Interview: The Thunderchickens (Zuda Comic Competitors Chad Boudreau and William Blankenship)

By - January 20, 2010

The Thunderchickens - this month at Zuda.

The Thunderchickens - this month at Zuda.

We’ve spoken with various competitors in DC Comics’ monthly competition to win a year-long contract with their online Zuda Comics division. A number of those we interviewed went on to win their respective months. We’ve also shared the pain of some great ones who barely lost, and have talked to others because we felt their specific work would hold the most relevance for the Rocket Llama audience regardless of how they rated with Zuda’s readers.

Typically we refrain from expressing opinions about who’s going to win, for a lot of reasons, but from the day the current competition opened, we immediately expected The Thunderchickens to leap to number one. It has style, it has energy, it has fun characters that quickly become real to the audience – all of which seems ironic because of how many strikes the comic’s premise would have seemed to have against it. Funny animals have not fared well at Zuda and neither have superheroes. So what makes this one work? We asked the creators themselves: writer Chad Boudreau and artist William Blankenship.

Llama: Why are chickens so darn funny?

Chad Boudreau, writer guy.

Chad Boudreau - speaks for the chickens.

Chad: One of my favorite cartoon characters is Foghorn Leghorn. He’s just a funny character and some of that funniness comes from the situations he is in as a chicken. With that character the humor relies on him being a chicken. With The Thunderchickens though the comedy (and drama) comes from the relationships between Scratch, Spaceray and Grandpa and the situations they find themselves in, but the humor doesn’t rely on them being chickens.

3!LL (a.k.a. Bill): I don’t know. I think chickens get a bad rap. Heck, the associations with cowardice are bad enough, and they are the butt of a lot of jokes. I think it’s time they had their moment in the sun.

Llama: Aside from the fact that the title The Thunderchickens would have been less appropriate with a cast of human characters, why did you guys want to tell stories about anthropomorphic animals?

3!LL: It kind of just happened that way. It was based on an old pitch I put together around 2005. It was originally just going to be a humor strip. After Chad and I started throwing ideas back and forth, it became clear that we could tell a really fun story with a lot of interesting family elements to it.

Chad: Anthropomorphic characters appealed to me because they appeal to a wide audience– kids, teens and adults. I feel adults and teens are going to identify with the comedy and drama of our coming-of-age story, and kids will fall in love with the look of the characters. That’s not to say adults and teens don’t like animal characters, but kids certainly enjoy them.

3!LL: Some of it probably comes from the cartoons I grew up on in the ’80s and ’90s, and some of it was definitely inspired by Chuck Jones cartoons. I was looking at a ton of his work when we created this.

Llama: How much difference does an anthropomorphic cast make in terms of the actual stories you have planned?

Chad: From a writer’s perspective, it doesn’t matter so much that the characters are animals. The story arcs we have planned and the development of these characters don’t necessarily rely on them being animals. The stories being told are basically “human” stories, but our decision to use animal characters makes them more marketable, interesting, and attractive to a wider audience.

3!LL: I think it’s very relevant. I mean If you look at Animal Farm, that story was obviously about humans.

Llama: Well then, what do you do to make sure you’re not simply drawing animal-headed humans – or does that actually matter?

3!LL: Sometimes I think seperating the characters from humans physically allows you to get closer to interesting things about the human condition, and our relationships to one another. Some people do this by making their characters aliens, we just chose to do it with animals.

Llama: Do you see The Thunderchickens as a superhero parody or as an alternate way of telling genuine superhero stories?

Chad: We’re going to poke some fun at the conventions of the superhero genre, but I don’t think of The Thunderchickens as a parody. We’re going to have superheroics and villainous acts, but the core of our story is a family comedy / drama. Superheroes is the prevalent genre in North American comics so having our characters be superheroes should attract some of that audience. We’ll get them in door with the superhero elements but we’ll get them glued to the seats with the comedy and drama we have planned.

3!LL: I can only reiterate what Chad said here. It wasn’t intended as a parody in it’s current form. We’re not trying to make fun of things we grew up with, we’re trying to show how much we love them, and how much they inspired us.

Llama: Did it worry you that superhero comics have not tended to come out on top in the Zuda competitions?

3!LL: Not really. I love superheroes. A lot of people I know love superheroes.

