STGCC 2014: Frank Kozik Interview

STGCC 2014: Frank Kozik Interview by Jedd Jong

Frank Kozik with Marvel Labbit Rocket Raccoon – Image Credit: Vinyl Pulse
Artist and designer Frank Kozik is known in collectible art circles as the creator of the Labbit, but it also famous as a poster designer who created artwork for bands such as The White Stripes, Pearl Jam, The Beastie Boys and Nirvana. The commercial artwork he has done includes work for Nike, Swatch and MTV. Kozik was in Singapore as a guest of the Singapore Toys, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC) and I got to sit down with him to discuss his work. He was somewhat intimidating and frank and off-the-cuff, giving a detailed description of how Labbit came to be (it involves booty calls) and offering a surprising piece of advice to aspiring artists.
Jedd Jong: What was the genesis of Labbit; how did you conceptualise that?
Frank Kozik: That’s an interesting story. In the mid-90s, I was going to Japan quite a bit, I was working with the people there. When I went over there for the first time, I was really in Sanrio products, was really into like Hello Kitty and Keroppi and stuff, I thought it was very interesting, the stuff they were doing. I liked how they did the characters, it was like super-perfect. What’s interesting is in Japan then, it was just something for low-class people. These were are sort of like snotty Shinjuku fashion dudes, right? And they’re like “what do you want to do, do you want to do cocaine on top of a mountain?” and I’m like “no, I want to go to Kitty Land!” And they all just thought I was crazy, they were like “what?!” They couldn’t understand, it was such a low thing for them. And I tried to explain it, I said “look, there’s something really interesting here. It’s like super-perfect way to develop a character,” like you got to get beyond who buys it. In the US, it became a really big cult thing.
So they were all making fun of me, we were in a bar and they said “maybe you can make your own character,” like I was the idiot, right? So I said “okay” and I did this little…it was actually a rabbit but it looked like my cat and I showed it to them and they all sort of were like “oh…that’s actually pretty good, maybe that’s going to work” and they all got kind of bummed out. So what I’ve done in my small way, we never have any mainstream advertising but in the last ten years or so, we generated over $20 million in revenue, which is pretty good for an independent thing, to make all that money.
That was my sort of experience and the whole thing with the Labbit was I wanted to make a Hello Kitty-type of character, but I also wanted it to reflect a little bit of punk rock, so kind of like the Labbit is like…you guys have the term “booty call”, you know what a booty call is? It’s like 3 in the morning and you f***, right? The Labbit is who Hello Kitty booty calls and Dear Daniel doesn’t know anything about it. He’s just like the dirty guy at the bar who’s kind of sexy and she’s like “okay, let’s have some fun” and then won’t talk to him for a few months and he doesn’t care. That was the kind of idea, a cute character who’s a little dirty, so it has balance. He can be a nice character, he can be a dirty character, he can be you when you’re in a bad mood, that kind of idea is what I tried to develop and I think it’s worked really well. In the United States, it’s become a very popular character and the appeal is going to regular people, a mainstream appeal is starting to happen. So it out as an experiment and like I said, there’s never been big money behind it, never done any kind of advertising, it’s just been a word of mouth, self-generated thing.
You’ve just come out with the Rocket Raccoon Labbit with the flexible tail…
The Rocket Raccoon character, it’s kind of a cool thing with the flexible tail with the wire in it. It’s done real well, the movie’s really popular and it’s a cool character.
And Rocket Raccoon is a dirty character who’s also cute!
Yeah, that does make sense.
What message did you set out to send with your Ultraviolence Toys line?
Those are totally personal so all the Ultraviolence stuff, which is like the political thing, the big army men and the weird s***, that’s just stuff I want to have. Like that’s something I want for my office or whatever, and since they don’t exist, I have to make them. And it’s expensive, I like them being manufactured, I don’t like one-of-a-kind art sculptures, I really wanted it to exist and actually have the manufactured model. So basically, I market and sell those just so I can have them. They’re totally personal and I thought “nobody would ever buy any of them” but they ended up doing really well, so that was kind of a bonus. That was the one thing with the toys that was purely just a personal sort of artist’s statement thing that ended up being kind of profitable.
So it wasn’t like a political statement that you were trying to send out?
Well, it’s more like my riffing on combining ideas and values in politics and things and also, if you want to get really serious about it, I’m really fascinated with like 60s pop art and like bad public art. There was a phenomenon in the United States in the 70s where there was a lot of horrible public art that was really expensive, you’d go downtown and there’d be a statue of a giant foot or something and those things are still around, they’re all like decayed and s***ty. So I had a fantasy that if I had been approached to do like a giant piece of public art for the waterfront, that would be it. So all of those kinds of…thoughts about politics and society, like cultures meeting, the Mao is really about that. The Mao is like “okay, he became the last emperor of China, but it’s a China he didn’t want.” Like he’s the emperor of the capitalist future. Hence it’s Mao, very formal, but the mouse ears represent western capitalism and the cigarette was because he was a heavy smoker, they were covering that up, so it’s him in his natural statue. Plus it looks cool, right? It looks nice, it has some presence.
Have you kept in contact with any of the bands you did art for in the early days?
