What Goes Around…: Hopkins & Kurzanski talk "Karma Incorporated"

For all of you out there who have ever been treated unfairly, fledgling comic book publisher Viper Comics feels your pain and has a solution. Just tell them who you want to hurt in return and they'll do it… on a fictional level at least. Coming this summer, "Karma Incorporated" is a new mini-series about a team of people who balance the scales, from the minds of writer David Hopkins and artist Tom Kurzanski. Both gentlemen spoke with CBR News and explained a bit more about the series.

"'Karma Incorporated' is the story of five people who start a business, dedicated to wrecking havoc on ordinary people's lives," explained Hopkins. "It's all done covertly, to look like coincidence, bad luck, or a series of unfortunate accidents. In this particular series, Karma Incorporated is hired to target a former customer. They end up pushing him too far, and have to take responsibility for the mess they've created.

"The story started off as a small idea that gained more and more momentum as I began working it out. I liked the idea of doing a 'team book' of tricksters-- con artists, hackers, and hit men. A lot of my inspirations came from the movies I enjoyed featuring these archetypes, films like 'Matchstick Men,' 'Ocean's 11,' 'The Professional,' 'Grosse Pointe Blank,' 'The Grifters,' and 'Hackers.' Initially, I thought the story would be too difficult for me and I let the idea gather dust. It was my wife who told me to get off my ass and write the damn story. And as I did, it took on a very domestic element, a house drama like 'Desperate Housewives' or 'American Beauty.' I mention all these movies and shows, but really it's not like any of them. We stumbled onto something unique."

Part of that "unique" includes a diverse group of leads and Hopkins was happy to prep readers for the adventures ahead. "There are five members to Karma Incorporated. For this particular story, Marsha Elliot takes center stage. She's the leader of the group. Marsha can be very cold to the people closest to her in an attempt to appear strong. Not to mention, Marsha wrestles with a lot of guilt over their chosen profession. When creating this character, it was important we have someone who broke the typical comic book vixen stereotype. Also, since I tend to ramble, I wanted a character who wasn't like me. Marsha sits back and observes, very cool under pressure. Visually, Marsha was based off photographer Cindy Sherman from her 'Untitled Film Still #53.' In the photo, she has a very classic look, like Kim Novak. Over the past year, I've grown increasingly fond of Marsha as a character."

Don't be surprised if some of the characters look very familiar, as Kurzanski explains that he got his pencilling cues from Hopkins. "David provided me with a good launching pad for all of the characters. He'd basically cast the comic with real people, like Marsha/Cindy Sherman, and gave me room to tool around. Their looks are indicative of their personalities, so I didn¹t stray too far from David's original ideas."

The premise of "Karma Incorporated" in some ways seems to advocate the idea of "an eye for an eye" and that isn't accidental, explains Hopkins. "It's difficult. I tried to write a compassionate story about characters who enjoy making other people miserable. The people they target, for the most part, probably had it coming. The whole theme 'you reap what you sow' was intentional. It's all about cause and effect."

"I saw it less as 'an eye for an eye' and more like 'a fingernail for an eye,'" contends Kurzanksi. "The Karma crew never do anything too malicious or reckless, it's mostly harmless stuff. So, while the folks they target may deserve some karmic retribution, they never get beaned in the head with a mace or bludgeoned to death with a frozen cod. My grandmother always said that 'what goes around, comes around.' I'd like to believe that."

Hopkins quickly adds, "In issue two, there's a scene where a guy gets covered in cockroaches. That's pretty vicious, if you ask me! I did that for my wife. She absolutely hates cockroaches."

The first issue of "Karma Incorporated" teases at a lot of long-term plot lines and it almost seems too much to finish in three issues, though Hopkins says it wraps up neatly. "Yeah, there's a lot of plotlines introduced in the first issue. Hopefully, it doesn't weigh down the narrative. It should make the series more interesting for the reader. I'd say that all the various plotlines, in one way or another, will be resolved by the third issue. However, one plotline in particular, between the characters Susan and Terry, clearly hints at a future story I've got floating in my head.

