Alex Zalben is going from being a comic to writing one.
With his curly hair and glasses, Zalben has a face that is pretty recognizable to fans of Internet comedy and comics. He's part of the "Elephant Larry" comedy sketch group and also hosts the weekly online show Comic Book Club, which was preceded by a show called The Stack.
But after years of working on the "fan" side of comics, even helping out here at Newsarama on the interviewing side of things, he broke into comic writing with a story in Hulk Team-Up and now gets his own mini-series.
In April, Marvel will begin releasing Zalben's four-issue mini-series, Thor and The Warriors Four, which takes the Power Pack on a journey to Asgard to save their dying grandmother.
Newsarama talked to Zalben about the comic, how he got started as a writer and what readers will see in his upcoming mini.
Newsarama: Alex, you've got a face that a lot of our readers probably know. How might people have seen you before?
Alex Zalben: Well, one way they might know me is actually from Newsarama, being one of the hosts of The Stack, which was on Newsarama for awhile. It was a comic book review show. Currently, we're still running it as Comic Book Club on YouTube and other sites, so people might have seen me through there. And the other way is through my sketch comedy stuff. My group, Elephant Larry, did a video called Minesweeper: The Movie, and it's been seen almost 10 million times worldwide. And lucky me, my face is the poster frame for that video. So occasionally, I meet people on the street who say, "I feel like I know you from somewhere." I know what they're talking about, but I let them guess anyway.
Nrama:How did you get into writing comic books?
Zalben:You know, it's funny, I do write. I mean, I freelance write for a living. I blog and I write through doing comedy and other things. And I've loved comic books ever since I was a kid. But it's something that I never exactly thought, "Oh, I would die to write a comic book." Certainly, I spent most of my youth playing with action figures and setting up my own stories, and my Optimus Prime figure was always the big bad guy and that sort of thing. But it wasn't something I really thought about until I started doing Comic Book Club, this weekly live comic book show in New York that we do where we have guests -- comedy guests and writers/artists/editors that come one. And every once in awhile, we'd get this question, "Hey, do you guys want to write? And if so, what would you want to write?" And every time someone would ask me that, I'd say, "Well, I don't know. I never really thought about it." Until, one day, I really thought about it.
Nrama:Was this story in Thor and the Warriors Four something you put together yourself and pitched?
Zalben:They had decided they wanted to put together Thor and Power Pack, and from there, we kind of hashed out the story. I'm excited, because I think the story of the series is ridiculously fun. I've been having so much fun writing it. But also, it's a really great emotional story at the same time, so there are a lot of really cool things going on there. And as a writer, it's been really fun to play with.
When I was young, New Warriors and Power Pack were my favorites. And now I'm writing these characters. It was a little daunting, coming to these characters after Marc Sumerak, whose work I love, and Fred Van Lente, whose work I love. I'm super excited to, hopefully, live up to what they've set up.
Nrama:Tell us what the story is about.
Zalben:Power Pack's grandmother is dying, which is sort of the emotional hook. And when your grandparents aren't doing so well, you would do absolutely anything in the world to get them back. To borrow a term from another Marvel story, you'd do anything to have "one more day" with them. That's going to sell a lot of people on the story.
So they get a book of Norse myths, and they find out about the golden apples that grant Norse gods their immortality. So Julie hits upon the idea that, "Hey, we know Thor because he's an Avenger, and he's a Norse god. Why don't we try to find Thor and then somehow convince him to give us one of these apples so we can heal our grandmother and spend a little more time with her?"
And each of the members of Power Pack have very different reactions to it and deal with it in a very different way, and the story really is exploring that. But, you know, with a lot of punching and fighting.
Plus it's a Power Pack book, so it really is a fun book.
Nrama:And the Pet Avengers get involved?
Zalben:Yes, in the first issue, that I don't want to spoil too much, they end up in there. Kind of the first step in Power Pack's journey to finding Thor and getting, hopefully, the golden apples, they run into the Pet Avengers. And from there, that gives them the first crucial key to finding Thor, getting to Asgard, and doing some other big stuff down the road.
Nrama:It sounds like a lot of fun, but it also sounds like there's a message in there related to emotions.
Zalben:I think the best Marvel stories are playing two things at the same time. They're playing these grand adventures, these really big, super things, and that's a lot of what this is, because you're dealing with gods and Asgard and monsters and all these things, and of course Power Pack has these incredibly powers as well. Thor is this bigger-than-life figure.
But at the same time, you've got to find an emotional hook for something that really ties in. Not to get too personal about it, but right now, my grandmothers are still with me, which is amazing. One of them is 92; the other is 89. They're still there, but they're not doing quite as well as they have been. I love them both very much, so I tried to think about, OK, how do I feel about that? So I took that and split that into four -- the four different reactions I have to how my grandmothers' are doing right now. And I figured out how and whether those would work for the individual members of Power Pack.
So I did try to give this story a grounded emotional basis even though it's this grand adventure story.
And the second part there, not to get too much into this, is that I also loved fantasy/adventure type stories when I was growing up. The first book I ever read was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I used to love watching Labyrinth and things like that. And it's the same sort of thing, where they have kids going to magical lands, but it's always tied in some way to what's going on with them emotionally. And that's what I really wanted to bring to this title.
Nrama:You mentioned this is all seen through the eyes of kids, and obviously, this is a Power Pack title. So is the hope here to reach a younger audience?
Zalben:It's certainly appropriate for a younger audience. There's no sex or gory violence or anything like that. And Gurihiru is doing the art, and those ladies are awesome and amazing. So it has a really fun, punchy, almost cartoony style.
But it's like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and all those things that I love to read. They have a darker element to them. And we start off, in this first scene, with their grandmother dying. So it's not all la-da-dah, jumping through daisies and having a fun time.
There's an urgency to it. And I think that's something that, not to say this is a great novel, but all those great novels that I'm inspired by have something a little more adult about them even though they deal with younger characters.
And then I feel that when you're younger, you feel these emotions so much stronger, because it's the first time you felt them. So that's one of the things that I thought was great about working with the Power Pack characters. For them, it's the first time they're dealing with this. You know? You can have a character like Spider-Man or Iron Man, and they've seen so much death and so much destruction and lived through all these things that, even though comics are cyclical and tend to deal with each thing like its new, for Power Pack, this is literally the first time they're dealing with it.
I think that harkens back to what a lot of the original Power Pack series was about. Taking these kids, dealing with real world issues, and finding ways of relating them to a comic book audience. But then making them really fun and hilarious stories that any age can enjoy reading.
Nrama:How has the experience been for you, writing this story? And will we see more stuff from you?
Zalben:It's been a total, total blast. It's been the most fun I've ever had working on anything, maybe, ever. Seeing the whole process from this side, and getting the pages back and the pencils and the inks, and working with Jordan D. White and Nate Cosby, the editors on the book, who are great and are just a ton of fun to work with. Their ideas are great, and it's awesome to work back and forth with them. Every single part of it has been so much fun. And every time I open up my email and get something new, it makes me completely giddy and excited.
Plus I just think when I'm reading it, and this might sound a little silly, but I'm reading it as a fan as well. So when I get these pages, it's a lot of fun to read. I'm just really enjoying reading it and looking at it. I think that has a lot to do with Gurihiru, who did such a great job with the visuals, making the scenes just hilarious.
As for future stuff? I don't know. Hopefully there will be something. I certainly love doing this. And I'd love to do more stuff. So I guess we'll just have to see what happens. If this sells millions and millions of copies [laughs], I'm sure I'll get to do more books.