All of them. You have to understand like I’m old. All those bands always had a first tour in a small club and nobody watched the show. I worked in those clubs, so all those bands that became famous, I worked in the club where they had their first tour, I did the local poster. I lived in Austin, a city in the middle of the country which was the only local city [the bands would stop at]. So all of the underground culture, the bands would travel from coast to coast and Austin was the only place they could stop, do a show, make some gas money, so every band would stop to do a show there. It was a small college town with many small punk clubs and rock clubs. So all the bands that became super-famous, you have to understand, they all at one point were just like four guys in a van with no money. I was just there at the right place at the right time doing local posters, working in the club, met them, watched the show, made friends with them, maintained contact. Later, when they became bigger, they needed a tour poster so yes, I met and hung out with all the bands, all of them.
Will you go back to poster design?
I still do posters, it’s like a hobby now. Last year, I did a bunch of Eddie Vedder posters, so I still do posters for Pearl Jam. A lot of bands have a huge cult following. There’s this band called 311, they’re like okay, I did their posters years ago. They have a huge cult following and their posters sell very well. They all work with like these merchandising companies so there’s no pressure, I can do whatever I want. And it’s fun to do, I don’t care whether or not it’s good for them anymore, basically I just play and actually the posters sell very well. I do fine art prints all the time.
What kind of music do you listen to these days?
I listen to boring new metal. There’s a new band, relatively new band called Weep and it’s kind of slowed-down, weird faraway vocals. They have a couple of albums out, they’ve got stuff on YouTube. J Mascis did this crazy metal band called Witch. And there’s a new band in England called Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, they’re really great, they sound like they were recorded in the 1960s-70s, evil biker Satan rock music. So that’s kind of what I listen to, like new metal-y kind of s***. I don’t listen to any like punk bands. I like ambient stuff that’s weird, I’ll just come across stuff.
We’ve seen hand-drawn poster art, particularly for movies, on the decline. What do you think it will take for a revival of that?
There’s an enormous one going on right now in the United States. If you look at a couple of websites like gigposters and the Alamo Drafthouse Mondo poster series, it’s all hand-done, it’s all super-amazing, it’s a huge thing. There are hundreds of poster artists doing thousands of posters every year, it’s just not mainstream. The Alamo Drafthouse series, all that is is they show old movies and then hire artists to do new posters for them and then they market and sell those posters. That s*** is like astounding. So there actually has been an enormous revival over the last 15 years. The s*** you see will blow your mind.
The studios wouldn’t use them as the A-poster though.
Well, that makes it kind of cool. You have to understand you know, I do commercial artwork and post people don’t have good taste. Most people, like if you a really elaborate, beautiful hand-drawn thing, they’re not going to understand why it’s cool. They have no context. They don’t collect stuff, they don’t know the history of movie posters, they’re just people who watch television. So the public wants the movie studios to put the movie stars’ face [on the poster] because that’s all they see in the magazines and on TV. They don’t care if the poster is artistic, they want to go and see the movie, right? They’re not collectors, they’re not into art, they want to go and be entertained and see a movie with their favourite actor, they don’t care about anything else. People who come here and collect are different, so at least there’s an alternative underground.
It’s okay that it’s not the mainstream version because the mainstream won’t appreciate the effort anyway. There’s two worlds, so there something for each of them, I’m not going to say one is right and one is wrong. Maybe we’re all abnormal. Being a collector is not really a mentally healthy thing, believe me. So I’m not saying one is better than the other, it’s good that both exist, because what it does is it allows really crazy superhero movies to be made. I’m 52, when I was 17 years old, movies f***ing sucked! Star Wars came out and things started to change, but I remember going to the movies before Star Wars, it was nothing that great, like for a kid. Sure, there were great movies, but you had to be mature to understand it, as a kid movies kinda sucked. It’s different now, you go see something like Guardians of the Galaxy, f***ing mind-blowing. But it’s dependent on like reaching the mainstream audience because it costs a lot of money to make, I’m just happy both things exist.
And I’m glad Guardians did so well because so many people were saying “this is going to be the first flop for Marvel Studios…”
It was funny dude, they had charismatic acting, there was no story, it was like a comic book come to life. They weren’t trying to make it be logical or realistic or anything, it was just cool.
What kind of toys do you collect, do you collect the mainstream mass-market stuff too?
No. It’s changed over the years, I mean originally like starting in the late-70s, I was heavily into Bandai die-cast toys, like all the crazy toys based on TV shows, where it would be like “it’s a talking stove!” or whatever, “an ape-man!” And then, as I had more money, I started collecting the more intricate Bandai stuff, like the big Tetsujins. Bandai made really, really nice stuff in the 80s, all die-cast, all articulated, all magnetic, they made some crazy s***. From the little goofy stuff to like the huge…I was really into that for a long time, and then it got really expensive and I stopped collecting that and I actually sold my collection. Then I got into vintage tin space toys for a while, collecting those for a long time and those got more expensive, sold that collection.
I’m really into this company called Marx Toys, it was an American toy company from about 1920 to like the late ‘70s and they made some really amazing s*** over the years, like metal toys, plastic toys, all this kind of stuff, so I collected Marx playsets, they made these really great playsets. And then like I said in the 90s, in the late-80s, I started going to Japan to do stuff and I sort of got turned on to the Sanrio character thing. I got really into that. I never was into anime, I was never really into the Macross thing or Gundam stuff, too complicated. As time went on, I got more and more into simpler stuff, refined Japanese toys, simpler and simpler, sort of ultimate perfection stuff.
