Through two volumes, 16 issues and a Secret Wars, Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones put Howard the Duck back in the mix at Marvel U – but with September’s issue, it’s all over.
Although never the chart-topper, Zdarsky has said that the upcoming Howard the Duck #11 is a natural end point for the series – and one they had been aiming for since 2015 as the “culmination” of everything they had done.
On the virtual eve of this final issue, Newsarama talked with the writer and artist about their work together, what they learned from doing it, and what’s next for Howard and their own partnership.
Newsarama: Chip, Joe, how would you two to describe the upcoming finale to Howard the Duck coming in September?
Chip Zdarsky: It’s… hard to describe without spoiling things. It’s the culmination of our entire run! Punches are thrown, all of our favorite characters show up, Howard achieves some sort of peace. It’s weird and wild and, I hope, pretty satisfying. I hate unsatisfying endings, so doing this right was pretty important to me!
Joe Quinones: It’s bittersweet to be sure. I always knew I wanted my time on Howard to be finite because I never felt he belonged to me. Howard the Duck is the house that Steve Gerber and Val Mayerick built, Chip and I just got to lease it for a bit. It’s hard because I’ve really grown to love Howard, his cast and the great group of people that help put out our issues each month.
Nrama: When news broke that the series was ending, Chip was quick to clarify that this was the natural end point. At what point did this second volume's #11 become the conclusion for two?
Zdarsky: I had these arcs roughly planned out from the beginning, but we knew for sure that it would be a solid ending point for our run at the start of this post-Secret Wars volume. It felt like a good thing: to walk away once we’ve told our story. But man, finishing the last script was tough. I kind of wanted to go “Ha ha what a joker! Of course I’m going to keep going!” This book has been incredibly fun.
Nrama: Through these two volumes, you two seemed to thrive at interacting with larger Marvel continuity but doing it on your own terms. Was there ever any conscious talk to say - "Hey, we want Howard the Duck to be a serious part of Civil War II?" or another event series, or the opposite?
Zdarsky: Part of the joy of doing a Marvel book is being able to use those characters and their history. We strived to make the book accessible to new readers, but older readers would get an extra kick from some of our reference points. So, yeah, it’s steeped in continuity, but hopefully never to the point of exclusion. And we stayed away from the events because they never really worked naturally with the story we were telling. And since Howard’s not an Avenger or a Fantastic Four-er, having him be a part of these events wasn’t integral.
Nrama: Chip, from Prison Funnies to Zdarsky-Verse, Sex Criminals, and this - you've always worked at some biting commentary on life while coating it dark (and sometimes pun-filled) humor. How was it doing that with Howard the Duck, under the corporate umbrella of Marvel?
Zdarsky: Great! The learning curve wasn’t too difficult since I was a lifelong Marvel reader, so I kind of instinctively knew how far I could go in the scripts. Also, I worked as a writer and cartoonist for a newspaper for almost 14 years, so working within boundaries isn’t that hard for me.
Nrama: You've been a long-time Howard the Duck fan - how has doing almost 20 issues of the book changed how you see him?
Zdarsky: I think my main takeaway is that no one can write the character as well as Steve Gerber. Which is something I knew coming onto the book, but it really cemented itself in my head as I went along. There’s a feeling that Howard was Gerber in a lot of ways, and to try to imitate that feels like a recipe for failure. So, as the book progressed, I felt a bit more like I wrote Howard as an extension of myself: sadder and more exhausted. To me now he’s more like a vehicle for the anti-social tendencies of whatever writer is assigned to the character.
Nrama: Joe, how about you?
Quinones: I had the barest impression of Howard from the 1986 movie and what little I’d seen of the comics before signing on to the book. Basically I just thought of him as a grumpy duck. After signing on however, I went back to read the original Gerber stuff and came to appreciate the social commentary that he coupled with comedy, couched in the Marvel Universe. Chip’s version, placed more centrally within the Marvel U, lampoons it, while dealing more deeply with Howard as an emotional (duck) person. There was some real sincerity hidden behind Howard's sarcasm and anger, camouflaged amidst jokes about space surfers and sad spiders-men. Howard is a caricature of us all and I think as creators we can’t help but imbue a bit of ourselves onto him. There have certainly been several panels I’ve drawn throughout our run where I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Howard is me. I am Howard!”
Nrama: Joe, you've done work at Marvel, DC, and elsewhere before, but for many you made your name with this book. I knew you well before this with Project: Rooftop, and never imagined you having this much a 'funny bone' so to speak. Signing onto this series initially, did you feel you were a humor artist?
Quinones: Well I’ve always enjoyed comedy. I don’t know that I’d label myself a humor artist necessarily, but it’s always been in my wheelhouse. Certainly there have been instances in the past, whether laying out comics, or composing a cover, where my instinct would be to go for a funny gag. With more serious comics, I’d often have to step that back a bit, but with Howard I was able to really flex those muscles. It’s been great fun.
Nrama: I don't know how well you two knew each other before Howard the Duck, but how is your relationship now that you've done this much work together?
Zdarsky: We didn’t know each other at all when this started! Which made it halfway between a work blind date and a work arranged marriage. But we’ve been together for two years now and I couldn’t be happier. He is attentive to my needs and very understanding and caring and draws a great duck.
Quinones: Chip writes a great duck. And a great comic; fun and varied, with well rounded, emotionally deep characters and a great comedic sense. Chip’s a great artist as well, and so as a writer he has an innate sense of how to visualize his words and shape his script to an artist’s advantage. His scripts are a blast to draw. Hi Chip. Hugs.
Nrama: In some cases, work-for-hire partners spirit off to do a creator-owned book after this – Gerber even did it once after Howard. Could you see you and Joe doing that?
Zdarsky: Oh yeah, for sure! Been shopping around Gary the Duck for a while now!
Quinones: And this duck doesn’t wear pants. There, are you happy, everyone?
Nrama: #11 comes out in a month - is this it for you and Howard, or could you see yourself returning to him in some shape or form down the road?
Zdarsky: Ha! I already gave him a cameo in Star-Lord! I can’t quit you, Howard.
Quinones: I love Howard and could never fully quit him.
Nrama: So what's next for you two - individually, and as I asked before, possibly together?
Zdarsky: Well, like I said, I have Star-Lord coming up with Kris Anka, which is shaping up to be super fun and at least 10% sexier than Howard the Duck. Working ahead on Sex Criminals and a new series I’m co-writing with Matt for Annie Wu to illustrate.
Quinones: Chip and I have talked about other projects at Marvel, so hopefully we’ll get to work together again in the future.
Zdarsky: If he’s not sick of me…