What’s it mean to be a hero and an imperfect person? And what’s it like to to live up to the standards and expectations of someone that everyone loves and adores? Those questions and more serve as the core to Jenny Zero, a new series from Dark Horse Comics.
Written by Dave Dwonch and Brockton McKinney, and with art from Magenta King and Megan Huang, the series follows the titular heroine, a hard-drinking, hard-partying daughter of the beloved kaijin-battling superhero Mega Commander Zero. Woven into the narrative are themes about self-responsibility, parental contrition, and defining oneself in this mad, mad world.
Ahead of the book’s release (April 14), we sat down with both Dwonch and McKinney to talk about the book’s origins, how they address addiction/alcoholism in comics, why huge monsters are cool, and their creative process, among several other topics.
AIPT: Thanks for taking the time. Your series Jenny Zero is kicking off April 14, but how far back does this project go for you? Has it been in your minds since high school, the start of the pandemic, before?
Dave Dwonch: Oh, boy. 2016? 2017? It’s a bit of a blur. Jenny Zero was born in the wee hours on the streets of Puerto Rico. Brock and I were winding down from the PR Comic-Con, and things got a little out of control.
Brockton McKinney: Absolutely. The first arc of Jenny Zero was plotted while sitting on the curb outside of our rented apartment when we locked ourselves out around midnight. We’d made a beer run, so we took turns acting out scenes, playing both the monsters and Jenny and using the beer cans as props. The next morning, plagued with a mild hangover, we wrote everything down as the treatment. We talked about the overall story for the rest of the trip, and as soon as we got home we punched out the first script in a couple of days.
AIPT: Jenny Zero‘s protagonist Jenny Tetsuo is an addict which includes booze and drugs. Was there any special research or consideration of how to handle this topic when crafting the tale?
BM: I think for Dave and I, being of the same age (read: OLD), we’ve seen virtually everyone we know, including ourselves, struggle with the idea of “how much is too much?” When does it stop being about “rounding out the edges” and having fun, and start to become detrimental to the other aspects of your life? So, we really wanted to show a portion of the story when the balancing act is off. And how even Dana, her best friend, sees Jenny’s overindulgences and has such a hard time deciding how to actually help. But also, initially, we conceived this story idea while inebriated, so we’re trying not to throw stones in glass houses if ya know what I mean.
DD: In our lives, and even for each other– we’ve been on both sides of that coin. We’ve both been Jenny and we’ve both been Dana. I think that in our older age we’ve been mellowing, but, and I don’t want to speak for Brock, I’ve struggled with addiction through the years. That’s definitely influenced how we tackled this series. Ultimately for me, it comes down to taking responsibility for your actions and learning how to establish a balance in your life.
BM: You can speak for me, Dwonch. I’m addicted to you.
AIPT: I’m curious about character building, particularly with a character like Jenny who abuses drugs. How did you approach this character, so she maintained a likable nature, but also isn’t your squeaky clean hero either?
DD: Well, there are tons of anti-heroes out there. In my opinion, the best characters are flawed. I think if you can distill a character down in your mind– really get to the reason they think, feel, act as they do… there will be something there for readers to empathize with. We all want to root for the underdog and make no mistake, Jenny IS an underdog.
BM: She certainly is. And when we started writing, Jenny herself came out almost fully formed. Because we both know what that’s like, trying so hard to prove yourself, failing, and then taking it too far in an effort to self-medicate the hurt. Once Jenny came to life we began populating her world with those who would have to help her and to deal with her. We’re arguably lovable lushes, so Jenny’s personality came fairly honestly.
AIPT: Something about Jenny Zero I like is how this world looks ordinary in many respects, but you can see the sci-fi world at the edges and at times–when Kaiju show up–at the forefront. Can you talk a little bit about creating an entirely new sci-fi world?
BM: Thanks so much, we really appreciate hearing that! After we had Jenny and her cast down, we went to work on her universe. We went pretty nuts worldbuilding and figuring out how all these bizarre events played out for this Earth, from the 1960s to the present day. At first, that stuff seemed like backstory for us to reference only, but the deeper we got, the more story we realized we had to tell.
DD: I cannot wait for readers to be able to follow us down the rabbit hole. In issue 2 we really start to peel away the layers that are the sweet onion of Jenny’s world, and man… it’s messed up! The twist at the end of the first issue is just the first of many!
BM: The biggest real world twist is that we found our series artist, Magenta King, the very same day we finished the initial treatment. His designs were so gorgeous and out there, that we started to amend the script to help encompass his style. I say this with no hyperbole, to us, he brought Jenny and her world to life like no one else could. When Megan Huang sent in her first beautifully and thoughtfully colored pages over MK’s inks, we knew we had something special.
AIPT: There’s some incredible techno-organic stuff at work in this book (specifically, something Jenny wears). How did the design come about?
DD: Oh, there’s a level of one-upmanship that happens when Brock and I write. We literally jump over each other’s pages on a living Google Doc, editing each other, adding tiny details, and amping up every scene. I think Jenny’s “gear” went something like:
B: I want Jenny’s backstory to cover her time as a sniper for the military.
D: Cool. What if she has a baby Kaiju strapped to her arm that vomits fiery acid?
B: Oh, f**k, can it be like a weird fish thing that she nicknames Nemo?
D: Um… YEAH! When I letter the pages can I make it talk like an actual baby?
BM: That is pretty much verbatim how Nemo came to be. And it’s a very real look at how the ideas were born all throughout the series! Dave and I work incredibly well together. He’s an inspiring guy, so it’s real easy to get fired up. Plus, he usually buys the first round.
AIPT: There seems to be an increased interest in Kaiju tales (Ultraman at Marvel, Ultramega at Image). Why do you think American audiences want and crave more big monster stories?
BM: It’s amazing! So very happy to see all the kaiju love recently. And although kaiju fans definitely span a massive age group, for a lot of us it’s a bit of an ‘80s thing. Kids who grew up watching shows like Godzilla and Ultraman on Saturday morning gained a lifelong adoration for those giant creatures and the characters who interacted with them. And to this day, Dave and I are first in line for anything that’s big monster-related. We love overgrown mutant beasts, otherworldly backdrops, and flawed protagonists. And we wanted to add alcohol to the mix. And that, my dear children, is how Jenny Zero was born.
AIPT: Thanks so much!
DD and BM: Thank you so much for having us!
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