Thom Zahler talks about Love & Capes

Love & Capes is a romantic comedy set in the world of super heroes without actually showing the super heroics. It is light hearted and funny without being silly and yet still manages to deliver a punch line on every page. I met Thom Zahler on FCBD and chatted with him about Love & Capes. Thom has been nice enough to stop by First Comics News to catch our readers up with the latest from Love & Capes.

Rik Offenbreger: For readers who may have missed your series who are Abby & Mark?

Thom Zahler: Mark and Abby are just a regular happy couple. Abby owns a bookstore, and Mark’s an accountant… oh, yeah, and he’s also the Crusader, the planet’s most powerful superhero.

The book focuses on the relationship rather than the adventure aspects of being a superhero. But the heroics do impact their relationship in lots of ways. I liken the book to a sitcom, and that’s an influence here. Much like on “Friends” where Ross was a paleontologist but we rarely saw him doing his job, Mark’s a superhero, but its more about how that affects his and Abby’s life more than the actual heroic adventures

Rik: For all intents and purposes aren’t they analogs for Lois Lane & Clark Kent?

Thom: You can certainly make the case that the Crusader is an analog for Superman. That’s true. But that’s where a lot of the comparisons end. Abby, a regular bookstore owner, is certainly different than the career-obsessed, tough-as-nails Lois Lane. They’re both girlfriends of a superhero, but they’re very different characters.

Even Mark is different than Clark. For instance, Mark is much smarter. He’s never told all his friends how he and the Crusader are best friends and then had to come up with elaborate schemes to explain why they’re never seen together. Mark’s personal life and superhero life are very separate.

The Lois Lane/Clark Kent “roles” were definitely the starting point for the series, but it’s gone down its own path from there.

Rik: The pacing is interesting in the book. It almost looks like two, four panel newspaper strips on each page.

Thom: When I started the book, I wasn’t sure how well it would do, but I really liked the book. I wanted something I could repurpose as a web strip. So I split the pages in half. The four-panel format just seemed a natural pace for a humor-based comic book. I’d always wanted to write something like “Bloom County”, so that cadence was built in to my thinking.

It’s helped a lot, though, first, it does let me throw the pages up in a web-friendly format on the Love and Capes website, and I think that helps the comic get around. Also, knowing I need two jokes, or at least beats, per page, works as a kind of metronome making sure that I have plenty of funny in the comic.

Rik: Love & Capes was part of this years Free Comic Book Day. As a small self publisher, isn’t this cost prohibitive?

Thom: Not as much as you might think. I know my orders before I go to print, which helps immensely. The guidelines for FCBD suggest selling the book at cost. I actually sell it lower than that, so that each book winds up around a quarter once Diamond adds its fees. But, in previous years, I’ve sold advertising in the book which makes up the difference. Free Comic Book Day has become such a good promotional event that it’s not all that hard to sell advertising space in those issues. At least that’s been my experience.

Then, I do have a version with an alternate retail cover that I can sell after the fact. Between selling them online and conventions after FCBD, the book usually breaks even, if not a little better.

Even so, I treat FCBD as an advertising opportunity, and one that’s done really well for me, rather than a retail event. And because of the coverage and opportunities that come about from it, the day’s been a big success for me.

Rik: The story is broken up into different arcs, with the first two arcs culminating in the wedding issue. Why have them marry?

Thom: Because they love each other a lot and wanted to spend their lives together. It was just natural.

“Love and Capes” isn’t one of those “will they or won’t they” stories, like “Moonlighting” or “Castle” or “Cheers.” It’s always been about Mark and Abby’s relationship. Dating, engaged, married, the focus is still that relationship. So while the phase of their relationship changes, it doesn’t change the heart of the book.

Rik: The new arc is the Married Life of Mark & Abby. Is married life as funny as dating?

