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All Things Scud
Rob Schrab fidgets across from me in a large, sunken green chair in his living room, adjusting positions at least three times before he settles comfortably into the seat. He has, after all, quite a lot to be excited about: his recent Emmy win for “Outstanding Music and Lyrics,” which he co-wrote for the opening number at this year’s Academy Awards, a directing and writing role on Comedy Central’s The Sarah Silverman Program, and the consummation of the long-anticipated comeback of Scud The Disposable Assassin: The Whole Shebang.
Rob’s Los Angeles home, an amalgam of peculiar and equally fascinating creations- like mutated Barbie dolls, GI Joes and plastic dinosaurs with mismatched limbs- is the type of place you could spend hours in and never get bored. Not even if you tried. Hundreds of random DVDs, ranging from the Doctor Who collection to Las Vegas stand-up episodes with the late Danny Gans, serve as both a library of inspiration and as comic relief as he creates, writes jokes, and makes people laugh, in that order. With art scattered all around, lines between his work and his personal life are not simply blurred but rather chemically fused, and done so with apparent intention. But long before becoming a successful writer and director, Rob Schrab was first and foremost a comic book creator. Ten years after its last issue was released, Scud The Disposable Assassin: The Whole Shebang returned, featuring the first 20 issues and its final issue in one aggregated, monster of a comic book. Scud is a humorous, science fiction comic about a world where people can buy self-destructing assassin robots and other deadly weapons out of vending machines. The completion of each mission results in self-destruction. Alas, to avoid suicide, Scud harms but does not kill his target, Jeff, in order to prolong his own life. While Jeff is on life support, Scud takes on a series of assassin jobs to pay all of Jeff’s hospital bills to ensure his own survival.
From its first issue, Scud fast became a 90s cult-classic with a devoted international fan base, and over the course of a few years, Rob released a total of 20 issues. One year after Sega Saturn released the Scud video game in 1997, Rob stopped making the beloved comic to the dismay of its followers. At the 2008 Comic-Con Convention, Scud fans finally got what they were waiting for. Now, alongside a 2008 Scud action figure from Shocker Toys and resting his chin on his hand, Rob gives me the go-ahead to pick his brain about all things Schrab, Scud, and sugary, more or less.
SK: When you developed Scud, did you draw it with the intention of it being animated?
RS: “Well, I was more of an animation/film fan, rather than a comic book fan. At the time, back in 1993, there was a show called Liquid Television. They also had Eon Flux, which got started there, and Ren and Stimpy. MTV was doing lots of animation then and I was aspiring to do that too. But when it first came out, I was concentrating on it being a comic book. I’m influenced more by film rather than other comic books, so I storyboarded it like a film and graphically designed how the boards came out. If something is more frenetic, with action all over the place, the panels get equally disturbed. I tried to make it easy to follow but even then people had a hard time following it. But I do that on purpose because when you watch a movie, it’s hard to figure out what’s going on, it’s chaotic. I just want the chaos there. So I try to keep my action as chaotic as if you’re watching a movie.”
SK: Why do you think so many people have become attached to Scud?
RS: “That’s a good question. I think it’s because a lot of people feel disposable in their own life. Not to make it corny, but I think they connect to that feeling of being disposable in a world that does not make any sense to them. Scud is like that; he’s the only one who seems to understand that something is wrong with that world. Scud is also a slacker. He’s slouchy, always wearing a t-shirt. A lot of people relate to that. He’s trying to keep himself alive but not trying to be the hero; he’s the average guy just surviving.
When I did the MTV pilot, one of the things I wanted to do at the end of the first episode was for Scud to get money to keep Jeff alive. He went through this entire ordeal and almost didn’t make it. But he does, and he gets the money and then realizes his only reward for surviving is getting to do it all over again. I think people relate to that. You work so hard all week and then your only reward is that you have to start it all again on Monday. There is something futile about that, something that people relate to. That’s why I created the love interest, because he needed something to look forward to. Otherwise what does he need to stay alive for? The romantic lead was the answer to that.”
SK: If you could take one trait from any of the characters you have created, what would it be?
