PopCultHQ is kicking off 2018 in a new way. Each month, we’ll be selecting Comic Book Creators of the Month and interview them for a spotlight article. For February 2018’s Letterer of the Month, we chose Zen of HCMP.
Zen has really been making a name for himself over the last couple of years. Our first time seeing his work was in January of 2017 during a review for Action Lab: Danger Zone‘s miniseries THE CIRCLE issues one and two, featuring writing from Damon Clark and illustrations by Alyzia Zherno. From there, he seemed to explode across the comic book industry as he was brought on as Staff Letterer for Aspen Comics having the opportunity to work on LOLA XOXO, BUBBLEGUN, NO WORLD, and 2017’s new volume of FATHOM.
Zen operates H.C.M.P. (High Concept Media Properties), a company specializing in lettering, logos, and full comic production. Zen is also a musician as one half of the Long Beach music duo illuminated, whose goal is to open minds through enlightened lyrics over diverse musical approaches. This is the first band to be produced by Zen’s H.C.M.P.
So sit back, relax, and hear Zen speak how G.I. Joe introduced him to the world of collecting comics, the importance of continually putting yourself out there as a creator, and now matter how he does it (lettering, writing, editing), he simply wants to do what he loves…creating comics.
PopCultHQ Spotlight Interview
Letterer of the Month – February 2018:
Zen of H.C.M.P.
PopCultHQ: First off, thank you for taking the time to be interviewed for our Creators of the Month feature. In your case, the Letterer of the Month, and we’re honored to have you. What was your youth like with regards to your exposure to comic books? What was the comic book scene like then and what drew you into it?
Zen: Actually, the main thing that got me into comics was G.I. Joe. I loved the TV show and the toys. I’d go shopping with my mom on a weekly basis and in the grocery store was a big comic rack. It wasn’t like a spinner rack. It was an end-cap that had all the different comics on there. So while she would shop, I would just look at the comics. Every month, I would pick up a new G.I. Joe comic. That’s what got me into regularly collecting comics.
But comics have been a part of my household. My older brother, my dad had comics laying around. I remember having Green Lantern comics and stuff like that around. But I didn’t get into it until G.I. Joe.
PopCultHQ: This was on your own, getting into them?
Zen: Yeah becuase the show wasn’t enough. I needed more. And the comics were better than the TV show. That had me buying comics for years until the 1989 Batman movie came out. And that, for a lot of people, gave people exposure to comics. And that’s when I discovered comic book stores. From 1989 onward, I was buying Batman, DC Comics, and G.I. Joe.
PopCultHQ: So even with the Green Lantern comics while younger, and collecting Marvel’s G.I. Joe early on, was it the Batman film that opened you up to the DC Comics universe?
Zen: It was really the discovery of comic book stores as opposed to comic book racks. Since I was already familiar with other DC properties from the cartoons from the 80’s, I had already had an attraction to Justice League and Green Lantern and titles like that.
PopCultHQ: So you had Portal Bound just released last week and Charismagic dropping tomorrow, both from Aspen Comics. What else do you have going in 2018?
Zen: Those are the two Aspen titles I’m working on now. As for other stuff, I’m working on Baninjas (Banana + Ninjas). I met these guys at a comic book convention recently and it just shows you how important it is to go out and be seen. I was at my table promoting The Circle. They came by and needed a letterer and I’m like, “Hey, that’s me!”
It’s cool doing some other projects because I get to flex my creativity a lot. Aspen is awesome! They have a set way of doing things, which I really like and have learned a lot from. But sometimes it’s nice to break outside of that box and do things a little differently. So a lot of fun doing books like that. I also have an independent book I’m working on called Trieum Origins. Also The Folding City is going to be dropping pretty soon, the Korean webcomic. I’m really excited about that and that’s going to be serialized, weekly episodes.
PopCultHQ: Where can that be seen?
Zen: Actually, I’m not sure at this point. When they announce it, I’ll let you know.
PopCultHQ: Definitely. And we’ll be sure to update this interview when you do. So with how you met those creators at the con and lined up a gig, do you find that networking at conventions as an opportunity for more work in the field? How do you look for additional work to take on when you know you can manage it?
Zen: That’s the great thing about the comic book industry. There’s not that many industries out there where you can just walk into a convention, walk up to the publisher’s booth, and if you know who the editors are, you can walk straight up to them and say, “Hi. My name’s Zen. Here’s my comic book. Check it out. Can I get a card, can I follow up with you?” So that is the key to getting into the comic book industry, in particular. To just be out there and be seen. Especially in L.A., there are shows all the time. It doesn’t take that much effort to go out there and be seen. Once you have a few contacts like that, even if it’s not a big company or was just someone in Artists Alley, if you have a good relationship with them, they’ll have more issues down the line. Most of my work is repeat clients where I just did one issue and then I’m doing the next and the next and the next.
