Comics creator Thom Zahler is known for his entertaining and insightful romantic and relationship comics, particularly Love and Capes, a superhero romance that starts with Superman-adjacent hero The Crusader deciding to tell his non-superpowered girlfriend the truth about his dual identities; and Long Distance, a tale about a couple who meet in an airport and have to figure out how to successfully have, you guessed it, a long distance relationship. Both books contain a healthy serving of shrewd commentary on human interactions and romance, but don’t sacrifice the fun of humor or pop culture references to the need for drama.
I appreciate these stories not only in themselves, but also because sometimes the medium of comics as a whole seems to be overshadowed by the all-encompassing, never-ending, and dramatically violent superhero stories of the Big Two, Marvel and DC. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some good superhero comics and action – but sometimes I think people forget there’s anything else. We need creators like Thom to remind us.
And now, here he is doing that again, with IDW’s Time & Vine, his latest creator-owned foray into the examination of human relationships – and this time in a setting I really wish I lived in. Why? Because the nexus of Time & Vine is a historic winery that contains a wine cellar full of very, very special bottles of wine – namely wine that, when consumed, transports the drinkers back to the time in which it was bottled. Seriously. A cool old place full of wine and time travel! Who wouldn’t want to live there?? (Other neat details I love from this fifteen-page issue #1 preview include the mysterious fashion magic of the winery, which changes the clothes and hairstyles of the time-travelers to those they would have chosen if they lived in the time they traveled to – but keeps the clothing colors the same. And also the OSHA reference. Because who doesn’t love a good OSHA reference?)
The core characters who people this amazing setting are Jack, the older gentleman who owns the winery and knows how it operates, and Megan, a young history teacher who is going through some tough family times and could use an exciting distraction. When Jack lets Megan in on the secret of the wine cellar, Adventures Ensue. We don’t know too much about those, as yet, but Thom has said this is a story about family – and given his previous work, I’m sure it will be interesting to see the characters’ interactions unfold. I know I’ll be super excited to drink in more of this story, and can’t wait to consume the whole thing!
Thom and I have known each other for years now, and I’ve enjoyed his comics for some time, so it was fun to finally do a one-on-one with him about his work. Here’s our nifty Q&A:
ESW: Where did you start when crafting this tale – with the setting, the human story you wanted to tell, or both?
TZ: A lot of it came as a result of talking with Kurt Busiek on Twitter. There was some joke about doing a comic about a winery and then the idea of a winery as a gateway to time travel just appeared to me. The human story was my starting point and that came pretty quickly, or at least I thought it did. Once I got into it, I realized Megan’s story needed some work and that went in a completely different direction than I expected. But the framework of the story, and the heart of it, remained the same. I had the structure for the arc and the time travel mechanics worked out quickly. I always knew it was going to be in New York, but I did have to research those specifics to see how the wine industry worked across the years.
ESW: As your latest creator-owned series, Time & Vine seems to both stick with a dynamic you are known for – i.e. the human interactions being the focus, but housed within a fun premise or setting – and be at variance with Love and Capes and Long Distance, where the two main characters were also the romantic leads. From the preview, it seems clear that Jack and Megan quickly establish a mentor/mentee or father/daughter-style dynamic. But are we going to see them having romantic adventures of their own within the story? Or is the focus more on family as a whole? What inspired that angle?
TZ: Megan and Jack are definitely a mentor/mentee dynamic. I wanted to write a book that focused on a relationship that wasn’t a romance this time. It’s much more about family: the ones we have and the ones we choose. I try to do something different each time with each story. Love and Capes was about a relationship going to the next level. Long Distance was about one starting out in a way that Love and Capes wasn’t.
Jack’s romance is the engine that drives the book. We’re going to see the history of his relationship play out non-linearly as they bounce through time. It’s very much the tree that the rest of the story hangs off of. As for Megan, let’s just say she meets at least one interesting person along the way.
ESW: In your past and present work, do you see a trajectory in your view of relationships and how to write or portray them? How do you think your past writing or personal experiences have influenced this work? And what tips would you share with creators who want to do what you do?
TZ: I don’t know about a trajectory, but I try to make sure I have a range. I don’t want to keep telling the same story over and over. So I try to focus on different types of relationships and different aspects of them. I worry that, if I’m not careful, I’ll write the same couple with different names in different stories. Jack’s love is a very different love and experience than I’ve written before.
My personal relationships definitely influence my writing. They can’t not. You write what you know and what you’ve experienced, either from borrowing from what’s happened or writing what you thought could or should have happened.
ESW: The preview is definitely, recognizably, your artistic style – but are there visual things you did differently or tried out in this story that we haven’t seen before?
TZ: Very much so! First is that I’ve brought on Luigi Anderson as the colorist for this project. It means I’m not doing colors or tones for the first time, and that’s very different for me. Luigi is bringing a style and a look that I’m not capable of, and it’s creating something very dynamic. I’ve loved the collaboration and what he’s doing with the pages.
As far as my style, I always try to tweak my style a little bit on each project to better suit it. Long Distance had an Archie level of cartooning to it, and Love and Capes was even more stylized. Here, I wanted something a trifle more realistic. It’s still cartoony, hopefully in the best Darwyn Cooke sense of the word, but the world is a little more straightforward than other work I’ve done.
ESW: Are there challenges or benefits to being both writer and artist on a book?
TZ: The thing I watch out for is writing easy scenes to draw. I’m always on the lookout for that cheat. I write the story that needs to be told and then I draw it. I don’t want to take shortcuts. There are times where artist me hates writer me, but when that happens, I know I’m writing the best product.
I do enjoy doing both. I’m not the artist to draw every book I write, but when I feel I am, there’s a synergy that’s hard to achieve otherwise. It’s streamlined, since I know exactly what I mean when I tell me I want to do something. It can make those things go really smoothly. And, if I do it right, there’s a purity to the end product that you don’t get in most collaborations.
ESW: What do you hope readers most enjoy or take away from Time & Vine?
TZ: That wine is awesome!
First, I hope they have a good time. I want to tell a story that people enjoy and that sticks with them in some way. I’ve been lucky enough that my past projects have done that, and that’s always heartwarming.
But this story is about the breadth of relationships, the choices we make and the time we have. If it makes someone take a second look at something they’ve done, or appreciate something in their lives in a new light, just for a moment, I’ll have done my job.
ESW: Anything else you’d like to tell us about this book or your future work?
TZ: Just a thank you, to the readers who read my work and to IDW for publishing it. I have a loyal core of readers who appreciate what I’ve done these last few years. Together, they have allowed me to tell these personal stories in a venue I otherwise would not have had. I hope I’m doing something worthwhile, and I couldn’t do it without them.
I have another new project that will be starting really soon, but that hasn’t been announced yet. When it is, I’ll be sure to let you know!
ESW: Super! Thanks, Thom, for your time and great answers!
If you want to know more about the process behind the story, Thom has also been posting about his inspirations in several blog entries on his website. And if you want to order Time & Vine from your local shop, you can get issue #1, due out July 5 with a cover price of $4.99 for 48 pages, by using Diamond code MAY17 0517 (or MAY17 0518 for the alternate cover, also by Thom).
And now, you can also see both covers for Issue #2 right here! In this issue, I’m told, Jack starts teaching Megan the rules of time travel, while winery employee Darren teaches her all about the winery. And Megan takes her first solo trip back in time to the ‘80s, where she discovers a startling family secret!
Here are the cool Issue #2 covers, both by Thom:
So get ready to check out Thom Zahler’s Time & Vine by pre-ordering now (possibly with a glass of wine in hand just to, ya know, get in the mood), and until next time, Servo Lectio!