Exclusive: Interview with Howard the Duck’s Chip ZdarskyMarch 20, 2015
It’s good to see so many Canadian artists and writers that have their work in what is easily the biggest comic company going right now: Marvel. Chip Zdarsky is one of the lucky ones that found himself a place among Marvel’s vast talents, working alongside the talented Joe Quinones on the new Howard the Duck ongoing series. In a moment that he describes as ‘terrifying’ when first hired by Marvel, Zdarsky has already shown that the ideas he has for Howard are absurdly wonderful and leave us wanting more. We had the chance to catch up with the talented writer and artist when he visited Big B Comics for a quick interview.
What were your first thoughts when Marvel approached you about Howard the Duck?
Terror. Terror is usually my first thought about anything anyone asks me to do. It was the kind of thing where the editor I worked with on a couple small things asked “have you seen Guardians of the Galaxy?” and I said, “Oh yeah, it was fun!” and he says, “Howard is at the end of that…” spoilers, by the way… and he says, so I think Howard might be a big thing now, we should do something! It became something like a game of chicken, where I didn’t know if I had the job or not. I would pitch to him and we would keep going back and forth about designs of the character, or artists. He asked if I wanted to do a cover and start writing a script. But… no one has told me if I have the job. Do I assume I have the job? I never had the moment where I was like “look at me! I’m writing Howard the Duck!” because I never had anyone tell me I had the job. Which is weird because I’ve written three issues. I guess I have the job?
Do you think the clip of Howard at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy bore a sudden, renewed interest in the character?
No, but I think that was the assumption on Marvel’s part. I think most people that stay past the credits that didn’t know about Howard the Duck and just saw this duck drinking a martini they’d be like “oh, I dunno” and then forget about it. Its funny, Marvel really wanted me to incorporate Guardians of the Galaxy [into the comic] and bridge the gap, but I still find it hard to believe that someone would watch the movie, stayed past the credits, saw a duck and went, “I’ve got to get to a comic store and see what this duck is about!”
Most of the people I’ve been talking to about Howard remember him from the old movie, watching it late at night, or distant memories of it being good when it wasn’t… [laughs] so I think it’s that. A lot of people have a nostalgia for the character, some through the comics and most through the movie, so they are coming to the comics, but we are trying to keep it entry level too.
The artwork is very bold in the comic and compliments the writing well. Is this how you envisioned it?
The best part is, when Marvel first approached me, they asked if I would draw it, but I said no because I didn’t have the time with doing Sex Criminals. They floated some names by me and asked me to do some redesigns which I said sure to, so I did these redesigns and sent them in once I was happy with them and then they hired Joe [Quinones] as the artist for the book and he did some redesigns. They were so much better than mine, I questioned my abilities as an artist and I fell into a pit of self-loathing. I’ve had to train myself with the script to not picture it, because if I do, and then I see what Joe gives me back and it’s so much better than what I pictured and I’ll start hating myself again. I write it, and then I get the art back and I’m pleasantly surprised and it doesn’t contradict anything in my head.
How difficult was it to breathe new life into a character that hasn’t starred in a comic since 2007?
It is a little bit tricky. Part of my reluctance at the beginning was that Howard is so closely linked to his creator, Steve Gerber. I knew that no matter what I did, I can’t compare favourably to him. You want to maintain the essentials of the character but not necessarily the essentials of the original run. I don’t want to be attempting to be Steve Gerber because therein lies madness. I’ll go crazy. People would be like |close, but no cigar!”.
A lot of the satirical elements were downplayed and I played up the popularity of Marvel properties lately. I’m putting in guest stars because the old comics really reflected pop culture at the time with a lot of satire. Nowadays, Marvel is pop culture. Everywhere we look, there’s like a new Marvel movie coming out. I figured I would populate the book with Marvel characters and give it that feel that Howard is trapped in this world of crazy, super powered characters all over the place. That’s a long winded answer… I don’t remember the question…
Did you revisit any of the comics from the 70s for inspiration?
I read them years ago but I did revisit them all recently. The good thing about tackling a character like Howard is that the back-catalogue isn’t so deep. If I was doing Spider-man and I had to read 40,000 comics – that’s not going to happen. But with Howard, the original series was a limited run and he’s been so sporadic since then that it’s easy to take it all in and see what works and what doesn’t. A lot of things we are putting in [the new run] are nods to the old stuff without dwelling on it too much like characters that pop up that were in the original run. Spider-man is in issue one because he was in the first issue of the original run. An old reader will realize that his placement is a nod to the old comic while a new reader will be like “hey, it’s Spider-man!”
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