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Rise From Your Graves! Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski on “THE LAST COMIC BOOK ON THE LEFT”

Monday, August 1, 2022 | Interviews

By WILLIAM J. WRIGHT

For over a decade, Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski have been bringing the weird to the masses through their award-winning online show The Last Podcast on the Left. With their sardonic but never cynical approach to such topics as true crime, the occult, cryptozoology and ufology, the Last Podcast crew have expanded the show from a beloved cult favorite to a burgeoning media empire. From their sold-out live shows to the release of their New York Times best-seller The Last Book on the Left, there’s virtually no corner of the pop culture landscape they’ve left untouched.

With the release of THE LAST COMIC BOOK ON THE LEFT from Z2 Comics, Kissel, Parks and Zebrowski bring their patented dark humor and unmistakable style to the world of graphic novels. Although it’s not their first foray into four-color fiction (the three collaborated with DC Comics on the six-issue limited series Soul Plumber in 2021), it does mark the first time they’ve delivered the feel and spirit of The Last Podcast on the Left in a purely illustrated medium. Now in its second volume, THE LAST COMIC BOOK ON THE LEFT brings the madness (and the fun) of the show to the printed page through the art and writing of some of comics’ most innovative creators.

Recently, Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski (unfortunately, Ben Kissel was unable to join us) sat down with Rue Morgue to talk about THE LAST COMIC BOOK ON THE LEFT and their status as the web’s undisputed champions of high strangeness.

THE LAST COMIC BOOK ON THE LEFT: VOL. 1

Gentlemen, thanks for taking the time to speak with me about THE LAST COMIC BOOK ON THE LEFT. Are you guys both serious comic book fans?

Marcus Parks: We both are. I’m a lifelong comic book fan.  I’ve been a comic fan since I was five. I worked at comic book stores in college. My first job in New York City was at Midtown Comics. So yeah, I’ve got a pull list at Action City here in Brooklyn. I buy [comics] every single week. I’m through and through a comic book fan. 

Henry Zebrowski, killer clown from Queens.

Henry Zebrowski: I got really into comic books when I was a little boy. I was really into superhero comic books, especially Spider-Man because he was from where I was from in Queens. I loved him. I loved the X-Men. But then as I got older, I really started getting into sort of the graphic novel world once comic books went through that like early ’90s [renaissance].

MP: The Vertigo phase with Sandman and Preacher and The Invisibles. That entire “comics aren’t just for kids” era.

HZ: Yeah. Then, I really got into drugs and alcohol, and I wasn’t reading as many comic books for a long time. That was because I was always such a movie freak. I worked at a movie store. Marcus was on the comic book store track. I was on the video rental store track. Then I worked in a bookstore for years, so I don’t have any viable skills. If the grid goes down, everything is screwed for me.

Tell me a little bit about how this project came about. Why did you think that The Last Podcast on the Left would translate well to a comic book?

HZ: Josh [Frankel] at Z2 approached us. He was a listener. And we had already done our Last Book on the Left with Tom Neely that we wrote. Essentially, this is kind of even more of a comic book version of what we wrote for Last Book on the Left.

MP: LAST COMIC BOOK ON THE LEFT is sort of the original idea we had for Last Book on the Left. The original idea we had for Last Book on the Left was like a very demented version of Mad Magazine. We tried to write that version of the book for a while, but then, after we got further and further into that process, we realized that what we really wanted to do was to take another pass at serial killers that we had covered in the early days of the show, back before we really knew what we were doing. You know, Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez and David Berkowitz and all those guys. But then, we still had Tom Neely to do a lot of really fun Mad Magazine-type gags. The best one that he did was John Wayne Gacy on his last day of freedom [that was] like a parody of Family Circus. When Z2 approached us with this idea, we finally had the opportunity to realize that kind of Mad Magazine-type dream.

There’s a ton of great art and different styles of art in the comic. What can you tell me about some of the artists and writers involved and how you got them onboard?