These days, I don’t really collect specifically anymore. Once in a while, I see something that [I like]. It’s got to be something really odd. My favourite toys are bizarre, generic toys, like it’s a weird s***ty toy from like Argentina, but it’s made in such a vacuum by like some weird dude in South America that it’s a super-perfect cartoon race car, it has no context whatsoever. Like the last 10 years, I really like collecting stuff that’s like entirely unknown, like some weird toy that some normal person made just to make money but somehow, it just came out really cool. They’re kind of hard to find, but I’ve got a nice collection of kind of weird [toys].
There was a small toy company in America in the 50s called the Erie Toy Company that was a normal place, a plastics and one year [they went] “we should make toys!” So they just made these bizarre, generic plastic toys out of hard plastic, but they’re like so generic it’s perfect. “It’s a truck,” “it’s a boat,” “it’s a race car.” They made this one thing, a clown car with an organ and a monkey playing it. And they’re like weird hallucination toys you’d see in a dream, because they didn’t know what they were doing. They sold them locally or some s*** like that or maybe they had some deal with a store. I’m not stuff like that these days, if that makes sense, where they’re just bizarre objects that don’t fit into any category. Lots of interesting like communist toys too, all the communist countries made toys, but it would be the weirdest design. It was like some dude in Poland going “I will make a toy for children”. Weird s*** like that, I’ll look on eBay and stuff like that. It’s not like there’s a whole bunch of them, they’re singles. They have to be weird and cheap. I have a really cool [bootleg] He-Man, that weird s***.
What is a day in the life of Frank Kozik like?
Really boring. I have a whole routine: I get up really early, I make a cup of coffee, I feed the cats, my wife is still asleep. I’m lucky my studio is the same neighbourhood as my house. I’ll walk to the park, go to work and just work 12 hours a day and then go home, have dinner and go to sleep.
Do you get artist’s block?
Never, never. I work every single day, 12 hours a day, I’m always productive. I’ve never had a day I didn’t work.
If you weren’t designing toys and posters, what would you be designing?
Everything. What I do is I have a large studio with different areas, so I can do digital work, sculpting, I can cast resins, I paint my own toys, I have a painting area for fine art, a drawing area and so I have a schedule. I have a production schedule, I’m always getting jobs, I’m always planning releases so I have a very elaborate schedule like 5 months in advance and it will be like “Monday I have to do these 5 things, Tuesday I have to do this, Wednesday I spend all day working on that” so there’s a schedule and I just go and work every single day. I do all my social media like in the morning usually, I do all my social media work for an hour a day, I have a lot of followers. I’m on TwitterInstagram and have two Facebook pages and they all require a different approach, different kinds of people on different social media. I have to do all my business calls, every day is very, very full.
For those who want to turn their artistic hobby into a career, what advice do you have?
Don’t do it. No, seriously, become a doctor or a lawyer, something where there’s a health plan and a pension. There’s too much competition. I’m lucky I started before the internet, that was never a good situation but today, it’s a blessing and a curse. There is so much competition and everybody is really, really good, so it’s become noise. It’s like unless you’re very lucky or have a very good idea or have a rich family, it’s impossible. If you have to do it, do it. But my advice for someone who’s like “I don’t know what to do” is “no, no, go be an engineer.” You know what I’m saying?
Singaporean parents will agree.
image02The thing is, the odds are like getting struck by lightning. It’s like yes, there are a few hundred people who can make a living being creative, but that’s it man. There’s no room for it. And I’m talking like both America and Europe, there’s only 2-300 of us. Every year, it’s very heart-breaking because in North America, going to art school is very expensive. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, so many families will do that and the schools don’t teach you anything, it’s totally f***ing bulls***. So the kids come out of art school, there are no jobs for them, they’re in debt, it’s idiotic. I go to give lectures in schools and the first thing I say is “drop out of the school. Tell your parents to rent you a work space and buy you tools and just start making s*** because your chances of having a career will be better if you do that than if you spend four years in school doing nothing and then getting out with debt. No one’s going to hire you. There are no jobs.”
If you want to be a real creative, like “I want to be like a guy in an advertising firm that specializes in some bulls***” then yes, you can go to school and you can do that, but if you want to be an artist, the only way to do it is you have to just work a lot. Sitting in a class is not going to do it for you, no one cares about your portfolio, no one cares that you’ve got good grades because who are you? When you get out of school, you are nobody. You have no access to work space or materials or anything, so why do you waste the money? If your parents are willing to pay for school, they should be willing to go “f*** it, here’s the money, start a business”. This is my experience, because a lot of people want to do it. It’s like [how] everybody wants to be in a band but there can only be like 20 top bands. Time goes by fast and there’s a lot of competition. But by all means, if you really want to do it, do it. Dude, I’m 52 and I still have to work all day. It’s not like you get to retire or something. You’ve got money in the bank and everything but you’ve got no pension, every day I have to make something fresh.
Like Bill Mantlo, the writer who co-created Rocket Raccoon, said “don’t be a creative, become the people who are the exploiters because the creatives get exploited.”
Yeah. Over the years, I’ve learnt to exploit myself. It works okay.

