Exclusive: Jonathan Coulton, Pak and Miyazawa Talk Code Monkey Save World

With more than $175,000 already generated via the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, Greg Pak and [...]

Code Monkey Save World: Red Room Variant

With more than $175,000 already generated via the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa's Code Monkey Save World, the original graphic novel based on the music of Jonathan Coulton, is officially a huge success. Originally designed to generate $39,000 -- just enough to put together the comic, which will be distributed digitally through Monkeybrain -- that amount had been quadrupled by Wednesday, when the group announced that Coulton will record a special, acoustic soundtrack for the Kickstarter backers if the drive reaches $200,000 by the time it's over on May 15. That doesn't seem to be a particularly unrealistic goal, as the project has already got more than $189,000 with half its life remaining. Not a bad haul for a graphic novel that began its life as a half-joking tweet between Coulton and Pak; back in November, Pak tweeted that "You could field a pretty awesome supervillain team with characters from Jonathan Coulton songs," to which Coulton tweeted back "DO IT." And, nearly six months later, the Kickstarter campaign will be officially successful and the graphic novel will be underway for a planned summer release.

Code Monkey Save World follows Code Monkey, the put-upon coding monkey from the eponymous Coulton song, as he teams up with the seething, lovelorn super-villain from Coulton's song "Skullcrusher Mountain." The unlikely duo fight robots, office worker zombies, and maybe even each other as they struggle to impress the amazing women for whom they fruitlessly long. Other characters include office-worker-turned-action-heroine Matilde (the "you" to whom the song "Code Monkey" is sung), Laura the Robo Queen (from the song "The Future Soon"), Zombie Bob (from "Re: Your Brains") and the heroic curler (from "Curl"). Coulton, Pak and Miyazawa joined ComicBook.com about the hugely successful Kickstarter campaign and what the process of getting the graphic novel itself off the ground has been like. Read on to find out which Coulton character hasn't yet been written into the book...but that all three principal players want to see. ComicBook.com: As you have just about doubled the size of the book, it starts to occur to me that the whole project has happened on a pretty short turnaround. Were you guys just basically looking at an outline when you started the Kickstarter? Greg Pak: It seems very fast, but we've been planning this thing pretty much since Jonathan and I first exchanged those jokey tweets about it back in November. I think I did the first pass on an outline in December or January. It's gone through a few iterations since then -- most recently last week when we realized we could expand the page count. So it's a pretty detailed page-by-page outline for the whole graphic novel. Meanwhile, we've been planning the Kickstarter since February or so. And Tak's been working on character designs and sketches since early March.

ComicBook.com: You've got a little empire set up with this comic and the cruise and other side projects. Plus all that sweet, sweet Glee money (I kid). Between that stuff and the standard touring part of the job, when do you find time to actually write songs? Jonathan Coulton: HA! Yes, well, that's a challenge. Running my own show most of the time means that I spend a lot of energy on the actual business side of things. Luckily I enjoy that aspect of my job as well as the music. I do find that the creative work wants to sink to the bottom of the priorities list, because it always feels less immediately essential than whatever spreadsheet is in front of me. So I have to manually carve out time and force myself to sit down and mess around with music. ComicBook.com: Will the expansion of a book like this mean the inclusion of more concepts/characters, or just giving the ones that were already planned some more room to breathe? Pak: Mostly the latter. From the beginning, I knew we could do the project if we only had a 60 page book with 48 story pages. But I knew having some extra room would really let both the character moments and the action breathe. Tak also mentioned that when he saw the first outline -- as an artist, I'm guessing he just some places where he wanted some real room to cut loose. So from the beginning, I was crossing my fingers that we'd be able to expand to an 80 page book with 60 story pages. I never really imagined we'd get to the point where we could expand to a 96 book with 80 story pages. It's a fantastic place to be -- we're ridiculously grateful to all our amazing backers. But you know, back to your question... with more pages, there's always a chance of more characters popping up... ComicBook.com: That asked, do you have a favorite song/character that you just haven't yet found a way to work into Code Monkey Save World? Pak: "Mr. Fancy Pants" and the main character of "I Feel Fantastic" are high on my list. Also, I have a weird habit of sometimes listening to a song a million times before I really listen to it. And just this last week I realized that sea chanty song "Furry Old Lobster" is about a dude who thinks lobsters are furry, cute seals or something. That's ridiculous and hilarious and begs to be comic-i-fied.


Hands down, Mr. Fancy Pants. That guy is so focused on pants in that song, and there's not a lot of backstory. What's with the pants? America wants to know. He's obviously got this weird and very specific point of view, it would be fun to see what kind of guy he'd be when you rubbed him up against some more normal characters.

