Comic book fans are always looking for that one name that will impress their non-reading friends and magically make comic books cool in the eyes of the uninitiated.=
"See? So-and-so reads comics and he's a famous person!"
Lately, it hasn't been that hard to do. But Jeff Katz, founder of the new comics and film production company American Original, is making it easier with his San Diego Comic-Con announcement of the talent for his new Comedy Death Ray comic book.
The list of people involved in the four-issue anthology reads like a who's who in the world of comedy. Scheduled to debut this winter, Comedy Death Ray will feature stories by actress Janeane Garofalo, comedian Sarah Silverman, Fred Armisen from Saturday Night Live, B.J. Novak from The Office, Mr. Show writers and stars David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, comedian Paul F. Tompkins, comedian Paul Scheer, writer Rob Schrab, and comedian Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover). Add to this a couple of names already familiar to comics readers – Brian Posehn and Patton Oswalt – and Katz is hoping the name recognition alone will be enough to make even the most ignorant comics detractor bolt into the comics shop.
Pulling together all this talent – and even more he hasn't announced yet – is comedian/writer Scott Aukerman, who will edit the book. (Aukerman, who founded the Comedy Death-Ray stage show and is well-known to fans of Mr. Show, recently wrote the MTV Movie Awards, so he's the mind behind that now-classic moment where Bruno fell on Eminem.)
A faithful every-Wednesday comics reader himself, Aukerman talked to Newsarama about why he thinks Comedy Death Ray can bring the funny back to comics.
Newsarama: Scott, I was talking to Jeff Katz about you recently, and he told me a story that you guys met when you were judges for something comics related?
Scott Aukerman: Yeah, we met at the UCB theater in Los Angeles – the Upright Citizens Brigade theater – and it was a comic book themed show where people were coming out and saying who would win in a fight. Like, they were representing Iron Man or they were representing Wonder Woman. And we were judges for who made the best case for who would win. Everyone dressed up as their character.
The judges were Paul Scheer and myself and Jeff. And then I believe it was Marc Andreyko. I had just read his [Katz's] last issue of Booster Gold, and I told him I loved that 12th issue. So we just kind of struck up a friendship from that.
Nrama: At what point did it turn into an offer to work on a comic?
Aukerman: He called me into his office, and he had said he wanted to talk to me about something. I had assumed, because he had done Booster Gold, that it was something to do with DC. But then he laid that bombshell on me that he had just quit Fox and was leaving to start his own company. And he asked if I'd like to do something with him. So automatically, I jumped at the chance, because I've always wanted to write a comic.
Scott Aukerman - hard at work on American Orginal's Comedy Death RayDown the road, I just came up with this idea based on some of the comics I love, like Dan Clowes' Eightball or Peter Bagge's Hate, of just doing a humor anthology with all the comedians I regularly work with.
Nrama: Are most of these people comic book fans?
Aukerman: All of us, I think, have been really into comics. Ever since I've known all these comedians, they've all been into comics. So it's cool that we're going to write some now. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross and I have been to the comics convention together. Sarah Silverman obviously works with Rob Schrab every day, who did Scud: The Disposable Assassin. And Janeane Garofalo is an old comics fan.
Nrama: Yeah, wasn't she on television talking about Y: The Last Man once?
Aukerman: Oh, yeah! I actually gave her the 10th trade of Y when it came out because she'd only read trades 1 through 9 and was wondering where the 10th one was. And I was like, 'Oh, it hasn't come out yet.' And so the day it came out on Wednesday, I saw it in the shop and figured I'd get it for her. So I gave her the 10th one.
So yeah, everyone's a comics fan and more than that, we all like doing stuff together. The Comedy Death Ray aesthetic is a group of friends just working together and doing stuff together. We've all known each other for over a decade. So I think it's just a really good opportunity for people who are interested in the form to not feel like they have to write a continuous series or be responsible for the whole thing.
Nrama: Yeah, 'cause it's not like you guys don't do anything else.
Aukerman: [laughs] Yeah. This is another one of my many hobbies that I won't make any money on.
Nrama: How are you finding artists for the anthology?
Aukerman: We're getting people to draw them. Already, just since the announcement, we've had a few major artists contact us. And actually, three super-huge TV comedians have contacted me and said they wanted to be involved. So I think there is going to be another announcement about people who will be involved in this past just those I could get together for Comic-Con.
