Johnny Zito is a Philadelphia native who went on to graduate from Temple University, earning degrees in Film, New Media, and Theology. Upon realizing that he could never pursue his childhood dream of becoming a bounty hunter of the supernatural, Zito began to print political cartoons. Tony Trov is also a Philadelphia native and graduate of Temple University. He began his career in film and television by working in the art department of shows like Trading Spaces and John Hillcoat’s The Road.
In 2008, Zito and Trov, won the March Zuda Comics competition for their project, The Black Cherry Bombshells. Their next project, LaMorte Sisters, was purchased by Zuda Comics in 2009. These projects have garnered Trov and Zito Harvey Award Nominations. Currently, Zito and Trov have salvaged EC Comics’ Moon Girl from public domain by producing a series centered on this classic character and distributing it through Comixology. They are currently working on a series called D.O.G.S. of Mars, which has been optioned as a film by High Treason Pictures. All of which has been done through their production studio, SOUTH fellini.
You can learn more about Zito, Trov, and all of their work from SOUTH fellini’s homepage.
Nicholas Yanes: You both majored in Film and New Media at Temple University. Why did you pursue a career in comics instead of career in film or new media production? Is there something about the comic book medium that appeals to you more than film?
Johnny Zito: We love the weird. When I got into comics as a kid it was still an alternative media. Comic shops were just starting to pop up. Otherwise, things like X-Men were just considered magazines in a 7-Eleven rack. Stumbling onto something like Swamp Thing at that age made us more interested in the bizarre stuff. Being into geeky stuff is like having a secret that normal people don’t know about.
Tony Trov: The crazy non-censored things in comics opened us up to a world of indie films and direct to VHS gold. Before Netflix and Blockbuster, there was a movie-rental store in every South Philly neighborhood. And these places were floor-to-ceiling with movies you never heard of. We’re really big fans of Cannon Films because of all the crazy franchises they turned out. Our friends actually meet up for a private monthly low budget film festival called “Shit Movie Fest.”
Yanes: There is no question in my mind that the study of Theology is a fascinating. How has your knowledge of religion shaped your work?
Trov: Belief is fundamental, even science is just a new religion. Yesterday’s magic is tomorrow’s technology. Oral tradition becomes much more literal once it’s written down. Plus, we can all agree that Jesus Christ Superstar is the best rock opera ever.
Zito: We were raised Catholic and there was an intoxicating quality to the idea that we are all soldiers in God’s army. There is an epic battle of good and evil going on all around us. Every choice in your life could tip the scales and nothing is more important than this.
Yanes: You both have been nominated for Harvey Awards. What’s it like to still be relatively new creators and to have your work so quickly respected by your peers?
Zito: It’s been very rewarding to have the support of the community like that. We got in at DC Comics early in our careers and that was a very educational experience.
Trov: We’re also very conscious of learning from every project. We give it our all and it is what it is but the next one will always be better.
Yanes: You’re both currently working on the comic book, Moon Girl. The character, Moon Girl, is one EC Comics’ many characters that fell into public domain. What was it about this character that appealed to you so much that you wanted to resuscitate her from public domain?
Zito: Moon Girl has a lot of interesting similarities with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. She is an immigrant from a faraway place. She has a huge fortune she uses to fight crime. She’s a princess with a holy mission and nothing can stop her. Moon Girl was invented by Gardner Fox, who was responsible for re-inventing Green Lantern and Flash in the 50’s. So, we thought there was a certain poetic justice to taking one of Gardner’s characters and re-inventing it ourselves.
Trov: Moon Girl was published by EC Comics under four or five different titles. “Moon Girl”, “Moon Girl Fights Crime”, “Moon Girl and the Prince”, “A Moon, A Girl, A Romance” and so on. All of this was in an effort to avoid copyright. At the time publishers had to pay a fee to register any publication that had printed two or more issues. So the character experienced a bit of a multiple personality disorder as she was portrayed wildly different with each re-branding.
Zito: Super heroes are also more interesting in the 40’s and 50’s which is the era the genre originates. When you place Batman in the modern day you spend a lot of time explaining how someone could become a super hero like that. It distracts from the point of the narrative and clogs the story with pages and pages of labored exposition.
Trov: Somewhere in the process we began using Moon Girl’s publication history as a basis for her life’s story arch. These almost schizophrenic changes in creative direction reveal Moon Girl as a reflection of the era. America is changing, transitioning into a post war society and struggling with identity/commercialism/philosophy. In a lot of ways, that’s very relevant today.
Yanes: On this topic, are there any other public domain characters that you’d like to reinvigorate?
Zito: Oh sure, tons. We love the public domain and we reach into that toy box as often as we can.
Trov: I’d like to write a story about Frankenstein rocking out “Row, Row, Your Boat.”
Yanes: Now, you’ve published a lot of you work through Comixology, which is one of the few digital comic book distributors currently on the market. How do you feel about such a long-standing print medium being adapted to the binary landscape?
Zito: The future is now. This is just the next evolution of analog or printed materials in general.
Trov: We saw a similar transition with mp3s in music fifteen years ago and now your bookshelf is catching up.
Zito: Comixology is doing a great job of collecting all the comics out there. They are the Netflix of funny books and we’re lucky to be involved.
Trov: They have all the big publishers and all the indie guys.
Yanes: I’ve noticed that most digital comics seem to merely be scanned copies of standard comic books. Do you see digital comics ever transforming what a comic book could look like? On this note, given Zito’s background in New Media, do you guys foresee new media or social media being incorporated into comic book narratives?
Trov: Well you’re always walking the line between innovation and gimmick.
Zito: Comixology has a guided viewing system that’s very cinematic; it has an almost animated feel.
Zito: DOGS is a space-horror comic about astronauts stranded on Mars and hunted by a nocturnal monster. It centers on the captain and her first officer and the struggle for power that develops under extreme conditions.
Trov: We wanted to talk about how blue-collar this glamorous life of space exploration really was. Folks sign up to be rock star rocket scientists and discover they’re really glorified ditch diggers.
.Zito: The ultimate mission of the main characters is to transform the red planet and make it habitable for mankind. There’s this futile frustration that develops once our explorers encounter the monster. If there’s already life on Mars what’s the point?
Trov: We think it’s relevant to a generation of Liberal Arts majors who graduated into a world where it’s all been done before. You have your degree, you’re ready to make your mark when you learn just how cut throat, and unglamorous this lifestyle can be.
Yanes: D.O.G.S. of Mars was also recently optioned by High Treason Pictures. Emotionally, how did this feel? Professionally, what did you learn about the entertainment industry from this experience?
Zito: It was an exciting experience and getting into film is a long time goal of ours. The artwork by Paul Maybury is going to translate well to the big screen.
Trov: While working on the book we based many of the locations in D.O.G.S. of Mars on abandoned factories and power plants in Philly.
Trov: We wrote and directed a horror movie this year, Alpha Girls (alphagirlsmovie.com). Devil worshiping sorority girls and evil books of witchcraft; spooky stuff. Should be out in October.
Zito: It’s a college movie about frien-emies and the terrible stuff that happens when you get everything you wish for. Check out the trailer, please share with everyone you ever met in your life.
Again, you can learn more about Zito, Trov, and all of their work from SOUTH fellini’s homepage.