Here’s another flavor of self-published comics from the 1990s: the comic designed as a movie pitch.
The description’s not completely accurate, and it’s not meant as a dig against the comic book I covered for “Palmer’s Picks” in Wizard #44: Scud: The Disposable Assassin. Creator Rob Schrab was upfront about his Hollywood ambitions when I interviewed him back in 1993. Go ahead and check out the last couple of paragraphs in my original column reprinted below. Also note that, aside from the many movie and pop culture references in Schrab’s art and dialogue, each issue of Scud had a “suggested voice talent” where characters would get paired up with actors like Joe Pesci, John Malkovich, or Tommy Lee Jones. Scud was a fun, kinetic comic that was proud to let it’s silver screen ambitions fly in your face.
While Scud has not yet made the leap to the big (or small) screen—it’s been optioned and developed unsuccessfully a few times and inspired a pair of video games—Schrab and his collaborators have fared a bit better. Along with occasional Scud writer Dan Harmon, Schrab co-wrote the Dreamworks animated movie Monster House. The two also collaborated on the cult-hit TV pilot Heat Vision and Jack and The Sarah Silverman Program. Harmon would also make a name for himself in Hollywood separate from Schrab, as the creator of the sitcom Community and co-creator of the animated series Rick and Morty.
All of this success in film and TV meant that Schrab had to put Scud on the back burner. The original series ended in 1998 with issue 20, but the story was left on a cliffhanger that wouldn’t be resolved until ten years later when Schrab revived the series for the final four issues published by Image Comics. The entire run of twenty-four issues (and a couple of spin-offs) was later collected as Scud The Disposable Assassin: The Whole Shebang.
One embarrassing thing to note about this one is my write-up for the “Pick of the Month.” While running down the list of contributors to the first issue of Zero Zero, I cite “Big Mouth‘s Charles Bukowski.” Insert eye roll emoji here. I’m pretty sure it would have been more accurate to instead talk about cartoonist Pat Moriarity, the brains behind Big Mouth, instead of the famed writer. This was yet another indication that the person writing this column was just a young kid that still had a lot to learn.
By Tom Palmer Jr.
Rob Schrab, the creator and artist behind Scud: The Disposable Assassin, combines the sensibilities of modern action movies, the disciplines behind improvisational comedy, and pop-art techniques to bring a fresh approach to making comic books. The story of Scud involves a robot assassin who will self-destruct upon the termination of his programmed target. Scud defies his programming by merely crippling the creature he was assigned to dispatch, so now he must kill for money to keep the creature on life support. What follows is a completely outrageous spree of blood and bullets, as Scud takes on wave after wave of mutants, guys with guns, and zombie dinosaurs.
Rob Schrab acknowledges the influence the film world has had on his work. “I try to make my comic books like a movie. They are put together like a storyboard for a film, rather than a piece of literature that you can read and make up in your mind what’s going on.” The stories in Scud are heavily influenced by the films of action movie directors John Woo, Sam Raimi, and Quentin Tarantino. Schrab is especially influenced by the characters in these types of films. He has an affinity for tough-guy characters like cowboys, pirates, and firemen. Or, as Schrab puts it, “things that symbolize manliness in society. They live by the gangster mantra: be a stand-up guy, take care of your own. Cowboys will do these things. They’re dirty guys, but they’ll give the bad guy until sundown to get out of town. There’s a code of ethics. They may not be an ethical person’s morals, but there’s definitely a set of morals there.”
Schrab also draws an attention to action from movies, but his loose, bouncy style focuses on readability as well. “You’ll see a comic where they devote a two-page spread to one punch, and I’ll look at that and say, ‘That’s a nice drawing, but it’s not that interesting.’ I’ll try to fill the page up with as many panels as possible to speed up the action. The more panels you have on the page, the faster it’s supposed to move. I think it develops a real rhythm that causes the action to move really quickly.”
The loose action of Scud also comes from Schrab’s background in improvisational comedy. Schrab got his start with Comedy Sportz, a nationwide chain of comedy clubs where the audience picks a winner between improvised routines from two teams of competitors. “It’s all improvisational and competitive. It’s real family-oriented, politically correct, fast food comedy.”
Schrab and a group of friends formed their own comedy troupe, the Dead Alewives, from their work in Comedy Sportz. Schrab explains that, “the kind of family-oriented, working-man’s comedy routines that we were putting together at Comedy Sportz stopped being improv and started becoming routines that we fell into. We wanted to do something different, so the Dead Alewives was put together.” Schrab describes the off-the-wall comedy of the Dead Alewives as “a show where one week we could be completely G-rated and the next we could be NC-72. It’s just real experimental comedy.”