Nrama: How often do you think it will be coming out?
Aukerman: I know it's a four-issue series that will be collected to do a trade. Past that, we'll just have to see how well it does and how much work it is.
Nrama: Are you editing these? Or acting more as a controller of what goes in which issue?
Aukerman: It really is depending on what everyone wants to do. Most people really want to write it. Obviously, Patton and Brian are already published comic book authors. But I'm basically going to everyone and saying, hey, what do you want to do with this? If you don't have the time to just sit there by yourself, we could write it together. If you want to come up with an idea, then we could beat it out together and I'll come up with the script. It's really just what everyone's level of time involvement is.
Sarah Silverman and Rob Schrab are going to write it together, then he's going to draw it. So it's kind of the David Cross, writing his contribution to Comedy Death Raysame thing I do with the live show or our CD that we put out on Comedy Central records, or the podcast I do every week. I'm in charge of putting people together, suggesting things, and making sure the result comes out well.
Nrama: Are some of the stories going to be continuing from one issue to another? Or are they going to be short little gags?
Aukerman: I know Zach Galifianakis is probably going to be doing something that's a longer story. So some people are going to be in every issue as a continuing thing, almost like Ghost World and Eightball were. And then some people will be doing just self-contained things. And then some people will be doing one-page kind of strips or jokes. I really want a lot of variety in there, which is what I used to love about Eightball in the early seven or eight issues.
Nrama: As a comics fan, you go in the shop every once in awhile...
Aukerman: Oh, I'm in there weekly. My shop opens at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays and I'm there!
Nrama: Well, Jeff talked about comedy being underrepresented in the marketplace. And there is this feeling among the comic book community right now that the word "fun" means death to a comic book, because it's got to be dramatic and hard-hitting. Why do you think comedy hasn't succeeded as much in comic books? And how do you think Comedy Death Ray will be different enough to find success?
Aukerman: I think it has to do with comics being a serialized art form. So it's dependent upon plot moving forward and dramatic revelations and shocks and twists and turns. A lot of the stuff I read is that way. And the reason why comics are so addictive and why you have to go into the shop on Wednesday and get them right away is that you want to see what happens next. And maybe the knock on humor and anthology books is that there isn't that hook of plot and that dramatic twist where you're wondering what's going to happen next.
But I think the talent involved in our book will get people to take a look at it who normally wouldn't look at a comic, I think. It's the kind of thing that will even stand out in a bookstore, let alone a comic book store. We're going to promote it in the sense that, if you're a Sarah Silverman fan, we want you out there on the shop on Wednesday to pick it up. But some of it will find success in the trade market as well. We really wanted there to be a level of talent there that makes people at least want to check it out.
This is not something that we're doing in order to springboard into other mediums that we'd rather work in. We're all creating these stories just for the comic. That's what our eye is on, making the comic book really, really funny. And everyone's creating new things just for it. This isn't like people taking old movie scripts that they haven't been able to sell and then trying to turn them into a comic to sell a movie. We're all creating things especially for this medium.
Nrama: You sound like you know what long-time comics readers think of Hollywood coming into comics.
Aukerman: Yeah, of course I do. We're not doing this because we want to diversify or hit a target market or something like that.
But this isn't about us trying to get our movie made. I mean, the one thing it is allowing us to do is people who have been interested in doing a comic book for awhile can now do it. And we're pulling it together into something we think could sell.
Nrama: Do you know yet how big these four issues will be?
Aukerman: It's going to be in treasury form, just like Muhammad Ali vs. Superman. And most of them will star Muhammad Ali and/or Superman. We have the right to neither, but we're going to go for it.
No, I don't have any idea as far as page count. Right now I'm in the process of getting scripts in and figuring out the combination of people in each issue and what's going to work best as far as variety and types of stories. And then once all the material is in, we'll see if they're extra-long, 64-page spectaculars, or whether they're the regular 22-page comics.
Nrama: And what are you going to be writing?
Aukerman: My partner that I created Comedy Death Ray with, B.J. Porter and I, are going to be writing something together. I may team up with some of the people we've talked about. And I may team up with some of the people we haven't even announced yet.
Nrama: Okay then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell people about Comedy Death Ray?
Aukerman: Yeah, give us a chance. We all love comics. And we are all doing this because it sounds like fun and we want to write great stories that everyone can enjoy. We all just love comics and we want to make them.