James Kochalka On ‘SuperF*ckers': “If Superheroes Were Real, They’d Be Like Teens On The Internet’ [Interview]
Last week, James Kochalka's SuperF*ckers debuted as an animated web series from Frederator Studios' Cartoon Hangover, and it is every bit as foulmouthed, hateful and hilarious as the original comic series. Set to run as a 12-episode season, SF focuses on a group of super-powered teens who are too busy sitting around annoying each other and otherwise being horrible to actually get around to fighting any crime.
It also represents Kochalka's first foray into adapting his own work into a full-blown cartoon series. To find out more, I talked to Kochalka about his experience working with the studio behind Adventure Time and the influence of video game message boards on his work. Yes, really.ComicsAlliance: I think I've talked to you before about how I'm a big fan of SuperF*ckers. I love it.
James Kochalka: When the comic first came out, some superhero fans kind of laid into it, in that they thought I was just making fun of them or something, but I'm totally into superhero comics. I certainly into the old ones, and when I can get a new one that's still good, I'm still totally into them. I love Invincible, by Robert Kirkman. That's an amazing comic.
CA: Something that I always mention whenever I bring the book up is that if you go back and read those '50s and '60s Legion of Super-Heroes comics, SuperF*ckers is exactly what they're like! There's all the audition scenes where they're just being horrible to other teenagers.
JK: Oh yeah, absolutely! They're mean to the guys that don't make the team, the Legion of Reject Heroes or whatever they're called. Those poor guys that have to start their own reject squad.
I loved Legion of Super-Heroes when I was a kid. There was this comic book store a few towns away from where I grew up that had thousands of back issues you could get for 25 cents or a dollar, so I was buying these old superhero comics from the '60s when I was a little boy in the '70s.
CA: Were those always something that you wanted to do? As a fan of your work, SuperF*ckers seemed like such a big departure from your other comics.
JK: Sure, but I'm always taking big departures. [Laughs]
CA: That's true. American Elf is not like Johnny Boo.
JK: No, absolutely. It's not like SuperF*ckers and it's not like Monkey vs. Robot, you know?
CA: SuperF*ckers is the first thing you've done that's been animated, right?
JK: I made a couple of little things myself with a friend of mine. I made two short cartoons with my characters Impy and Wormer, based on these tiny little strips that ran in Nickelodeon Magazine. But this is the first professional thing, where we have a huge team of people working on it, professional actors, professional animation studio and all that sort of thing.
CA: Was it surprising to you that of all the stuff you've done, this crazy foulmouthed take on teen superheroes was the one that ended up being a cartoon?
JK: I have no idea why. [Laughs] It just appealed to the guys at Frederator who started up Cartoon Hangover. They liked it. They emailed us and asked if they could do it, and we were like "Sure, why not?"
CA: When they came to you, were you aware of them? Were you an Adventure Time guy?
JK: Yeah. I love Adventure Time. I wasn't aware that they had anything to do with it at that point, when they first started talking to me. I think the first Google Search that I did on them showed Fairly Oddparents or Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!. They made all these kids shows, so yeah, it was surprising that they wanted to make SuperF*ckers.
CA: And it's a very faithful adaptation, at least at the start.
JK: The first episode of the show is a scene taken right out of the book, but I sort of changed the context. The scene of Princess Sunshine brushing her hair and Grotessa being all annoyed at her, that's right out of the comic. But what leads into the scene and how I lead out of it is totally different.
And then there are the other upcoming episodes. There are characters in the animated series that are not in the book, and there are characters in the book that aren't in the animated series, and then there are characters that I changed a little bit. I tweaked relationships just a little. I don't know why, exactly. I didn't change it just to change it, but the process of writing these episodes was very, very intense.
The way that I draw comics, the way I have drawn comics always, is that I just start drawing, and I draw until it's done. I don't usually go back and edit at all, but there was a constant push to tighten it up and make it better. We worked really hard to make these episodes as tight and sharp as I could. People will probably watch it and probably not be able to tell that I put any extra work into it, but it was fun as well.
