If you've read a comic written by Paul Jenkins — stuff like Inhumans or The Sentry, or his often poignant single-issue stories on Peter Parker: Spider-Man — it's pretty clear that he's a thoughtful guy, one committed to the notion of making comic books not only entertaining, but also a commentary on the reality of the world around us.
When hearing him talk about his latest Marvel work, a five-issue Ka-Zar miniseries with a first issue in stores today, it's obvious that he's not only interested in telling a story starring one of the publisher's oldest characters — the current version dates back to 1965, and the character name has been in use since 1936 — but also in using fantastical elements like the Savage Land and Pangea as a means to comment on some very real and very unpleasant situations happening around the world.
Of course, that could all get didactic and heavy-handed rather quickly, and Jenkins makes clear that the first priority is on exploring Ka-Zar as a character — like Jenkins, a fellow immigrant. In an interview with Newsarama, Jenkins talked about the metaphors of Ka-Zar, the importance of being new reader friendly, the work of series artist Pascal Alixe, and the "Inhumans vibe" he feels in this current project.Interior art from
Ka-Zar #1.Newsarama: Paul, I think it's fair to say that you're definitely pretty choosy with which comics projects you choose to take on, so what made Ka-Zar a title you wanted to write?
Paul Jenkins: I think it's probably based on a conversation I had with Tom Brevoort at one point. There are two schools of thought about how you do comics these days. One school of thought leads you to crossovers and events, and things that in many ways seem to drive the market. But the market that they drive is the direct market, where Diamond distributes to specialty stores — if you're lucky enough to find out the secret code, and the secret identity of the comic, and the secret location where it's being sold, and you are willing to drive 50 miles to go get it.
It has been a viable market in the past. I think it's beginning to change, and I still think that, obviously, comic book retailers have an amazing part to play, and can really service the specialty market. But I think in some ways, comic retailers need help, and help is on the way in the form of digital comics, and a greater access to fans.
I'm not so sure that your average person that wants to come in from scratch — that's somebody that's not very familiar with comics — is going to want to try to pick up in the middle of an event, or a massive series of intercompany crossovers. I think they're much more likely to want single-issue stories. If you look back at my time with Marvel Knights, even my time on Hellblazer, and Spider-Man, and the Hulk, I used to love doing single-issue stories all the time. I think it's a little bit of where I shine. Back in the day, they used to allow me to basically come into Marvel and kind of fix stuff. Give it a shine, find a character and define him.Interior art from
Ka-Zar #1.I thought [Ka-Zar] was a really, really good opportunity to tell a story. It had a really Inhumans kind of vibe about it. Inhumans was really a story about the United States, and how it's a melting pot. The United States is a really interesting country. I grew up in Europe and I moved to the United States. It's a massive country that's kind of a power-based society, you have the opportunity for advancement, and so on and so forth. I think Inhumans was basically written about that.
Ka-Zar, in many ways, is written about the rest of the world. How the United States, in some ways, doesn't understand that the rest of the world is a massive place with a massive power. Being the strongest kid in the school is a great place to be, but if the school decides to turn on you, you'd get the crap beaten out of you. The rest of the world is so important to the United States. We get a chance to explore that with Pangea and the Savage Land, and use it as a metaphor for the way the rest of the world works.
Nrama: Just from the little that's been released on the series already, it definitely seems like a different kind of book — very deliberately standalone, and also, it seems that with a lot of Ka-Zar stories, there's a temptation to either take Ka-Zar out of the Savage Land, or bring other recognizable Marvel into the Savage Land. But it looks like in this series, you're sticking in the Savage Land, with Ka-Zar, Shanna and Zabu. Was that an important element?Interior art from
Ka-Zar #1.Jenkins: Look at all the tribes that are in the Savage Land — you've got the swamp people, and the gold people. We made up a couple of new people, just because we thought it was really interesting. Each of those people, in a sense, are metaphorically a nation in our world.
There's a massive difference between Guam and South Korea. Do we know what that difference is? Only maybe if you're from Guam or South Korea. There's so much to learn about the world.
So we based it on a very real world problem., which is the problem that exists in Indonesia. In Indonesia there's a centralized government and hundreds of hundreds of islands, and the centralized government allows each of these islands, from time to time, to be basically pillaged. They'll burn an island, and plant crops on it, completely destroying the forest that's on it, and the people there, and the ecosystem there. To me, we need to look at that, but this is something that we're not aware of, because we're so busy wrapped up in the lives that we have. We're not given information about the rest of the world, and I kind of wish that we were.
Nrama: What you're describing — Savage Land as metaphor for international conflict — definitely sounds like a departure from what people might stereotypically expect from a Ka-Zar story.
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Ka-Zar #1.Jenkins: Understand that's the subtext to everything. It's not like we're doing a Ka-Zar story in which we try to point out to the readership about the problems in Guatemala. What we're trying to do is to show Ka-Zar as a really interesting person, who is an immigrant into the Savage Land and Pangea — as I am, into the United States. He feels a great sense of ownership of this country, and a great sense of patriotism to this land, and he wants to be its protector. He's a really interesting and complicated character. He really, really wants to prevent people who come from the same country as him from coming in and basically destroying Pangea. Interior art from
Ka-Zar #1.He finds out in our story that maybe doing it with muscles, and/or guns, is not the true path to solving problems. Maybe the true part of solving problems is politics. Or understanding. Or talk. There are many, many ways to solve a problem; solving it with might is not always the correct answer.
Nrama: In a series like Ka-Zar, where setting is so important, you need a strong artist, and for this you're working with Pascal Alixe, who I believe also is illustrating a portion of Thor: Heaven and Earth, correct?
Jenkins: Yeah. He's a really interesting guy. He has a very strange and unique kind of style. I'd get material in, and just look at it and say, "Wow, this guy is doing something different." I think that's great. The same can be said of Sean Phillips. Same can be said of Michael Zulli. I think Pascal really adds to it.Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!