Jonathan Coulton, the musician behind songs like “Code Monkey” and “Re: Your Brains” may have quite a bit of audience crossover with comics and “geek culture” [this writer first saw Coulton opening for They Might Be Giants], but he’d never really thought about the idea of throwing his songs into a blender and seeing what kind of comic book might come out until his longtime friend and famed comic book writer Greg Pak (Batman/Superman, World War Hulk) approached him with the idea.
At first, it was just a tweet that seemed half-joking…but when Coulton told him to “Do it!”, Pak responded by crafting an elaborate story about a put-upon coding monkey who teams with a supervillain named Skullcrusher to rescue his (the Monkey’s unrequited love from the clutches of an even more dangerous supervillain: Skullcrusher’s own unrequited love.
Coulton greenlit the comic, which was funded via Kickstarter and brought to Monkeybrain Comics, where the first issue is released today. He joined ComicBook.com to talk about the series, what he thinks of the eventual result and whether we could see more JoCo comics down the line.
Jonathan Coulton: When I wrote the song, I was thinking of a human character. When I had my software job, code monkey was a term I would sometimes use to describe myself, most often when I was trying to distance myself from anything affecting the end user who was asking for something. As in, “I’m just a dumb code monkey, I don’t make those sorts of decisions.” And so in my mind, the hulk speak was the character sort of making fun of his own drone-like position at his company, the feeling that he was just a cog in the machine.
ComicBook.com: Now that you’ve finally got to see the actual issue, what’s your favorite thing the comics people brought to your world?
It’s really hard to pick a favorite. But I think it’s the relationship of Code Monkey and Skullcrusher – they are alike, but very different, and they seem tragically destined for constant failure to really connect. It’s a deep, but ultimately doomed relationship, my favorite kind!
ComicBook.com: And if Greg and Tak stray too far from the source material, can they get away with it by punctuating the issue with “History, motherf—ers, history!”?
Coulton: Nothing would please me more.
ComicBook.com: Obviously there are certain of your songs that lend themselves more to this story than others.
Coulton: Indeed. This book takes the sci-fi, storytelling songs as a jumping off point. And those are really a small piece of my larger body of work, but obviously they’re the most famous part. I like to think I am well-rounded enough to have written a couple of really good love songs and breakup songs in there as well. But it’s a lot harder to make a comic book about a man who is sad. Who cares, you know?
ComicBook.com: Did you always think of your songs being set in a shared universe before these guys came along?
Coulton: No, never. It was Greg who pointed out to me that “Skullcrusher Mountain” and “The Future Soon” could easily be about the same character at different points in his life.
Maybe it’s a shortcoming that I tend to write the same ideas over and over again, but I like to think of it more in terms of a thematic through line. I am compelled to tell the stories of awful people who believe they are misunderstood, and I love to try to find a way to sympathize with villains. Everyone has problems, even people with money and power and evil schemes for world domination.
ComicBook.com: How much creative input/control do you have over the finished product–do you bat ideas around with Greg, or just kinda look at his script and go, “Great. Have fun!”?
Coulton: Greg is doing all the work, there’s really no other way to put it. And if there were a lot of points along the way where I felt like he was getting it wrong, I would certainly object. But honestly, start to finish, Greg and Tak have just been nailing it. I don’t have any preconceived notions of how this universe fits together, and so as I’m reading the script drafts that Greg sends me and looking at Tak’s pencils, I find that I’m mostly excited to find out what happens next.
Greg and I have thrown a couple of ideas around as the thing has developed, and I’m responsible for a couple of funny bits that ended up in there, but it’s just not my milieu – Greg is great at it, and so mostly I let him make the magic.
I never heard the final verdict: did your Acoustic Sessions version of “First of May” turn out to be the safe for work comic shop version?
Coulton: We decided that the book should definitely be family friendly, and so I don’t think that song is going to make an appearance anywhere, at least not in any direct way. Maybe there will be a lady who sells ice cream somewhere in there.
Now that the project is underway, is there a song that you wish could have been incorporated into the comics project?
Coulton: We both really wanted to work Mr. Fancy Pants into the main story, mostly because it’s ridiculous. What a great villain he would make. Instead we ended up making a separate, standalone thing for that character one of the stretch goals. So he’ll be in the book, just not woven into the story. I’m hopeful that someday we’ll do a whole series on that character. Origin story, all that. Honestly, a character as important as Mr. Fancy Pants deserves that kind of treatment.
ComicBook.com: Do you guys still think there are more stories to be told if this one’s a success?
Coulton: I hope so! We still don’t really know what the response is going to be outside our very warm and safe bubble of Kickstarter backers. It could be that we’ve already reached all the people who care. Which is not to say that it’s not enough to support more stories and more books, because it definitely is.
That’s one of the nice things about having crowdfunded this thing – we know that we’re working on something people really want, because they told us so. So we’ll see what happens when we get to the end of this book, and the enormous fulfillment job, and the second stretch goal Princess book. I think there’s plenty of fodder for more stories, just a question of whether or not it makes sense to do them.