STGCC 2014: Interview with David Mack

For The Shortbox

By Jedd Jong 9/9/14

David Mack was in Singapore for the Singapore Toy Games and Comics Convention and The Shortbox was able to sit down and chat with the artist/writer. This year, he celebrates the 20th anniversary of his creation Kabuki and will be doing the covers for the Fight Club sequel comic book series, written by Chuck Palahniuk with interior art by Cameron Stewart. Mack also discusses the stylish end credits sequence of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for which he did the art. 

What was your impression of Fight Club after first seeing the movie or reading the novel?

I saw it in 1999 on a Friday night, I went home and immediately did big drawings of it. I was so fascinated with that movie and there were actually a couple of lines in the film that were very similar to the lines I wrote in Kabuki. I remember turning to my girlfriend at the time going “I love how this guy writes, he writes like how I try to write.” I was so connected to the movie that the next day, Saturday, I went and saw it again, like two days in a row. Every time I saw it, I saw new things about it, I just really appreciated it, the metaphor of the movie. I saw it in the theatre twice and I’ve seen it a lot on DVD, I’ll just put it on while I’m working.

I was so connected to the movie, I was like “who is this guy?” I found out it was based on a book and I found all the other books that he’d done at that time, Invisible Monsters, and I was travelling through Europe, reading all his books on the train. I was really fascinated by the story so I wrote Chuck Palahniuk in the mail and told him I connected to his stuff and that I do some work too and he wrote back and told me to send him certain things that I did. At the time, 2006, there was a documentary film about my work called Alchemy of Artand I sent that to him also and he wrote back and he really liked it and he had this idea some day of getting together different creators from different mediums and doing some kind of, in his words, “tour bus” to sort of show people that they have their own responsibility to create their own culture.

I published that letter he wrote to me in the back of the Kabuki book. He sent his phone number in the letter and said “next time you’re in Portland, come meet up with me” and so every time I was in Portland, I would meet up with Chuck. I was usually staying at Brian Bendis’ house in Portland. Brian and I would stay up all night, go to sleep at like 7 in the morning, so Brian would wake up at noon and I would go “oh, I’m going to have lunch with Chuck Palahniuk, I’m coming back” and I would come back but he never would meet Chuck. He thought that maybe I was making it up, that Chuck was my Tyler Durden. But then I would have these lunches with Chuck that were so inspiring. He would come back and say “I’ve been writing all day long, in a trance, fugue state writing so much” and we’d talk about our ideas and the creative process.
Even early on, Chuck had a real curiousity about comic books and graphic novels and storytelling, he asked me lots of questions. Early on, the Daredevil: End of Days story had just come out in the last couple of years, 2006, 2007, Brian and I were writing it together. We had such great conversations and I invited him back to Brian’s house. He asked “what are you doing” and I said “I’m writing down our entire conversation”. I had this idea to do like an illustrated version of our conversation, it would be very fun to make it more abstract, move it around, the entire conversation was about ideas, how to make ideas real, he was asking questions about something I was working on and vice versa. And so, I just had this connection with him, every time we were in Portland we would meet up. Scott Allie, the editor-in-chief at Dark Horse, he told me that they were announcing a Fight Club sequel and he said “tell him to contact me, consider us as publisher.” I think Chuck probably chose to go with Dark Horse because they’re around Portland, where he is.

For the Winter Soldier end credits that you did, how much access did you have to information or material of the film and what was the process of coming up with that like?

It’s an interesting story, the origin of the Winter Soldier project because I did a design festival last year in Barcelona called OFFF Fest, mostly it’s digital designers and artists so I was really the only guy there that doesn’t use digital but I still gave a presentation and spoke there. I met a lot of other interesting photographers and designers there, we would see the sights and visit Barcelona together. One was this woman named Erin Sarofsky who has her own design studio and then last November, I think right around Thanksgiving, she sent me a text and said she had worked with the directors of Captain America[Joe and Anthony Russo] on something else before and now they were doing this film. They said that they already had a whole bunch of Marvel-approved design studios who were submitting pitches but she knew these directors so they were offering her a pitch too. She said “we’re going to send in five or six pitches, if you want to submit a pitch of your own, we’ll show it also and then we can collaborate on it.”

And so, that Thanksgiving I was leaving on a trip to Fiji and this would be like a 12 hour flight. She needed the pitch for it immediately, so on the 12 hour flight to Fiji I did all kinds of drawings of ideas for it. I talked to her on the phone and she had just seen the film with the directors so she gave me a sense of what kind of film it was. Based on that, we both mentioned Saul Bass, this iconic artist and designer who’s done stuff for Scorsese, Hitchcock, Kubrick; an incredible designer that we’re both inspired by and also I suggested to her that I was very inspired and influenced by Jim Steranko for the art of it and he had done Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain Americaso it would be a great homage to his comic book work as well.

And so we discussed like the look, we were both thinking black and white, stark qualities to the artwork and then on that plane trip, I stayed up the whole time drawing, it was a very enjoyable plane trip and then on the beach, I was inking it all, I would take a photo of it and email her the photos. I had half a coconut shell with my ink in it and there were all these mongooses running around. I had a backpack with my food and the mongooses would come up to my backpack with my art supplies and I would feed them breadcrumbs on the beach, you know, drawing Captain America. I took the photo, emailed it to her and she pieced it together, the sequence, she did all the typography and how it would all fit together, finessed it. She called back in a couple of days and I was on this island without much connection to anybody but she updated me and said we got the job, of all the different pitches they had, they chose the one that I sent. So that was great. And then there are some of those drawings in the original pitch that made it through to the final images in the film.

She works at a design studio in Chicago so they flew me out to Chicago in December and I worked at their studios in Chicago. There was a lot of security, like the Marvel guys came to the studio and said “in order for us to give you this job, we have all kinds of different security measures”. All kinds of security on our hard drive, a secure room with locks…they spent a lot of expenses to make their facility approved under the standards of Marvel. And then Marvel would send me all of the details, like all of the behind-the-scenes footage of Captain America, photographs that they had taken of all the equipment and all the actors. But it was all like super double-encrypted emails, it was a big hassle but it was so secure the way they worked. I had done certain things without having that reference so I had to redraw a lot of it so it was the exact hardware and tech from the film. So I just did that in Chicago, I was doing all the drawing and she was pinning them up onto the wall and like putting it in different orders and doing all the type. She had a whole team of animators all in the same room on the computers so they scanned in my drawings as soon as I finished it, they vectorised it and made it all three-dimensional and were moving it around.

