It's been almost a year since the Crusader has been seen in the skies above Deco City, but that's about to change, as writer-artist Thom Zahler lets “Love and Capes” fly once again at IDW Publishing. Zahler self-published his super hero situation comedy for thirteen issues, the most recent being 2010's Free Comic Book Day offering, which was numbered as a regular issue. IDW has collected the first twelve issues into two trade paperbacks, and becomes the series' serial publisher as well with February's “Love and Capes: Ever After” #1.
“Love and Capes” is primarily a romance, but the superheroics aren't simply tacked on. Instead, this is a series where the relationships come first and battling the latest would-be conqueror complicates our heroes' lives—as such things will do. Mark Spencer—a.k.a. the Crusader—and his girlfriend Abby deal with many of the things most couples face: difficult in-laws, balancing work and social life, little disagreements about what to watch on TV, and the delicate decision, once the time comes, of how to pop the question. On top of this, though, they have to contend with villainous doppelgangers, otherworldly interlopers, and Mark's ex-girlfriend Zoe—also known as Amazonia, Crusader's teammate in the Liberty League. Issue #12, though, saw Mark and Abby finally have the wedding of their dreams (after Abby returned from an alternate dimension, of course), while #13, which leads into the upcoming miniseries, followed the couple through their honeymoon and saw the beginnings of a romance between Amazonia and Crusader's best friend, Darkblade.
CBR News spoke with Zahler about the five-issue “Ever After” miniseries and what lies ahead for the newlyweds.
CBR News: IDW has published the collected editions of “Love and Capes” to date, and will also be handling the next miniseries. After self-publishing for 13 issues, what led you to take “Love and Capes: Ever After” to IDW?
Thom Zahler: A couple of things. First, I’ve got a great relationship with IDW and it was just a natural fit to start partnering together more.
But secondly and just as important were the realities of the marketplace. Diamond’s new minimums were starting to put the book in jeopardy. The last regular issue, #12, sold well enough to keep the book going, but I was always on the wire. Switching to IDW put me in a much more stable environment.
Launching the new series in February puts you squarely in Valentine’s Day territory. Was this by design? Will the holiday play a role in the new story?
What? Valentine’s Day? Really?
Yup, it was planned. It’s a natural launching point to launch a romantic comedy series. And when you’re doing a small market book like mine, anything to give you a little extra buzz when the title comes out, the better.
Timewise, it worked out too. It takes me 2-3 months to do a book, because I do the entire thing myself, and still do other client work. The IDW series will be monthly, so I needed a little additional runway to get everything done on schedule. It’s why there’s been almost a year between issue #13 and the first IDW issue.
But, Valentine’s Day itself doesn’t play a part in the first issue. I pick up where issue #13 left off, which is shortly after the wedding, which puts me in late summer/early fall. We’re focusing on the newlywed time, as well as Darkblade and Amazonia’s new relationship.
The first arc introduced readers to Mark and Abby as a couple, the second followed their engagement through to the wedding. What sort of challenges are they up against now that they’re married?
Now Mark and Abby are living in the same apartment, and that’s going to cause a couple of issues. They’ve moved into Mark’s space, which is definitely a bachelor superhero apartment. One of their first challenges will be to find a new place to live.
Also, the more time they spend together, the more their relationship ripples out into everything they do. One of the upcoming issues will deal with the decision whether or not to tell Abby’s parents that he’s the Crusader. It’s one thing to keep that from them when they’re just dating, but now he’s their son-in-law. How long can he keep that secret, and should he?
I know with a romantic comedy book there’s always the question of whether marrying the characters off will make the book jump the shark. But the book’s always been about the relationship, not a “will they or won’t they,” and that’s where the focus will stay. Dating, engaged, or married, it’s all variations on a theme.
And what sort of super-challenges might be on the horizon for the Crusader?
Mark’s super life will continue to intrude into his civilian life, which is always his biggest challenge. I am doing a story that’s essentially a riff on the Silver Age Red Kryptonite stories. It was so Silver Age that the cover features Abby spouting classic '60s Lois Lane dialogue (including a “choke” in her thought balloon), and an homage to the famous go-go checks.
I’ve done a lot of stories about how Mark has to make sacrifices to be the Crusader. We’re also going to see what a toll it takes on him even when he’s successful.
In issue #13, last year's Free Comic Book Day issue, we saw the beginnings of Mark and Abby’s married life and the beginnings of Darkblade and Amazonia’s romance. With his Liberty League friends beginning a new relationship, how will Mark’s newlywed perspective play into their interactions?
We are going to see Mark and Abby and Darkblade and Amazonia share their first double date. It’s definitely going to be odd for Mark and Abby to handle it. Even when you don’t have feelings for your ex, it’s still weird when they start to date again. So Mark’s going to have to work through that.
The bigger change will be in Abby and Amazonia’s relationship. Zoe’s arc has been one of the things I’m most proud of. She was a catty ex-girlfriend when they first met, she started coming to terms with things, had a setback with the whole impostor story, and now has reached a kind of détente with Abby.
Darkblade and Amazonia have a MUCH different dynamic than Mark and Abby. Whereas Mark and Abby were a natural fit, Darkblade and Amazonia are going to require much more work. But, I think they’re also a much more passionate couple. They’re the couple that have the screaming fights one minute and are on top of each other the next.
One of the things I find amusing about the series is your knack for turning familiar superhero and sitcom situations on their heads—I’m thinking mainly of the issue where Mark is replaced by Psi-Clone, who fails to fool Abby, but of course there are others. Are there any of these sort of stock scenarios you haven’t had a chance to try yet but would like to?
