Interview: Thomas Zahler on IDW’s Long Distance

Long Distance #1

Long Distance #1

Thomas Zahler is the creator of the superhero romance comic Love and Capes, writes for the My Little Pony comic, and has done a diverse number of other projects including the Slider comic strip for the Cleveland Indians. Now he brings his new comic, Long Distance, to IDW. Westfield’s Roger Ash recently spoke to Zahler about this new book.

Westfield: I read on your blog that Long Distance started off as a TV script that you had written.

Thomas Zahler: It did. There was a TV show on Bravo, I believe, called Situation Comedy which was essentially Project Greenlight for sitcoms. I wrote a pilot for a comedy about a couple in a long distance relationship which is the basis for the comic I am doing now.

Westfield: Why did you decide to turn the script into a comic?

Zahler: It’s one of those stories that I’ve always loved and didn’t have another venue for it. Among the many things that have changed since I wrote it in 2004 is that there’s texting and Twitter and so many different ways in which we stay in contact over distance and I think that those are very well served by showing them visually, which comics do so well. I’m doing things with color where every location has its own unique color palette so that visually it breaks between the two. You can very much tell what’s Chicago. You can tell what’s Columbus. I think it’s the kind of thing that comics are able to do in a pretty special way.

Also, I wanted to get it out there.

Westfield: So you did update the story from what you had initially written.

Zahler: Oh, yes. When I wrote it in 2004, unlimited texting plans weren’t as much of a thing. Twitter hadn’t come out yet. And the iPhone wasn’t out yet. People were not using technology to the level they are now.

Long Distance #1 preview page 1

Long Distance #1 preview page 1

Westfield: The story stars Carter and Lee. What can you tell us about them?

Zahler: Carter is an advertising artist. He lives in Columbus. Lee is a research scientist working for, essentially, NASA in Chicago. That’s an update from the original where she was a model. The two of them, when they meet in the airport, just really hit it off. They blend so effortlessly that they become drawn into each other’s sphere. It’s interesting writing characters who get along. There’s still conflict between them but, at least in the first couple issues, the conflict is very much based on environment and location and less upon how well these two people are able to form a relationship.

Westfield: Who are some of the other characters in the series?

Zahler: There is Tim who is Carter’s best friend and co-owner of the ad agency that they run. He serves very much as a voice of reason. He also has a family and he’s kind of what Carter’s striving for, or would like to have. He’s also, in his own way, an anchor in that Carter feels that he got his friend to start this business and that he needs to say in Ohio, in Columbus, to be part of that.

Lee has a co-worker who is above her in the research department who is her sounding board. Lee also lives with her grandmother and we’ll find out interesting stuff about their family lives. Lee feels very protective of her grandmother and she loves being a scientist. One of the things about the book is that while these two characters fall for each other, they’re also both very much in love with their careers and that’s part of what keeps them apart.

Long Distance #1 preview page 2. This page demonstrates the use of color to denote location.

Long Distance #1 preview page 2. This page demonstrates the use of color to denote location.

Westfield: Where did the story come from?

Zahler: A little bit of personal experience. Way back in 2003, I had met someone and briefly had a long distance relationship. That was the genesis. I thought there were a lot of interesting story opportunities. So many romantic comedies, so many sitcoms, are based upon the premise “will they get together?” A lot of times, I think the question of how they get together is a little more interesting. The Ross and Rachel relationship in Friends, for example. I thought they could have got them together, that there were interesting stories to tell, but they decided they were based more on “will these two people finally make it?” or “will these two people finally become a couple?” rather than “how did these two people decide to form a couple?”

Little things like what happens when your significant other gets sick and you can’t be there. You can’t bring them soup. You can’t go over to their house. You’re three states away. How do you deal with that? It’s those little conflicts that I found particularly interesting.

Love and Capes

Love and Capes

Westfield: How different is is doing Long Distance, which is a straight romance story, as opposed to Love and Capes which mixed in the superhero element as well?

Zahler: So far the biggest difference is that I’m not doing that eight panel grid format. I don’t want to say that was limiting, but it had its own set of guard rails. It also gave you a sense of structure where a lot of the problems you had to solve were taken care of. You didn’t have to figure out what the page design was. You didn’t have to figure out where the jokes were going to go. Long Distance is much more a classical multi-panel, multi-grid traditional comic book story, so that safety net is away. It’s one of the things that very much appealed to me about the project; to tell a different story in a different way. Past that, Love and Capes was always very much more about the couple in the relationship and less about the superhero aspect. In that way, the projects are similar.

Westfield: You’re doing this a a limited series. Does it reach a definitive end or are there more stories to tell?

Zahler: The answer is both. I am structuring this in such a way that if this is the only one that I do, it will stand on its own. That’s been something that I’ve tried to do in a lot of my projects. The first issue of Love and Capes is designed to stand alone. Once I did six issues, every sixth issue was a place where I could walk away from it if I had to. Especially being a self publisher, trying to figure out if you’re going to be able to do another six issues was a concern, so I wanted to make sure that everything ended cleanly. Much the same way, this ends cleanly, but there are definitely ways to tell more stories in this world.

Long Distance #1 preview page 3

Long Distance #1 preview page 3

Westfield: Do you want to tell more stories in this world?

Zahler: It’s hard for me to say that right now. I’m exactly in the middle of the project and it’s very much swimming in cold water because this doesn’t have that very comfortable feeling that something like Love and Capes had because I had been swimming in that water for so long. Right now, I just need to finish it. Once I do that, I can assess based on how much I enjoyed it and what kind of reaction it gets if I will decide to do more. I certainly have other stories that I want to tell and that was conscious in breaking away from Love and Capes. I probably could have done a fifth year of Love and Capes but I wasn’t particularly inspired to do so. I felt like I ended that where I wanted to. There are more stories that I want to tell and we only have so much time in which to do the work, so you have to start deciding when it’s time to do one and when it’s time to do another.

Westfield: Are there any other projects you’re working on at the moment that you’d like to mention?

Zahler: I have a two parter coming out for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The actual plot is pretty hush hush, but it’s the kind of thing where if I’ve done it right, it will blow the minds of fans of the series. I’m really happy with what I came up with for it. In addition, sometime in the currently airing season of Ultimate Spider-Man, I wrote an episode of that. I’m currently under NDA [non-disclosure agreement], so I can’t tell you anything about it. We don’t get told when the episodes air, so I don’t know when my episode will be on, but at some point it will be on and I’ll say much more about it.

Westfield: What was the experience of writing for animation vs. writing for comics like?

Zahler: It was very much a different audience. Not in terms of the story itself; the story is the story. On My Little Pony, I write for my editor and I write for Hasbro and then I craft a script that is given to the artist. On these issues of Pony, that’s Tony Fleecs. With working on an animated series, it was different having to have it go to the story editor and to the producers. The language for writing it to be animated rather than given to a comic book artist is different. Just the whole structure was a very different experience.

Long Distance #1. Lora Innes Subscription Cover

Long Distance #1. Lora Innes Subscription Cover

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Zahler: I hope people check it out. The romance genre has been underserved in comics. Comics themselves are often considered a genre and not a medium. I think it’s time to get back to it being a medium and having way, way more types of stories. It’s being done already by all sorts of wonderful people, but this is me putting my stake in the ground and broadening the playing field just a little bit too.


Long Distance #1



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