I did a great in depth interview with Terrance Zdunich in 2011 and we talked about a lot of stuff, from his breakthrough “Repo the Genetic Opera” to his independent comic book series “The Molting.”
Here is that interview.
Shawn Lealos: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. If you don’t mind, we can start off with “Repo.”
Terrance Zdunich: Of course, “Repo” is my gateway drug, typically.
Shawn Lealos: It started out as a one-act stage show with you and Darren Smith. Talk about the two of you creating it at the very beginning?
Terrance Zdunich: The funny thing is, I’m not really even sure, when we started, that a stage show was even in the script. Darren and I both are musicians and when we met each other, we were both frustrated musicians. We both have a thorough background of playing in bands and doing the more typical rock and roll approach about going on and playing, building up a fan base and so on and so forth. We were both frustrated with our experiences and wanted to do something very different. Creatively, we weren’t trying to fit the mold.
We talked a lot about movie scores and the notion that music could not only be a three-minute song but be part of a bigger story, a bigger world, a bigger experience. We started, basically, writing short stories put to music so it was more like performance art than theater. It was the two of us doing this in places that we had no business doing something like this, like a typical rock club. We would be squeezed between some folk singer and some speed metal band and we’d be doing this wacky, quasi-theatrical thing.
Shawn Lealos: It has become a cult phenomenon with a Rocky Horror Picture Show style fan base to it. How surprising is it when you go to shows and conventions and people show up dressed as characters that you created?
Terrance Zdunich: It is completely surreal because frequently I will see people coming up dressed as the character that I played, a character I was doing ten years ago in clubs that no one cared about. It is weird that it has become almost normal now when I go out to expect to see people donning Repo costumes. It is always surreal and always flattering and I think, as an artist, which is primarily how I identify myself, it is really the pinnacle to have people, mainly strangers, motivated by my art work and motivated to the point where they are inspired to create themselves, whether it is a costume or a theatrical reenactment or performing the songs live. I think, as an artist, it is a huge achievement and one that I hope I can top.
Shawn Lealos: Was the Graverobber a character you created personally for the story?
Terrance Zdunich: I did and, in fact, the original ten minute opera that eventually grew into “Repo” was one of those short stories with the music that Darren Smith and I played together way back in the day. The one that grew into “Repo” was born out of the idea of this Graverobber, acting as a narrator, basically was hiding in the dark and shadow and outside of the law, able to observe the actions of everyone in society, from the elite down to the bottom, and comment on them. I think that initial idea of how the underbelly of society actually comments on it really stayed true from day one and the Graverobber is that character I birthed.
Shawn Lealos: It seems to me that the way you play the Graverobber in the movie blends in well with your motif of cockroaches. It seems like you brought some of the traits of the cockroaches into the character of the Graverobber. Did you think about that when creating the character?
Terrance Zdunich: I didn’t. It’s funny because it is so on-the-nose when you bring it up. I sort of adopted the cockroach as a motif as an artist after “Repo.” I was working on a piece at the time that involved bugs and I was wondering what my work was really about as a whole, not just “Repo” or my comic, “The Molting.” I liked this idea that something that was dark, that’s in the shadows a bit, but is tenacious and misunderstood like the cockroach, is a great icon for that. I sort of adopted it and then, after the fact, realized I was really on the money. That is exactly what Graverobber is and I suspect that sort of personality fits into all the characters that I sort of adopt.
Shawn Lealos: Before Repo, you worked in Hollywood. How did working in that environment as an artist-for-hire help you when it came to making your own projects?
Terrance Zdunich: In ten years as working, in my case, as a storyboard artist, you get pretty good with drafting skills and you get really good at telling a story with visuals. When we were doing “Repo,” for an example, I created scores of sketchbooks and storyboards of what I thought the world should look like. I handed it over to the production designer on the movie and said “this is just food for thought because I want you to bring your own take on the world and hopefully do better than anything I could do.” It was cool to see how they showed a real reverence to those drawings in concept. The comic book sequences that exist in the film that stitches parts of the story are actually my drawings. My years of storyboarding suddenly paid off in that. It wasn’t something I was originally going to do. It was actually like something that came out of necessity for the film because we didn’t have the budget. It was one of those things like, “does anyone know anyone who can draw?” I was sort of like, “uhh, I think I can do this.” And I’m glad it happened because the drawings for “Repo,” I think, are some of my best work. They were really done in such a rushed and pressure filled environment. I think my years of storyboarding allowed me to get through that and, not only get through it, but do some good work. It all ties together and now I am entering into comic books so I assume I am a visual storyteller at heart.
Shawn Lealos: Comicpalooza is coming up at the end of this month and you are going to be there promoting your comic book, The Molting. Ain’t it Cool News compared your stories to David Lynch. The review I read on Ain’t it Cool said like David Lynch, you find horrors in the banalities of life. How would you describe The Molting?
Terrance Zdunich – I think Ain’t it Cool summed it up pretty well. I think I have been sort of surprised to hear the work so frequently referred to as horror because I never saw it as a horror piece although there are definitely horror elements. Basically, it is a portrait of a dysfunctional American family and, as such, the story explores the good, the bad and the ugly of at least a portion of life, living in a poor city in America.
