Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our continuing look at the best comics online! Check out our archives for dozens of past recommendations. We have a whole week of new interviews coming your way, starting with one that’s a hunk-a-hunk-a-burning…hellfire.
Where there’s mystery, mysticism and mayonnaise, the King of the Unknown is on the case. This big bad dude and former rock legend is working with the Institute for Research and Study of the Unknown (IRSU) to take down those trying to bring about the apocalypse, be they headless horsemen, mummies or skunkapes, with a runnin’ crew that includes a robot Leonardo Da Vinci, thoroughly irate new agent Grace Connor and more. If you’re with the forces of evil, remember what a great man once said: You come at The King, you best not miss.Violent, profane and hilarious, King of the Unknown proves that the supernatural can’t stand up to a superstar. We got up with writer/artist Marcus Muller about his strip and what it takes to bring The King to life.
Newsarama: Marcus, what was the initial inspiration for the story?
Marcus Muller: A few years ago, one of my friends, Amado Rodriguez, was putting together an anthology of creators from the Midwest. He asked me if wanted me to contribute something to the second volume of the anthology, Muscles and Fights.I tried to think of something with that concept, and the silliest idea I had was, “What if Elvis fought Bigfoot?” You know, the two most mythological things you could think of, fighting. My brother was going to do the grey tones for it, and he suggested instead of Bigfoot, that I use Skunkape, the Bigfoot of the South.
From there I got the idea to make the Skunkape a redneck and set the fight in a trailer park in the South. Fun stuff. I have that and another early King story on my deviantART page, but I have to warn ya, they’re not as polished as the current KotU comic, and I didn’t have the character quite as nailed down as I do now.
Even before I was done with that first story, though, I liked the whole idea I was developing for the character as an investigator for a BPRD-type organization. So I came up with this whole pitch for an animated series that I sent to Adult Swim, but I never heard back! That pitch became the bible for the entirety of the comic series. My dream is to still do it as an animated series one of these days though.
Nrama: How’d you develop the character of The King?
Muller: At first he kind of started as a parody of what I knew of Elvis or stories I’d heard about him, but since I started this, I’ve gone back and done a lot of research on Elvis and his life, and fleshed out certain elements that key into main elements of the story.The character now is a bit different – he went through a bit of a supernatural experience around the time he supposedly died, so now after years of dealing with the paranormal and all this weirdness, it’s like hardly anything fazes him and he doesn’t take anything too seriously. The guy has a smartass answer to everything.
Nrama: How far ahead are you in terms of creating the comic?
Muller: I actually have a whole series of storylines planned, which will build to an eventual ending. I want to do this as something like six seasons of a comic with 10-12 stories per season. I don’t have all the stories written, but I have the whole damn thing right up to the very last story of the last season all mapped out in a notebook.I have story ideas for the first season written, most of which are either in some form of script stage or detailed plot outline, and going into the second season, many of those stories are broken down in outline form. But since most of the first season’s stories are already scripted, it’s just a matter of my sitting down and doing the art. A lot of the story for this whole series is planned out, but there’s enough wiggle room to add onto it if there’s ever a need to.
Nrama: How did you develop your art style, and who were some of your biggest influences?
Muller: I’ve been trying to get into comics as long as I can remember – I was going to comic conventions at 16 and showing portfolios to editors. But I didn’t really develop an art style until after high school. I always liked animated stuff, and once I got into doing that, everything kind of clicked.I’m a big fan of Jeff Matsuda. I will fight anyone who doesn’t think Jackie Chan Adventures is one of the greatest cartoons ever! In terms of storytelling, I’m also a big fan of Katsuhiro Otomo; you probably won’t see that much obvious influence of his on King of the Unknown, but I don’t think there’s a better storyteller out there than Otomo. The worlds his comics take place in seem so real and his storytelling is so clean but detailed.
Animation (whether it’s American, Japanese, European, whatever) is probably one of the biggest influences on my work, though – I’m trying to do sort of an animated series in comic form with King of the Unknown.In terms of story influences on King of the Unknown, I’d have to say stuff like The X-Files and Ghostbusters have had a huge influence on the comic. My editor likes to call the character of The King “the special needs Agent Mulder.” One of the things I thought I was going to be as a kid when I grew up was a Ghostbuster, like that was an actual profession. (laughs) So that was a big influence on me.
Nrama: What are some other comics you’re currently enjoying?
