I first heard the words “Chumble Spuzz” at the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con, during the SLG panel. “I like anything that makes me laugh,” SLG publisher Dan Vado said about the book, which at the time was being serialized on their EyeMelt website before the collection came out. He promised a pig possessed by Satan and an over-the-top story, which is exactly what creator Ethan Nicolle delivered in that first volume.
The second volume of Chumble Spuzz came out right before this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, featuring many of the same characters in different but equally as over-the-top situations. Heck, maybe even more so. I interviewed Nicolle over email last week about both books, conventions, poop jokes and working with his brother.
JK: So first off, San Diego … how did the show go for you?
Ethan: I’ve been going to San Diego every year since 2002. This was my first year with books published on SLG, along with a stack of books over at Bad Karma Productions in small press. I brought my brother along, who co-wrote on Chumble Spuzz book 2. We had a blast. I made some awesome contacts this year, and it was awesome how many people knew about my book. BJ Novak, from The Office, stopped my table at the SLG booth. That was cool. But I think the best part of Comic Con is always the group of close geek friends I have that I don’t get to see but about once a year. And slave Leias.
JK: Did you get a chance to break away from the SLG booth and hit the floor?
Ethan: I went out once or twice, but generally I hid behind one of the two booths. I get pretty irritable trying to weave and dodge through that many distracted, costumed nerds. I’m one of those guys who likes drawing comics more than reading them, so there isn’t anything I’m collecting, that will make my head explode if I see it, or a celebrity who would cause involuntary bowel evacuation. To me, hawking my book to people and meeting fans of it is the best part of the Con, so I don’t do much else, except run out and grab an overpriced pretzel dog every once in a while. The crowds at comic con bring out the primal side of me, I have never come so close to actually clocking a complete stranger in the back of the head, so I try to stay out of them as much as I can.
JK: When you go to a show like WonderCon or San Diego, what else are you looking to accomplish besides promoting your current work? Do you have time to pitch new ideas to SLG or other publishers?
Ethan:Well, I’m just starting to get my foot into the door in this industry. Me and my brother did go around and quickly pitch a couple of ideas to a few video game companies and cartoon companies. Generally, I don’t though, because comic con is just such a hectic place, I think anything you hand to people gets lost in their garbage bag of free stuff before they get back to their home office. I did meet with a guy from Cartoon Network, which is exciting.
JK: So Chumble Spuzz is back. I really enjoyed the first volume, and I’m looking forward to jumping into the second one. For those who might have missed the first one, what are the books about?
Ethan: In book one, there is a story called “Kill the Devil” where my main characters, Gunther and Klem, win a pig at a carnival that’s possessed by Satan, so they try to go to hell and kill the Devil. There’s also a story in that one called “Salmonella” about a chicken who wants free cookies from a blood drive, but he can’t get them because he has salmonella in his blood. In book two, Gunther and Klem discover a man that was raised by pigeons in “Pigeon Man”, then in “Death Sings the Blues” the grim reaper commits suicide, causing a worldwide zombie Armageddon led by an evil sea monkey. That’s the nutshell version of each. There’s also other stuff like Kamikaze Satanists, senior citizen vampires, a Cookie Monster origin story and a zombified Colonel Sanders.
JK: Tell me a little more about Gunther and Klem, who seem to have that classic Abbott and Costello-type relationship going.
Ethan: Yeah, it’s admittedly nothing new… I do my best to give them their own version of it, but it just works in comedy so well to have these two personalities… both stupid, but one is way overconfident, and incredibly selfish and mean, the other is naive, innocent, and dim-witted. I think I chose to give them that familiar contrast because I was so new to comedy writing, and this comic really is, in many ways, my own version of Ren and Stimpy, which uses the same format.
JK: And what about the rest of the cast? Where did you draw inspiration for Reverend Mofo and General Woodchuck, for example?
Ethan: I just had a sketchbook full of character ideas. General Woodchuck was actually a character my younger brother, Isaiah, had created when he was in high school. We gave him a sidekick, Kernel Corn Nut, and made them our mercenary types. I knew that I would have a lot of religious humor in the book, so I had to have Rev. Mofo. I actually came up with the idea when I saw a really loud preacher giving a rabid sermon, and if he had been speaking in a language I did not know, I would have thought he was cussing out the crowd. I decided to create a preacher who cusses in a righteous way. I had a bunch of other character ideas, but these fit the story the best. Others got to come out along other storylines, like Blind Willy Phillips, Uncle Louie and the Pigeon Man in book two.
JK: How did you initially pitch the book to SLG?
