I Wanted To Play In Space, Man: Andy Suriano & Matt Chapman On ‘Cosmic Scoundrels’
Cosmic Scoundrels was already one of my favorite comics before I even started reading it. The creation of artist Andy Suriano (of Samurai Jack) and Matt Chapman (the co-creator of Homestar Runner), it was the product of two creators whose work I've obsessed over more than just about anything else in the world, which made it something I was pretty much fated to love. Fortunately, it paid off with a rollicking, two-fisted space adventure of a couple of dirtbags in a ship called the S.S. Fistpuncher and one of the most ill-conceived heists in galactic history.
We recently honored the webcomic as part of our best-of-the-year awards, but to find out more about the origins and influences of Cosmic Scoundrels, I talked to Suirano and Chapman to find out how it all got started, why they printed it as a massive 11" x 17" convention exclusive, and just what Matt Chapman's favorite comics are, as well as getting an exclusive look at art from the development of the series.
ComicsAlliance: How did Cosmic Scoundrels come about? I know from following Andy on Twitter that there was sushi involved.
Matt Chapman: The Midnight Fernando! I actually don't know the full answer to that question, because it was Andy's original idea. Where did the original idea for it come up? It was already sort of formed when Andy brought it to me.
Andy Suriano: Not quite. I'm not going to take that much credit -- I refuse to take that much blame for it! You know, the genesis would probably be the old, maybe early '90s Avengers run with Starfox and Jack of Hearts. There's a brief interval where Starfox and Jack of Hearts were on the same roster.
CA: It all makes sense now.
AS: I was coming off of a couple of pretty serious gigs, and I was just kind of tired of the intensity of everything. I wanted something that reminded me of reading comics as a kid with my dad, and my dad taking me to the comic shop. That sort of innocence and fun of having what I could glean from the comics, even if I didn't read them, of what I thought they were about. I loved the old Avengers lineups back in the '80s with Black Knight and Dr. Druid.
I wanted to play in space, man. So I was just drawing ridiculous looking characters. I was trying to get a little bit away from Kirby. I was being pegged too much as a Kirby clone, which is not bad. It's cool, but it had definitely limited my audience, not that Cosmic Scoundrels necessarily expanded that.
AS: I just played around with some drawings, and it was so ridiculous that I showed it to a couple of people and they all laughed at me and thought I was joking. Nobody took me seriously. The initial concept was something that I just wanted to write, because I didn't have time to draw anything, and Dan McDaid, who drew Jersey Gods, was who I wanted to draw it. I'm a huge fan of his, we've talked, we've shared and commiserated a lot about other creators, but he's in the UK. I showed him and said "Hey man, I want you to draw this!" and he's like "Ha ha, yeah, come on." That was the early, early incarnation. It was totally nothing like what it became. I had shown Matt Chapman, who I'd worked together with at Disney, he worked down the hall from me at Gravity Falls while I was working on the Mickey Mouse shorts. I showed him these ridiculous drawings. Or did I just pin them up for you?
MC: No, you showed me. I think I'd asked about some other stuff you were working on, and you showed me that and I think I demanded a printout immediately. They had some pretty sweet color copiers and color printers at Disney that we exploited to the fullest extreme that we could and still remain employed there. But yeah, I was like "I want to put that on my bulletin board, what is that?!" And Andy was just like, "Ah, it's this idea, it's these guys." You look at the picture of these two characters and it says "Cosmic Scoundrels" above them, and I'd just be asking "Is it about this? Is it about this?" And he'd say "Well, it doesn't exist yet, but yes. Sure, it can be about that." The stuff that I assumed it would be about was right in line with what Andy wanted it to be, so we just kept talking about it in the background for maybe a year before we actually did anything with it, right?
AS: Yeah, man. Matt has these amazing long boxes. You only had, what, four in your office?
AS: And they all had the best stuff from that era. He had the big Star Wars books from the '70s, those big Treasury Sized ones.
MC: And a lot of 2000 AD.
