Professionally, Scott Murphy may be best known as one of the Grand Moffs (if you will) steering the Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon with its star-spanning, explosive drama week in and week out. Bleeding Cool previously announced that Murphy would join Zak Penn in launching Hero Worship, an upcoming comic book miniseries to be published by Avatar Press. Earlier this week, we presented an interview with Zak Penn, as well as a nine-page preview of the series. Curious to learn more about Murphy and the collaboration behind Hero Worship? Read on.
Zak and I had sort of casually known each other for a while through internet message boards and mutual screenwriter friends. A few years ago, Zak mentioned that he was thinking about doing a comic book project and asked me if I had any original comic-book ideas. I had already been toying around with the general concept that became Hero Worship so I pitched the idea to him and he responded to it immediately. We developed it together and then took it to a few publishers. We got quite a few offers, but Avatar seemed to be the best fit.
BC: What is the division of labor on the project? Are there particular strengths that you view yourself bringing to the table, and Zak bringing to the table?
In the very beginning, Zak and I just talked about the idea of the book a lot. We spent a lot of time spitballing and bouncing a lot of possible ideas off of each other. Zak's got a fantastic creative brain and, together, we came up with a lot of ideas. After that, I'd type up an outline for each individual issue based on what we'd talked about. Zak would give me notes and then I'd type up what we talked about in script form. Depending on the script, we might have one or two more "back and forths" before we sent it in. Finally, we'd both give notes and feedback on the artwork as it came in.
As far as our respective strengths, Zak obviously has had a LOT of experience in the superhero genre. And I've been a fan of superhero comics since childhood, so we both were pretty familiar with what had been previously been done in the genre. Plus, we both had a similar take on how it might be possible to put a new, somewhat revisionist spin on a traditional superhero story but, at the same time, stay true to the aspects of super-hero stories that are aspirational and that resonate with everyone.
BC: In your words, what's the story of Hero Worship about?
I obviously don't want to give away too much, but it starts from the perspective of: what if there really was a superhero? One thing that's kind of an accepted convention in most superhero stories is that the rest of the world is pretty much the same as the one we live in, except for the fact that there are a few people in costumes flying around, being super-human. But if there really was someone who could do things that defied the laws of physics? I think that would impact the world in a pretty profound way. We're kind of exploring what the ripple effect of something like that would be. In particular, how would that person be regarded by the rest of the world? What level of influence would they have on society?
BC: In this story, a culture of fanatics has grown around Zenith. Were there real-world instances of celebrity idol worship that influenced this tale, and if so, what were they?
Oh, definitely. I mean, I don't wanna name any specific influence, but just turn on the TV! Celebrity used to be a side effect of accomplishing something, but now it's become an end to itself. We have lots of celebrities who are famous simply for being famous. If a real superhero existed, if there was someone who could perform feats that are essentially miracles, then they'd have a level of fame the likes of which we've never seen before in history.
BC: Among your other credits, you're a writer on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. How would you describe the technical differences (if any) in writing for serialized television, when compared to writing a comic book miniseries?
Working on Star Wars: The Clone Wars was a pretty unique situation. Because Star Wars is still very much George Lucas's baby. He's extremely involved in every aspect of Star Wars and he's very protective of it. So everyone who worked on Clone Wars had one goal and that was to satisfy George's vision. And Star Wars already had a previously established universe with its own tone and sensibility. In some ways, that was limiting, but in other ways that made it easier because you didn't have to invent the world from the ground up. With Hero Worship, the goal is more for Zak and I to build our own world and then construct the story that takes place there. So we have a lot more freedom to do what we want, but it's a lot of work!
BC: With Star Wars, you're used to telling stories on a grand scale, with huge casts of characters, different species, and entire planetary systems in your playground. The departure to tell the story of Adam and Zenith in Hero Worship must be drastic. How has it been transitioning from one-sized scope to the other?
Every story is different from every other story, so any time I start writing something new, a whole new set of challenges always presents itself. But that's the great thing about writing a lot of different kinds of stories: you get to explore different things. And all storytelling has certain basic problems that you always have to figure out: Who are the characters? What kind of world are they living in? What do they want? What's keeping them from getting it? So, even though it might appear that there are a lot of differences between these two stories, the fundamental challenges of telling a good story are always the same.
BC: What are your thoughts on the artwork of Michael DiPascale, whose interior and cover illustrations are bringing the story of Adam and Zenith to life?
Michael was brought to our attention by Avatar publisher William Christensen and both Zak and I were very impressed as soon as we saw some of his samples. The level of polish and detail that Michael brings to each panel is extraordinarily vivid and it's tremendously exciting to see our words on the page brought to life by his pen!
BC: Have there been particular comic book series, storylines, or creators that particularly influenced your interest in the superhero genre, and if so, which ones?
Oh, man, I don't think I have enough space to list all the comics that have influenced me. Growing up, I was always a big Marvel fan. Iron Man was a particular favorite in part because the science behind him seemed to be the most plausible. (Although, looking back, I'm sure Tony Stark's playboy lifestyle was also a big draw for the 13-year-old me.) These days, (Brian Michael) Bendis, (Warren) Ellis, (Mark) Millar, and (Ed) Brubaker are all writing amazing stuff, but I could easily go on and name another dozen creators who are also doing remarkable work. It's a great time to be a fan of well-written comics.
BC: When you were writing for the characters Zenith and Adam, were there particular people whose voices you co-opted into their dialogue? Or did you envision their personalities as being unique and distinctly their own?
You know, as much as possible, I don't try to mimic other people's voices when I'm writing original characters. I really just try to put myself into the character's shoes and channel their voice in my head.
BC: Just for fun, who among the Star Wars cast best fits your personality? And can you venture a guess as to which character might best represent Zak?
Hah! Oh, look, there's no way to answer that without sounding, at best, silly, and at worst, self-aggrandizing. ("I'm the Luke Skywalker to Zak's Han Solo!") But I think that's the wonderful thing about well-crafted characters: we can always see a little bit of ourselves in each of them. Hopefully, when people read Hero Worship, they'll be able to identify with both Adam AND Zenith.