Friday, June 4, 2010

A graveside chat with Terrance Zdunich

Terrance Zdunich may be familiar to you for writing, composing and acting in Repo! The Genetic Opera. But you may not know that he's also served as a storyboard artist on various film and television projects. And now with his newest project The Molting, a deeply personal and supernatural story about a dysfunctional middleclass family in the 1990's, he's added comic book artist to his resume. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Terrance about his amazing and varied career.

What can you tell us about your new comic, The Molting?

Terrance: You know how the film “American Beauty” is a portrait of dysfunctional family life in middleclass American suburbia? Well, “The Molting” is the portrait of dysfunctional family life in middleclass urban America, in graphic novel form. It also includes cockroach roommates, sexy cholas, and the occasional caveman.

The story of Guilty Susie and her family has a very personal feel. Like the parking lot incident you talk about in the back of issue three. How much of the story did you draw from real life?

Terrance: With “The Molting” (and “REPO!”), people often ask which of the characters represents me, the author. The answer is always the same: all of them. All writers draw from real life. I especially like incorporating elements inspired by real people and events into fantastical settings. I do this a lot in “The Molting”.

Susie and her brother's childhood as shown in issue one was very tragic. Will we see more glimpses of Susie growing up? And how will the fate of her brother play into coming issues?

Terrance: Susie’s past, especially how it relates to her present family, continues throughout “The Molting” series. Tragedy is part of this journey, but so is hope, and maybe even change. It is, after all, called “The Molting”.

The Molting is set in Anaheim, California in the 90's. What was your inspiration for that setting for the story?

Terrance: I grew up in Santa Ana, a neighboring city of Anaheim. Most people are familiar with Anaheim because it’s home to Disneyland, “The Happiest Place on Earth”. As a teenager, I remember thinking it odd that the world’s “Happiest” kingdom was in such a slummy neighborhood. It was this paradox that inspired the story and setting of “The Molting”—a belief that the real American tale was revealed in the poor, overcrowded houses hiding behind the magic kingdom’s castle.

In the first three issues you use the visual motif of cockroaches. What can you tells us about how they figure into the story and what inspired them?

Terrance: The story of “The Molting” is told through the hardscrabble lives of the Pryzkind family. They live in a roach-infested house in Anaheim. Initially, the cockroaches existed just for the gross factor, but after researching the fascinating behaviors of these creatures, I decided that their role in the story needed to grow. Their actions needed to mirror that of the Pryzkinds. The title, “The Molting”, is also in reference to a cockroach’s ability to molt when it gets too big for its shell.

The Molting is a twelve issue series. Do you have any follow up series planned for it? A snip-off?

Terrance: Maybe. I think that the world and characters of “The Molting” are compelling enough to support ongoing storylines, but, at the moment, it’s all consuming just trying to get to the end of this twelve-part monster. I anticipate that the final product will be close to five hundred full-color, illustrated pages. It’s such a taxing endeavor that I may take a break from “The Molting” at the halfway mark and work on an illustrated coffee table book of erotica. I’ve had this forty or so page project on the back of my mind for a while.

Brian Johnson (Colorist) and Oceano Ransford (Designer/Letterer) are working on The Molting with you. Is this your first time working with them?

Terrance: Brian, Yano, and I, graduated from art college together and we’ve remained friends ever since. This is our first substantial collaboration. When I set out to find artistic collaborators on “The Molting”, however, I didn’t plan to work with friends; Brian and Yano just ended up being the best candidates for the job. Also: creating with pals seems to be in keeping with the independent nature of “The Molting”.

Are you a fan of any comic books, such as ones from the Vertigo line or some of the independent comics out there?

Terrance: I really enjoy the art form of comics. The medium is conducive to telling original stories in really original ways, much more so than film. Two of my favorite comics series are Alan Moore’s “From Hell” and Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”.

Can you briefly take us through your creative process (idea generation, what time of day you prefer to work, materials)?

Terrance: I will spare your readers the dissertation that would be required to answer this question properly and merely state that I’m always creating. I’m a workaholic in this regard. I get up in the morning, brew a pot of coffee, and start creating. I usually don’t stop until I’m ready for bed. “The Molting” is a hugely ambitious undertaking and even at my relentless work pace, it will take roughly three years to complete the series.

How did you get involved in being a Storyboard artist?

Terrance: In college, I learned of the art form of storyboards and was immediately drawn to the idea of storytelling through illustration. It seemed like directing, but with a pencil. After graduation, I found employment as a storyboard artist and ended up working in animation. The rest is history. I suppose my current foray into comics with “The Molting” is a natural extension of my years spent as a board artist.

How did Repo! The Genetic Opera first come into being? What inspired it?

Terrance: Sex, drugs, and opera.

Anthony Stewart Head who plays Nathan Wallace who also the Repo Man, also sang in the Buffy musical episode, "Once More With Feeling", had you seen that prior to him being cast in the film?

Terrance: The director of “REPO!”, Darren Lynn Bousman, is a big “Buffy” fan. He made me watch “Once More With Feeling”. I like it, but wasn’t sold on Anthony’s ability to sing rock ‘n’ roll music until he auditioned for “REPO!” with the song “Legal Assassin”. Following this, there was no question that he was our Repo Man.

One of your producers on The Repo! film was Yoshiki Hayashi of X Japan. How did he come to be involved in the project? What was it like working with him?

Terrance: Yoshiki was a godsend for “REPO!”. He became attached to the project after viewing a short promotional film that was used to shop “REPO!” to various movie studios. He wasn’t a hands-on music producer, but he granted us nearly unlimited access to his recording studio. This gave team “REPO!” the ability to create freely, while staying within budget.

Not only are you an actor, but writer, composer, storyboard artist and now comic book artist. Is there any one that you enjoy doing more then the others?

Terrance: My preferences wax and wane, like the blood that’s filling my shoe. What I enjoy most about the arts is the ability to tell stories, to create worlds, to breath life into characters. Whether I’m standing in front of a microphone screaming “Graaaaves!” or hunched over a drafting table doodling cockroaches, I try to approach all artistic projects with this in mind.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to pursue a career in art? Or film?

Terrance: Yes. If you’re not creating because you’re waiting for permission, waiting for that magic key, waiting for your prince to come and rescue from the ball and finance your film or comic…give up now. Creating art, especially within these cutthroat industries, is hard. Really hard. If you’re not already creating out of love, out of need, because it’s the only thing keeping you from climbing a water tower and pick off cousins with a rifle…well, you catch my drift, right?

Any final message for our readers?

Terrance: In the spirit of artistic struggles, I invite you to go and check out “The Molting”. It’s a truly independent effort, born out of love, labored on with passion. It’s a deeply emotional tale with twisted characters and dark landscapes, and …your patronage helps to finance future issues. The first four issues, as well as a brand new “The Molting” art tutorial, are available at


Zach S. said...

thats one damn fine interview. Fantastic work!

Dan said...

Amazing interview...I think it may be my favorite that either of us has ever done...

Professor Brian O'Blivion said...

Thanks guys! I really appreciate it. Glad you liked the interview.

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