AS: Oh, right!
MC: We were way into Judge Dredd. Out of all the people who'd ask me if I liked Marvel or DC or whatever, I guess Marvel is what I know more of, but as far as actual number of comics, I have way more 2000 AD, Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, and Rogue Trooper comics than any of the American-born ones.
AS: You also had that collection of blacklight posters. Who put that together?
MC: My friend Dan Donahue, this book of '70s blacklight poster art. I was pushing all the right buttons for Andy as he was looking through some of my stuff.
AS: It was like "Aw man, Cosmic Scoundrels has found its champion!"
CA: If someone had asked me to describe Cosmic Scoundrels, I don't know if I would've thought "It's 2000 AD plus blacklight poster art," but that's a pretty good summary.
MC: I'd take that any day.
AS: So me and Matt would talk, and we were both working for the Mouse, and we wanted to do something fun, something outside of work, something that could just be a depository for our silly '80s brains.
MC: Yeah, and because we knew that's the sort of stuff that, if you tried to pitch it through any real channels, it'd just get noted to death and have the life squeezed out of it, and we were both in a world where that was happening. We enjoyed what we were doing, obviously, not to sh*t on the jobs we had at the time, but at the same time, it was in that world where you have to please a thousand people and invariably, something will get the life sucked out of it. So we were just like "Let's do a thing together where we're not trying to please anybody but ourselves! It'll just be fun, with no expectations, and we'll put it out to the world!"
AS: We didn't approach any publishers, there was nothing set up. There was no pitching. That was our rule, we're not going to try to sell it to anybody. It's just going to be an amalgamation of our likes, just throwing it up as we did it and satisfying our whims.
CA: So where did the idea come from of doing the big book for conventions?
AS: Again, Matt's long box. Those giant, treasury-sized editions and that memory of opening those up. When I was little, I had that memory, me and Matt both have older brothers, and it's that memory of opening those things up and that feeling that they're so huge. This 11" x 17" book that we put together for conventions is actually a lot bigger than the treasury-sized books, but it was to evoke that same feeling as adults. I'm not trying to get deep or anything, but that's where it came from. I just wanted to evoke that wonderment of picking up that giant book, those old Epic science-fiction books, or the treasury-sized Battlestar Galactica, or Kirby's 2001. That, and it just seemed absurd, you know? Like if we're going to do something as absurd as Cosmic Scoundrels and put our own money in and get it printed and present it to the con-going masses, then it was going to have to be as absurd as the content.
MC: Exactly. We wanted to make sure that it wouldn't fit on anyone's bookshelves. No one has bookshelves that can fit something that tall.
CA: I've somehow managed to lose mine because of that.
MC: You should've put it in a place of honor! It needs one of those reference section sort of desks that they'd have for dictionaries and large atlases in the library. This'll fit right on there.
CA: It is one of those things where Cosmic Scoundrels is going up as a webcomic, and it's always been my experience that it's easier to sell to someone at a convention if you're giving them in some kind of form that the web doesn't. So having that gigantic 11" x 17" book and trying to get it back from Seattle, that's an experience.
AS: Some people were like "You're never going to sell this!" And yeah, do I want to sell more at conventions? Yeah, but we've done pretty good. We've sold out at... gosh, every convention we've gone to. I didn't come home with any of 'em.
MC: We should just build a handle onto the book. It'll become your carry-on item.
AS: We're definitely doing that for Book 2.
MC: A space-luggage handle.
CA: You mentioned earlier that Matt came in asking what it was about and offering suggestions, so do you remember what those suggestions were? Did any of them make it into the final comic that we've seen so far?
AS: All of them, right? I mean, we've created backstory that we haven't even touched on. We've gone full hog into the action and stuff without telling you anything about these characters' backstories, and it's pretty amazing.The aptly named Love Savage, Glam Rocker of the Future, his origin story is probably the best I've heard in comic-dom for a while. We haven't even shared it.