It was so exciting to work on it that while I was writing the episodes, my heart would literally be pounding. I would sit there for hours writing these things. I'd write the scripts in comic book form, with pencil and paper as rough drafts. I'd make these scripts and email them off to Frederator, and they would email back suggestions, and I'd do a quick redraw, put it all back together into a PDF and email it to them. It was a really artistically intense and challenging project, but really, really fun to work on.
CA: So you enjoyed it as something different from the way you usually work?
JK: Yeah. It was less relaxing. That's why I think my heart would be racing, and I'd be sweating and really freaking out while I was working on it. The stakes seemed to be higher.
CA: Can you tell me anything about the new characters you're introducing?
JK: The episode that comes out this week, on Friday, is called "Sh*tstorm, Motherf*ckers!" and there's a new character called Sh*tstorm. Sh*tstorm is played by me, and I had to argue for months to convince them that I would be the right guy for the part. It wasn't until two days before we started recording the voice actors that they were like "Okay, fine, you can do it."
They didn't really know what to expect out of me, I don't think. And then, when we're in the studio in LA, and David Faustino was there, Phil Morris was there, Veronica Belmont was there. I busted out my character and everyone was just dying laughing and cheering after. It was a great moment.
CA: What was it that made you want to play Sh*tstorm?
JK: I don't know if I should give away exactly what he is... He's like an amped up, even stupider version of Jack Krak that Jack Krak accidentally creates. He's a sh*t in a spacesuit, basically.
CA: I love Jack Krak, even though he's such an awful guy and such a jerk. I've used that panel from, I think it was a Wizard special, the "It sucks, it's stupid and I hate it" panel. That's been my justification for so many reviews that I've written.
JK: That pretty much sums up the Internet response to any creative art endeavor. It sucks, it's stupid, I hate it. [Laughs]
I go to a lot of video game message boards and read about all the games coming out, and there's always so much hype for whatever game is coming out. Everyone talks about how amazing it is until the day it comes out, and then everyone says it's awful. It's like that for every game!
CA: Do you play a lot of games, or do you just enjoy the message boards?
JK: I definitely play video games, but I probably spend more time reading about them than playing them, honestly. I read about a lot of games that I don't have time to play. Mostly, we play family friendly games with my boys, like the Mario games or Skylanders. Actually I play a lot of arty indie games too... Things made by individual creators or very small teams. Like the indy-comics of games. But I read about all the Call of Duty games, even though I've never played them.
CA: [Laughs] Is that your source for horrible teens and the way they communicate with each other?
JK: Oh, sure. SuperF*ckers is a satire, and it's also a farce and that'll become clear as it goes on. It's a bunch of buffoons acting in a really crude way, and situations become more and more outrageous and implausible. But it's a satire.
On the Internet, because they're anonymous, someone has the power to say anything they want about anybody, and they can get away with it. So they do. They can say whatever lie they want about anybody, and nobody can do anything, or talk whatever sh*t they want about anybody. And the SuperF*ckers, well, they're not anonymous, but they're super. They can do whatever the f*ck they want and get away with it. If superheroes were real, they'd be like teens on the Internet.
CA: How long is the cartoon slated to run?
JK: There's twelve episodes. Really, it was originally just going to be six, I think, and then every time I'd reach the goal of however many I was supposed to write, they'd be like "these are so good that we're going to do more. Six? How about you do nine?" Okay, I wrote nine. "How about you do twelve?" Okay! And then, only a month and a half ago, they were like "why don't you write a Christmas episode?" Okay! So I worked really hard on the Christmas episode for like two weeks, and then they suddenly realized they didn't have time to finish it before Christmas. [Laughs] So we canned that one.
CA: I would love to see a SuperF*ckers Christmas special.
JK: Wouldn't it be amazing? Maybe in Season 2, if we get that far.