Takeshi Miyazawa: 

Mr. Fancy Pants. ComicBook.com: 

I've actually (I think I told Greg this on Twitter once) seriously considered approaching Coulton in the past about the possibility of doing a bio-comic of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, based exclusively on Coulton's version of events. Since they don't sync up with what most people know as reality, I have to ask: in the JoCoVerse, is that song canon? Pak: Ha! I don't remember seeing that. But yes, every song in the JoCoVerse is canon. Until we reboot in 2022, that is. And we actually may have some news regarding Kenesaw Mountain Landis soon, actually... ComicBook.com: I know for me, I have a pretty clear idea in my head as far as how certain characters would look from the JoCo songs. Was there a particular design that Tak turned in and you said, "Damn, that's nothing like what I had in my head but it's great!"? Pak: Every single one of Tak's designs made me grin and dance around. Each design had some elements I never could have predicted or requested. But each one just rang all the right bells. I made a few tiny requests, like tweaking some hair here and there. But man, Tak somehow just got into my brain and mainlined everything I'd thought and dreamed about these characters.

Who was the most challenging character to get "right" in the design process? Miyazawa: I found Skullcrusher could have gone in many directions and took the most time. With a name like that, it was easy to tip into something ridiculously evil or making him look huge and very imposing. He is a villain, yes, but even villains have weaknesses or things they care about. I think I hit a nice middle ground with all that could be going on internally with the character. ComicBook.com: Is there a character whose design surprised you, in terms of by the time you felt you had nailed it, it wasn't what you were picturing in your head from the songs/outline? Miyazawa: When I first received the plot outline and songs, I thought Code Monkey was your stereotypical tech geek with ill-fitting clothes, a bad haircut and slouched posture. Y'know, human. Then Greg sent a more detailed character breakdown and it mentioned he was a real monkey and that sort of blew me away but made total sense. The images of him Greg has been posting on the Kickstarter site are literally the first ones I drew. It all locked into place with him. ComicBook.com: Jonathan, are you prepared for the torrent of inevitable fan fiction that will spring forth from your music now that this book will be published? Coulton: Prepared? I've been waiting my whole life for this. I'm excited to see what twists and turns come from Greg's new take on these characters. And yes, I hope that we end up expanding this universe and creating space for a bunch more stuff. The more we've thought and talked about it, the more it seems like this is a really fertile bit of ground for some storytelling. ComicBook.com: Are you involved in a hands-on way with this project or is it more a question of trusting Greg and then just looking over his shoulder to see how cool it is every so often? Coulton: Usually I'm too drunk when Greg calls to run stuff by me, so he's doing all the work (joke). So far we've really just got an outline, and that was mostly generated by Greg, but with a little input from me as we went along. I'm not entirely sure how we'll work the writing side of things - obviously I've never written a comic book before, so I feel like I need to watch and wait a while. But once you get me rolling on the complicated internal lives of these characters, I can talk for days about how they feel and what bugs them and who they're secretly angry at. ComicBook.com: 

If you already had Monkeybrain on board for this project, why hit Kickstarter as well? Was it just a question of getting the artists paid? Pak: Exactly. Everyone gets paid. That was hugely important to us. Also, Kickstarter helps create an event feeling and a community around the whole thing. I think that's absolutely key for genuinely independent projects with little-to-no promotions budget. Our challenge is to create a way for people become a real part of this, so that it's a living, breathing thing that we're all bringing up together. Again, we're so hugely grateful to all our Kickstarter supporters. Code Monkey loves all his mommies and daddies.

ComicBook.com: This project seems like it would be a kind of a middle ground between work-for-hire and creator-owned. Is it challenging to design a group of characters that already exist but have no known look? Miyazawa: I think the fact that there was no look but ample sources for character traits to refer to made it easier for me in the end. Greg and Jonathan have been very generous about leaving most of the foundational stuff up to me and only requested minor adjustments when I got off the rails a bit. It's nice to know they place so much trust in me. ComicBook.com: A common reward level is "all of Jonathan Coulton's music," which is something I've considered buying from you a few times on your website. What's the thinking behind making it so easy to not be a repeat shopper? Coulton: I tend to take a rather fluid point of view when it comes to music sales. Mostly I want you to listen, get hooked, and become a fan. Once that happens we can figure out what to do together (come to a show! maybe a cruise, help fund my comic book, whatever). And so having people grab that collection of music is really a sideline benefit to the already gratifying moment where they contribute to the Kickstarter. It's all gravy, poured on top of my plate of gravy. I love gravy. ComicBook.com: So Greg, how many other comics writers have told you that they're going to start mining your Twitter account for ideas after last week? Pak: Ha! I've actually traded tweets with another comics creator about a crazy project that I have every confidence will become reality on some distant day. It's our water cooler, dude. Great things happen there.