In recent years the name of Chip Zdarsky has made its way into the world of US comics and into the hearts of fans: the first works with Image, the work in Marvel on titles related to Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Howard The Duck up to the ongoing series of Daredevil and the debut in DC Comics on Batman, without ever interrupting his commitment in the creator-owned field.
Eclectic author, capable of varying from drama to wild humor, winner of several Eisner and Harvey awards, we reached him to talk about his career, his works and, yes, even his name!
Hi Chip and thank you very much for your time. Let’s start from the very beginning: when did you start thinking about writing comics? We know that your background is a bit different, as you’re coming from the world of journalism.
I honestly never expected to write comics! I worked for a newspaper for a decade and would periodically put out my self-published works. And then Sex Criminals took off and I did a couple of little gigs for Marvel and was asked to pitch a Howard the Duck series and everything took off from there!
You are Canadian by birth and you come from a land that has given so much to North American indie (and not only) comics since the mid-80s of the last century. Is there any Canadian author who inspired you or who you looked at as a model when you decided to become a cartoonist?
Nobody specifically! As a kid I loved John Byrne and was super excited when I discovered he was Canadian. A guy who wrote AND drew? Pretty exciting!
A curiosity that has haunted us ever since we discovered it (pretty recently, to be honest…): where did the choice to write under a pseudonym come from and why did you chose this one in particular?
Ha! It was mostly to keep my newspaper career and comics work separate, but since then it’s clearly taken on a life of its own! “Chip” was a reference to Charles Schulz (Chip is short for Charles) and “Zdarsky” was the last name of a friend.
In addition to being a comic writer, you are also an artist. What came first? And who influenced your very clean and minimal drawing style?
Well, to be honest, newspaper deadlines influenced my minimal drawing style! Growing up I kept trying to copy guys like Jim Lee, but I hold my pencil with a strange grip where it actually hurts to draw, so I kept it simple!
How does your experience as an artist help you write scripts? Is it easier, in your opinion, to communicate to the artists you work with what you have in mind?
I think it’s easier for me. At the very least I know how much work drawing is, so I can be more conscious about what I’m asking of the artists. Also, I sometimes do rough sketches for my artists when I can’t convey something with just words, which is helpful.
The first volume of your current run on Daredevil has just been released here in Italy. While we were reading these stories we could clearly see how your study of the character goes hand in hand with the awareness of Matt Murdock himself. What is your relationship with this superhero, what do you think are the most fascinating and strongest points of him?
I’ve been reading Daredevil comics since I was a teenager! He’s a character of contradictions. A lawyer who breaks the law, a Catholic who dresses as the Devil. I love writing him because of those things. His inner conflict is a true feast for a writer.
In your current run a fundamental point is Matt Murdock’s faith, which has never been exploited and analyzed from the very first issue as in this case. Is there in this work some kind an autobiographical aspect about your relationship with faith?
Not so much! My mother is Catholic and I’m really an agnostic these days. But I’m fascinated by religion and especially the specific kind of Catholic guilt that believers can have. Matt Murdock delving deep into man’s laws while trying to reconcile them with God’s laws is a fun thing to explore.
Another character that you written in different stories is Spider-Man, and there are so many who appreciate your approach to the character. I think this approach is the main key of the great success of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man. What is the aspect you enjoyed working on the most and what other aspects would you like to deepen if you had to write the character again?
I love how malleable he is as a character. You can do very light, comical stories with him and quite dark tales about responsibility to others. My final issue of Spectacular was about the various ways people see the character, which is a thing I’d like to explore more: the world’s relationship to Spider-Man.
I think that J.J. Jameson is one of the best character of that run. Both you and him are journalists: how did your personal experience helped you in writing the character? Have you ever met a J.J. Jameson in your career?
Luckily I’ve never met a real JJJ! One of my favorite issues that I got to write was our Spectacular annual with Mike and Laura Allred on art. I suppose my background helped a bit with that issue as we explored the fact that JJJ’s war on Spidey was the original “fake news”!
Your approach to Spider-Man in Life Story comic has been successful, so much so that it will be applied to other Marvel heroes. What are the advantages and disadvantages of observing and writing a as time passes by as in real life?
It’s hard to get everything you want into an issue, especially if you attempt to do it decade by decade like we did! But when it works it’s quite satisfying to explore these characters mature and learn over their lives.
Speaking of your creator owned works, 2020 was an important year for you, with the success of Afterlift and the conclusion of Sex Criminals. Starting from the first, its genesis is quite interesting: it is one of the first Comixology originals with important authors taking part in it, and now it will be brought to paper by Dark Horse Comics. How did the project and the idea behind this story come about and what was it like working for Comixology?
