The first Image panel of the C2E2 weekend was Image Comics Presents: Creators Own Humor.
Moderated by David Brothers, the panel featured comic guests Chip Zdarsky, Skottie Young, and Ryan Browne waxing poetic about their individual brands of humor that appear in their work. Poop jokes, dick jokes, the whole wide world of humor.
Zdarsky and Young slapped each others asses in greeting, being the only ones who made it to the panel on time, and Brothers opened up the panel by asking the creators to talk a little about the projects that they're working on.
"Well I'm doing I Hate Fairyland, shooting for an October with Image Comics," said Young. "It's about looking into that classic story where a kid finds themselves in a magical world of witches and dragons, and they come home and they've learned some sort of lesson. Gurt isn't really good at quests and stuff, so when she finds her fairyland she ends up stuck there for thirty some-odd years. She hates everything, she just wants to go the fuck home."
Zdarky said of his Kaptara, "It's essentially Skottie's book with a different title. It just came out this week, I'm real excited about it. It's nostalgia for He-Man figures and their rippling muscles. It's kind of a Wizard of Oz style journey through this world of action figures. It's maybe a journey of discovery? Of one's… self?"
"Who the fuck is this crashing our panel?" Zdarsky asked, as Browne made his belated entrance onto the stage.
"God Hates Astronauts is about jokes and humor…" began Browne. "There's some violence. It's an Image book? I don't know, that's about it. It's a superhero parody, but really a parody of Die Hard and Robocop with like a hint of Family Matters."
"I love that all of our books are nostalgia-based," laughed Zdarsky.
Brothers went on, asking the three how they got to the point in their humor where they weren't actively hurting anyone's feelings.
"The safest way to tell the joke is to make me the butt of the joke," replied Zdarsky. "I learned pretty early on what the lines were. There's nothing funny to me about punching down. And because I'm a garbage human, almost everything is punching up for me."
"I don't necessarily think about that while I'm doing it," Young said. "I grew up reading MAD Magazine and The Farside, so to me, that's just kind of what storytelling was. So I do storytelling like that - I don't think of it as making jokes."
"It's really effortless to me," noted Browne. "I'm just feeding off exactly what I want to do. It's so self-serving. I'm comfortable doing it because I've set all the rules for myself."
"I find it almost easier working on Howard the Duck than Kaptara because there are rules in place that are set by other people," added Zdarsky. "Kaptara is so open-ended and that freezes me a little more."
The panel then moved into the audience Q&A portion of the evening.
An audience member asked if any of the panelists had ever done improv, and if so, if they think it helped in their comedy writing.
"I've long had an idea for a stand-up," started Zdarsky, "where I go up there and I'm just bombing. And I look out into the crowd and make eye contact with my girlfriend, and she looks at me and mouths 'You can do it! You can do it!' And I stand there, and I just start pissing myself. And it's just both of us making eye contact, and she's crying, and I'm just pissing myself."
"I haven't done any," said Young. "It's so different to write something and get up in front of people with it."
Young and Zdarsky improvise for a minute about socks to general applause.
"I think also that when you're doing comics you're isolated," added Browne. "You don't know if the joke is funny or not. And then so much goes into it that the joke loses all of its energy to you. Getting an immediate response from a laugh at something you said is so different than having someone come up to you and say they thought your book that you've worked on forever was funny."
A fan asked the panelists if they have a specific method of breaking creative block when a joke just isn't working.
"Mine is an absurd sound effect, when all else fails," said Young. "The Scud school of sound effects. If I have a spread and I think nothing on it is funny, I do that."
"I just try to push it to the page break," Browne said. "If you can build up the tension or story to that page flip then you can completely flip what's happening on the next page."
"My go-to is sadness," admitted Zdarsky. "Like a background character is all of a sudden really sad. Compassion amongst throw-away background monsters. And dildos. Sad dildos."
Zdarsky was asked about the quantity of jokes he's able to put into Sex Criminals, and he ever finds himself holding back.
"I think there were 74 jokes in that one panel at the porn store. A lot of that stems from my guilt for someone paying $3.50 for what I've done. The key to holding back is time, for one, and also the scene. If people are talking about feelings I'm not gonna put some fuck joke in the background. I'm not a monster."
The panelists were asked if they've ever gone overboard with a joke, to which Zdarsky immediately replied, "Nope."
"When you get older, and recognize punching down and when things are actually funny in life, we just know instinctually," he added.
"There have definitely been those moments," began Browne, "and then I just went with it anyways. Those are usually the moments people point out as their favorites, so I continue to do exactly what I want to do and hope the jokes hit. I try to make sure nothing is nasty or insulting. I don't think it's fun. So my book is offensive, but I'm not gonna make really loaded stuff that can hit people the wrong way."
When asked for favorite sex tips, Zdarsky deadpanned, "The tip of my penis. That's kind of obvious."
Next was a question about the writing process, and whether the comics the panelists write start out as jokes, or if the jokes come later.
"For me there's no rule," replied Young. "It really depends on the scenario. Sometimes drawing leads into jokes, and it goes both ways."
"I come up with the basic beats," said Zdarsky, "and then I'll kind of go 'What funny things will arise from this?' and marry them together. Real beautiful mind shit."
"I'm very visual in nature - I'm not entirely convinced I know how to read," said Browne. "I find something that makes me laugh, and then go from there. There are no scripts for my book. I make a loose outline and then go back and forth, changing what's happening based on new ideas. It's a process of feeding off the ideas I had earlier, and changing with what's the best. I don't work in an efficient way."
An audience member asked Zdarsky how much of his work is pulled from real life and how much is research.
"Well a lot of the stuff in Sex Criminals really happened in real life," he replied. "There's a scene where John has just broken up with an old girlfriend, and he's crying in the rain and goes to a matinee of Shrock? That was me breaking up with my wife. She basically said she wanted to be separated, and I just went out into the rain, and I had nowhere to go and was just crying in the rain, so I went to a matinee of Shrek."
"I just sat there in the theater," Zdarsky continued, "having burst all my blood vessels from crying, surrounded by children just crying through Shrek. So yeah… there's stuff in there."
The final question of the day was how the creators go about a typical workday.
"I go to the studio from 9-5," said Young. "And then I'll go home and just write while Teen Titans Go! is on and my 5-year old son just goes crazy. Most of my writing I do in the evening."
"I wake up early from anxiety everyday now just because of the workload," finished Zdarsky. "And then I start working and I just don't stop until like midnight. Probably headed for another Shrek divorce."