Exclusive: From writer and artist Jeff Martin (Hockeypocalypse, War of 1812), comes Where is Zog? The comic series was originally published on HeavyMetal.com and has officially launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a print book that is a must-buy for fans of Gwar and 70’s Sci-Fi. Here’s my interview with creator Jeff Martin to discuss the inspiration behind his comic and more!
Where Is Zog? is the story of Grum and Zill, who are the survivors of a crash landing on an uncharted planet. They latch onto the idea of finding Zog to give themselves hope and direction, but that’s only useful if they don’t get themselves eaten by space monsters.
Go to the Kickstarter Page RIGHT HERE! (Campaign Ends November 9, 2017)
Keven: Congrats on winning your Kickstarter to produce a hard copy of Where is Zog?! How does that feel?
Jeff: It’s certainly a lot of pressure off of my shoulders, given that it funded over a week prior to the deadline. I wasn’t looking forward to a potential “just in the nick of time” finish. But it also feels great to see the level of support that’s been shown for the project, in general.
Keven: I’m super stoked that you got that sweet paper upgrade, I know you said it was a modest improvement but honestly, I’m actually really happy that you got that – the colors in this book are so tasty that better paper will easily enhance the experience.
Jeff: Yeah, I was actually planning on using that paper either way, and just paying the difference out of pocket, to be honest. It’s such an improvement, even though it’s the kind of thing you don’t really think about until you see it. I’m looking forward to seeing the proof on the new paper next week.
Keven: Did you know ahead of time that what kind of colors you’d be using? I love the choices – it definitely reminds me of classic album art — it’s trippy stuff and honestly one of the things that drew me to the series to begin with.
Jeff: When I was designing Grum and Zill, I knew the general colour schemes I wanted to use for them. The blue and silver space suits were part of those initial concepts, as well as their skin colours. A bit of tweaking occurred, but those colour schemes are more or less what made it to the final product. The rest of it was made up as I went along. One of the goals I had with Zog, early on, was to use it to teach myself how to colour more effectively. Part of that was learning how to develop palettes and use the colours as a visually unifying element. Specific colour choices were often made by figuring out what colour something wouldn’t be if it was on Earth. That’s why trees are purple, rocks are a sort of teal-blue, the sky is orange, etc. Oddly, a lot of the creatures have fairly plausible, muted colour schemes.
Keven: The world, creatures, aliens, everything is so beautiful to look at in Zog and has a big history to it, as I see you’ve explained in your amazing field guide that will be included in the back of the book, how much fun was fleshing all that information out?
Jeff: It was one of my favourite things about writing the series. Trying to develop a plausible history and culture to these different races while still maintaining a certain amount of alien-ness to them was a challenge that let me dip into a lot of different fields. I read a lot about sociology, anthropology, and history in University, and getting to put those ideas to direct use was very satisfying. It helped that I had decided early on to use the Kultaari’s previous attempt at colonizing the planet as a touchstone while I was developing each of the cultures on the planet. That kept them from spiraling off and feeling like they didn’t inhabit the same world.
Keven: Where is Zog? was originally published online at Heavymetal.com and after reading it, you can totally see how it fits in with that world. I felt serious throwback vibes to the 80’s animated Heavy Metal film actually, even in the look of some of the creatures. Was that intentional, or how did you come up with some of the designs?
Jeff: Having it fit in with the aesthetic of the Heavy Metal movie was on purpose, definitely. I knew that was the primary touchstone that most people would have for Heavy Metal, so I wanted to be able to tell them “yeah, it’s on HeavyMetal.com” and have them be able to see the connection right away. The creature designs were actually heavily inspired by the design work in the relaunched Prophet series by Brandon Graham and Simon Roy. Simon has a great feel for making creatures’ biology seem plausible and natural, and I wanted to try to create that feeling while still making it feel like my own thing.
Keven: I love the Heavy Metal movie – and I grew up reading the magazines too (maybe my first experience with seeing nudity and all kinds of shenanigans and yet those books were just sitting on the shelf next to the other comics). Do you have a favourite segment from the film? Mine was the trial where the witness turns into a big monster. Comedy and horror and sci-fi all rolled into one.