I’m following this family and they are all dysfunctional in their own ways but they are trying to figure out how to best achieve their version of the American dream. It’s gritty and realistic but, at the same time, it has over-the-top comic book elements. We talked about the cockroach earlier and cockroaches in The Molting act almost like a Greek chorus. They infest the walls, the house and this family and we, the viewer, get to see the behavior of the cockroaches, in many ways, mirrors the behavior of the family as they try to live and survive.
I find it hard to pitch my own work. I will say that it is a labor of love. I have been working on it for almost three years now, kind of around the clock. It is a huge endeavor and is totally independently done. I really think it is unlike almost anything in comics right now. I’m proud of it and I hope people will check it out.
Shawn Lealos: You mentioned how expensive it is to produce it. I went around to comic book stores here in Oklahoma and no one had ever heard of it. How hard is it to produce a comic book independently where you only have yourself and, so far, all positive reviews to promote it. It still seems to be slow selling and must be discouraging at times to keep going.
Terrance Zdunich – It really is but, at the same time, that is the nature of being an independent artist. You do it because you have to do it and not because it is financially lucrative. Foolishly, when I embarked on this endeavor, after working on Repo for so long and the studio politics of getting it made, I really wanted to do something on my own terms. Most importantly, I didn’t want to have to wait for permission. There is something about all the work that goes into trying to sell your art that, in many ways, you lose sight of why you are creating in the first place. At the time, I said I can’t afford to make a movie on my own but maybe I can figure out how to finance a comic book on my own. I kind of dove in and figured it out as I went on.
The reality is that the only way to get The Molting right now is to get it online. You can order hard copies through themoltingcomic.com and eventually you will see it in stores but I am doing it on such a limited printing that, at this point, shy of seeking out a major distributor, I think this is kind of the only way to do it. It has been growing and, like you said, the reviews have been great and the word of mouth has been pretty good. It is just trying to thrive in a market that is (1) changing and (2) being the independent guy trying to do it on your own terms. I hope people will check it out but it is really a labor of love and it takes a lot of money to make it and it takes a lot of time. Thanks for spreading the word about it.
Shawn Lealos: Have you considered possibly an E-book style where people can purchase it and read it online or is that not something you are interested in at this time?
Terrance Zdunich – Maybe eventually. I have to say that one of the reasons I decided to dedicate what will probably be five years of my life on this thing is I really like comic books. I like holding them. I like turning the pages. I like the mechanics of designing the page. I feel that creating something for the web is a different beast. Maybe at some point I will embrace it and go that route but right now I like the fact that it is a book and it is precious even though it is causing me a little bit more headaches because it would be easier to just put it online. I think it would just decrease the value of it. For right now, I like the fact that you can just sit down and flip through The Molting.
Shawn Lealos: I agree with that completely. I assume writing The Molting is taking up most of your time right now but do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
Terrance Zdunich – There are two things and they are both slightly speculative right now so I hesitate to talk too much. One I think is going to be something Repo fans in particular really will enjoy. For the last six months, I have been working with Darren Lynn Bousman, the director of Repo, on a film project, or at least the preparation for a film project. It is looking pretty positive that it might get the green light.
The reason I said Repo fans will like it is there is definitely a lot of the elements from Repo in this including music and wacky costumes and characters. Stay tuned for that. The best way to keep in touch with what I am doing is actually through my blog that I regularly update which is my name, terrancezdunich.com/blog.
The other thing, which is more subversive, is I have an idea for an illustrated porno coffee table book. It is based on a short story I wrote some time ago. It is just exploring what it is I like as an artist and why I got into things in the first place. I think with Repo, the reason I gravitate to it and stuck with it for so long is it had these elements I liked since I first started liking things. That was rock music and dark subject matter and hot girls.
So, with the porno coffee table book, I was thinking, you know, this is something I would like. It is personal but it is also sexy and thought provoking and, of course, dark. It is really something maybe I shouldn’t do…
Shawn Lealos: Which makes you want to do it more.
Terrance Zdunich – Yes! Plus, I think it is something that’s really of merit. So, it is something I have written and is on the backburner. But I think that is the type of thing that would need to be done really correctly and definitely exist as a coffee table book so that, when your family comes over and they see it sitting on the coffee table, they are grossly offended.
Shawn Lealos: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I look forward to seeing you when I come out to Comicpalooza because I will be down there the entire weekend for that.
Terrance Zdunich – Oh, good! Please come by and say hi. It’s been great talking to you and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.
If you are interested in helping Terrance Zdunich with his passion project, The Molting, there is an easy way and it is even better for fans of Repo: The Genetic Opera.
As Terrance said, this project is an expensive endeavor and sales are slow going thanks to the independent nature of his comic book. Well, Terrance Zdunich, has released never-before-sold movie artwork from the cult hit in his new and improved online store! The now phone-friendly store lists seven one-of-a-kind original pieces matted, signed and framed as well as an assortment of rare art prints.
Terrance Zdunich is selling rare pieces of artwork with some images dating back to the 2006 short-film used to secure the funding for the full-length feature. In addition to the new items available for purchase, Zdunich has also slashed prices on his indy comic book series The Molting. The first four chapters are now bundled for $19.99 for a limited time only!
Visit TerranceZdunich.com/store to see the artwork that is for sale and purchase The Molting.