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Glitterbomb Writer Jim Zub on Hollywood and the Dark Mirror of Fame

Comics Features Jim Zub
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<i>Glitterbomb</I> Writer Jim Zub on Hollywood and the Dark Mirror of Fame

Hollywood  is a town of extremes, where the vicissitudes of fame shift with wild indifference. Its actors are either beloved and fawned over or discarded and forgotten—sometimes in the same week. There are the beautiful people, and then there’s everyone else. Superficiality, though often a ticket to the top, can just as easily be a truncheon beating these players down. So what’s a middle-aged actress to do when she’s too old to play the ingenue, and too young for the matronly grandma? In the world of Glitterbomb, she can whip a spiked tendril through the brain of her agent.

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With the new Image comic series, writer Jim Zub and newcomer artist Djibril Morissette-Phan take aim at the fame factory. If the Hollywood success story is a one in a million shot, Zub says, then what happens to the other 999,999? In the case of his protagonist, Farrah, a once-famous single mother in search of a career boost, those feelings of dread and desperation manifest in the form of an inner monster with a fury for bloody vengeance.

For all its gore and creature-feature fodder, Glitterbomb is a story about failure and insecurity. You may hate Farrah, or love her, or sympathize with the raw hand she’s been dealt—that’s all fine by Zub, as long as you feel something for her. He’s neither moralizing nor wagging his finger, but in an oblique way, he is holding the mirror up to us all.

Last weekend, Zub took a break from the frenzy of New York Comic Con to chat about fame, monsters and the skull-piercing tongue swords of Glitterbomb, the second issue of which released this week.
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Paste: So, Glitterbomb #1 started off with a bang, didn’t it?

Jim Zub: We decided to grab people’s attention and we wanted to set the tone right from that very first scene. That three-page scene that opens Glitterbomb, those are the three pages I used to pitch the series to Eric Stephenson at Image. So I walked into a meeting—actually a year ago, almost today, I pitched it here at New York Comic Con last year—and said here’s the core concept: a middle-aged actress isn’t able to get work anymore because of the agism that goes on in the industry, and she fights back in an interesting way. I showed Eric and he looked at it and said, “Yeah, alright.”

Paste: Tell me about the move into the horror space, somewhat new territory for you, right?

Zub: Well, it’s horror obviously, but it’s really a character drama, punctuated by horror. It’s about Farrah’s story as much, or more, than it is about blood and guts and gore. If there’s no reason for the gore, no reason for that intense visual nastiness, you wouldn’t care.

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Glitterbomb #1 Cover Art by Djibril Morissette-Phan

Paste: You’ve called this book “The Exorcist meets Sunset Boulevard.” What else did you look at as reference?

Zub: I really OD’d on Hollywood news and gossip stuff. The Celebrity Rehab and those types of things. I was trying to get a sense of not just the people who are successful, but the people who failed, because I think that that tragic element of Hollywood tells you more about the fame factory. I watched a lot of documentaries about production and how the sausage gets made. Where you get a sense of what’s going on beyond the sparkling veneer and all the people that go into a production to make one star look perfect.

Paste: I imagine you came across a lot of crazy stories from that side of the industry. What stood out to you?

Zub: One of the things you’d notice is there were certain celebrities that looked at fame like they’re actors first and fame became a byproduct of that. Then there’re people where being famous was always the goal, and those are the ones who can’t seem to handle anything but superstardom. Anything less than that and they spun out.

Paste: What’s your take on things like TMZ or those supermarket gossip rags?

Zub: I think they are a fascinating magnifying glass on our own insecurities. I would love to say that I’m above such things, but I’m fascinated by gossip and fame, like anyone else is. It’s easy to say, “I would never,” but we do. We want to see them succeed and we want to see them fail.

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Glitterbomb #1 Interior Art by Djibril Morissette-Phan

Paste: Especially fail.

Zub: Especially fail. Once we feel they’ve reached a certain height of success, now it’s gone too far. At first when they were scrappy early on we felt like we could cheer for them, but then once they hit a certain level, well now you’re too rich, too famous.

Paste: How do you reconcile that with your own pursuit of those things?

Zub: Oh, the ideas behind Glitterbomb came from my own fears of failure. Or those pent up frustrations when things don’t go the way you want. The idea of Hollywood as the template came later. I was just brainstorming emotional content about fame and failure, and thinking What am I doing, why am I so jealous or frustrated or angry? What can I, or anyone, do about that? In life, things happen and stuff is out of your hands. You can “do it all right” and still not succeed.

