"I Will Die For Comics." Zach M. Stafford is Forever 'Extra Fabulous'
We chat with the cartoonist about retail misery, how it fuels his art, and why comics saved his life.
Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the comics industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Zach M. Stafford about Good Comics for Bad People: An Extra Fabulous Collection.
Thank you for stopping that scroll and clicking that link. You've found yourself before a seriously passionate and fun chat with cartoonist Zach M. Stafford. We first encountered his comics on the app previously known as Twitter, and he's brought joy to our lives every day since. His Extra Fabulous cartoons are absurd, sharp, and frequently profane. Mostly, they're just dang true.
His new collection, Good Comics for Bad People, is now available through Skybound Entertainment. It's fifteen bucks, and the jokes come fast, furious, and ferocious. It's best to put it in your home, where you're most likely to break down or freak out. That's maybe in the bathroom, the bedroom, or the kitchen. You know you, so you know best, but keep it nearby. When society cracks your brain, reach out and find solace in Stafford's interpretation of our worldly hell.
We conducted this interview via email. The conversation initially digs into Stafford's process and then quickly moves to his retail years and how they shaped his brutal comedy. The headline above is a bit of a spoiler, but it speaks to this medium's power. Zach M. Stafford devoted himself to Extra Fabulous, and his faith in himself and the form spawned success. We need creators like Stafford on the frontlines of comics, being our champions.
Lisa: How do these comics generally enter your brain? Punchline first? Visual first?
Zach M. Stafford: I like to approach comics as improvisationally as possible. I’ll look around the coffee shop or wherever I am and creep on people’s conversations and take whatever crap they’re talking about and make it my first panel and sort of riff on it from panel to panel after that. Nearly 100% of the time it doesn’t work and I go home sad.
Brad: We read that Extra Fabulous started to formulate in your imagination while working in the meat department of a Giant Grocery Store (which is our local chain, by the way). And there was a moment when you were cutting a T-bone steak for a customer, and your finger hit the bandsaw. After your hand healed, you started knocking out comics.
As former long-term retail workers, we appreciate anyone who can take that perspective and create insight. Can you reflect on your time in the retail trenches and how it honed your creative side?
Zach M. Stafford: Wow I didn’t think anyone would ever read or refer to that, thank you! That time in my life sucked hard and that job in particular was adjacent to my lowest point ever. This store (let’s call it “Buplix”) had a little placard above the punch clock which stated “It’s a pleasure to work here” without even the slightest bit of self-awareness or intended irony. It was not a pleasure to work there. It sucked for real. Quitting was one of the most cathartic moments of my life, and it sent such powerful shockwaves of ecstasy throughout my moaning body that I can still feel their reverberations years later.
Lisa: What’s the emotional release of putting a certain comic into the world? Exorcizing dark thoughts? Venting frustration? Sometimes a poop joke is just a poop joke?
Zach M. Stafford: There is big ennui I feel whenever a comic contains nothing revealing about my inner condition. It feels like a waste of time and I feel like I’m wasting the time of my readers by not including what my current poop situation is, current fetish, current emotional state, etc. There are people out there who need to know these things. They depend upon me to deliver, and if I can satisfy them in this way then my moaning body is also satisfied.
Lisa: Who or what are the biggest influences on Extra Fabulous?
Zach M. Stafford: My comic peers are my biggest influences. I hesitate to call them peers because they are all far better and more consistent than I am. If they all died together somehow then I would be really upset. I also really look up to the new comic artists. It’s inspirational to me whenever anybody does something new and brave in the name of attempting to be free from having to work at maybe a place like Buplix.
Lisa: Have your influences changed over the course of creating the series?
Zach M. Stafford: Whenever I began my primary influences were definitely the old established crew of webcomic artists. I still love them all, but my generation and the newer ones are the ones I talk to and can relate to the most.
Brad: Along that same line of thinking, how would you say your style has evolved?
Zach M. Stafford: I remember at the beginning struggling with nailing down a distinct style of my own. Eventually whenever I gave up on that and just allowed myself to simply “draw” did a style of my own sneak up on me. I try to remain open to evolving as my own tastes and the tastes of the internet changes, because staying the same and doing the same thing over and over again makes me feel sad.
Lisa: We understand that you’re a big first-draft kinda person. What do you lose when you keep editing, editing, editing?
Zach M. Stafford: Personally through repeated edits I lose whatever I enjoyed about the joke in the first place. It’s like when a child keeps repeating a joke over and over. Except with comics you can’t simply put the comic up for adoption. You have to live with it forever.
Brad: Social media has played a significant role in the creative community for some time now, but it seems we’re in another transition period regarding that artistic delivery system. How are you feeling about that environment these days?
Zach M. Stafford: I think I hate it but I have to give credit to it where it’s due, social media really opened up the door to exposing webcomics to the masses where before people had to kinda go out of their way to seek you out. What this has unfortunately resulted in is an attempt by artists to appeal to as many people as possible, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing. I’m also not sure it’s a bad thing. I don’t know how I feel. As a result, I try to remain amorphous and allow myself to shift with the times, come what may. Hopefully the internet can get back to the days of “everyone just having their own website” again, that was dope.
Lisa: If you were going to give one Extra Fabulous strip to a person that best communicates a sense of yourself, which would it be? And don’t say, “Goku Makes Love to Spider-Man” or “Sonic Making Love to Eggman”. Cuz copyright law has robbed us from experiencing them in this new collection.
Zach M. Stafford: Well if I had to succinctly give a sense of myself it’s probably the comic where the guy says “Do you like big dicks” and the lady says “Yes” and the guy says “Darn”. That’s pretty much the one.
Lisa: When you started working on these comics, were you career-minded? Were you like, here’s where I’ll build my wealth and legacy? If not, when did that become clear?
Zach M. Stafford: After the Buplix/divorce/nightmare era I was living in my car. My goal was to make 5 dollars a day in ad revenue on my site. I totally did. Some days I would make ten dollars. It was around that time that I knew I was onto something and I resigned myself to never work for Buplix or anyone else again. I owe my life to comics. I will die for comics.
Good Comics for Bad People is now available wherever rad comics are sold. Go get yours. Also, follow Zach M. Stafford on his totally tubular Website.