Interview: Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett on Image’s Section Zero

Section Zero #1

Section Zero #1

Karl Kesel has written and inked (and occasionally drawn) comics including Harley Quinn and Captain America: Patriot. Tom Grummett has drawn numerous comics such as Robin and Fantastic Four. Together, they’ve collaborated on Superboy, Challengers of the Fantastic, and more. Now they return to their creator owned comic, Section Zero, completing the story began 18 years ago. Kesel and Grummet talk with Westfield’s Roger Ash about this thrilling adventure.

Westfield: What is Section Zero?

Karl Kesel: Everyone say it with me: There is no Section Zero! Section Zero isn’t a secret section of the United Nation’s charter that perpetually funds a team of experts and adventurers to investigate the fantastic and unknown. The idea that they look into UFOs, monsters, lost civilizations and such is just an urban myth. After all, none of these things exist.

Tom Grummett: Section Zero is an internationally sanctioned team of investigators, not all of whom are completely human, who fly around the world in a flying saucer and have adventures.

Kesel: It’s basically “Jack Kirby does the X-Files.” So all those cool creatures and such, but with more punching and explosions. Remember, they’re “Protecting Mankind From Everything That Doesn’t Exist!”

Section Zero #1 variant cover featuring Sam Wildman by Jerry Ordway

Section Zero #1 variant cover featuring Sam Wildman by Jerry Ordway

Westfield: Who are some of the characters readers will meet in the series?

Kesel: There are so many, and they’re all cool! (Well: we’d think so!) But off the top of my head:

DOCTOR TITANIA CHALLENGER— or “Doc Challenger”—brilliant scientist and leader of the group, Tina’s the granddaughter of Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger.

SAM WILDMAN— a make-it-up-as-you-go-along Indiana Jones sort of character. Used to be married to Tina. But there’s something about their break-up that he’s not telling.

24-HOUR BUG. Kid gets a tattoo, turns out to be cursed. Whenever he scratches it, he transforms into an insectoid person for exactly one day. Hence: 24-Hour Bug.

The mysterious Munro

The mysterious Munro

MUNRO. Not a member of Section Zero, per se, but someone they have to trust. Unfortunately, she’s not always trustworthy. She wears a fur coat— and that seems to be all she’s wearing!

Grummett: We have heroes, naturally, but some bad guys, too. The GHOST SOLDIERS are a mysterious group of nefarious types who show up from time to time and complicate matters.

Westfield: Three issues of Section Zero were published almost 20 years ago, leaving the story unfinished. How did the story come to finally be completed?

Grummett: I chalk it up to sheer stubbornness, really. Section Zero was all about Karl and I having fun and telling fun stories. My feeling was always that we would find a way to finish what we started… we were simply on “pause.”

Kesel: We’d been looking to bring Section Zero back almost from the day we suspended its original publication. Our problem was we still needed to pay our bills, so couldn’t work for free— and no one was willing to pay us enough up-front to make the math work. Then in 2017 we launched the Section Zero Kickstarter and raised enough— astonishingly!— to pay our way (kinda) while we finished the first arc. That’s a hardcover, oversized, limited-run collector’s edition book, however, and seen by relatively few people. Luckily, Jim Valentino was one of the backers— and one of SZ’s biggest fans from day one— and he offered to release the book as a miniseries through Image. Hopefully, this means a lot more people will be able to enjoy our story— a story that is a true passion project for Tom and myself. In the very least, they need to get it for Tom’s art— it’s flat out the best work of his entire career.

You'll meet Carlos in issue #4.

You’ll meet Carlos in issue #4.

Westfield: Quite a bit of a fourth issue was completed but set aside when the book went on hiatus and a new fourth issue was drawn when the book was revived. Was it hard seeing that part of the story remain unused? Why did you decide to do a new issue?

Kesel: Section Zero is anchored in real history— they were created as part of the United Nations— so the team has to be anchored in real time, too. Because of that, we always planned to age the characters in real time and saw no reason to change that when we Kickstarted the book.18 years had (unbelievably!) passed for us, so 18 years had to have passed for the characters, too. With that in mind, I looked at what we had done, and wondered how to make that gap part of the story. The end result, if you ask me, is far better than what we would have done if we’d continued to work on SZ back in 2000.

Grummett: When Karl came up with the story that had a whole new fourth issue, I’ll admit that I was taken aback. It was taking the series into a whole different territory. As it turned out, we ended up with a stronger story as a result.

Kesel: The unused art: Yeah, that was tough to let go. Especially since Tom killed on those pages! But our main concern was always to give the readers the best story possible.

Section Zero #1 variant cover by Walter Simonson featuring 24-Hour Bug.

Section Zero #1 variant cover by Walter Simonson featuring 24-Hour Bug.

Westfield: Do you have a favorite character to work on?

Kesel: On different days I have different favorites. 24-Hour Bug will always have a place in my heart— I love how he walks the line between goofy and spooky. And Sam— a character Tom brought to the table— really is the heart of the story. Almost literally. I also have a real fondness for Munro— she’s sexy, smart, and a survivor first and foremost. I like how you never know if she’s on the side of the angels or not— until you know!

Grummett: I can safely say that all our characters are fun to work on. With each panel, I get to know them a little better.

Westfield: You two have worked together for around 25 years now, including your popular run on Superboy. What do you think makes your collaboration work so well?

Grummett: I think it’s the back and forth of sharing our ideas. I think we surprise one another, and that’s the fun of it!

Kesel: Tom draws the way I wish I could draw. His art is dynamic, engaging, approachable, the storytelling is crystal-clear. But more than anything , I think the reason we work so well together is we both really have fun doing what we’re doing, and I think it shows in every single panel on every single page.

Westfield: Is there more Section Zero to come?

Grummett: Yep. We have a lot to explore with these characters, and their history, and I can’t wait to dig deeper!

Section Zero 1959

Section Zero 1959

Kesel: Funny you should ask! We’re about to launch our second Section Zero Kickstarter— Section Zero 1959! This time we’re going back in time to focus on the original four team members. As it happens, Tom and I were both born in 1959 (which is almost impossible for me to believe!) and this is our love letter to some of the comics from that period. Specifically: those wild, wonderful early Marvel monster stories (which certainly left their mark on me, for better or worse) and Kirby’s run on Challengers of the Unknown (only my personal favorite mainstream comic characters of all time). So in a sense, this book is a birthday present to ourselves, but it’s also a very heartfelt gift to our readers, too.

We’ll be launching Section Zero 1959 sometime in February. You can find out more at — where you can also still get the first Section Zero collector’s edition hardcover, I might add!

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Kesel: You don’t keep trying to publish a comic for 18+ years because you have nothing better to do. You do it because you’re passionate about it— there’s this burning need to get the story out there, and do more stories with the same characters. That’s how Tom and I feel about Section Zero. Of course, passion only takes you so far. We would like nothing more than to keep making Section Zero for years and years to come. But that’s really up to you, and other readers like you. We can’t keep creating the sort of high-octane, high-adventure comics that we think the world needs more of— that people like you always tell us they want— without the support of readers like you. Be that through Kickstarter or Image Comics or both, this is where your vote— your dollars— really matter. The only people who can make sure there is a Section Zero are people like you.

Grummett: Prepare to be amazed.


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