I mentioned above that I’m going to do the Red Kryptonite/Silver Age Goofy Transformation story with Mark. That’s going to be fun.
There are two stories that are orbiting my brain but haven’t landed yet. I haven’t done any sidekick riffs to speak of, and that’s something that’s going to need to be touched on sometime. And I’ve thought about doing the New Powers storyline. Giving Mark electric powers and dressing him like an ice skater is inherently funny.
The other thing I’ve teased elsewhere is that there will be a superhero death in an upcoming issue. It doesn’t seem like a natural fit for a comedy book, but given the way dead doesn’t mean really dead anymore, all those zombies and Black Lanterns and people punching the walls of reality, there’s going to be some moments in there I definitely want to play with.
The pacing in “Love and Capes” is, as far as I can tell, unique in comics, in that it delivers two punchlines per page. How did you develop this style initially, and how do you feel it’s influenced the progression of your story?
The format came from a discussion with the wise Bill Williams, of Lone Star Press and now writer on “Richie Rich.” He was working on a web strip and he had the epiphany that a screen is half the size of a comics page, so why not design them so they can be cut at that point and stitched together later?
Plus, when I started the book, I knew I liked it, but wasn’t sure if it’d sell well enough to sustain a physical title. So having it in an easy format to be a webstrip that could be printed in collections was just being prepared.
The four panel format comes from my love of “Bloom County” and other strips of that period. I found my comedy naturally broke into that four panel format, and it also had the advantage of paying off every screen on the website. There are some webstrips that read like individual pages of a book. I try to make mine more like acts on a TV show or play. There’s enough of a punch to make you feel like you’ve got a satisfying portion and hopefully come back for more.
As far as influence, a long time ago, I wrote a spec romantic comedy sitcom for Bravo’s “Situation: Comedy” comic. One of the comments I got about it was that there weren’t enough jokes in it. I was going for a “SportsNight” vibe anyway, but it was something that I took to heart. The four-panel-beat format that I use acts as a metronome for me. “Make a joke, Funny Guy!”
It’s also allowed me to move the story more quickly and kind of give more meat to the readers. There aren’t a lot of transition scenes where Abby walks to the car and drives to her next destination. There’ll be a caption saying “At the luncheon…” and Abby’s already there.
I think it was a big plus when I was a quarterly book, too. If I’m only going to do an issue every ninety days, that better be a heckuva good 24 pages when it does come out. It’s the antithesis of the decompressed storytelling trend, I think.
The wedding issue was, of course, a milestone. Are there any big moments you’re looking forward to for “L&C,” whether in the “Ever After” mini or further down the line?
Definitely. But the big one’s a surprise, so I’ve got to keep it a secret. I am really looking forward to the “death” issue, as odd as that sounds. I think that will play out in some surprising ways.
But, I don’t want to give you just one paragraph of nothing, so let me tease you with this: [Abby's sister] Charlotte’s going to graduate college soon, which means she’s going to be coming back into town. She’s going to throw some things off-kilter once she returns and, in her own way, be as big of a hero to Abby as Mark is.
That payoff won’t happen in this series, but down the line. It’s one of the story points that got pushed off when I decided to expand the third year the way I did.
It sounds like you're planning to continue “Love and Capes” beyond “Ever After,” then...
You know, if you’d asked me a year ago, I’d have said “Nope, three acts and done.” But then I started writing it and realized I actually wasn’t done. So, I’ve got plans for more Love and Capes after this arc.
IDW and I haven’t discussed it yet. If the new series does well enough, I’m sure they’ll be open to doing another, and I’m certainly willing.
I’ve also toyed with ideas to extend the series and the format. One of the ideas I had, and dismissed, was to transition the book from a Mark and Abby book to a Darkblade and Amazonia book. So it would have remained a dating comedy. I’m glad I didn’t do that, because there’s so much to Mark and Abby’s story, but it did open my mind up to other possibilities.
Are you participating in Free Comic Book Day this year?
Sadly, no. It just wasn’t feasible for me to do an issue to have ready for the FCBD deadlines and still make the IDW series work. In fact, a FCBD issue would have come out concurrently with the IDW series, which would have played heck with the chronology.
I’ve got a plan for a different kind of FCBD book for next year, but that’s going to depend on participation from some other creators that I’ve been talking to. We had the idea this year but not enough time to execute it.
I’m disappointed I won’t be an offered title this year. I’ve done four FCBD issues, and it’s been fantastic promotion for the book, and I think a pretty unique participant in the day, too. There aren’t a ton of young girl friendly books in the mix, so it was nice to be part of that niche.
It has kind of worked out for the best, though. I’ve been traveling as a FCBD guest for the last few years, doing Texas and California as well as Ohio. I’d love to continue that. I’d really like to do a different state each year, so I’ll be doing FCBD until 2059 or so. But my Goddaughter is making her First Communion on May 7th, so not being a participant makes it a little easier for me to make the day all about her, instead. I’m not being pulled in two directions.
I’d love to be part of it next year, for sure.
Outside of “Love and Capes,” are there any other comics you’re working on at the moment?
As I type this, my final lettered files are going over for the Stan Lee/Guardian project for the NHL. It’s been a lot of fun to work on that project and great to be able to work in any way with Stan Lee, or as I call him, Mr. Stan Lee. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product.
I also continue to letter “Sidechicks” for Lone Star Press and “Deadbeats” for Claypool comics, both of which are available online.
Past that, “Love and Capes” has brought me to the attention of some places that probably wouldn’t have noticed me otherwise. I’m hoping that as the series continues, some of those lines turn into something tangible.
"Love and Capes: Ever After" #1 is on sale February 9.