'Costume Quest' Writer Zac Gorman Talks 'Gravity Falls', Hat Detective, and Making a Video Game Show

Costume Quest might be one of the latest animated offerings to hit Amazon Prime Video, but it began life as a video game by developer Double Fine back in 2010. Since that time, there's been a video game sequel as well as a graphic novel, Costume Quest: Invasion of the Candy Snatchers, written and drawn by Zac Gorman. Gorman ultimately wrote and boarded the Costume Quest animated pilot, and serves as a writer on the series.

The first part of Costume Quest's first season premiered on the streaming service on March 7th, and ComicBook.com spoke with Gorman to figure out how he landed where he is now, what working on the show was like compared to the graphic novel, and what he hopes people take away from it all.

ComicBook.com: At this point, how long have you been working on Costume Quest in one way or another?

Zac Gorman: The first email I got was from Greg Rice at Double Fine, was back in 2014... It was late 2014. So it's been a long time.

And what drew you to Costume Quest in the first place?

I had a Costume Quest comic that I did, and just a four-panel comic, about the game Costume Quest, because I was a fan of the game. The company Fangamer was handling all my merchandise and they're producing my posters and T-shirts and books and stuff. They were based on the Magical Game Time stuff. And they -- I think it was at PAX out in Seattle that through them I ended up talking to Double Fine guys, and they said they really liked the comic strip I did. And they asked me, this was before the sequel came out, Costume Quest 2. And they asked me if I would do a tie-in comic. And that sort of ended up expanding a bit into being this book through Oni Press called Costume Quest: Invasion of the Candy Snatchers. And so because of that book, I was affiliated with the show, because then when it came time...

I got an email from Greg one day that was like, "We're looking to develop some properties into animated series, want to know if you would be interested in working that?" Oh, of course I would. So it ended up being Costume Quest. There were a couple of things that were thrown out there, other possibilities, but Costume Quest was the most natural one. So then I started development, and eventually pretty soon thereafter came to work with Frederator, and then eventually Amazon through the pitching process.

You talked a lot about the various different stages of this, what's it like going from writing this graphic novel, to doing the show? What sort of challenges are associated with that?

Well the book was really a standalone thing that sort of takes place in between the games, I guess chronologically. It's sort of hard to place exactly. Which was sort of the purpose, it just had to kind of keep brand awareness going and stuff. I think that was the initial point of it. And it didn't tie directly into the story, and then when it came time to work on the show, to pitch the show [it] was like, what is this show actually about? How do we take the game premise, which is great, but also sort of fundamentally like designed around working as a game.

Because it's RPG, so true to sort of JRPG style, they cut away to battle sequences, where you see the sort of the way the kids are projecting themselves as like, he's in a robot costume here, and they got into the battle sequence and now he looks like a real robot. The difficulty without using cut-away battles in an animated series was sort of, well, how do you translate that idea? You need to come up with an explanation for it, and you need it to not be too awfully clunky and exposition heavy. So it was definitely a challenge from that standpoint of, trying to figure out how to translate something that's so fundamentally a game, into a different medium.

So what's the solution there?

It actually did get fairly complicated I would say. But hopefully it'll also give you enough to follow. It sort of gets explained as the season goes on? So I would hate to spoil anything by accidentally revealing too much? But we do have a solution, and it does reveal itself over the course of the first season of the show.

What sort of things would you cite as influences on your Costume Quest work, or what sort of shows would you compare it to really?

We sort of managed to create something that really feels pretty fresh, I think. I think when we were developing it, there was sort of a lot of talk about -- for a while, I should say, there was some concern about like, is this too much Gravity Falls? Because they both deal with monsters and supernatural things and they both have a boy-girl twin set at the sort of center of it. And we just think... we want to make sure we differentiate ourselves enough from that show, and I really do think it feels totally different. Because it ends up [...] splitting time pretty well through the main cast of four kids. I think they each sort of get their fair shake over the course of the season. So it's really more of like a group show. Better than just having a few stars, it really focuses on the group, more like a Ninja Turtles if you will.

But other than that, I think the influences are kind of all over the place. One of the showrunners of the show, Will McRobb, his background is Nickelodeon. He created Pete and Pete back in the day for Nickelodeon. And I also worked on Sanjay and Craig and some other animated series and live-action stuff. Although it wasn't really talked about in the room at the time, I do think it ended up with kinda of a ‘90s Nickelodeon vibe to it. There was a little bit of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters in there, I think? You get some of that from the design of the monsters. I think we have a little bit of that flavor. And it was sort of unintentional, but I'm actually really pleased with it, because for me it's always been something that was a big influence on me creatively growing up.

Now speaking more specifically about the stuff in the show, are there any particular gags or scenes that are your favorite?

One of the episodes that I got to write, "Danger Bike Man Rides Again", which is a little bit later. It's sort of really one that I pushed for. I was very into that premise. I think that episode kind of stands out as my personal favorite. But I think there's a lot of good bits sprinkled throughout the entire run of the first season. I think it sort of ramps a lot too as it goes. So I'm really excited to see the [response] when the second half comes out. [...] I'm not being specific. You asked for specific examples, and I'm not being specific. [laughs]

I was really proud of the "Hat Detective" joke. There's a joke where Wren doesn't know Sherlock Holmes real name, and she just calls him "Hat Detective," and I really love that joke. But other than that, non-specifically I think that it's the batch of episodes in the middle of the season. So what you see later in this first half that are out now on [Amazon] Prime, and then what you'll see at the beginning of the second half, I think some of those are my favorite, where I feel like we got to loosen up a little bit. We got a lot of the heavy lifting of the story out of the way and then we're able to sort of just explore the characters and their individual problems and personalities a little more. I think that's where the show really gets drive.

The second part isn't out yet, so we haven't really fully seen all of Costume Quest. But it seems to be getting a pretty positive reception. What do you hope people take away from the show?

I mean there's a lot of heart to the show. I do think that ultimately when you see where it's going, and I think we took sort of a chance by going for a -- the demographic is not unprecedented, because using examples like I mentioned earlier, shows like Gravity Falls or other shows have done things that are a little less episodic, and a little more big storyline focus, is like a thing in cartoons that's fairly common now.

But I do think for the demographic, and the style of show that we are making, we took some chances with having the story be fairly heavy and there being a good amount of emotional depth to it. And so I don't know... What I would love is for people to get genuinely emotional towards the end. Because it does have kind of a big finish, I'm not going to give away what it is. That's the balance I always want to find with everything I do, or I am a part of. Like Costume Quest is... To me it's about striking that perfect balance between it being funny and goofy, completely absurd and silly, and then having a real genuine emotional punch. So that's what I hope people think about it. That it's not just a like goofy fun show, that it actually has some depth to it.

Let's say that Costume Quest does really, really well. The Powers That Be look at this and go, "Oh, that Zac Gorman, we really need to get him on our best stuff." What is your dream project, what would be next for you in that case?

Well, I have a lot of my own original stuff that I'm developing right now, so it's hard for me to pick one thing. I have a book series that I've been writing called Thisby Thestoop, the first one is Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain, through Harper Collins, and the sequel comes out this year. So really my dream project would be developing that into a series.

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Costume Quest Season One, Part One is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video now. Part Two is said to be "coming soon."