HZ: That’s all thanks to Josh at Z2. A lot of these people are far too talented to be with us. You know what I mean? It is nice to have them. A lot of people, I think, understood that. We are fans of comic books and talk about it on the show. And we actually have a lot of artist listeners, which I think makes us incredibly lucky. Our audience is a lot more talented than we are. So a lot of those guys, we ended up finding among our listeners. They were like, “Yeah, hell yeah. I’ll work for you guys, I’ll make something really cool for you guys.” And then it helps bring in the big old fish because … we now also understand that the world of comic book artists and writers is kind of like, I’m not gonna say “gated,” but they want you to be vetted.

MP:  As far as the artists went and the writers went,  Josh at  Z2  basically just told me, “Hey, give me a dream list of all of the artists and writers that you’d like to work with.” Comic books are going through and have been for, I’d say, at least the last two years, kind of a horror renaissance. There are a lot of really amazing horror comic books out right now. My two favorites are without a doubt The Department of Truth by James Tynion, who also is writing Nice House on the Lake for DC Black Label, which is also a fantastic, fantastic horror book, and Ice Cream Man which is surreal horror at its absolute finest. We got Chris O’Halloran; He was the artist for Ice Cream Man.  He was on my list, and we got him to do the John Wayne Gacy variant cover for the book. We’ve got some other artists and writers who are dream list people that had to give us a year lead time to be in the second issue. So we’ve got so many great people working on this stuff. It’s all due to Z2  and just so many good people doing horror right now.

HZ: The umbrella of Last Podcast covers true crime, paranormal, UFOs and cryptids. It really has a lot of places for artists to go. There are so many things that can be illustrated within our world, and portrayed in new ways because we’re still kind of on the forefront of how all of this material is being presented. We were one of the first true crime comedy podcasts, be that for good or ill. Now we’re kind of bringing it into the comic book world. Let’s find out all the different ways that we can mine all of this information for a really good comic book. Just the imagery itself is amazing.

Marcus Parks, THE LAST PODCAST ON THE LEFT’s demented academic.

MP: I think one of the best examples of someone taking one of the stories that we’ve done on the show and bringing it to comic book form was from David Datsmalchian. The work that he did for the Sandown Clown story is so bizarre. It’s one of the most bizarre cryptid stories that we’ve ever heard, and it’s one of our absolute favorites. We love the really bizarre, weird stuff that seems to be taken straight from the human psyche — from the collective unconscious. That’s one of those stories that’s like the imagination of ten different people turned into a living dream, not even a living nightmare, just like a living dream. David was able to bring that to life so well.

That’s the sort of thing that we’re excited for in future volumes — people just kind of plucking these little things from the history of the show, these things that we’ve covered in audio form. If you have a strong imagination and you hear us talk about the Sandown clown, you can hear it like, “Oh, that sounds really cool and weird, but then, when you see the Sandown clown, and you see someone’s interpretation [of it], you just know that it is absolutely horrifying but also fascinating, and it kind of makes you feel good. Surrealism always makes me feel a little bit more grounded in reality strangely enough.

As we’ve touched on, the comic has been compared to classic Mad Magazine, but stylistically, THE LAST COMIC BOOK ON THE LEFT seems to have a bit more in common with the underground comix of the 1960s and ’70s like Zap and also some of the more recent indie stuff like My Friend Dahmer. Were those types of comics on your radar?

HZ: I think as a young man, I got really into that because I fell in love with, you know, from Hunter S. Thompson, that style of kind of fringe thinking from the ’60s and ’70s. I found R. Crumb really early. I actually was just reading, as I have a whole collection, Weirdo Magzine. That feeling really is so important to this book, and Josh at Z2  understood that implicitly.