"There's a definite plan beyond this series. I enjoy these characters too much. I know Viper Comics has been very supportive of this title, but we'll see. There are more stories to tell."

It's not easy to find creative partners for comic book work, but Kurzanski and Hopkins says that though they met online, the relationship is rock solid. "I saw some of his art online and really wanted to work with him," reveals Hopkins. "At first, we put together a proposal for a new version of 'Antigone.' Our 'Antigone' received some interest from other publishers, but when Viper started asking about 'Karma Incorporated' I immediately approached Tom about doing that instead. Tom and I work well together. It helps that Tom is such a professional, and he's damn talented. When you respect each other's work, it makes everything a lot easier. But I'd also say, we're not afraid to disagree. There have been many e-mails sent back and forth over aspects of the story or dialogue, where we didn't agree. I like the team process. I think it makes the series better."

Kurzanski has a more romantic take on their "relationship," citing the "three dozen roses via e-mail" incident of 2005. "David found me on a site and we both like long walks on the beach, so it seemed like a perfect match," he laughs. "Then he told me he was married, so we decided to forego the relationship and just work together. He's incredibly trusting when it comes to my art, and his scripts give me some breathing room which was a welcome change from some of the more rigid work I'd been doing up until that point. We have a camaraderie that helps our back-and-forth on any issues that may come up and that just developed over time."

The art in "Karma Incorporated" has a different feel to it than many other mainstream publishers and Kurzanski attributes that to a diverse set of inspirations. "The covers are a bit of Saul Bass, but as far as other influences, they run the gamut. My style developed out of my admiration for a creative hodge-podge of different animators and artists, Chuck Jones, Wally Wood, Kyle Baker, Rick Geary, Evan Dorkin, Albert Uderzo, Igor Baranko, Cully Hamner, Philip Bond and that don't even begin to scratch the surface. I'd see one thing that someone would do 'I really like the way so-and-so does elbows' then try to assimilate something similar in my work. It doesn't always work out, but I definitely feel more kinship to funny-book artists. I actually feel as though the exaggerated figures can help dramatic situations be more palatable as well as allowing you to take the humor to extremes."

For his part, Hopkins says that he feels the beauty is in the details and says, "Tom's style is very versatile. I've seen what he's done with these three issues and it's true. There's a wide range of tones, moods, and emotions. He's able to hit the mark everytime. It's cool to work with an artist with such a distinctive style. With every page, I feel like we're offering something that readers haven't seen before."

The first issue of the series is also crammed full of story, without being dense, and Kurzanski says that he and Hopkins aren't trying to make a statement beyond giving the reader a real bang for their buck. "I think it's something that was necessary in order to tell this story. You've got to get the reader to become attached to these five characters, gain some understanding of them, and at the same time, you can't bore them with mind-numbing exposition."

Hopkins agrees, adding, "I want people to buy the first issue and feel like they got more than their money's worth. Sometimes, you read a 32-page comic book and there are ten pages of ads and crap at the end. With 'Karma Incorporated,' in each issue there are 30 pages of actual story. Stylistically, I tend to pace things in two and four page increments; rarely will a particular scene go longer. As a result, there's a tighter economy to the narrative. It moves faster."

For those readers still on the fence about checking out the series, both creators have some parting words. "Viper Comics has a great track record of publishing unique and entertaining stories," says Hopkins. "We're proud to be part of that. 'Karma Incorporated' looks beautiful in full color. Thanks to Marlena Hall. The art is incredibly original and cool. Issue one features pin-ups by Jamar Nicholas and Jim Mahfood. People will enjoy the series."

"Because I have some library books that are way overdue, and I need the cash to pay off the debt," smiles Kurzanski. "That, and it's an engaging comic that really pulls you into its world with a unique premise, empathetic characters, and it's choc-full of story. Viper didn't raise no fools."

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