Did you get to meet any of the actors from the film?

I met Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie, yeah. I was in Chicago two weeks ago at the Wizard World show and they were there and I was talking about how I did the drawings for them. Also, the Falcon, Sam Wilson, in Daredevil: End of Days, he’s the president in the Marvel universe so I mentioned that to them.

Shocker Toys did an action figure of Kabuki and they are kind of controversial; several 
independent comics creators have spoken out about working with them. What was your experience with Geoff Beckett and Shocker toys like?

Um, I don’t know that much about any of that controversy stuff, I had done like a series of action figures with Moore Creations, Clayburn Moore sculpted some amazing action figures, some Kabuki masks, he’s offering brand new masks and yeah, the Shocker people did a Kabuki action figure, it had more joints and stuff, but I felt like I didn’t really feel like we were working that close together. When I worked with Clay Moore, he would send me like every stage of the process and we discussed it, I would send him drawings from it, I approved every stage of it with Clay and the other people. I’m still working with Clay on some new stuff too, he’s working on new Kabuki statues and masks now.

Did David Fincher have anything to say about the new Fight Club comic?

Not a word. I don’t think he said anything. Hopefully, it will be such a great, awesome book that he kind of can’t resist doing a sequel based on our sequel. It’s pretty exciting though, when I was reading the script, all the dialogue written in the script I felt was so accurate and so dead-on to the characters that we’re familiar with, that were in the original book and the film. After you hear them talking in the film, you can’t help but hear the film voices reading everything.

STGCC 2014: Cameron Stewart Interview

By Jedd Jong 9/9/14

As the new co-writer and artist on Batgirl, Cameron Stewart is currently the toast of DC. The redesign of Batgirl’s costume that he and Babs Tarr created has gained a massive fan following, as evident by the mountains of fan art and cosplay of the new look seen on various social media platforms. In Singapore for the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention, Stewart discusses Batgirl and the upcoming Fight Club sequel comic, for which he is doing the interior art.

Do you feel the pressure of taking over the Batgirlbook from fan-favourite Gail Simone and did you speak to her after getting the job?

I did actually, I spoke to her shortly after I was offered the job, kind of reaching out and getting her blessing, it was kind of the incoming writer paying respect to the outgoing writer. I didn’t really ask her too many questions about the book itself but I just wanted to make sure it was a smooth transition, a nice handover and Gail was very nice and very complimentary. We have great respect for her and the contributions that she’s made to the character and we’re doing our best to…even though we’re often going to be doing our own thing that’s actually going to be quite, quite different than what she was doing, we still want to respect what she’s done, so we’re sort of moving on and building on top of what she’s done, taking it in a different direction.

Whenever a character that’s been around for a while gets re-designed, there are bound to be readers who aren’t onboard. How do you go about redesigning an iconic character like Batgirl?

For me it was just about looking back over the history of the character. Batgirl’s been around for almost 50 years, she was invented for the television show in the 60s and she’s had different incarnations and so for me, it was about getting to the heart of what was iconic for that character, I think that even now in 2014, Yvonne Craig is still the iconic vision of Batgirl that we have so it was really going back to that and realizing that there’s a reason why that’s the iconic version and why that’s had endurance. So it was a matter of going back to that, picking out what I like about that costume and sort of coming at it from the approach of “if this character was being created in 2014 for the first time, how do I take the elements that are so successful in this iconic version to update it and contemporize it and make it modern?”

Tell us more about the re-designed Batgirl costume.
I was offered the book, DC contacted and asked if I would be interested in taking over Batgirl as writer and as artist. They wanted to offer me the whole thing to do, just on my own. My very first question to them was “can I redesign the costume?” Me taking on the job was conditional on them, me getting to redraw the costume. Because the New 52 armoured thing…it’s not me, it’s not my taste, I didn’t really want to draw that. There’s nothing really wrong with it, it’s just not me. I was like “I’d like to draw something that’s more to my taste” and suited the vision I had for what I wanted to do with the story. I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do with the story yet but I knew what I wanted the tone to be. The tone was definitely going to be something that was light and fun, upbeat and positive because everything prior to that had been very dark and grim, violent and in the rain.

Death of the Family

Yeah, exactly, that’s not me either. Particularly for something like Batgirl, I wanted it to be positive and happy. So the costume has to reflect that and so I thought that that black-and-gold armour-plated thing wasn’t the right look for it. And I wanted to make something that was convincing for a 21-year-old girl to make herself. It’s something that I felt like a 21-year-old girl would actually want to wear. So I went to a bunch of fashion blogs, going through [them] and looking for those elements that related to the Batgirl costume but were reflected in contemporary fashion. So I was able to go and find things like…I wanted to use a slim leather jacket, leggings and Doc Martens already made yellow boots, that was a thing that already existed and that was perfect, that was like “yes! There’s no way that I can’t use that.”

How did all the clasps come about?

I was looking for just kind of a different spin on the costume and to my knowledge, I don’t think anyone’s ever done snaps and I like the idea. As I was saying, in the story, she kind of loses everything in a fire and she has to start over. She moves to this new part of town that’s like the hip, trendy area of Gotham and she’s building the costume herself out of necessity, so I wanted things that were real-world. So I was noticing on the jackets like snaps, I just thought it would be a fun idea to have the cape just be something that she could put on and take it off immediately and almost be able to wear the jacket on its own without the cape on. It was a thing that I just had as a fun idea and it turns out that it’s one of the things that people really responded to, everyone loves that idea.

