Zachary Brunner is a New York-based comic and storyboard artist, “trying to save the world one butt at a time.” Brunner has been working freelance since 2011 when he illustrated his first graphic novel, The High Cost of Happily Ever After, written by Eisner award-winner Jim Krueger. Zachary is a real game changer. Are you tired of seeing female superheroes hypersexualized in tiny outfits but males – let’s say it – very muscular and manly but never in a sexy way? Brunner is taking this real problem to another level, creating genderbending versions of the classic superheroes we know – and we love it!
KALTBLUT: Tell us about your creative background – when did you first start illustrating/drawing and what really pushed you to do so?
Zachary: I began illustrating as soon as I could hold a pencil. I come from a creative family- my mother is a fashion designer, my father studied opera; my extended family is made up of painters, actors, and singers. I grew up reading comics and loving that whole world. It wasn’t until college, where I studied film, however, that I took my first serious art class and began thinking of pursuing illustration as a career. I was introduced to Eisner-award winning comic writer, Jim Krueger, my last year of college. He liked my work and offered me a graphic novel project, called “The High Cost of Happily Ever After”. That kicked off my career as a freelance illustrator, and I’ve never looked back.
KALTBLUT: What medium/tools do you feel most comfortable with when creating your work?
Zachary: I usually draw by hand with micron pens and colour in photoshop.
KALTBLUT: We are in love with your Instagram page. It’s very refreshing to see these genderbend versions of the classic superheroes we know. When and why did you specifically start to draws theses?
Zachary: Thanks! As a kid growing up going to comic book stores in the 90s, I was inundated with highly sexualized artwork of female characters. They had huge boobs, tiny waists, beautiful large lips, and skimpy outfits to show it all off. Men, on the other hand, were portrayed as masculine and muscular, but never in a sexual way. It appeared to me that men were portrayed the way other men wish themselves to be seen, whereas women were portrayed as the objects of those men’s desires. As an openly gay comic artist and pop-culture nerd, I wanted to start to portray men the same way the entertainment industry has been portraying women. There are tons of gay comic book readers out there, it’s only fair we get the same quality content that our straight brothers and sisters get. If someone can get sexy pinup art of Jean Grey, can’t I get sexy pinup art of Cyclops?
KALTLBUT: What’s your creative process when creating these opposite gender counterpart. How much do you take on the “original” one?
Zachary: Part of my ideology is that I want to show how revealing and sexist some women’s costumes can be and how viewers have normalized that over time. For example, there was a long period where the X-Man Emma Frost only wore a corset, cape, and thong. So the idea is to take the exact same costume and put it on a man, without changing anything about it. On a man’s body, it suddenly becomes shocking to see just how revealing they are. Hopefully, that starts to change viewers minds about how we see those same costumes on women.
KALTLBUT: We love the fact that you also create space for every body type as a superhero. It is quite rare in the Marvel world to get different shapes or size for heroes even though it starts to slowly change, I’m thinking about Faith for example, …
Zachary: Yeah I think that’s great that they’re doing Faith. While I’ll never complain about watching shirtless, muscular Thor prance around on the screen, I do think that it’s important to have a message that isn’t just all about how pretty or muscular you are. You don’t have to go to the gym 7 days a week to be a hero. Anyone, no matter what your skin colour, shape or size, can be heroic. I’m bored of what we currently perceive as beautiful. Pale, skeletal Victoria’s Secret models aren’t the ideal of beauty. White, chiselled, hairless Abercrombie models aren’t the ideal of beauty. The human race is colourful, diverse, and courageous, and I want to reflect that in my art.
KALTBLUT: What is the message you want to get across to viewers of your work? And why is it important to spread this news?
Zachary: Currently, I think I’m trying to fight against the modern idea of masculinity and what that really means. I like to draw men in dresses, in silly, compromising positions, wearing pink, and looking pretty. The way we’re used to seeing women in pinup art portrayed. I think I’m trying to start a conversation, at least in my own head, of what really is masculinity? And to be honest, why is it so damn important? If I draw a man who’s confident in himself and his body wearing a dress, is he any less masculine? Why is defining ourselves really important in the first place? Instead of caring about whether people are masculine and feminine, we should focus more on being true to ourselves, having confidence in who we are, and making the world better than it was yesterday. I think we need to move forward to a world where we don’t define ourselves by whether or not we’re “Masc” or “Femme”, but instead by the quality of our hearts and deeds.
KALTBLUT: Has your work been responded to in a positive way? What has been the best reaction that you’ve received so far?
Zachary: So far it’s been very positive! Over the years I have had the occasional person telling me I’m ruining comics with my “gay shit” and that I should delete my account and kill myself, but other than that it’s been great. Being on Instagram has given me the opportunity to meet so many incredible people from all over the world. Having a table at Flame Con two years ago has also been a rush, getting to meet people face to face is overwhelming in the best possible way. I think the best reactions so far have been seeing people get my artwork tattooed on them, which is a trip. I’ve also had a bunch of people dress up as my art for either Halloween or various conventions, which is such an honour to see.
KALTBLUT: Have you found any other work/artists to be really inspiring currently?
Zachary: Yeah, too many to count. Being on Instagram gives me the opportunity to find inspiration from all over the world, in all different shapes and forms. Here are a bunch of random ones that inspire me every day. Whether by their artistic ability, their creative concepts, or the way they force us to examine our own beliefs in the world around us.
As you can see, there are a ton of incredible artists out there that inspire me. However, there are literally hundreds of other artists that I didn’t have space to mention or forgot about, so I would say just go through my list of people I follow on Instagram and follow them all!
KALTBLUT: What is your ultimate goal?
Zachary: My goal would be to help break down our antiquated beliefs on masculinity and beauty. And at the end of the day, make art that evokes emotion, and that people can genuinely enjoy.
SUPER – HEROE QUIZZ
KALTLBUT: What’s your favourite Superhero of all the time?
Zachary: Batman. He’s just so edgy and dark, with an epic roster of villains to match.
KALTBLUT: The one you’d like to go on a date with?
Zachary: Also Batman? He’s a billionaire with muscles and a jawline for days, what more do you need?
KALTBLUT: The one you secretly want to be?
Zachary: Probably Catwoman. When you’ve got 9 lives and a latex bodysuit, there’s nothing you can’t do.