up reading them and were re-discovering our love for the form at the same time. We also had very similar sense of humor -- I was studying and performing improv every week, and Will was already contributing to "The Onion." Every brunch, drink and concert invariably turned into Will and I spitballing one idea or another. He was the obvious choice to work with on this comic -- I knew we'd be able to create something wonderful together.
Will, you're working on "Last Week Tonight" and before that you were at "The Onion," which are part of mediums that aren't comics. What made this idea specifically feel like a comic book?
Tracy: We started work on this long before I'd been hired on staff at either "Last Week Tonight" or "The Onion," back when the idea of being hired anywhere as a writer seemed almost impossible to me. And yet, even as I began working in television, the concept for "Hellcock" never changed from being a comic book because that's what it was originally conceived as. Not because Gabe and I had limited ambitions, mind you, but because we love comic books! Plus, spend an hour at either "The Onion," "Last Week Tonight" or virtually any other workplace where comedy is made and you will find herds of unreformed comics maniacs. The overlap is almost eerily high.
How did you connect with your publisher, Z2 Comics?
Tracy: I saw the press release when Josh Frankel first announced he was launching the imprint. I don't know what it was about Josh or the imprint that made me think "good fit," but I just did. He seemed odd and driven in the best ways, with impeccable taste. Plus, the idea of getting in at more or less the ground floor of an imprint's launch felt exciting. The idea that "Hellcock" might help form people's opinion on what a "Z2 comic" is seemed cool. So I sent Josh a Facebook message, he graciously agreed to read the script, and he got back to me almost immediately and said, "Yes, I'm interested. Let me buy you a drink."
Will, you've been collaborating with people in your TV work and at "The Onion." What's new about working on a comic and what are the challenges you're dealing with that you haven't encountered before?
Tracy: For a while, the major challenge for Gabe and I as first-time, unknown comic book writers was just getting anyone in the comics industry to give us a shot. But once Z2 did, the challenges of writing this specific comic book have been, for me, almost laughably small compared to the challenges of writing for a television show, which is like being a single wheel on a massive, speeding freight train that could fly off the tracks at any moment. Gabe and I were incredibly fortunate in that we wrote exactly what we wanted to write, picked the exact artist we wanted, and found a publisher who told us, "I trust you guys and I've got your backs." We're happy as a couple of horse-donkeys in horse-donkey manure.
Gabe, you've been writing and directing at VH1, but what has it been like writing a comic?
Koplowitz: I've always loved writing, but I studied film at Vassar (big bucks!) and continue to work in that field. I'm very drawn to visual mediums -- I'll buy a comic with great art and terrible writing way before I buy one with terrible art and great writing. Writing a comic was a lot like writing a screenplay; we started with the characters and a very rough outline of the story, then went in and filled the story in beat-by-beat, and finally filled in the dialogue and fun little details. Then, like making a film -- we edited, edited, and edited some more. It was unbelievably fun.
Can you talk a little about collaborating with your artist Miguel Porto?
Koplowitz: Miguel's work has a wonderfully stylized feel, reminiscent of the amazing Herge. He's been an utter delight to work with -- professional and hilarious. Unfortunately, Miguel lives in Spain -- we've never even met him in person! It's possible "Miguel Porto" is actually a Nigerian prince, and we're being fleeced. In all seriousness, we'll send a script to him that has been broken down page-by-page, panel-by-panel, but we always encourage Miguel to change things if he feels it will aid the storytelling. For a few characters, we had a very distinct image in mind (Allen is visually based on our friend Todd), and for others, we just ask Miguel to let his imagination go nuts. Our favorite days are when he sends us new art. Every writer should find themselves a Miguel Porto -- but not our Miguel Porto. He's ours!
Do you have an end point in mind for the series?
Koplowitz: We initially wrote this one self-contained story, which is kind of an introduction to Allen and his wacky world. The story is packed with silly lore that we'd love to explore more of, though. We reference countless battles, provinces, heroes, villains, mythical weapons, eras, epochs and cultures, any one of which we'd be thrilled to expand and turn into its own story in the Canon of Allen. And, of course, Allen's journey doesn't end at the end of this story.
What do you two have in store for this series? What can people look forward to when the book comes out -- besides medieval hipsters?
Koplowitz: Let's see -- washed-up sorcerers and swordsmen, terrifying horse-donkeys, sensitive ogres, furious ogres, fashionable elves, an exceedingly polite retired despot and his sniveling, black-hearted offspring, tiny giants, wise bureaucrats, snakes-being-used-as-golf-clubs, an idealistic young woman with grand ambitions, dragons, mortifying horse-donkeys, haunted woods, Pox the Unruly Simian, the Tri-Orc Expresstrail, barbarian conventions, and don't look now but there's a horse-donkey right. behind. you.
Z2's "Allen: Son of Hellcock" arrives in stores this December.