So once I had my first pass at the costume, then it became clear that because I’m also working on Fight Club too, that I didn’t have the time to do Batgirl entirely on my own. We started looking for another artist that I wanted to work with and I’d still sort of be the “showrunner” if you like, the person in control of everything without necessarily doing it all on my own. So I took the design that I’d done and once we settled on Babs Tarr as the artist, I gave her that design and I said “this is what I’m thinking of for the costume. What do you think of this?” and she was like “this is great – but – how about we do this?” and she took a second pass  at it and she kept it pretty much as I had it but she added all of these extra design elements to it. It was her that put the snaps on the gloves to mirror the ones on the shoulders and she added the seams on the jacket and the things around the collar, I had just a straight zipper but she added like a little belt around the collar with a snap there and the detailing on the belt, all of these things that I don’t necessarily know if I would have thought of by myself. Because she’s a woman and she knows better than I would what a woman would wear, she was able to kind of add these little details, these little touches of flair that really make it. Her contribution to the design is invaluable, I don’t think it would’ve been as good if she didn’t put in her own thing.

There’s an element that she could pull off the cape, turn the jacket inside-out and just wear it on the street…

Exactly, yeah. We run a tumblr site that’s got a lot of fanart and cosplay pictures and one of the things that we see is people posting fashion tips, like outfits that are inspired by the costume. Not cosplay, but it’s kind of like clothes that are inspired by that outfit and we kind of like that idea that it doesn’t necessarily have to be superheroic, that it can be something that’s just fashion that people could wear in a real-world setting.

There have been many fans speaking out about representation and diversity in comics and you have engaged in these discussions on social media platforms.

I have, yeah.

Is it easier for readers of both genders to accept men writing female characters?

Well you know…this is the thing that I really was concerned about when I was offered the book because Gail is extremely popular among women, she’s a very popular writer among women, she’s a very outspoken feminist voice and that is really necessary. When they offered it to me, I was very conscious of that. It was like I’m taking the book away…I’m going to be the guy who’s taking over the book that I wanted to aim at women, and what makes me qualified to do this? When it came time for me to find other people to work with, especially artists, it was absolutely vital for me that I worked with a woman so I was only looking at female artists to work with and I think that that’s kind of interesting because even though it’s myself and my partner Brendan writing it, we’re coming with the story and I’m doing the layout drawings but still, with Babs’ artwork and Jordie Bellaire on colours, our story is being filtered and ultimately presented for women, which I think is really a great thing and essential for this book.

As for the question of men writing female characters and vice versa, I think it’s valuable that men learn how to write women in comics and so while I am a man writing a book than I am intending for a female audience, I am fortunate that I’m very surrounded by a lot of amazing women in my life: I have my girlfriend, tons of smart women and I use all of them as a sounding board. So I’m giving them scripts, asking for advice and they’ve helped already, they’ve pointed out things and they go “don’t do this, this is not the way that woman would act” or “this is not a positive thing to say for a woman” and it’s made me very conscious of those things so I think it’s…I don’t necessarily feel that only women should write women or people of a certain ethnicity should only write characters of a certain ethnicity. Those groups are absolutely necessary and need to be in comics and I hope that there’s more and more opportunities for women and people of other ethnic groups to be part of the industry but I also think that it’s valuable that a white man such as myself is able to empathise and understand from another perspective. That helps me personally, not just as a writer, it’s better for me as a person to be able to step into that position and learn how to write this stuff.

Fight Club is in part a critique of consumerism and yet consumerism is very much a part of geek culture, so how do you reconcile that?

I don’t know, I don’t think that…are you talking about the Fight Club comic? I don’t know if that’s going to be like a comic book for collectors in a way that other comic books are. We’ve talked about doing variant covers and things like that so maybe it will be that way. With that project in particular, I’m trying not to think of anything like that. I’m only trying to execute Chuck’s vision for it and anything that happens after that…Fight Club has a history of being misinterpreted by its audience. There are a great number of people who are fans of Fight Club who think that Tyler Durden is the good guy and that’s totally wrong. You can never really know how an audience is going to interpret the work and whether they’re going to embrace it and whether they’ll respond to it in a way that’s “correct” or “incorrect” or whatever. We can only do what we want with it and hope that the message gets through. If it’s an anti-consumerist thing and people are buying ten copies to collect and share and trade and whatever I mean I don’t know, I don’t know what you can do about that.

What was your impression of Fight Club after seeing the film and what attracted you to the comic book sequel?

I saw the film first, like most people I think, and I loved it. I saw it in ’99 when it was released and was absolutely blown away by it. I saw in the credits or read in a magazine article that it was based on a novel and I went and bought the novel right away. I read the book and I loved the book as well. So that just set me on the path of being a Chuck Palahniuk fan. I kept up with his writing over the last 15 years. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but I’ve read probably about 80% of what he’s written, and so I’ve just been a really big fan of his and when Fight Club 2 was announced as a comic, I was interested. I didn’t even think that I would anything to do with it but I thought “that looks interesting.” Not ever would I have expected to hear it as an actual thing. I thought it would be interesting then I found out that it was going to be published by Dark Horse, or might have been published by Dark Horse, it wasn’t definite yet and I have a history with Dark Horse and so I started actively pursuing it and saying “I think I really want to do this book. I think it would be a really interesting thing, I’m a huge Palahniuk fan,” and I think too that it wasn’t like…you see this happen a lot where it’s like [on the cover of the book] “Stephen King”, but it won’t be Stephen King, it would be Stephen King and there would be another writer under it that Stephen King maybe had one conversation with and the writer went to write it. I wasn’t interested in doing that. When I found out that this was Chuck Palahniuk writing the book himself and that it would be me and Chuck, only, that’s what really excited me about it.

