We’ve all had some fun picking apart COMIC BOOK MEN, the kinda incredible show that purports to show life in a comic book store; along the way a few people have suggested checking out THE VARIANTS, a web series produced by Zeus Comics in Dallas. When we say “produced” we mean it’s set in the store, and is written by and stars the people who run the store. We’re not huge YouTube viewers, so we always put off checking it out . But finally having a few moments to check out a couple of episodes, we can now say that while fictional (we hope) it is definitely much more accurate than COMIC BOOK MEN. In fact it’s pretty damned funny.
The show stars Zeus owner Richard Neal along with co-producer Ken Lowery and actual employees Keli Wolfe and Barry Fuhrman in an Arrested Development-like world of weirdness and embarrassment, centering on the four colored world we know and love. Comics stars Mark Waid, Ben Templesmith, Scott Kurtz, Joe Eisma, Brent Peeples, and Dave Crosland have all appeared in episodes and Let’s Be Friends Again’s Chris Haley and Curt Franklin will be regulars in the third season. The goings on, at least in the episodes we watched, are very funny and imaginative, and the characters are sharp and unusual thanks to the writing. For instance, Neal plays the owner of the store, who instead of being a continuity-obsessed nit picker, is a gay gym rat who dreams of sleeping with Michael Phelps. Yep, different. Despite being essentially amateurs, the cast is pretty comfortable on camera, and get off some very subtle jokes.
For a home made video series—something we have a minimal attention span for—this is very entertaining! Comparisons to The Guild are obvious, but these guys know their comic book world. And hey the store workers and customers include women…just like in real life.
Speaking of the third season, a Kickstarter is underway to raise $8000 to actually pay for the production. That goal has already been met but more money is being raised to make more episodes with better production values and deeper stories. Neal just wrote in an email:
However we need to make the next jump. Ken and I have scripted a 10 episode season that will do just that. We’ve made some dramatic changes in our creative and our production processes that will make Variants Season Three a solid and professional comedy. We’ve also ditched the once a month shooting and release schedule. All of Season Three is being filmed over the first two weeks of June and released weekly later this summer.
In order to do this, I’m sacrificing Zeus operating hours for several days. Taking that into consideration, Ken and I can’t move forward under the Zeus budget constraints. Our kickstarter budget is divided into four categories: taxes and kickstarter fees, production expenses and equipment rental, daily pay rates for the other actors and production crew and the kickstarter incentives.
Personally, this is my first foray into the creative. I’m very proud of the show we’ve produced and I want to see it grow. For Season Three, we’re following two major plots: the corporatization of retail and the journey of the fan girl. For all of the criticisms of recent television series on the lack of female and gay viewpoints, I’m confident our Season Three will push forward not backwards.
We haven’t watched enough episodes to pick the best, but here’s one that should give you the flava: a first season episode in which a signing with Dave Crosland and Scott Kurtz goes awry.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.