Ethan:I almost didn’t. I had been turned down by them a few times in the past and I didn’t think they liked me. I showed up at Emerald City Con, totally broke, and got in using a friend’s badge. SLG was the first booth I saw in the convention, and they were really the company I wanted to show my comic to. I saw Dan Vado, who I had only heard of in legends, sitting at the table, and I showed him my horrible little package. It was the complete “Kill the Devil” story, but it was all in a crummy folder, which had what was written on it before scribbled out, and my contact info written next to it. But when he saw the content of the book, he responded instantly to it. He said he’d read it, and if it didn’t suck, he wanted to publish it. A day later I got an email and a contract, so I guess it didn’t suck.
JK: How did Doug TenNapel end up writing the forward for the first volume?
Ethan:I met Doug by chance at my first comic con in 2002 when I randomly went to the Creature Tech panel, having no idea what Creature Tech actually was. After realizing that he was the guy who created Earthworm Jim, and did the artwork for one of my favorite bands, Five Iron Frenzy, I was instantly a fan, and Creature Tech became my favorite graphic novel of all time. There was a strong connection made because, at the time, I was really having a tough time being a Christian, and being a comic book artist. Doug wears his religion on his sleeve, but he is still known as one of the most imaginative and original creators out there. Though, I admit I have gone through my own struggles with faith, Doug ended up becoming sort of a big brother in many ways. I got to know him through becoming an avid member of his online forum. He gave me advice through many years of failed attempts at “breaking in.” When I made Chumble Spuzz, he loved it, so I asked if he’d write the intro, and to my surprise he said yes. He’s an open book, and makes himself available to anyone who wants advice, so it’s not like I was singled out. I just happened to follow his advice and it got me to where I am now.
JK: Have you gotten any feedback, positive or negative, about the religious content?
Ethan: It’s been pretty positive, overall. I thought people would be more offended than they were. I guess I forget what I’m up against. For what it’s worth, the intent of the book was not religion bashing. But I do like pointing out the odd things about religion, and how the culture adds to it… for instance, one of the ways my characters get to hell is by smoking. It’s those kind of things I like to pick on. Things that we as a society today freak out about, and to me it’s absolutely silly. What I didn’t expect is the amount of support it actually got from church-goers. I think that a lot of them could relate to the humor, and even if they didn’t like Reverend Mofo’s bad mouth, they loved his passion to convert hell to Jesus and cut the Devil’s head off.
JK: Your brother joined you on the second volume. How does it work, writing with your brother?
Ethan: Well, a more accurate term for my brother’s involvement would be “co-brainstormer” but to keep it simple, I just put him down as co-writer. For about six months I was living back down in my home town of Lakeside, Oregon when I was still in my band, Lunaractive. I was there recording our full length album, and doing freelance work. So a few nights a week, me and my brother would hang out and brainstorm this story out. We’d take each plot point and brainstorm a page of ideas for jokes, dialog, and situations. When I eventually went to write the script, I had notebooks full of our brainstorms to sift through. A lot of poop jokes were in those pages.
JK: Heh. Poop jokes. But tell me about your band. Is the album out yet?
Ethan: We broke up last summer, not long after the album came out. Part of the reason for the break up was that I was letting the band take up so much of my time, and my artistic poop-joke goals were getting trampled. We put out three albums, two of which are available on iTunes, or CD Baby. I played bass and sang most of the lead vocals. Our style was sort of heavy punk with lots of vocal harmonies and occasional metal influences. We liked writing really epic songs, a lot of them were story-oriented. We were together for seven years, and we had a lot of fun, but I don’t regret breaking up. It became apparent to me that life on the stage and in a van was not my bag. You can look the dead band’s MySpace page at www.myspace.com/lunaractive. There’s also an animated music video I did to one of our songs here.
JK: So what comes next? Are you working on more Chumble Spuzz, or do you have other projects in the pipeline?
Ethan: I’ll be putting Chumble Spuzz on hold indefinitely. One of the main reasons I made Chumble Spuzz one of my first projects was that I was so confident I could do it well. I have had a lot of project ideas piling up, but I didn’t think I had the chops to pull them off. Now that I have two Chumble Spuzz books out of the way, I am confident that I can move on to some stuff that’s a little more reined in. I may return to Chumble Spuzz if there is ever a high demand for it. I’m talking with SLG right now about my next book, which will probably be about a rock band. Besides that, I have two projects I am working on with people at Cartoon Network, neither are official, but whatever happens, I am excited about both of them. I also have a web comic I’m working on with my friend, Eric Peterson, at Bad Karma Productions called Jesus Christ: In the Name of the Gun. Fair warning: it’s for mature audiences.