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DF Interview: Thom Zahler puts Long Distance between lovers in new comic
By Byron Brewer
While stranded in an airport, Carter and Lee meet and hit it off immediately. Problem is, he lives in Columbus and she lives in Chicago. Can they manage to have a relationship separated by three hundred miles, a time zone, and the entire state of Indiana?
This is the situation in Tom Zahler’s new comic, Long Distance, a romantic comedy four-issue miniseries that hits stores today.
To get to the heart of the matter, Dynamic Forces sat down with the creator to discuss this most-different book.
Dynamic Forces: Thom, you certainly had everyone having fun with Love and Capes, and now we have the four-issue limited series Long Distance. Where do you get your love of romantic comedies?
Thom Zahler: From the good ones, probably. I was a huge fan of Paul Reiser’s Mad About You back in NBC’s Must See TV days. Paul and Jamie had real chemistry and I think it was one of the first places my comic book superhero saturated brain started seeing conflict and interesting stories that didn’t involve outright villains. Ross and Rachel’s initial arc in Friends was a big one, too.
And then came Richard Curtis and Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and the big one, Love, Actually. He was the first experience I had of really elevated romantic comedies. They were funny, but they never hit schmaltzy.
DF: I hear that the concept for Long Distance has a very long and unusual origin. Care to share?
Thom Zahler: So, back in 2004, there was this show on Bravo called Situation: Comedy. It was Sean Hayes’ show that was essentially Project Greenlight for sitcoms. You had to write a spec script to enter, and I’d just finished up the third Raider graphic novel and wanted to do something lighter. I had a couple of ideas, but I had just gotten out of a long distance relationship, so that was on my mind. And what I liked about that being the format for a show is that it got around so much of that “Rachel has fat ankles” silliness of coming up with lame reasons to keep characters apart to keep tension. Here, the obstacle is that they live in different cities. That’s a big one.
Incidentally, the other concept I toyed around with at the same time was something called Love and Capes.
DF: Tell us about your cast and therein why the book is called Long Distance.
Thom Zahler: There are two main characters, Carter and Lee. Carter co-owns an ad agency in Columbus, and Lee works as a postdoc/researcher for NASA. They’re both in an airport in New York when they get stuck by a snowstorm. They hit it off, and decide to try to date long distance, hence the title.
They’ve each got their own friends and confidants. Carter’s is his best friend with whom he co-owns the agency. Lee has her grandmother and another researcher she’s hoping to work for.
The thing is, Carter and Lee both really love their jobs, and it ties them to their locations. But they both really want to be with each other. So there’s some conflict.
DF: Living as I do in Kentucky, I can easily imagine the difficulty of this relationship. Do you like to work real locales into your works as you have here? Very conceivable.
Thom Zahler: I do find it much easier to write about places I’ve been. I really love Chicago, and like setting stories there. Chicago was also the template for Deco City in Love and Capes. And I like writing stories in Ohio since I’m proud of my home state. Here, the story takes place in Columbus, not Cleveland where I live, but I’ve spent a fair amount of time there, too.
And, they both have weather, which is fun to draw and gives visual cues to the passing of time. I like that.
Geography was important, too. I wanted to live far enough away where they would tend to fly, but they could drive if they needed to as well. I wanted them to be able to, on the spur of the moment, jump in a car and get to the other person. That ruled out some city pairings right there.
DF: What's with that unusual coloring? Is it yours, and is there some thought process behind it?
Thom Zahler: It is mine. One of the things I’m trying to do with this project is show distance and communication visually. The characters are constantly texting or calling, tweeting and emailing. That can get confusing. So, one of the concepts for the book is that each location has it’s own color. So, Columbus is green, Chicago is orange and so on. All the word balloons are outlined in the color of the location, too. So, Lee’s texts and emails all have an orange outline, Carter’s have green. You can immediately tell where a scene is taking place just by the color shift.
There’s a lot of thought behind it. When characters are in a city, their word balloons have that outline, but their cell phones have the color of their home. If I’ve done it right, after a couple of pages, it just blends in and informs the story.
DF: Wow! That IS cool! And you are doing practically everything on the book yourself! Does Artist Thom ever disagree with the direction of Writer Thom, or vice versa?
Thom Zahler: Oh, we hate each other. But that’s the way it should be. I want to make sure I’m never writing a scene because it’s easy or interesting to draw, but solely because it’s the scene that needs to be. Right now I’ve got a scene of everyone in Carter’s agency having a meeting. It’s a lot of people and I’d rather not be drawing it, but the scene needs to be there and so it’s being drawn.
But likewise, if when I’m drawing a scene I come up with a better way to stage it, a better way to show it, I’ll make those changes, too.
And Letterer Thom really hates everyone.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Thom Zahler for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Long Distance hits stores today!
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