I love the movie Collateral where Tom Cruise is the passenger from hell in a taxi one night. I started to imagine what it would be like if he was actually a demon and, from there, incorporated the Greek myth of the ferryman and the River Styx. Everything fell into place after that! ComiXology is great to work with. Very supportive of their creators and willing to let us loose creatively.
In Sex Criminals we can clearly see how much fun and love bind you and Matt Fraction, and all this love has been infused into the characters. What was the genesis of this crazy, scurrilous and deeply romantic comic? And did you expect the birth of a community of fans so tied to you, the characters and all the themes you speak about in the comic?
The genesis was just Matt and I wanting to work together on something! We had no idea it was going to be as big as it got. Everything about it surprised us, especially the fan community that rose around it. Just the sweetest, most wonderful fans one could ever hope for. We’ve been incredibly spoiled.
In Sex Criminals you show a new way of narrating sexuality, at least for mainstream comics: many themes, sexual practices, but also problems related to sex are addressed with a mixture of irony but also of great seriousness when needed. Sex in general has always been a complex topic in comics, so how did you decide to approach it in this way?
It was a natural extension of the talks Matt and I would have. We started the book as a joke book about sex, but that only takes you so far. The further you delve into the characters, the more gets revealed around sexual and mental health. The characters led the way, really. Not to mention Matt’s amazing brain.
Now a mean question, given how hard it was for you to say goodbye to Sex Criminals: which character was the hardest to leave behind?
Suzie, 100%. She’s based on a great friend of mine, who would come and model for me with each issue and I really miss the excuse to hang out. She’s Suzie and Suzie is her. My heart swells with love when I draw the character.
Still together with Matt Fraction, you made one of the stories featured in Detective Comics # 1027, Many happy returns, in which you took care of the drawings. In that story, if from a narrative point of view you analyzed the relationship between Batman and the Joker in an original way, from a graphic point of view you enjoyed a series of tributes to the interpretations of the Batman that comics and cinema have given in the decades. As an artist, how do you approach a comic about the Dark Knight?
Well, never in a million years did I expect to get to draw Batman! So I told Matt that I wanted to do a relatively serious story where I get to draw everything, since it may be my only chance! He delivered a magnificent script and I was pretty overwhelmed by it! But once I got my groove it was an incredible experience, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
This 2021 sees you really active on various Batman projects. Can you give us some anticipation on these adventures and tell us what are the narrative ideas that generated them?
Yeah! My Batman / Red Hood story is about fathers and sons and the chasm that happens between them. It’s fun to do something in-continuity with these characters. I have a Batman: Black & White story with Nick Bradshaw which was just an excuse to get Nick to draw the wildest pages I could think of. And my Justice League project! Batman in contrast to other heroes is incredibly fun to write. Hard not to picture the Morrison years when you write that kind of Batman.
You recently returned to Image with Stillwater together with Ramon K. Perez, a solid horror that fits perfectly into the North American tradition of mystery story set in the context of the traditional small countryside towns. What are the main inspirations that have influenced you and Ramon the most? How did you decide to tell this story?
My big inspiration was living in a small town as a kid. We came in as outsiders and were eyed with suspicion in a town where time stood still. The story writes itself after that! I like stories about immortality and this was a great excuse to explore the horror aspect of something like that: is living forever a blessing or a curse? And Ramon is an amazing artist. You give him any kind of mood to draw and he gets it perfectly every time!
Thanks Chip and hope to see you soon in Italy!
Interview done by e-mail in March 2021
Born Steve Murray, for about 10 years he worked as a journalist and illustrator, mainly for the National Post (for which he wrote the Extremely Bad Advice column), but also for The Globe and Mail, New York magazine, CBC and Canadian Business. In 2000, under the pseudonym of Chip Zdarsky he began producing his first comics, Prison Funnies and Monster Cops, as well as starting to collaborate with publishers such as Dark Horse (for which he writes Fierce and Rumble Royale). In 2013 together with Matt Fraction he created Sex Criminals for Image: the success of the series was overwhelming and opened the doors for him to work in Marvel (where he wrote,among others, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel Two-in-One, Starlord, Howard the Duck, Invaders). In 2019 he became the regular writer of Daredevil, working together with Marco Checchetto. In 2020 he creates the original Comixology series Afterlift together with Jason Loo and Stillwater for Image Comics together with Ramon K. Perez. Also in 2020 he made his debut in DC Comics as one of the authors working on Detective Comics 1027 and has been announced as one of the authors of the Batman Black and White anthology. If you want to get to know him better and have a great laugh, subscribe to his hilarious newsletter!