Jeff: The one I remember most strongly is the Taarna segment, where she’s riding on the flying creature. Given heavy metal music’s love of badass barbarian visuals, it was kind of perfect.
Keven: Let’s talk about some inspiration for this comic — Gwar. I listen to Gwar – I love Gwar. Not many people listen to and or love Gwar. How did you get into them?
Jeff: The first time I saw GWAR was on the old MuchMusic show Loud. They played the “Sick Of You” video, and I was immediately fascinated by this band of space monsters. Given most metal bands are just a bunch of long-haired white dudes in t-shirts, this band dressed up as monsters from outer space and spraying fake blood and jizz everywhere was captivating. I bought “Scumdogs of the Universe” shortly thereafter, and they’ve just kept getting better and weirder. Where Is Zog? draws pretty heavily from the Lust In Space album (kind of obviously, given the track that gave Zog it’s inspiration is on there), as well as War Party and Violence Has Arrived.
Keven: When I saw them live, it was Sounds of The Underground, some crazy day-long metal festival in Edmonton, YEARS AGO – I loved it. I still have this hat I wore to the show stained with fake blood from President Bush’s severed head (yes he was still president at that time).
Jeff: I’m going to see them for the first time next week, and I’m very excited about it. Based on their Warped Tour shows, I expect to see a lot of people covered in fake Trump blood.
Keven: I was actually quite sad when I found out their singer Oderus died – he was a great frontman – almost like a pro-wrestler, just hilarious and over the top. I’m not sure I dig the new guy they have – I need time to process that still.
Jeff: Oderus’ passing was one of the few celebrity deaths that actually elicited a reaction from me. His weird vocal range and cartoonish personality were so perfect for the band. I haven’t heard a ton of Blothar yet, but I like his costume. The giant antlers and udder of dicks are a good first impression.
Keven: I loved your “Survivors” story, especially the look on that one characters several eyes after Grum mentions he’s seen the inside of a butt-hole. That was brilliant visual comedy man.
Jeff: Thank you! “Survivors” was originally done for the Heavy Metal magazine, but based on their selection process works, I have no idea when/if it will see the light of day, so I made sure to format each page so I could break them in half and fit them into the book. I wanted to show that the crew on the ship Grum and Zill were on was huge, and that more of them had survived than just our bumbling heroes, and this was a good way to do that AND tie it back to the first incident in the comic. The nice thing about all of the characters being aliens is that I have a lot of options for expressions that I might not have otherwise. Grum, for example, doesn’t have pupils, so the shape of his eyes needs to be heavily exaggerated to convey his reactions. The three-eyed guy has so many eyes that it maximizes what I can do with a close-up on them.
Keven: The book was hilarious – I loved it dude. Very good stuff. What inspired the relationship/banter between your two lead characters Grum and Zill?
Jeff: Thanks! I’ve found I really enjoy the comedy duo set-up, which was something I had used previously in Redcoats-ish: Jeff Martin’s War of 1812. It kept the cast small and focused, but allowed me to write a lot of dialogue jokes, which are some of my favourite things to write. Grum and Zill’s particular relationship was set up by determining what their personalities would be like. I knew Grum was going to be bold, imaginative, and someone who thought he could talk his way out of anything, but actually couldn’t. Zill was going to be more cautious but more practically effective. Once that dynamic was established, any issues with writing them could be solved by going back to that foundation.
Keven: Over the course of the series, everyone has a different version of what “Zog” means to them on this planet as the search continues, which actually adds this deep spiritual layer to the book, was that by design?
Jeff: Very much so. Early on I decided that I wanted Zog to be mysterious but not necessarily a mystery, if that makes sense. While Grum and Zill are driven by finding Zog, I didn’t want it to be a Lost-style mystery to be solved. Grum and Zill know what they’re looking for. I wanted to explore the idea of hope, and whether having that hope is actually more important than whether or not the thing you hope for comes to fruition.
Keven: Are there plans to continue Where is Zog? as an on-going series?
Jeff: Not as an on-going, per se, but I have a graphic novel idea that continues Grum and Zill’s adventures, while continuing to examine the idea of hope and also serving as a loose adaptation of a Russian novel, “We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin, that was sort of a precursor to “1984.” I don’t have any immediate plans to work on that, but it’s something to keep in my back pocket and bust out somewhere down the road.