Thom: The readers will be the real judge of that, but I think so. Their problems are shifting to a new area. They’re living together and sharing a space, so that causes new issues. Mark doesn’t need a stepladder. He takes up a ton of closet space because he’s got the hidden section for his uniform. And Abby has to deal with how much Mark is gone over the course of a day. She’s always known that he spent a lot of time being a superhero, but now living with him, she gets to see exactly how much.

Rik: Many small publishers are having trouble with Diamonds new benchmarks, is that why Love & Capes is moving to IDW, instead of self publishing and will the move to IDW increase order numbers?

Thom: The Diamond benchmarks have been tough. The book has steadily built a readership, but even doing as well as it has, and well enough for me to justify doing more issues, it hasn’t always cleared the hurdle. That’s part of why I started talking to IDW, which was already doing the collections, about moving over. That said, issue #12 did really well, and Diamond said they’d keep carrying it. It was always on the bubble, though.

Fortunately, I have a great relationship with IDW. They’ve done fantastic work on the trades, and we worked things out for them to start publishing the regular book. I couldn’t be happier. They do a quality product, and it’s going to help me get the book out to more people. Being with IDW will raise the profile of the book, and I expect it to increase sales, too.

Rik: I understand that the series will be monthly at IDW.

Thom: That’s true. That was IDW’s idea, but it makes sense to me. That’s why there’s a six month gap between the FCBD issue and the first IDW issue. I’m getting ahead enough so that I can get them out on a monthly pace.

I think the monthly format will help the book penetrate the market in a way I haven’t been able to before, too.

Rik: How long does it take you to write, draw, color and letter an issue?

Thom: I can do a page a day, but “Love and Capes” isn’t my only project. I do a ton of client work, both for comics and illustration clients. And those other clients make it possible to do my book, so I have to keep all those plates spinning. As a result, it takes between two and three months to do an issue.

Rik: How can you do a monthly comic that takes more then a month to produce?

Thom: It’s just getting ahead. As I type this, I’m almost done with the first IDW issue. I’ll be finishing the last issue of the IDW series as the first issue hits stands. Then, I’ll take a break. The break’s been planned for a while, as I’ve been producing “Love and Capes” almost non-stop for two years, and I need to make sure that I don’t burn out. Hopefully, the series will do well enough at IDW to warrant another series, and I’ll start working ahead on that. It’s kind of a TV show format, where I’m doing arc-based seasons, rather than trying to make sure I have an issue out at a regular monthly/bimonthly/quarterly pace.

I’ve always treated the issues as six issue miniseries with consecutive numbering. I took a break between issues six and seven. And there’s been a break since December’s #12 and FCBD’s #13.

Rik: Will the numbering continue form Maerkle Press to IDW?

Thom: No. The new miniseries will be called “Love and Capes: Ever After” and start with a new issue #1.

Rik: Each Arc reaches a specific point in Abby & Mark’s relationship. Where is the first IDW arc leading?

Thom: Well, how it ends is obviously something I can’t say. But between the FCBD and “Love and Capes: Ever After”, I’m going to cover the newlywed portion of their relationship.

Rik: I understand you are considering extending Love & Capes to a fourth story arc. What’s planned for the fourth arc?

Thom: Lots of things have to line up before that can happen, and to say what I have planned for the fourth arc would spoil the third. So, I’m going to have to keep the contents of that to myself for now. It’ll be something that people want to see, though. I will promise unequivocally that it will NOT be the super-divorce. Mark and Abby are a happy couple, and that’s a rich field to mine for some time to come.

About Rik Offenberger

Rik Offenberger has worked in the comic field as a retailer, distributor, reporter and public relations coordinator since 1990. He owns and operates the e-mail bases Super Hero News service, and his published works in print can be seen in The Comics Buyers Guide, Comic Retailer, Borderline Magazine, Comics International and Alter Ego. On the internet he has worked as a writer and/or editor for Silver Bullet Comicbooks, Comics Continuum, Comic Bits Online, Comic Book Resources, Newsarama and here at First Comics News.