Following the success of the critically acclaimed "Bayou" and "High Moon" collected editions, Zuda Comics is releasing its second instant-winning web comic, "Night Owls" as a trade paperback this Wednesday.
The brainchild of twin brothers Peter Timony and Bobby Timony, "Night Owls" follows the adventures of a Detective Agency, based in New York City in the 1920s that specializes in cases that involve the supernatural.
Professor Ernest "Ernie" Baxter is the team leader, utilizing his vast knowledge of the occult to capture the bad guys, often at the bequest of the police department who are baffled with felons that go bump in the night. And it's a good thing that he's needed mostly at night, because Ernie is allergic to sunlight.
His partner in crime (fighting) is Mindy Markus, a feisty flapper who is just as comfortable swinging her fists as she is swinging on the dance floor. Then there's a gargoyle named Roscoe, a wise-cracking tough guy who keeps things light when everything else is getting dark.
CBR News spoke with the Timony twins - Peter writes and Bobby draws - and learned that the series is heavily influenced by Laurel & Hardy and the Marx Brothers, that there is still more of Ernie's backstory to tell and that when you are creating a web comic make sure that you save high-resolution copies of your original work just in case your publisher wants to repackage your efforts as a trade paperback.
CBR News: I was having trouble coming up with words to describe "Night Owls," so allow me to start this off simply by saying that I found the series to be a complete joy. Frozen in prohibition time with its dialogue, look and feel, you still managed to make it fresh and fun with every page. Where did you ever come up with the premise?
Bobby Timony: When you're trying to come up with fresh ideas, I find it helps to start thinking of things you like. I like silent movies, so I put on a Harold Lloyd film called "Speedy." It was shot on location in New York in the 1920s, and since I grew up with movies from that era, I thought it'd be a good idea to set a comic series there. I also love scrappy flappers, so I just had to have one of those. After I drew a few sketches, the characters seemed to just suggest themselves to me, and we built the rest from there.
Was "Night Owls" something you were playing with before you entered the Zuda competition or did you create "Night Owls" specifically for the website?
BT: "Night Owls" began as a class assignment at the School of Visual Arts here in New York City. The assignment was to write and draw 12 pages of comics. I created the Night Owls for the class and revived the idea for Zuda, changing it up a bit to fit the format.
You no doubt knew you were onto something special, but did you ever think that "Night Owls" would become such a success?
Peter Timony: When Bobby first showed me Page 1, I thought he might be onto something. We printed that page onto postcards and started handing them out at conventions, and we got a lot of positive feedback. This was well before Zuda even launched.
BT: I'm a pretty optimistic guy. I think everything I try is going to be a success. Otherwise, why would I bother? Still, as much as I want everything I touch to turn to gold, more often than not it doesn't, so I am extremely pleased that this one worked out.
Did you have to do much research about the 1920s or did you just run out to Blockbuster and rent "Untouchables" and "Horse Feathers?"
PT: Bobby and I love the old comedies. There is a nod to "Horsefeathers" in the comic, when they visit a speakeasy. The password to get in is Swordfish.
We grew up watching Laurel & Hardy – when cartoons couldn't be found – and from there we moved onto the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. By the time we got around to writing the comic, we had a working knowledge of the time period because of those silent movies. We did do some research to fill in the gaps, though.
BT: The Internet is a great resource for research, especially for the little details like, "Did pencils have erasers back then?" And the answer is, "Yes." And "When were dumpsters invented?" That was 1935. Occasional trips to the library were still necessary when specific reference was needed.
Was the Laurel and Hardy movie the comic shares it's name with in any way an inspiration?
PT: Not specifically that movie, but Laurel and Hardy have been an inspiration in many aspects of our lives. When we were kids, we loved to eat peas and rice, which we called Stan and Ollies, because they were fat and skinny. In fact, Laurel and Hardy appear in the comic in the background, when the Night Owls visit a speak-easy. Also, there's one part of the comic where Ernie uses a pay phone to call the Night Owls office, and he asks the Operator for "Oxford, 0614." That number was famously used in a Laurel and Hardy short, and in fact, it was Stan Laurel's actual phone number.
BT: I wasn't thinking of that movie specifically, but I wouldn't be surprised if the name stuck in my head and subliminally suggested itself. "The Night Owls" just seemed right.
Ernest Baxter has an incredible origin story. Did you know that you would be linking his story to Native American folklore from the outset or is his an origin that grew organically?
PT: Well, back when the backstory was just a nebulous idea, we had thought he'd be dodging a Cyclops. However, Bobby read about this Big Owl thing in a book of Native American folklore, and it fit so perfectly. It was a Giant Owl. It lives in the sun. It is custom made for this story. All of a sudden, Ernie's backstory included a trip to the Reservation.
BT: A lot of Ernie's origin came from the name of the comic. I liked "Night Owls" for a detective agency, but I wanted the name to link thematically with the story. So I thought: "What if he can't go out in the sunlight." That led to: "What if he's allergic to sunlight?" Which led to: "What if he's not really allergic, but just tells people that to cover up a big mystery?"
It was all built on a series of "what ifs." Interestingly, there's a huge chunk of Ernie's backstory that we haven't even touched on yet, one that goes into the heart of his deep fascination with the occult. Stories for another time, I guess. I can't help but think of Janine Turner from Northern Exposure when I'm reading Mindy Marcus. Why do you think the character has been such a hit with readers and, maybe this is the same question, what do you love most about her?
PT: Mindy is fun to write, because she is a tough and sassy flapper, and she has her feminine side, as well. She is ready to throw down with a werewolf if need be, or dress up and go dancing at the Cotton Club, for the job, of course.
