“The iPad could become the new spinner rack” Thom Zahler talks about his superhero sitcom Love and Capes and it’s new digital incarnation

In the macho world of super hero comics, it’s easy to forget that back in the Golden Age, romance stories were just as popular as the action adventure stuff. Even the greats like Jack Kirby cut their teeth doing romance books, but in the modern day they’ve become something of a rarefied breed. Thank goodness then for Love and Capes which combines the kind of modern superhero stories we know and love with a healthy measure of romance, and a generous dash of good old fashioned gags. Previously available online at LoveandCapes.com or in print from IDW, it is now released on ComiXology.

Love and Capes follows the adventures of Mark (aka super hero the Crusader), and his new girlfriend, book shop owner Abby. But unlike your trad superhero books, Mark reveals his secret identity to Abby in the first chapter, which allows writer/artist Thom Zahler to poke fun at  the traditional obliviousness of other superhero girlfriends. (There’s no Lois and Clark style stumbling around the fact our hero’s girlfriend can’t recognise him when he takes off his glasses here!) Taking a knowing (and loving) swipe at all manner of super hero cliches it focuses on the blossoming relationship between Abby and her new super-boyfriend, covering everything from super-powered ex’s to secret origins and weaknesses, making for a fantastic, hilarious read.

To find out more about Love in Capes and it’s new digital lease of life, I got in touch with Thom Zahler and asked him just how it felt to have a whole new audience about to get to know his characters via the iPad?

Love and Capes is being released on ComiXology this week, has this been something you’ve been after for a while and how big a deal is it for you to have your work available on this platform?

Having Love and Capes available digitally has been part of the plan from the start of my partnership with IDW. I think it’s a huge deal. I’m largely format-agnostic. I just want you to read my work, the where and how is up to you. The more places my work exists, the more places it can find readers… and honestly, the more places there are to buy it. And it’s another place where I really appreciate being with IDW. They’re a big player, and they have earned a fair bit of spotlight.

How much of the series is going to be added to ComiXology and how quickly?

The entire current run of Love and Capes, which encompasses the thirteen self-published issues and the five-issue Love and Capes: Ever After miniseries will be available digitally. The issues will be available individually as well as collections.

You’ve already embraced the world of digital comics with episodes of Love and Capes available for free on your website, but do you think the growth of digital comics is a good or bad thing for the comics business?

For the comics business, it’s just a thing, neither good nor bad. It’s how it’s used and implemented that will make the difference. I think it’s got great potential. The iPad could become the new spinner rack and the new point of entry for new readers. Making the books available day and date has been important, and having a consistent product base is a big deal, too. Taking the “I wonder if that’s available online” out of the equation makes the purchasing process frictionless.

Obviously, it’s an issue for retailers, but I don’t think it’s insurmountable. I don’t think digital necessarily cannibalizes print either. When DC launched their New 52, I tried a lot on my iPad, and that’s led to me buying more print books than I had before.

How much of your workflow for creating Love and Capes is digital and how much do you think that helps you produce the book and publish it online?

The book is drawn by hand, inked by hand, and then scanned and colored on my Mac. I work in what I call “animated series” style, where I design backgrounds/sets and move characters on top of them. I’ll certainly draw the entire panel when the story calls for it, but when people are in the bookstore or in the Liberty League corridors, for instance, those I can reuse art.

It’s how I can do a complete comic on the schedule I do. If I had to draw and color everything in a more traditional format, it’d take a lot longer and there would be more time between issue releases. As it is, an issue takes 2-3 months to do.

Weirdly, working in print has made me safe for online printing. Having the final project in the computer makes it easy to output the appropriate files, but designing for print resolution has made me safe when it comes to changing screens. If Apple ever comes out with a retina display iPad, I’ll be able to turn my 600-DPI master files into something that will look crisp on that screen.

What has put you off making the shift over to a digital workflow, is it just the future proofing? 

The traditional process comes from me being really in love with brush-inked work. If I had a Cintiq, I might be able to do something close, but short of that, I can’t find anything that captures the snap of a Raphael #2 brush.

It’s interesting to hear you say you follow an animators workflow, Love and Capes feels very like a newspaper strip the way it has punchlines or key moments every 6 panels, is that a result of how it was published in the first place?

The format comes from future-proofing the title. The book has always been print-first. But my friend Bill Williams of Lone Star Press pointed out that (pre iPad) computer screens are landscape and comic pages are portrait, so design a book that fits on a screen and can be stitched together… do half pages! So I did, and it’s worked well.

I’ve always been a big comic strip fan, and loved Bloom County among others. I fell into that four-panel format because that’s my default funny strip tendency. It’s also served to act as a comedic metronome, letting me know when I need to have a joke happen. And it allows every piece of the book that appears online to have a beat. It’s something that I think is important for putting your work online, it needs to hit a satisfying note so that you feel like you’ve had a complete bite, rather than an incomplete chunk.

Which creators do you look to for inspiration creatively? And what books do you recommend for fans of your work? What about digital comics, anything that has particularly caught your eye?

Darwyn Cooke is a big influence. I like his style, the way he attacks a project, and how he brings a very unique voice to the work. I’m a big Mark Waid fan too (full disclosure: he’s a friend, too) because he’s able to take on so many genres in so many tones.

For fans of my work, the above creators are very good. I’ll blend the last two parts of your question, too. The Great Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Aaron William’s PS 238, Chris Sims’ Dracula the Unconquered and Lora Innes’ The Dreamer are outstanding comics that start or exist primarily in digital format. Lora’s a great creator to look towards for a number of reasons. She’s doing a great book, but she’s really taking full advantage of the digital playground.

One of the advantages that small publishers/creators have these days is that they can search out and broadcast to the perfect audience for them.

Are you and iPhone or iPad user yourself and what do you think of them as a tool for reading comics on?

I’m a big iPhone and iPad user. I can’t imagine a reality without them. The iPhone has too small a form factor for me to really like it for comics, although a strip-based comic could do okay on it. The iPad, though, is great. It’s a nice way to consume books. I’ve got past my collector mentality when I bought a Kindle. I realized that as much as I love books, there are some books that I want to read (I always mention Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) but I don’t need to own. The same way with comics, there are books I’m reading that I just want to read, but don’t need to stay on my shelf forever with All-Star Superman and Justice League: The New Frontier Absolute Editions that I return to again and again. I only have so much room in my house.

I liken it to DVDs. I watch a lot of TV, but there are few things I actually need to own on DVD.

Finally, what’s the next step for Love and Capes and what would you still like to achieve with both the characters and the title in general?

Love and Capes: Ever After ends with a pretty obvious follow-up to come, but I realize not everyone’s read the series so I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice it to say I’ve definitely got more stories to tell. And, as I go on, the universe I’ve built feels richer to me. Characters like Darkblade, Amazonia and Charlotte started off as characters that served purposes for Mark and Abby’s story, and now they’ve got stories of their own. I like expanding out to showcase the other pieces I’ve built.

I’d love to see a TV series. It’s built on a sitcom structure and I think it’d translate pretty seamlessly. But I’m more than happy to keep playing in this universe. I think it’s a fun place for people to visit.

Love and Capes is available on ComiXology’s app for 0.69p an issue, via The Love and Capes website or, you can buy collections of the early issues here. For the latest Love and Capes news you can follow Thomas on twitter @loveandcapes