MC: Suffice to say that there's a really, really awesome piece of '70s-looking heavy metal album art that will play a pivotal role in his origin, and we still need to find the artist that we think can nail that look perfectly when we get to that story. That was something that I think may have been born from that first conversation. There are a thousand details, and I'd tell them to you if we weren't already planning on putting them in a future story.
CA: You can slip a couple in.
MC: Well, there'll be a lot of long hair and beards on that album cover, and it'll open Love Savage's eyes. He had a more sheltered, silver-spoon-in-his-mouth life, and this album art opened his mind. He tuned in, turned on and dropped out! Now he flies around the universe in spandex popping expired narcotics.
AS: Roshambo's origin, too. He's like the Pete Rose of the future.
MC: Pete Rose is a really good comparison as far as his history. Not baseball, but another sort of sport. That'll all get revealed as well. He was one of the greats, and now he's got this disgrace that he'll never be able to live down.
CA: So how planned out is the story that you're doing? It feels very spontaneous, and I mean that in a good way.
MC: We planned the entire story out, first in a super broad arc, not really fleshed out, and then we'll take a story chunk and put the details in. What's awesome is that we've added several pages, maybe half a dozen, that have content that did not exist in the original arc, they did not exist in the script I'd send to Andy. Andy'll just be like "What if we spent a whole page doing this?" and I'll say "Yes, let's do that!" It's fun that you say that, because it's this perfect blend of both. We know exactly where we're going, so hopefully it feels like a nice package at the end, but we can still take that tangent for a week and still do something dumb that occurs to us. That's good to hear.
AS: "Tangent" is a good way to put it. How we're telling the story, it's not very linear, but we're trying to get it so you can experience it in a multitude of ways. You can experience the story for what it is, and then on the website, there's the text at the bottom that Matt puts in to expand on the world even further and give you a broader sense of the world. Not just what's happening in the moment, but giving you a sense of what the world is without necessarily having to show you everything.
MC: Like those commercials in RoboCop that would give you a sense of what that future Detroit was like. It's world-building of that awesome minutiae style, boiling it down to these tiny little bits. "What do infomercials look like in this world?" is almost more informative than if you had a big, long, boring description of what the world was like. Finding those cultural touchstones inform you a little better.
CA: And you put a lot of effort into those Easter eggs, which is also something you did with Homestar Runner.
MC: That's always been important to me, just making content of any kind. It's why I loved shows like Arrested Development that were all about rewarding the repeat and very discerning viewer. Like, if somebody digs your stuff, give them an extra layer under the surface to enjoy. The stuff that I love the most is the stuff that always had that, little callbacks to old things, or "Did you notice in the background there's this guy that keeps popping up? He's almost got his own story!" I love that stuff, it feels like it's being made for you and that you're one of a select few who's noticing it. I love it when I find that stuff in entertainment of any kind, so I love that stuff.
AS: Speaking of, wait 'til we get the origin of Party Steve.
MC: Party Steve is going to become legendary. Or maybe just be a one-off joke.
AS: Matt and I love those old Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe style things, just those little boxes and heads of characters that we've never read and will never read. They appeared once, and there's like that brief, one sentence describing everything you needed to know about them, and it's good. We love slipping that stuff in.
MC: I would always find, as a kid reading Marvel Universe, there'd be some team that you never heard of with a bunch of heads, and the guy that I thought looked coolest always had "DECEASED" written under his head. I was always like "Come on! That guy's dead now?! I can't even read any comics about him?!"
CA: I think my favorite bonus gag in Cosmic Scoundrels is when you show the "'88 Update to the Official Handbook of the Cosmic Scoundrels," and it has the front view of Roshambo's gauntlets that's just a circle.
AS: That was a thing that we found in Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, where I swear that there's just a rectangle for the front view and a smaller rectangle for the side view. Like Forge's gun or something.
MC: Forge's guns were ridiculous, because they'd break them apart, but it was literally just shapes. It looks like it's made out of crackers. We find the stuff that we love the most and try to poke fun at it, but in a very loving way.