BT: Mindy has all the qualities we love in our pulp adventure heroes, like pluck, resourcefulness, keen wits and courage, all wrapped up in an adorable flapper package with a bit of a hot temper for added spice. I guess if there's one word that can sum up Mindy's appeal that word would be "moxie."
And finally Roscoe provides great comic relief. And I think he might be the first ever gargoyle detective. Who wins in a fist fight Roscoe or Goliath from Gargoyles? And a battle of wits? And is his name a nod to Roscoe Arbuckle?
PT: Roscoe is a brawler, though I think Goliath could take him eventually. But in a battle of wits, it's Roscoe all the way. Goliath takes himself way too seriously. As for the name, Roscoe is indeed named after Fatty Arbuckle, and his sister is named for Fatty's frequent collaborator, Mabel Normand.
BT: Yeah, I gotta agree with Peter on this one. Goliath is a leading man, while Roscoe, as you mentioned, is comic relief.
You had great fun dropping historical characters like Al Capone and fictional characters like the Pied Piper into your story. Any one you would have loved to get in but just couldn't make it fit.
PT: The Marx Brothers.
BT: I mentioned Ernie's untold backstory earlier. That would make a nice framework for a season long simmering plot line.
Are there any "Night Owls" adventures or plot threads that ended up on the cutting room floor that you can share?
PT: In the storyline where the Night Owls investigate a haunted theater, we wanted to have Roscoe meet the Marx Brothers. I even wrote the scene, but it had to be cut for copyright reasons. Also, we wanted to do a storyline where Hollywood wants to make a "Night Owls" movie starring Rudolph Valentino, but he dies. So the Hollywood moguls decide to make the picture anyway by resurrecting Valentino as a zombie.
BT: There was also a 24 hour "Night Owls" comic I did once, before Zuda, about how the Night Owls run into a mysterious costumed vigilante called the Blue Ghost.
Bobby, can you speak specifically about the look of Night Owls? How did you come up with the designs? And what techniques are you using to illustrate the series?
BT: That first comic I drew for class was a typical comic book, but when I heard about Zuda, I tinkered with the look and feel to better match the format and update schedule. The wide page and weekly updates reminded me of classic Sunday comics, so that's how we approached it. The sepia tones evoke the flavor of the era and the art deco banner sets the stage every week.
As for my process, it goes like this:
1. Read the script and rough out the panel layout.
2. I draw my panel borders in Adobe Illustrator and print them onto 11x17 art board.
3. Pencils and inks.
5. I colored the comics in Photoshop with a simple grayscale, then dropped them into a pre-made template that had the banner and a sepia overlay layer and was already sized to Zuda's specs.
6. I'd then place the comic into Illustrator and do all the word balloons, captions and sound effects.
7. I'd then drop the word balloons back into photoshop in their own layer, flatten it, save as a jpeg and ship it off to Zuda.
Why the decision to sepia tone the series? And do we owe the look of Funari to The Wizard of Oz?
PT: We had a few comments from fans wondering what the series would look like in color, and we thought it would be a fun way to change things up a bit. The switch was definitely inspired by "The Wizard of Oz." Also, for that one story arc, we changed the banner to read "Knight Owls."
BT: As for the sepia, my first instinct was to just use black and white grayscales. We had had a 1920s themed birthday party not too long before where we all came in 1920s costumes, and the photos looked great with a sepia filter on them. I tried out the Sepia overlay on the comic, and that seemed to complete the package.
I read on your blog that you already have copies of the collected edition. What are your thoughts on the final product? Does it make for a different read than the online edition?
PT: When we were originally putting it together, we knew that people would have to wait a few days for each page to appear online, so I wrote it with that in mind. That's why we occasionally begin with a recap panel. However, when I got my copy of the book, I sat down and re-read it from cover to cover, which I hadn't ever done, actually, and I think it flowed very nicely. The book itself looks very pretty. I'm very proud of the end product. It is our first published work, and we will forever be grateful to Zuda.
BT: I think the book looks great. Peter got his copies before I did, so I spent a couple days with an itchy burning jealousy. Now that I have a copy, I like to sniff it. It has that new book smell. I also can't wait to see it take its place on Dad's shelf along with all his leather-bound classic literature. Dad actually hasn't read it yet, because he's a dinosaur who's scared of them newfangled computers, so I'm looking forward to hearing his reaction.
The "Night Owls" web series ends on a definite cliff hanger. And you have mentioned twice that there is more to be told of Ernie's origin. So is it safe to say well see more "Night Owls?"
PT: Well, let's see if the book sells first. If you really want to see more "Night Owls," I have two suggestions. First, by the book. Second, contact Zuda and tell them you want to see more. There is a link for feedback on the main page, and that's the best way to reach them. The website is zudacomics.com.
BT: Yes, please do go clamor for more. They love it when people clamor.
What project will you be working on next?
PT: Right now my energies are devoted to promoting the book, but after that, who knows? We keep the fans updated via our website, twincomics.com and also via Facebook and Twitter (twitter.com/ptimony and a href="http://twitter.com/Btimony" target="_blank">twitter.com/Btimony).
BT: We've got a few projects that we're cooking up, but I can't really talk about them yet.
Any messages for readers of "Night Owls" or perhaps for other creators that are considering participation in a Zuda competition?
PT: Thank you to all the people who've given us feedback over the past two years, and to those thinking of submitting to Zuda, be prepared to aggressively promote your comic if you want it to win in the competition.
BT: Also, save big versions of your comic in case it ever sees print, like 600dpi. And good luck.
The softcover collected edition of "Night Owls" Vol. 1 is in stores now.