Zack Kaplan covers his new series ‘Lost City Explorers’, comic writing, sci-fi, and more.
Lost City Explorers is a new series by Zack Kaplan and Alvaro Sarraseca at AfterShock comics that captures the adventure of your younger years within an adventure all its own. Aside from the wickedly good title, this is a compelling series with strong characters and a great start. This isn’t the first time we’ve interviewed Kaplan at AiPT!, covering his previous series Eclipse and Port of Earth. We had the chance to talk to him again about this new series ahead of its June 20th release date and cover topics like writing approach, the comic industry, and more!
AiPT!: Sometimes a title just hits me and makes me wish I thought of it. How many titles did you go through before coming up with Lost City Explorers? And for that matter do you go through a lot of title options on all your books like Port of Earth and Eclipse?
Zack Kaplan: Is The Lost City Explorers one of those titles you wish you had thought of? Haha, cool! Oh man, I agonize over titles. They are so important to me, and I spend a lot of time going through dozens, sometimes a hundred possibilities to find the right one. The titles gotta convey exactly what the story is and it’s gotta be cool and it’s gotta really sell you on jumping in. The Lost City Explorers was especially challenging to me; I mean, it had to convey exploration and lost cities. I finally realized it should be a name of the group of teenagers, but I didn’t want it to be cheesy like the club or the troop, and then somehow I stumbled upon the Lost City Explorers, and it was perfect, because it was layered — they are explorers of lost cities, they are city explorers, and they are a tad lost in their lives, so it all kind of clicked. And it was cool. That’s always important! Port of Earth was one that came more easily, as it was built into the concept, the story is about an alien spaceport on Earth, and it was cool! Eclipse took a minute, but Eclipse is funny because it conveys nothing on its own, but a cover of a sun burning someone, and it makes total sense. And it’s also really cool!
AiPT!: Hel is a character that doesn’t seem to know what her calling is or what she wants to do. Is this a personal story for yourself, drawing from past experience, or did you have to do any research to dig into this character?
Kaplan: Zero research. I think I’m tapping into my own feelings of frustration as a teenager, when the world seems to be against you, when you have dreams or goals, but they seem unrealistic or impossible, and nobody wants to listen to what you have to say, and no matter how real your emotions feel, everyone wants to cast you as being naive or dramatic or foolish or not knowing anything, and you don’t want to be negative or nihilistic, but it’s so hard to be optimistic and happy and everything just seems to suck, and goddamn it, AiPT, you never let me do anything! Get off my back! Gawd!
AiPT!: As a writer of comic books does your approach change depending on genre or even from comic to comic?
Kaplan: I think I have a pretty solid process, but obviously, when you’re brainstorming and developing an idea, you face different questions and challenges for every single story, and solving those questions always takes you different places. Eclipse had me exploring serial killers and corporate conspiracies and environmental disaster stories and film noir. Port of Earth had me exploring alien arrival stories and police procedural and found footage and journalism stories. Lost City Explorers took me into archaeology and treasure stories, teenage stories, sci-fi and plenty of research on New York and lost cities. But once I have a story locked down a bit, and the brainstorming and early development is done, the plotting and character work is always the same process, an intermingled process going back and forth until the character journey and the plot fit together with a synergy. One fun detail: I have about 10 bulletin boards with flash cards that I can hang and remove on a French pleat system in my office, so I can work on a number of stories simultaneously.
AiPT!: The cover of this book screamed Goonies to me, but after reading it I realized it’s not so much like that film at all. Were there any inspirations for you when creating this work?
Kaplan: Goonies is a total inspiration here, but to me, this is just a modern take on a teen exploration adventure. Goonies captures the 1980s feel to it, but I didn’t want that tone or atmosphere. I wanted the concept of Goonies, that “what if” about what lies beyond the ordinary right under your feet or right around your city. I wanted that feeling of teenagers on their own, forced to step in when the adults are absent. But these teens are savvy — in fact, when you watch Goonies, they don’t feel like those teens could possibly fit in our time. They are anachronistic. Plus, I wanted to create a sense of danger in my story and that’s where the science fiction and monster in the house elements come in, which also diverge from Goonies. I think another inspiration is Stranger Things, but again, that period is different to The Lost City Explorers. When you start with an idea, I think creators and storytellers always have touchstones that seem so close to your idea, and then the more you develop, the further you get, until your story is its own, at least, that’s the goal.
