Zaucer of Zilk exploded onto the pages of 2000 AD back in 2012, with co-creators Al Ewing and Brendan McCarthy telling their tale of good versus evil, with a magical twist and a pinch of the weird.
It’s now time to revisit such psychedelic delights in a new adventure from McCarthy and co-writer Peter Hogan (Resident Alien, Tom Strong) in the bumper end-of-year 2000 AD Prog 2162 (on sale 18th December), which promises every bit the extreme eccentric excitement of that first series.
So, wave that magic wand and get ready to enjoy the second coming of the Zaucer Of Zilk, something McCarthy once called “a phantasmagorical psychedelic extravaganza” and Al Ewing described as covering “celebrity, creativity, depression, inevitability, some kind of hope at the end of it all. Take your pick”.
Yep, strap in kids, it’s all going to go “glammatronic splendour” all over again!
Ok then, Brendan, Peter… what’s this second series of Zaucer of Zilk about?
Brendan McCarthy: The Zaucer of Zilk traded his immortality for humanity — and its inevitable mortality. When you live forever and can’t die, there’s a certain ennui that permeates your life… But The Zaucer finds that he now suffers an unfamiliar pain from the emotional bonds of family ties. Now he’s on the line and has something to defend, has something worth dying for… and he’s not sure he really likes it.
I had an idea for a Zaucer sequel, which involved the toddler Tutu: Zaucer’s family life is threatened by a dark force of invading Fancy Pants that the reanimated T’Tooth seems to be in command of.
Is this T’Tooth’s revenge — an attack on the things the Zaucer loves the most? Peter took that idea and added to it and created a good twist — all narrated by The Tailor of Tales, as you’d expect.
Peter Hogan: It’s called ‘A Zaucerful of Zecrets’, and it’s kind of about mortality, and growing up. As of the end of the last series, Zaucer’s had started ageing, and is now thoroughly mortal. He can be hurt, and he can die … but that fact hasn’t really sunk in yet, and he’s still taking needlessly foolish risks. Coupled with that, his fused wand is dangerously unreliable, so he sets off on a journey to try and get it fixed … and en route he encounters some new friends and a new adversary.
How did this new collaboration with Peter come about?
BM: Al Ewing wasn’t available due to his Marvel work and was happy to let another writer have a go. The editor, Matt Smith suggested Peter Hogan. We were looking for someone who can write with wit and snark, but still tell a good story. I loved Peter’s off-the cuff comment that he was unravelling a ‘Zaucerful of zecrets’… it became the perfect title for this second series.
Peter brings a breezier tone to this second instalment, as most of the core set-up was done in the first series where we got to know the characters and world. It has a casual, happy-go-lucky flavour which I feel contrasts nicely with the dark sci-fi on 2000 AD’s regular menu.
PH: Yup. Al (Ewing) was already committed to numerous projects elsewhere, so he gave Brendan his blessing to carry on without him. Matt Smith approached me about basically taking Al’s place, and Brendan approved, so we all started talking and didn’t stop till we had a plot thrashed out.
Peter, how does the collaboration between you and Brendan work? I’d imagine it’s a rather more involved collaboration than a lot of writer/artist things!!
PH: Yes, it absolutely is. It’s more like my collaboration with Alan Moore, Terra Obscura. With that one, I’d go up to Northampton so Alan and I could plot out each episode together, then I’d come home and write the scripts. The only real difference with Brendan on this one is that we’re doing it all by email, rather than face to face.
Anyway, the plot is by both of us, the scripts are by me and the art’s by Brendan … but he came up with some lines of dialogue and I came up with some background visual stuff, so it’s a true collaboration.
And, as the new writer, how do you approach something like Zilk II? Again, I’d imagine there’s a huge difference between continuing something you’ve created, such as the great Resident Alien, and coming onto something such as this, with that first series already setting the tome.
PH: I read the first series, then started talking to Brendan. He already had a load of ideas in mind, I added a load more and we began to turn the whole thing into something genuinely fab. The scripting also held a few extra surprises, because a couple of characters I wasn’t expecting at all turned up, and another minor character expanded into being a major one. The whole thing was a really fun ride, and hopefully it reads that way.
In a lot of ways, it’s a lot easier to write established characters, because you have all their history to draw on. In any given situation, you know pretty much exactly how they’re going to react, whereas with a new character you’re still finding all that out as you go along. I enjoy doing both, but I suppose new characters are more fun – which is probably why a few snuck their way into this thing.