Paste: Were there specific instances in your own life you drew on?

Zub: I had some really big projects that I was working on that ended up spinning out. I don’t know what’s worse: never getting it or almost getting it. I’ve had some moments where I thought I’m on the cusp of this explosive change in my career, and then failure snatched from the jaws of victory. If it had never been that close, I never would have been that frustrated. You have to make peace with it, but there’s a grieving process. So Glitterbomb is my grieving process.

Paste: There’s a slight Lovecraftian current in there too, isn’t there?

Zub: When we talked about what the creature should be like, I didn’t want it to just be like, “Oh, it’s a werewolf or a vampire.” So I said, let’s make this more alien, more strange and unknown. It’s not like I’m going to show you this thing and they’re going to find its weak point. This is the result of a buildup of negativity and emotional desperation. The mystery of it is what makes it interesting.

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Glitterbomb #1 Interior Art by Djibril Morissette-Phan

Paste: The monster isn’t the focus, but are you building a mythology here?

Zub: It’s hard for me to say without revealing too much, but it’s an idea more than a mythology. I know that doesn’t answer very well, but I’m going to keep my cards close to the chest on that.

Paste: More than a monster story, this is an especially human one. So how are you keeping it grounded?

Zub: The important thing is not to bring out the creature all the time—the character has to be the focal point. It means nothing otherwise. I think the emotional content is why people liked issue one, and why I hope they’ll like issue two even though it’s a much quieter issue.

Paste: On that same note, it seems easy to fall into a Hulk-like rut, where every time she gets put down the monster kills someone.

Zub: Totally. I didn’t want it to be just about anger. There’s more subtlety to it than that. We touch on that in issue two. You get more of the sense that she doesn’t know what’s happening, rather than anger equals attack.

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Glitterbomb #1 Interior Art by Djibril Morissette-Phan

Paste: You’ve also referred to this series as a “horror-tragedy.” Can you elaborate on that?

Zub: I don’t want to give away the ending, but this is not the feel-good story of the year. This is not heroic. One of the things I’ve been very careful to not say is that Farrah is good, or right, or heroic. She’s a person in a terrible situation. You might cheer when she kills that terrible agent, and you might say that guy deserved it. But does he really deserve to die just for being a jerk?

Paste: I was just going to ask, do these acts of vengeance make her a villain?

Zub: Does it? I want people to question. It’s not about me telling you what to think. It’s about you reading it and saying, “I think she’s terrible”—Ok, that’s valid—“well, I think she’s right”—that’s valid too. It all depends on what angle you see her at. It’s a character story and characters are good and bad. In real life it’s much messier.

Paste: Pop culture has kind of made sociopaths of us. We’re always like “Kill ‘em!”

Zub: Right, that’s what’s so amazing. If you saw this in real life, or anything even remotely like this, she would be the most terrifying thing ever. But in a story set up like this, you can go, “Good for her! She pierced that guy’s skull with her tongue sword!” That is some unbearably nasty shit, but in a story she’s worth cheering for.

Paste: I get the middle-aged-woman-in-Hollywood archetype, but you also added the washed-up sci-fi star part, too. That seems especially recognizable to your fanbase.

Zub: In issue two, we actually show you the show and you get a real clear sense of the analogy. We threw that element in there because I feel like it’s pretty pointed. It’s that weird thing again: being famous for a short time is almost worse than having never been famous at all. Or you’re only famous in this one ludicrously specific context.

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Glitterbomb #1 Cover Art by Djibril Morissette-Phan

Paste: So far the story strikes me as a single arc, but I know you plan on expanding. How so?

Zub: That’s a good question. It’s a tragedy, so it ends in a bad place. I can’t say much beyond that, but the end of the first arc is sort of like dropping a big stone in the pond, and where we go from there is the ripples outwards.

Paste: You take a bleak view of celebrity here. What’s so bad about being famous?

Zub: There are people who want to write books, and there are people who want to autograph books. When you see people who have built themselves up from nothing, in many ways it’s a validation of decades of hard work, but all of a sudden you lose touch with them as a human being. You start to interact with them on a different level. The photo ops here at the convention, you’re spending $50 to $100 or more to stand next to someone for 10 seconds. No one is going to think that you’re their friend, so why do it? The more we delve into why we’re drawn to fame, I think it teaches us something about our own fears.

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