I thought that because Fight Club is such a huge pop cultural phenomenon, such a huge part of pop culture, that I just wanted to be a part of it you know, I thought this would be an amazing thing to have in my résumé, something I could do and it might be one of the bigger things that I do, even outside of the comic landscape. I mean, the work that I’m doing on Batgirl or anything else, the chances that it will cross over into so-called “mainstream” pop culture is kinda slim. But Fight Clubwill be. Fight Club will be in bookstores everywhere and it will be “the new Chuck Palahniuk book” and so I think in terms of exposure and the circulation that will have and the number of people that will see it, it’s probably going to be much bigger than anything else I’ve done.

Did you work closely with David Mack on this title?

Not really, no. David’s doing covers so we’re not working like super-closely together, maybe we’ll have a conversation about what covers might be and what the interior work is, but David’s David, he does his awesome work and I completely trust him to do what he’s going to do and have it be amazing. I moved to Portland, Oregon for the summer so that I could be near Chuck and everyone else on the team because everyone else is in Portland, so I went there for the summer and we were able to get together and have a bunch of creative meetings. Unfortunately, David was never there because he was travelling around and so on so we haven’t yet had that opportunity to sort of like actually sit down and discuss that. Maybe we will this weekend!

Is there the possibility that Fight Club 2 will be adapted into a film?

I don’t even know. The thing that’s interesting about Fight Club 2, having read the script, whatever you think a sequel to Fight Clubis going to be, whatever you have in your head, it’s wrong. It is not what it is. It’s something that I think almost can only be a comic. If they ever talk about making a movie out of it, it will probably have just a basic similarity to it because it really goes off in these very unusual directions. I can only say so much but it’s almost metafictional, it’s kind of a comic on the cultural response to Fight Club as much as it is a sequel to the book. I don’t even though if they can make a movie out of it.

What was it like travelling to Vietnam to research The Other Side?

Amazing, one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. I wanted to do that because I had no real concept of it and I felt like doing that book would be really important to be accurate with it and to get a personal experience with it that I wouldn’t have. I felt like just watching a bunch of Vietnam War movies and Google Image Search wouldn’t do it, so it was very important for me to actually travel there and have first-hand experience. It was incredible, I think it made the book a lot better than it actually would’ve been otherwise, it was great.

Thanks for the kind words about my Batgirl custom figure Mr. Stewart!

STGCC 2014 Day 2: Mega Picture Post

DC Day! I was in something of a euphoric state through much of this day. Also got some halfway-decent photos of the big cosplay runway event! Thanks to everyone for letting me hang around to take photos, crack jokes and just be a generally annoying fanboy.

Kai Le as Jason Todd, Red Hood

The gang’s all here, thanks to Hot Toys.

“I utinni! you.” “I know.”

Jaye Tempest as Elizabeth from Bioshock 

Reno in a Bram Stoker’s Dracula-inspired outfit

Sara as street Cass Cain

Matt as “Rico Vrataski”, a gender-flipped version of Rita Vrataski from Edge of Tomorrow

Frasier as Huntress and Jenny as Black Canary

Cry for Justice

This one’s for the Helena/Dinah shippers

It’s no use, he’ll just wake up and re-live the day again!

Mini-Steve and Natasha

Batgirl finds herself stuck in this fiendish trap called the “Skyhook”

That smile is made of pure evil. Which is to say Sheril did a good job as the character because she is very nice in real life. 

“Sometimes, a bad headache can feel like a knife through your head.” 

Shaun shows off his T-800 makeup



Orbakat Cos as Scarlet Witch

Rachel Rynx as Hawkgirl

I hope he finds it soon.

The game is afoot.

Gun show courtesy of Jes as Wonder Woman and Ka as Power Girl! 

Rul as Nathan Drake! 

Statue re-enactment attempt #1

Lil Steve and Lil Natasha are welcome even if they aren’t DC.

First the Joker cripples Batgirl, then he takes the chattering teeth to her crotch. 

I call this one “a guy can dream” *goes to cry in my corner*

Joel Schumacher wasn’t the only one with Bat-nipples on the brain

A single tear. “MY PARENTS!!”

Rorschach realises my journal isn’t quite as interesting as his own.

Run little Barry! 

It’s Kie as Tim! 

Theodora as Black Widow

THERE WAS A SHAUN! Come and get it, it’s a running buffet!

Don’t nobody tell Frasier, but I think Sarah was the better Huntress.

Alright, they’re both great.

Zann as the smiley Squire! 

Statue re-enactment attempt #2

Don’t shoot the fanboy!

Cards against Bat-family

“You broke the fourth wall INTO THE WRONG UNIVERSE!!” 

Rex as Green Lantern – toting an actual green lantern! 

Fun fact: the Evil Queen never says “mirror mirror”, it’s always “magic mirror”. This is like “Beam me up, Scotty”.

Double the Loki

Don’t tell my pastor I bowed my knee to an outlaw spirit

Popular Australian cosplayer Evey Dantes as Supergirl. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see her in her Batgirl get-up.

Zack as Star-Lord is holding my tiny Baby Groot sculpture.

Magic-users unite! 

Isobel, Wanping and Charissa

Snowman already built.

Ollie & Helena

With a sketch by Cameron Stewart

That’s Rocky as DoFP Wolverine

The story of Bucky is about how one guy realised “Bucky” wasn’t all that cool a name and spent his next life trying to make up for that.