Muller: I’m kind of out of the loop, because I usually only buy comics when I go to conventions. In terms of webcomics, I’m a big fan of all the Transmission X stuff, The Abominable Charles Christopher and Kukuburi are my favorites on there, but all of them are really great. I really like what Ethan Nicolle’s doing on Bearmageddon, that’s got a fun Shaun of the Dead horror vibe going on with it.I just got into Atomic Robo. Whenever Grant Morrison does something with Frank Quitely, I have to pick that up. I’ll still reread through the complete collection of Jeff Smith’s Bone a few times a year. Hellboy, I’m a bit behind on that, but I read it. And I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Paul Pope’s Battling Boy too.
Nrama: What new opportunities do you feel are available to comics’ creators through such new delivery systems as iPads and smartphones?
Muller: I haven’t really done anything with that yet – I’ve talked about doing something like a compilation on comiXology, but it’s too early for that. Webcomics are excellent in that you get feedback from people right away – our fanbase is pretty small, we’ve just started out, but you can interact directly with people.I try to post links on Facebook to things that influenced the story, like articles on cryptozoology or just other sheer weirdness that fans of the comic may enjoy. I’ve never been a huge fan of social media myself, as I always thought it was a huge time killer, but I’m slowly realizing that it’s necessary if you want to get your work out there and maintain an interaction with a possible fanbase. So I’m learning.
And you know, it really helps to have an editor for a webcomic, because it’s like getting reader feedback while you’re working on it. So much of a story is in your head, and it helps to have someone there to tell you when something isn’t necessarily making sense, or when you need more information to make what it is clear in your head clear to the reader. I’ve had Andrew Carl as my editor on this strip, and he really helps to keep the comic focused and on point.
Nrama: Your bio mentions you did some work for DC Comics in the past…
Muller: Yeah, a few years ago I did some work for their Creative Services department. I did a Lego Batman promotional comic and a few other projects before the editor I was working under got laid off. It seems like in the comics industry that if the editor who’s giving you work goes away, you stop getting work yourself…so that sucks (laughs).It was an interesting experience, but I prefer doing my own work, telling my own stories. In superhero comics, it can feel like you’re just telling the same stories over and over again – I like superhero stories, but given the choice, I’d rather do creator-owned work.
Nrama: What’s comin’ up for The King?
Muller: The first story is kind of a day in the life of The King, and gives the reader an idea of what to expect. From here on, we’re going to start to get into the main direction of where the first season is heading. I don’t want to give too much away, but we’ll get more into The King’s past, and what led him to the point where he is now.
That’ll lead to the end of the first season, which involves all kinds of apocalyptic stuff, where he’ll get help from some old friends and a few new ones from his organization. But it’s going to be getting bigger and bigger as the comic goes on.
Nrama: Are you working on any other projects?
Muller: I’m working on a comic project with writer Mark Ricketts, a sci-fi story taking place in WWII. It won’t be out this year – it’s very detail-intensive – but hopefully it’ll be out as a four-issue miniseries in 2013.
Once Upon a Time Machine is coming out this October – in it is an updated telling of “The Tortoise and the Hare” story that I worked on with writer David Tanh.Other than that, I do freelance design work on the side. I have a few children’s stories that need to get colored, and then I’ll be shopping them around. I’m always keeping pretty busy with stuff.
But before we wrap up, I have to give credit to Michael Sisk, too, for the King of the Unknown website. I only gave him a few things to go off in terms of site design, and he created something that really compliments the look of the comic. He did a really awesome job on that.
Nrama: Anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t covered yet?
Muller: Again, I want to give a lot of credit to my editor and my site designer. They’ve done a lot of work that’s helped the comic. Also, we had a bit of a scare with the website’s host recently, but luckily we were saved by the great L. Jamal Walton swooping in just in time. I really can’t thank him enough, because my broke ass is already trying to scrounge up enough cash to get to New York Comic Con in October.As for the actual comic, I just want to make something that’s hopefully different from what you can get from other comics that are out there, and something that has a strong sense of humor to boot. I think all of that’s a given though from a comic that features the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll punching out an elderly woman.
Rock the forces of evil with the King of the Unknown at www.kingoftheunknown.com.
Next: Venture into the crazy-detailed world of Michael DeForge’s Ant Comic! Then: Greek mythology gets turned on its head in GastroPhobia, we take a trip to Red’s Planet and head into the dark with Serenity Rose! All this and more as Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics continues!Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!