AiPT!: What do you wish someone had told you about the comic business when you first started?
Kaplan: Oh man, where to begin! In comics, you are going to have to spend a lot of time marketing and promoting yourself and your work. You create something and then you have this responsibility to spread the word to shops, to fans, to reviewers, to go to conventions, signings, share previews and promos, to build excitement and create an experience that people can’t say no to, and this work can be so consuming that you can run the risk that you stop creating. But you can’t stop creating. You have to always create. But you have to promote. Create. Market. Create. Sell. And I think finding this balance is the journey from novice to professional. The more success you find, you find more resources, more help comes your way, and your following does more of the work for you, so you can focus more on just creating. I don’t think there’s ever a perfect balance between the art and the business, but you find a balance that works for you, a balance that provides you progress in both outlets.
One more thing — you gotta believe in yourself. Don’t blindly believe. Always strive to get better, always learn and grow. But this business is full of rejection and negativity. Your belief in your own success has to be stronger than the “realities” of the business.
AiPT!: I don’t want to give away the big cliffhanger but…what kind of research goes into a comic that may (or may not!) be about Atlantis?
Kaplan: Oh, hypothetically speaking? Hahaha. I did…a ton…of research. Talk to me about Atlantis. In fact, I watched a lot of documentaries and read books and I know all of the theories. And it was super weird to come up with my own theory that Atlantis was on the island of Manhattan, and then work backward and find evidence that actually really, really works for my theory, so much, now I’m like, do the experts need to check this out? I might be onto something! But I read Plato, who’s the primary source of Atlantis, although he got the story from the Egyptians, but there are lots of details that really fit Manhattan. But if you want to know how the hell that makes sense, you gotta read the series! But there’s a really good chunk of research and detail in there.
AiPT!: As a reviewer, I find the best comics balance dialogue, captions, and action to keep the pace moving and the visuals interesting. How do you maximize these elements when writing a comic book script?
Kaplan: Got me! Hahaha. I spent more time asking myself what’s the central thrust or conflict of each issue, what’s the character’s goal and the source of antagonism, what’s the fun part, what’s the thrilling part, the emotional part, and then I shake twice, pour over ice and add an orange peel. Dialogue for me is more about action and character. Dialogue is how the characters get what they want, or how they attack or express themselves, but always with a goal. I think if the dialogue is active, it helps move the story. The action is totally fun to write, I’ve always had fun doing that and video games really influence me with the modern concepts of changing the environment and really beating up your characters. Visuals, well, I just think about what I want to see that I think is cool. I don’t worry about balance though, I just pack an issue with a fun, active story.
AiPT!: A lot of your work deals in science fiction themes and I’m wondering if this is a genre you like to focus on or do you have other genres you’d like to explore? Follow up, what’s the next big Zack Kaplan comic?!
Kaplan: That’s my lane. Science fiction. Fans can expect to always see me tackling science fiction, but I like to mash this genre with other genres, whether it’s film noir, serial killer, post-apocalyptic, aliens, police, archeology, teen adventure, etc. I have several other projects in the works, all sci-fi, all genre blends. If you thought this summer looked very Zack Kaplan, with all three titles out simultaneously, wait until 2019. And this is still my second year in comics, started in fall 2016. I’m super excited about some of the new projects that I’m working on, more sci-fi mash-ups that I think you’ll love and hopefully, say damn it, why didn’t I think of that?! And of course, I got some awesome titles, and it only took a few hundred tries. (In the biz, that’s called a callback.)
Find me online everyone – @zackkaps
Lost City Explorers #1 hits comic book shelves June 20th. Final order cut off is May 28th, so get on that!