Scythe Scythe Baby

Don’t cross the streams!

So. Much. Abs. Envy.

Nathan Drake can’t grasp the concept of a superselfie

Tim & Conner 4eva!

The Predator macho hand clasp

Gwen as classic Star Lord

Batgirl has every right to be scared – there’s Raymond as the Joker, combining the New 52 Death of the Family look with the Bronze Age one.

Sakura Llama as Legolas!

Archers showdown!

Bat-family for life.

Jason’s revenge

The feels

Batman facepalm.

“Alas, poor Jason”. Isn’t “infinite jest” more the Joker’s thing though?

When the helmet goes on, the gloves come off.
Accidental whirly shot is probably one of my favourite photos of the day.

Get lost, Joker!

Not so cool when I wear it. No fair.

My Little Tony (yes, I’m way prouder of coming up with that than I should be.)

Cosplay runway time!

The Mass Effect trio

Goin’ Rogue

The Iron Giant is puppeteered by Orvis Evans. It is an amazing piece of craftsmanship.

Father-daughter day!

Cameron Stewart nailed the scowly face.

The “trophy case” in the hotel room some of my friends were staying at. I guess the glasses are Commissioner Gordon’s trophy.

STGCC 2014 Day 1: Mega Picture Post

Hey everyone, here’s part 1 of my requisite mega picture post for Day 1 of the Singapore Toy Games and Comics Convention. If you put your ear to the screen, you can almost hear the shameless fanboy squeeing! The highlight of the day was definitely having my Batgirl custom action figure officially approved by writer/artist Cameron Stewart.

Batgirl writer/artist Cameron Stewart approves of my custom action figure!

David Mack and me! 


Artist Andy Price shows us the cutie marks he draws on the Pony version cameos of him, his wife and writer Katie Cook

STGCC 2014 Preview Day

F*** is there for the launch of the annual pop culture event
Words and photos by Jedd Jong 4/9/14

This weekend, an estimated 45 000 fans will descend on the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre for the Singapore Toy Games and Comics Convention (STGCC), produced by Reed Exhibitions and held in collaboration with the New York Comic-Con. This morning, F*** was at The Vault bar for a taster of what’s going down at the convention. Cosplayers dressed as a Star Trek science officer, RoboCop and Spider-Man helped get everyone into geek gear.

Deejay and TV host Elliott Danker was the emcee, welcoming four of the 27 special guests onstage. These included sneaker artist and toy designer Matt “Sekure D.” Fabris, current lead artist on the Amazing Spider-Man comic series Humberto Ramos, Singaporean cosplayer Lenneth XVII and the artist behind the Famous Chunkies caricature series, Alex Solis.
Matt Fabris explains why sneakers are his chosen canvas, citing the popularity of basketball star Michael Jordan in the 80s-90s. “Shoes are just my thing,” he says, revealing that at last count he owns 450 pairs. Fabris went from studying finance and IT to pursuing his artistic passion, beginning as a graffiti artist in his home country of Australia. “It was just a hobby that turned into a job, so now instead of wearing a suit all day, I get to wear a tracksuit, pants, watch basketball and paint robots. It’s good.”

Humberto Ramos cites the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory as an indicator that geek culture has gone mainstream. He says that one of the downsides of being a professional comic book illustrator is that he no longer views comics as leisure and whatever little downtime he has, he wouldn’t want to spend reading them or going to a comic book store. However, the plus is that it has given him the chance to rub shoulders with renowned Marvel artists and writers like Joe Quesada, John Romita Jr. and Brian Michael Bendis, thus making him feel like “the luckiest fan ever.”

After spending over a year in Southern California, Lenneth has returned home. On the differences between the cosplay scene here in Singapore and in the States, she says that materials are a lot more accessible in the States but that the practise of bringing costumes to a tailor for sewing is more commonplace here. Known for her bishōnen (“beautiful youth boy”) cosplays, Lenneth has a secret weapon – her Golden Retriever Mako, who cosplays too. “He’s really good with cameras.  When I ask him to sit, he’ll just look at me,” she says. “Nothing is too challenging when you have a treat in your hand,” she adds with a laugh.

Alex Solis began his depictions of well-known comic book characters sporting rolls of fat in place of defined muscles to raise awareness about healthy eating and to amuse his young daughter. Solis weighs in on the increasing visibility of geek culture in today’s world, attributing some of that to the success of the Marvel Studios films. “I think pretty much all the Marvel movies that came out, stuff like that I feel like it touches everyone. Even now, with Guardians of the Galaxy, I see so much of that going on. Even stuff that you don’t really think about, like big world events, that touches everyone and helps people put their minds of the bad stuff that’s going on and that’s a good thing.”

Following the press conference, the artists demonstrate their skills – Ramos does a marker drawing of Spider-Man crawling along a web, Solis draws an overweight Spidey munching on a burger and Fabris paints a sneaker. F*** asks Ramos what he thinks of the Amazing Spider-Manmovies starring Andrew Garfield. He says that while he likes them, he would’ve preferred the films to hew closer to the comics, “but I know it’s not going to happen because the movie industry, they have to answer to a bigger audience who doesn’t care about the comic books. So, if I look at it that way, I’m okay with whatever they do.” He prefers the recent The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to the 2012 film and likes them both better than Spider-Man 3. Ramos concludes by saying he’s glad that more fans are coming to the comics via the movies. “People seem to realise more what I do for a living.”

STGCC 2014 will be held at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre on 6-7 September. Tickets are priced at $19 for a one-day pass and $25 for a two-day pass.