The Surgeon #1 with Zack and Laurie from Unlikely Heroes Studios

It’s always exciting when we get to talk about our friends at Unlikely Heroes Studios! They just released the first issue of their new comic, The Surgeon, on digital store fronts and in print - exclusively here at Level Up Entertainment!

I recently spoke to artists Zack Dolan and Laurie Foster about their newest four color creation! Zack is a local artist from Atlantic City who provided the pencils, while Laurie did the inking and serves as head of operations at Unlikely Heroes Studios.

Be sure to stop in the store this Saturday, January 27, to meet Zack and get your copy of The Surgeon signed!


Could you tell us a little about The Surgeon?

Zack: Well basically it's a post apocalyptic sci-fi western adventure comic, we like to describe it as Mad Max meets Yojimbo meets The Outlaw Josey Wales.  It follows one of the last trained practitioners of medicine in this ruined world, Doc Hanover, as she wanders the wastes - selling her services as a surgeon and a warrior to those who need it, meeting all manner of colorful weirdoes both good and bad on her way. All the while struggling with her oath as a doctor to do no harm, and her necessity as a soldier of fortune to do very much harm.  

Super! was a satire of traditional super hero comics. What made you guys decide to go in a different direction with The Surgeon?

Zack: Well the tonal decisions were all John's, he actually conceived of the idea before he came to us and had most of it planned out before we ever got involved.  As for why we took the job it was just a matter of really liking the material and thinking John was a talented, stand up guy, and things coming together in the right way at the right time.  We do think it is important that The Surgeon is so different an animal than Super! in terms of expanding our brand though.  Expect more genre hopping in our future projects as well.

Laurie: John Pence approached us to make the project and his writing pulled us in. We thought that diversifying our books, mixing up the genres, and pulling in a larger pool of fans would be a wise decision for us as a publisher. We also absolutely love John and will definitely have him co-writing on more of our series in the future!


How do you approach something like this differently than you would a super hero comic?

Zack: Well, from an art perspective, I try to make things a little more grounded than in Super!  Part of Super!'s charm is that it walks the line between realism and over-the-top cartoonish, where as The Surgeon is meant to give more of a cinematic, gritty feel.  We use heavier lines and shadows, a darker color palette, a LOT more blood, that sort of thing.  For example, in Super! if a guy gets clobbered with a big hammer, it usually knocks him across the room leaving a Wile E. Coyote-esque hole in the wall. In The Surgeon, when a guy gets bonked in the head with a hammer, the results are much closer to reality...or a Gallagher show, depending on your point of view.

The Surgeon represents another over-funded Kickstarter campaign for your studio. What do you attribute to your continued success on the crowd funding website?

Zack: Mostly it's just that we have really loyal awesome fans that know we work extra hard to give them an above-average product every time.  We've gone a long way to making connections with fellow creators and artists and fans, and we've spent a lot of time learning about the ins and outs of marketing.  I'm sure luck plays no small part in it as well.

Laurie: We've used Kickstarter multiple times now and have observed the ins and outs of what works well for a campaign. We've learned from our mistakes and have definitely streamlined the process! We like to keep our reward schemes simple but tantalizing, and always include commissions from Zack. I think it helps to have a solid video trailer for our books as well. We also have a relatively established Kickstarter fan-base who know that we always deliver on our rewards and never disappoint! It's quite a combination of factors, but so far it has worked out well for us. Hopefully it continues to do so.


Unlikely Heroes Studios is a small independent comic publisher. What are some of the challenges that causes for you?

Zack: I think the biggest challenge is reaching the maximum audience at any given time. We have a rock solid loyal fan-base in place, but, as a small outfit with limited funds for paid advertising, it's difficult to find ways to get new eyes on your product without some sort of fluke or luck, like something accidentally going viral at the right time.

Laurie: Our main challenge right now is distribution/sales for print copies. There are not many avenues for this, and floppy issues are not easily sold outside of Diamond orders. However, Diamond is quite pricy and can have strict deadlines that can be tough to deal with as a small independent publisher.

What are the advantages of being a small independent publisher? 

Zack: We are our own bosses and we get the final say on how good our product is at the end of the day.  We don't have to make ridiculous editorial decisions or take mandates from higher up that alienate our longtime fans, or have to change our story to fit some big, company-wide crossover that our readers don't even care about anyway.  Being able to make what we want how we want it is really just the best feeling.

Laurie: Lax deadlines to make our art as perfect as possible. Especially with Zack. 

What's next for the team at Unlikely Heroes Studios?

Zack: Well, besides continuing issues of The Surgeon that our fans so generously already funded, we'll be returning with all new Super! books in 2018 after a long hiatus.  We know it's been a long wait, but we hope all our secret work behind the scenes and all the surprises we have in store for you make the wait worth it.  Also, we don't want to say too much but if things go well The Surgeon might not be the only new title we unveil in 2018.  

Laurie: What's next will hopefully be more books releases than we've ever done! We're hoping to get The Surgeon #2, Super! #7, and possibly even a third or fourth book out in 2018. We want to be noticed as one of the best independent comic companies in the industry, so we want to make waves, baby!