The comic book media world has gotten insane in terms of superhero media now, but I think a really good side effect of it is that people are also getting interested [in other kinds of comics]. I think it’s an opportunity to have a style of comic like that because we just haven’t seen a heck of a lot of it recently in publishing. I think that it’s nice that we get to do that. We’re going to introduce a bunch of kids to what I hope is the type of book that you take home from the bookstore and your mom gets mad when she finds it. That’s what I want from this.

MP: I’m not necessarily influenced by Zap. I’ve never really read any of those books, but I know that I was influenced by the people that were influenced by that because my Mad Magazine growing up was actually 1970s back issues I found in a comic book store on a family trip. I happen to walk in, and they were selling back issues of Mad Magazine from the 1970s for like a dime each. So I bought a stack of Mad Magazines. I knew so much about Spiro Agnew and gas the energy crisis. [Laughs] When I was ten, I knew everything there was to know about the ’70s, but I know those guys writing from 1972 to 1979, I guarantee you those guys read all of that underground stuff. So I guess maybe I have a kind of a downhill influence when it comes to that.

Cryptid? Alien? Ghost? The bizarre true story of the Sandown Clown.

One of the aspects of The Last Podcast on the Left that I’ve always loved is how it dispenses with that dour truTV, Unsolved Mysteries tone that so many other true-crime and paranormal podcasts have. The unique style of the podcast really comes across in THE LAST COMIC ON THE LEFT. How much input and oversight did you have in making sure that the comic would mesh as a companion piece to the show?

HZ: You know, it was pretty remarkable because at first, we were obviously nervous. We are truly we’re very busy running the network and doing the shows. We were writing our own comic book for DC. We’re writing another one now, and we are working on this on this comic book at the same time and touring. We had a lot of stuff going on. So at first, it was like, I don’t want this to appear like we’re a bunch of absentee landlords – like we didn’t raise a baby and we’re all bad dads to our child. But when they started bringing the stuff in, a lot of it was already clicking. Z2 did such a good job of being like, “Okay, listen. This is our thing that we can help co-produce with you. How much do you want to be involved?” My goal is to just make sure we’re not going to embarrass ourselves and that the thing is going to ring true, and that is all going to connect back to the show and then also live on its own. You can also hopefully pick it up without knowing anything about the show, and read it and be like, “Oh look. This is dope as hell!” because you got aliens and serial killers. It’s like all of our favorite shit, right?

People love it. I love it. It doesn’t make you a ghoul to be into the macabre. That’s what it shows you. Z2 nailed it. We got to be a part of each process. We read through all the drafts with all the scripts. [The writers and artists] just happen to all be some of the most talented people on the face of the planet, and they can handle it. Because we have the mentality of middle schoolers, they seem to really be able to nail that.

Detective Popcorn is back on the case!

MP: Yeah, and the people at Z2 were also fans. They came to us knowing everything there is to know about us. From the first meeting we had with them, we knew these people get it. They get our aesthetic; they get our tone, which I think is the hardest thing to kind of match, but they got the tone completely. Thankfully the people, the artists and writers who worked on the book, also got the tone and just really understood it. That speaks to Z2’s strengths as editors. They were able to guide everyone to make sure that the tone was kept intact.

One of the highlights for Last Podcast fans is, of course, the return of Detective Popcorn.

HZ: I was just excited because this had been kind of sitting in my back pocket for a while. I had this thing written out a long time ago that was just like Detective Popcorn meets Se7en – like the idea of an incredibly grisly series of murders, and Detective Popcorn has to figure them out. We had a meeting with writer Eliot Rahal, who also was a listener of the show. “So what are we going to do?” The first words that came out of his mouth were “Detective Popcorn in True Detective.” I was like, “Exactly! That’s what we’re gonna do here,” and we beat the whole thing out together, which was awesome. It was really just nice to see Detective Popcorn come out of retirement. And the second installment gets rough. I’m really excited. It’s gonna get super, super violent. I love this shit. It’s just so cool. We are 40-year-old children, and it means so much to be able to see your face on a fucking comic book cover.