Chad: It didn’t because our comic is not a superhero comic. The Thunderchickens is a coming-of-age tale, with equal parts comedy and drama. The superhero element should attract fans of superhero comics and younger readers, but hopefully the comedy and drama is what hooks them.

3!LL: Superheroes aren’t bad, I just think there are many people not making them fun or relatable anymore. We’re trying to make them fun and relatable. They’ve been deconstructed for the last 20 or so years. I’m not interested in that creatively. I’m interested in taking what was learned from the deconstruction of the hero in order to build better ones. You can only take something apart for so long before all you have left is pieces.

Chad: I feel the combination of heroics, comedy, drama and the rich world Bill is bringing to life in his artwork makes The Thunderchickens like nothing being published on Zuda today. I also think it will be the most marketable comic on Zuda should we win, and the one with the most potential for adaptation to additional mediums–such as animated TV, animated film, video games, licensed paraphernalia, etc.

Llama: What’s your background in comics?

Chad: I’ve been writing comics for three years, which is relatively short when compared to the professionals and even other creators in the Zuda competition. I wrote, oversaw the production of and self-published my first graphic novel, Psychosis, in 2007. It opened doors for me so I’ve just kept building upon that first success. I’ve been working with Bill for two and half years. I’m one of the writers bringing his Special Edition project to life at As for training, I have no formal training as a comics writer but have plenty of writing experience. I worked as a journalist for a few years, was a copy writer, and dabbled in short fiction to some success. Comics writing is a more recent love and challenge and I’m going to keep doing it because I’ve had some great success.

3!LL: I don’t know if I have a background in comics yet. I’ve been looking to buy one, though. Preferably on sale.

Llama: How do you guys make the collaboration work?

Chad: Collaboration certainly can be difficult. I’ve had my fair share of collaborative difficulties and failures. I think Bill would agree when I say that he and I hit it off immediately. We just work well together. He tells me something and I have a sense of what he wants to do. I go away and do some writing and 9 times out of 10 I come back with what he needs. On the flip side, I turn in a character description or a script and 9 times out of 10 he comes back with art that nails it. We also each add something to the other’s work. We make each other better.

Llama: Bill, as the artist, how much say do you have in where the story goes?

William Blankenship, artist in search of his background.

William Blankenship, artist in search of his background.

3!ll: I do pretty much all aspects of comic art at this point, but back when could only pencil I came to the realization that no one is ever going to see your lines. That’s sort of how I approach it. You can’t expect all of your ideas to get in the finished product. You have to think about what’s best for the characters, not your artistic vision. Personally I like it when a collaborator comes up with a better idea than I had. It fuels me. You just get this moment where you want to curse yourself laughing for not coming up with it yourself. Chad does that a lot. He makes my ideas better, and constantly comes up with stuff I never would have thought of.

Llama: Has anything surprised you about people’s reactions to this comic?

Chad: The Thunderchickens was #1 four days into the competition. I knew people would be supportive and would enjoy The Thunderchickens but I didn’t think we would be #1 right out of the gate. What didn’t surprise me was all the positive feedback Bill was getting on his artwork. The guy has serious talent and people were quick to tell him so.

3!LL: It surprised me how receptive people were to what we did. The combination of superheroes and anthropomorphic characters was a bit of a gamble. The people who like it seem to love it. I’m just happy people dig it. We’ve also had many people who said they loved it after reading it, even though they thought they wouldn’t. That’s what surprised me the most.

Llama: The Zuda competition can be pretty stressful, but it can also be rewarding even before the outcome. What has been the best part of this process so far?

Chad: It has been stressful. The Thunderchickens was #1 in the competition four days in. That put a big target on us. All the other competitors now knew who they had to beat. This meant Bill and I had to work even harder on our promotion of The Thunderchickens. We came into Zuda with a plan in mind, but we had to ramp it up in light of being #1 so soon into the contest. We’ve held that spot for almost three weeks and with a little more than a week to go we need more eyeballs on The Thunderchickens, more fans, and more votes if we are to stay on top and win the competition.

3!LL: For me the most rewarding part has been showing people in a verypublic fashion what a creative force we can be. We’ve been collaborating together for a while now, and published the first collection of them in 2009. I wanted to show off what we could do if given the proper chance. I think we’ve done that. That’s satisfying.

Read The Thunderchickens at Zuda. If you like what you see, rate it and vote.

Learn more about Chad’s other published work at my blog Check out too.

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