Comic author Chip Zdarsky talks Kaptara and creating a gay Indian male lead in modern comics
Rising comic superstar Chip Zdarsky announced back in January’s he’d be writing a new ongoing title for the indie comic publisher Image Comics. Entitled Kaptara, the comic will be an amalgamation of 80’s toys like He-Man and Thundercats, and feature an Indian lead named Keith Kanga.
However, this comic features a bit of a twist on the dynamic typically seen in comics as Kanga will also be an openly homosexual man.
Kanga, a young bio-engineer, is “flung across the universe onto a strange planet filled with weird danger,” according to Image’s original announcement for the new series. “And if he doesn’t get home then Earth—the place where YOU live—is DOOMED!”
Zdarsky’s first published comic, Sex Criminals (frame below), released Sept. 2013, launched the artist and writer to the front lines of Image Comic’s stable of creators. Image Comics, known as the birth place of the famed Walking Dead comic book on which the AMC TV series is based, gives authors complete creative freedom and this new series from Zdarsky is no exception.
Zdarsky’s work on Sex Criminals lead him to discover straight white leads don’t really work anymore.
“We started writing it [Sex Criminals] from the point of view of the main male character. After a while it wasn’t really clicking and it didn’t seem that interesting,” said Zdarsky. “I think we both realized that since we’re a couple of straight white men and we’re doing a comic about a straight white man, there’s plenty of those out there, and it’s kind of the easy way out.”
Keeping that in mind, Zdarsky sat down and created a new world and new characters to inhabit it. By creating his own world, Zdarsky was free of the social restraints that are often found in our world.
“Because it takes place on another world I kind of wanted to explore the idea of somebody finding a place where the laws of society that they’ve been stuck with on Earth no longer apply,” said Zdarsky. “I think basing the story around someone who’s not white and not straight aided that.”
It’s fairly common for a character’s sexuality reveal to be a sort-of twist in modern media, something to be teased and then have attention drawn to it. Zdarsky mentioned The Legend of Korra and how Korra’s bisexuality was confirmed in the shows last moments as a final twist of sorts.
Zdarsky feels that there’s not enough built-up gay romance in media, something he hopes to help fix with Kaptara.
“I’m writing the story starting out gay, building gay romance, delivering pay-offs around that romance, not as a cheap ploy which can sometimes happen,” said Zdarsky. “I think if this comic were coming out five/ten years ago it would have been a twist that the character was gay.”
Zdarsky himself is not gay and acknowledges that writing a gay character as a straight male has some conerns behind it and isn’t preferable. However, there aren’t many gay comic writers or characters out there, especially in the relatively mainstream scene and Zdarsky hopes Kaptara will expand their presence.
“Hopefully something like this will engage a gay audience, and if it does well hopefully it opens a door for more gay characters and gay creators,” said Zdarsky. “I don’t want to sound so high and lofty about it, y’know? It’s a tricky thing.”
Kagan McLeod, who will be drawing Kaptara, is a longtime friend of Zdarsky’s. The two used to work together in a studio and would pass around a sketchbook where they hodge-podged ideas together.
This old studio sketchbook, along with Zdarsky’s desire to work with McLeod, helped inspire Kaptara.
“Kagan draws fantastic men. Just fantastic,” said Zdarsky. “That’s also part of the reason I wanted the main character to be gay. Just so I could see the beefcake Kagan would choose to draw.”
Unlike Zdarsky’s other Image title Sex Criminals, Kaptara will not feature the same type of sexually explicit material. Zdarsky noted that this is in part due to the fact that Sex Criminals is about sex, whereas Kaptara is more about the science fantasy, sharing more DNA with Star Wars than anything else.
Sex Criminals is meant for an older, presumably more mature audience, but with his new title, Zdarsky hopes to be able to reach a younger and broader audience.
“An important part for me was creating something that’s accessible for a slightly younger audience. I mean there’s going to be swearing in it, because that’s what all the cool kids do,” joked Zdarsky. “But I don’t wanna go ‘Hey here’s a comic book that happens to have a gay lead. Oh by the way it’s mature readers only’.”
Zdarsky, in an earlier interview with ComicsAlliance, had compared Kaptara with the cult favorite Saga, even going so far as to describe it as the “Gay Saga”.
Saga is a science fantasy epic from writer Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. The series follows two former soldiers from warring races who have fallen in love and are now attempting to raise a child while on the run from both of their home worlds.
Widely praised and beloved for its realistic approach to characterization against a fantasy background, Saga has nonetheless attracted some negative attention for some of its more adult content.
By skirting the line between adult and too adult, Saga has managed to subvert both the genre and storytelling, something which has inspired Kaptara in part.
“Saga is a pretty good template for what we’re trying to do in terms of what they show, what they kind of get away with. Except this will be a bit more gay focused,” said Zdarsky.
Kaptara strives to be something new and hopes to open up a field in a medium that has seen rapid diversification over the past few years. From a female Thor, to a Muslim Ms. Marvel, and an all queer Young Avengers, now is a great time for diversity in mainstream comics.
With the proper support and creative backing Kaptara has the potential to be something truly special.
“I’m excited to see what comes out of the book,” said Zdarsky
Issue #1 will be released on Wednesday, April 22nd at all finer comic book stores and retails for just $3.50. Local interested readers should head over to Velocity Comics, and non-locals readers can find a store near you through here or purchase it digitally via Comixology.
Don’t let this one slip under your radar.
Tyler Hammel is a college student who has an unhealthy obsession with comic books. He’s a proud cinephile, owning a sizable film collection that lets you know he doesn't have any friends. An aspiring filmmaker, Tyler currently works with the VCU student organization The Horn RVA, a group of like-minded video journalists with a passion for Richmond based music. When not crafting his own bio Tyler can be found misusing commas,
Growing up a lot of us would play with those little homo-erotic action figures. From G.I. Joe and Superman to He-Man and the Thundercats. We would craft wild and interlocking stories around these toys. But what if these hodge-podged stories took place in space… and were also extremely gay? That’s the idea behind the upcoming [...]January 9, 2015
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