MP: To go into my local store and just see it on the shelves, that’s such a great reward, and it’s very surreal as well. It was surreal, too, with Soul Plumber just to see our names in the comic book store, but it was very surreal to go in and see our faces. That was the weird one. That was the very strange one.

Speaking of seeing your faces, the first story in volume one of THE LAST COMIC BOOK ON THE LEFT sees the Last Podcast guys on the trail of a serial killer in kind of a Scooby Doo sort of adventure. Would you ever consider taking that concept and branching it out into a live-action or animated movie or series?

HZ: It comes up every once in a while because we are such a funny investigative team. But between the three of us, obviously, it’s kind of divided into what are now like archetypical characters with me as the true believer, Marcus as the knowledgeable one and Kissel as the wild card. You know, like how Always Sunny in Philadelphia always talks about how you gotta have a wild card! No, you don’t, though. [Laughs] You don’t actually have to have a wild card. But yeah, I mean, who knows? Who knows? We really love writing comic books.

MP: I think the thing is we love writing comic books, but we also find ourselves to be the least interesting people around. We want to create characters and see what those characters do because we have to live with ourselves 24 hours a day, and I don’t want to spend any more time with myself than I really have to.

THE LAST COMIC BOOK ON THE LEFT: VOL. 2 is coming.

What can we expect in future volumes? How long would you like to see THE LAST COMIC BOOK ON THE LEFT run?

MP: As long as they keep putting them out!

HZ: It’s pretty crazy, some of the names that we have that are going to be involved in the next volume.

MP: In the future, I’m going to be writing things that are kind of akin to those factoid books like The Big Book of Urban Legends and The Big Book of Freaks – some of the stories that we’ve done in the past that have been much more visual that just didn’t quite translate. I want to do some of those factoid stories about stuff like the Andreasson Affair that just didn’t quite hit, but that me and Henry love so fucking much that I think can really translate to something fantastic on the page.

The LAST PODCAST crew in their element.

So, as we come to end, I’ll take off my responsible journalist hat and put on my fanboy hat. What’s it like being The Beatles of weird shit?

MP and HZ: [Laughs]

HZ: Ah, man! It has its ups and downs!

MP: I’m just gonna let Henry speak for both of us on that one!

HZ: If I saw somebody else live my life, I would try to kill that man. I would try to replace that man. You sometimes go into it, and you’re like, “Oh, yeah. That’s right. Everybody’s nuts.”

MP: I always think we’re nowhere near as weird as people think we are. I think people have this idea that mine and Carolina’s apartment is just a pile of bones and dirt, and that we just sit there and eat pickles for eternity.

HZ: Some of that is true!

MP: A tiny, small, tiny bit, but I mean I’m about to go home and, I don’t know, eat quinoa and watch Star Trek: Voyager. It’s not that crazy, but then I’m also going to watch a Joel Rifkin documentary…

HZ: We walk the walk enough! Don’t worry, our shit’s evil. Even Aleister Crowley had to be a mountain climber. He’d probably drive a Subaru Outback. But sometimes, it’s kind of the opposite. People meet us and we really are these people. It takes all of our energy for my wife and I not to make our home into an evil, Satanic TGI Fridays. We have to focus. How do we make it so that our parents can walk into this room at some point?

It means a lot that people listen to the show because it really IS such a big part of our lives. Marcus and I had a conversation today where we were both like, “We are blessed, aren’t we, that we are happy with what we do.”

THE LAST COMIC BOOK ON THE LEFT Vol. 1 is available now in standard and limited deluxe editions with Vol. 2 available for preorder at Z2 Comics. Hail Satan!

William J. Wright
William J. Wright is a professional freelance writer and an active member of the Horror Writers Association. A lifelong lover of the weird and macabre, his work has appeared in many popular publications dedicated to horror and cult film. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his wife and three sons.