PopCultHQ: Are there any creators you’d love to work with?
Zen: Yeah there’s a few people. I’ve already fulfilled one of those dreams, and I hate to name-drop, but I did a preview comic over Neal Adams. It was absolutely amazing pull up his pages on my screen and drop the lettering on there. It was a surreal moment in life.
As far as lettering, it’s a cool way to look at people’s scripts and you get to learn writing tips. So I’d love to letter a script from Geoff Johns just to look at one of his scripts and go into fine detail with that. As a writer, I’d love to work with artists like Brian Stelfreeze, who brings so much energy. I’d love to see him interpret my work.
PopCultHQ: What got you into lettering and design? What made you ultimately decide this is the path I’m taking, this is what I love doing?
Zen: There’s a lot of things that led to that actually. I would say the main thing would be necessity. Being a writer, it’s a good thing to letter your own books, then you know how the product is going to come out and you can do some editing in the last stages. That’s how I started was by doing my own projects. And just due to my interest in wanting to do comics, and the fact that I’m out there trying to be in comics. Since I was able to letter, I just asked people, “Hey, do you want me to letter your books?” And I found out that, strictly financially, I was making more money lettering people’s books than selling books at cons sometimes. So for me, it was a way to have an additional income stream in comics, doing something I love, and continuing to make them on a daily basis. Because that’s all I wanted to do was just make comics. If I’m lettering, I’m still making comics every day and getting paid for it.
PopCultHQ: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received in this industry?
Zen: I think that would have to be the networking again. You have to constantly show that you’re out there and be a cool person. I think Taylor [Esposito] might have mentioned that in the previous interview that you have to be likeable, you have to do your work, you have to make sure that you do it on time. Just be cool with people and make them want to work with you. They might choose you over someone just as talented because they really like you as a person.
PopCultHQ: So you still feel it’s necessary to continue to put yourself out there? At what point can you say that, by your name alone, it should garner that recognition? Or is that being a bit too bold of an assertion for one to make?
Zen: No, I think there might be a point to that. But for me, I think it’s an endless process. You’re always going to need to put yourself out there no matter what level you are at. But you’re right, some people I know, they don’t need to. They don’t need to put out Facebook or Twitter posts, they’re going to get work constantly no matter what they do. But even those people should do the same thing. It’s about marketing, you’re selling yourself and your personality and your work all at the same time. You want fans of you. So I constantly, every chance I get, try to market myself in some way. Even just on Facebook. Someone out there might be considering hiring me for something. They might not really be thinking about it and they see a random post about something else and they’re like, “Oh yeah, Zen. I should send him an email. Get that project started.” So I think it’s a full-time thing. If I could, I would hire a marketing person to take care of that for me on a daily basis.
PopCultHQ: If you have the power or ability to make one change in the comic book industry or community, what would it be?
Zen: I used to be a retailer, so I think for many creators it’s a good idea to be a retailer or know what the retailer experience is like for a while before you start putting out books, knowing how to market them. So my main thing would be in the retailer area, if we could have more returnability on books I think that would help a lot. Comic book store owners, they have to pay Diamond weekly a lot of money just to stay in business. They have to make these decisions on how many copies they’re going to carry and that affects the creator’s bottom-line. So if the comic book stores had more flexibility to order more confidently and order higher on these books, I think that would help a lot over the whole industry because people walk into comic shops and aren’t even seeing the comic books that they could be seeing.
PopCultHQ: Do you see this as a Diamond issue or should publishers play a more active role in getting us to that point?
Zen: Yeah, the publishers need to work with Diamond with that. You know, Diamond can set certain rules for it but the publishers can also come to them. Especially Marvel and DC, they’re their biggest clients. They could say, “This is what we’re going to do now.” And if it doesn’t hurt Diamond’s bottom line, then they’re going to do it.
PopCultHQ: What’s the latest with your title Pink Power? Do you have any updates you can announce?
Zen: I am currently prepping the digital re-release of Pink Power #1. It will be a “Director’s Cut” edition with new lettering and remastered art available 2nd quarter 2018 on ComiXology.
PopCultHQ: Will there be a print version to follow or just strictly digital?
Zen: So it’s a digital re-release. So it was originally done through graphic.ly and that went down a while back. Since then, I’ve been meaning to just update it because I’ve done so much lettering, I’ve gotten so much better. So I can’t release that without updated lettering. That’s something I’m working on right now.
Special thanks to Zen for making time to speak with PopCultHQ.
Be sure to follow Zen and H.C.M.P. online for all the latest from the talented creator!
Letterer: Zen – HCMP