Brendan, is it Len O’Grady on colours again? And how does co-colouring the series work out, practically, to get the sort of incredible colours we say through that first series?
BM: Yes, I’m glad to say Len will be on the colour duties again. I like to ‘remix’ his pages to keep the Zaucy vibe intact and consistent where it needs it. As the strip progresses, I usually have to do less as Len gets into the groove. He did some gorgeous work on the first series, so I’m very confident this sequel will be fully realised in all its glammatronic splendour.
Brendan, as with a lot of the strips where you’re providing art, you’re very much the co-creator, designer, developer, and, with Zaucer of Zilk, it all came from your initial idea. And there’s definitely a shared DNA with an earlier creation of yours, Paradox. But also with early Marvel Comics, with that same basic good v evil dynamic, filtered through whatever Kirby/Ditko/Lee trappings were added at the time. Is that the sort of thing you were aiming for with Zilk?
BM: I initially created the Zaucer of Zilk and sold it to 2000 AD. It was developed and added to by Al Ewing’s great creativity and writing skill. My aim was to create a British version of Doctor Strange. In this case, it’s mixed with a Tim Burton-style psychedelic sensibility, by way of Davids Bowie and Lynch, with a dash of sparkly glam rock. The British do fantasy really well and historically produce classics of the genre like Alice, the Dark Materials books, Mervyn Peake, Michael Moorcock and lately, Harry Potter. British children’s surrealism was also a big influence on my visual approach; Yellow Submarine, Thomas the Tank Engine, Teletubbies, Rupert Bear — all baked together to create that special Zaucer magic!
I have ventured into this territory before with writer Peter Milligan in the 80s, in the strip ‘Mirkin The Mystic’, where the tone was more aligned with The Decadents, 60s Ditko-dimensions and good ol’ Oscar Wilde. Mirkin’s definitely a character I’d like to return to.
The thing that really came through with the first series of Zaucer Of Zilk was the sheer pop wonderfulness of it. Yes, it’s got McCarthy’s visuals, which naturally make everyone class it as psychedelic weirdness, but strip that away and you’ve got a (fabulously entertaining) hero tale, a superhero tale even, with all the playfulness of the classic superhero tales. Is this something that continues through this second series?
PH: Yeah. If you strip it down to the bone, apart from being quite a serious story about maturity and parenthood, it’s a kind of mythic quest story, with strange companions and complex villains and several more fight scenes than you might expect.
The whole thing’s moderately bonkers to start with, and I decided at the start that the only thing to do was just to fully embrace that aspect, open up the Cupboard Of Forbidden Jokes and generally turn the bonkers dial up to eleven.
So the story veers between light and dark, and somehow – I think – the levity helps make all the emotionally heavy stuff even more powerful.
How about the future for Zaucer of Zilk?
BM: I hope The Zaucer of Zilk will continue after I stop working on it and be handled by different talents, and becomes part of 2000 AD’s canon of characters. Personally, I’d love to show-run a CG-animated ‘Netflix’ TV series of The Zaucer. I know I could really do a good job. I’ll have to have a word with Rebellion when this second series is finished and try our luck. The stories will be collected into a book and that can be used as the character and style ‘bible’ for the animation. I’ve done a lot of high quality TV and film, most notably ReBoot, TMNT and Fury Road. I’d pitch it as ‘Willy Wonka meets Harry Potter by way of Ziggy Stardust!’
PH: Well, the ending of this is very much a proper ending, but … Never say never again. If the readers decide they want more after this, I’m sure we could probably arrange that somehow!
Peter, this is your first work at 2000 AD for quite a while, but you had a history in 2000 AD as a writer of Future Shocks, Strontium Dogs, Robo-Hunter, Timehouse, Durham Red, Vector 13 in the 90s before moving over to US comics with a series of comics, including Sandman Presents, Tom Strong, Terra Obscura, and Resident Alien. What’s it like coming back to 2000 AD at this time, and how has your writing changed in the interim?
PH: It’s nice to be asked … and also nice to have the opportunity of working with Brendan, who’s a pretty unique talent. Anyway – so far – the Zaucer saga has been a very enjoyable experience, and seems to have worked out well on all sides. I certainly have no problems at all with 2000 today. Matt’s a really good editor. In the light of that, I’d happily write more things for 2000AD if they wanted me to. As to my writing … I think I’m a much better writer now than I was 20-odd years ago. Hopefully that shows!