His work in the Dead Alewives has helped Schrab with the informal nature of Scud. “The Dead Alewives is a great teacher for something like comic books. When you’re forced to improvise a scene and develop a plot and characters right off the top of your head, you train yourself through peer pressure alone not to repeat yourself. You’re forced to be creative and imaginative at the drop of the hat. That’s why Scud has a stream-of-consciousness feel to it.”
Schrab collaborates on Scud with some of the other members of the Dead Alewives. “Peter Alberts and I are the nerve center [of Fireman Press, the book’s publisher]. Peter takes care of all the business, everything that I’m too stupid and lazy to do. I take care of the art and pretty much where the stories are going and what I want to do with the series.” Some of the stories in Scud were co-written by Schrab and fellow Alewives Mondy Carter and Dan Harmon. “It’s a loose collaboration. We bounce things back and forth. [It’s] pretty much a bunch of guys getting together, going to a bar, and talking about robots.”
Despite all of the fun and games behind the making of Scud, Schrab feels that his background in art plays an important part in his style. “I went to four years of art school at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and I find it invaluable in drawing. If you are self-taught to draw through comic books, you may be a great comic book artist, but you’re going to look like everyone else.”
A crucial part of his training was art history. “I think exposing yourself to different forms of art from the beginning of time is a great pool of art information to grab from. It really gave me a diversified style. I have a big animation background, but I’m also into pop art like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, as well as art nouveau and art deco.”
While Schrab admits that “comic books are great fun,” he is looking forward to bringing Scud to other media. “The main goal for Fireman Press is to get Scud animated in a TV series, film, or short subject. We’re trying to get it all around Hollywood to the people we respect.”
But Schrab doesn’t plan to drop everything just yet. “I really like the potential with this character, so I plan to keep working with it until I find a decent place to end it. Right now, I don’t see a definite ending. It’s definitely not a one-shot, so I would like to continue with it as long as there is a demand for it.”
Tom Palmer Jr. is a freelance writer from New Jersey who gets very cranky in the early morning.
Pick of the Month:
Zero Zero—With 60 pages of comics for under $4 ($3.95 to be exact), you can’t beat the first issue of Zero Zero. This new bi-monthly anthology from Fantagraphics, which should be on sale this month, features work from Raw alumnus David Holzman, Boiled Angel creator Mike Diana, Big Mouth‘s Charles Bukowski, Crap creator J.R. Williams, and others, and it’s wrapped with a painting by Gary Panter, who designed the sets for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
Rob Schrab’s Recommended Reading: On a recent trip to the comic book store, Rob Schrab says he “picked up [DC’s] Batman Adventures series. I enjoyed looking at it a great deal. I really liked the bold black lines and the variation of thickness in the lines. I kind of wish it was in black-and-white. I feel that the color fleshes it out too much.” He also looked at Johnny Dynamite, “and the latest issue of Frank Miller‘s Sin City. I really enjoy Frank Miller. He’s got a real film look to his stuff. I used to study Dark Knight before I started working on Scud because I wanted to do something film-oriented.” Schrab also likes The Mask, Marshal Law, Madman, and Roachmill. “I just go into the comic book shop and look through everything. Usually I’ll stay in there for three hours and not come out with anything. It’s too bad, but everything just looks the same. It’s frustrating, because I’ll go into the comic store looking for something that is fun and doesn’t bore me with talking and explaining some boring history that I really don’t care about. I just want to see something with lots of weird characters and great drawing, but I walk away disappointed most of the time.”
Tom’s Recommended Reading
Scud: The Disposable Assassin—You can find the sixth issue of Scud right now at your local comic book store. If you can’t, then you can order it, as well as copies of the first five issues, for $2.95 each. Include $1.50 shipping and handling for each book, and send your money to Fireman Press,
2430 N. Humboldt Blvd., Milwaukee, WI 53212.
The Dead Alewives—If you want to see what the Dead Alewives are all about, then you can order a videotape of one of their shows. Send $7 (and $2.50 shipping and handling) to Fireman Press at the address above.
T-shirts—You can spice up your wardrobe with one of three different T-shirts from Fireman Press. The company has a full-color Scud shirt for $15, a white-on-black Scud shirt for $12, and a black-on-white Dead Alewives shirt for $10. Add $2.50 shipping and handling for each shirt, and order directly from Fireman Press.