RS: “My characters never have superpowers. Scud’s superpower is his inability to give up, no matter how impossible the situation is. Scud would say he’s not brave, he’s scared shitless and he just doesn’t have a choice. He’s damned if he does, and fucked if he doesn’t. He stays alive the best he can. Scud is constantly on the run. Kate, my girlfriend, has told me that’s how I am. I don’t give up. But it’s not because of bravery. It’s more like: Is a person that runs from a lion brave or is it because they have no choice, they have to stay alive? Ensuring survival isn’t brave; it’s just what you have to do. That’s how I feel with my work. That empty white sheet at the start of every project makes me scared shitless, but I have to just do it and make it work. Whatever you need to do to make that lion scary enough will eventually make you run. Being scared moves you forward. To me, there is nothing more terrifying than missing a deadline. You are letting down so many people, mostly yourself. Not finishing what you start is the greatest sin. It’s so much work, and it’s hard to finish something- especially with a self-published comic. No one would yell at me if I didn’t finish it, but I had to and I did.”
SK: How did you first get Scud published?
RS: “I drew the book. There was a printer in Milwaukee who said he’d show me how to do it. Distributor catalogues, like Diamond, would send out catalogues every month. I put ads in the books and then comic stores would order a few. Then a few more. I would print only as many as were ordered. That was pretty much it. Someone had to show me the ropes. I did that for five years until Hollywood came calling.”
SK: Were you reassured as you went along with Scud?
RS: “I didn’t have a personal computer until 1998, when I stopped doing the book. I didn’t know if people liked what I was doing. I would go to the occasional comic book convention, but until the end I thought there was no interest. I was really surprised when I came back years later and these young people had continued being fans.”
SK: Would you do another comic?
RS: “Definitely, yes. I miss the drawing and the freedom of comic book writing. In Hollywood, you are asked to do a lot that you don’t understand but yet have to be accountable for. You hunger for the days of complete control, and that’s what comic books give you.”
SK: How do you approach a project?
RS: “I get ideas by parameters: What I don’t want to do or what a client doesn’t want to see. When someone says you can do anything, that’s incredibly daunting. But when someone says, ‘Give me something that has space ships but no science fiction,’ I can work with that. It’s almost mathematical. I get obsessive. I want A, B, and C, but I can only do 1, 3, and 4. It opens it up and makes you think laterally. I usually get my ideas from images, like what I want to see.
I also approach it from the consumer’s perspective: What design would I want to see? Like with Scud, I needed a name that would resonate with people. During the Gulf War, in 1983, ‘Scud’ was a word being said over and over again in the news. It was interesting to take a word used so much and spin it to give it a new identity. I liked the idea of the image of a robot in a vending machine. I came up with the name first. I like titles with a rhythm to it, ones that roll off the tongue, Scud: The Disposable Assassin. So then I think, what would happen if a character found out he was disposable? What would he do? We use our lives once and then they are thrown away. In your twenties, it’s all about survival. Mom and dad aren’t taking care of you anymore, and you do what it takes to get by. There’s that ‘oh shit, what am I gonna do?’ feeling inside all of us at some point in our lives. Scud is a mythic, amplified version of that. I was feeling that panic when I created him. When I started developing the series, I had to have a motivation for the character to do it over and over and over again, with the desire for it to stop. Scud wants it to stop.”
SK: When you are working, do you keep in mind what people will think or do you work with what you think is funny?
RS: “It’s a balance. I mean, it’s not a masturbatory thing. In an artistic world, you can’t just please yourself. You have to be aware of what the audience wants and will want to see but don’t know they want to see it yet. You need to be five steps ahead before they realize they want it. I think of what would blow my mind; what would fascinate me. By the end, Scud has had 21 issues to understand how important life is, and he doesn’t want to end it. So it’s a challenge. But, he does it.”
SK: Why do you like Dr. Who so much?
RS: “Ah such a great show! I’ll tell you why I like Dr. Who so much. Every week it’s a new place with a new set of rules, but with a consistent character and companion who I can relate to. Each week there is the doctor who I don’t know but who I can trust, and I can sit in the companion’s chair and trust him. Each week, it’s different.”
Since his move to Los Angeles from Milwaukee, Rob teamed up with longtime friend and partner Dan Harmon to write the 2006 Oscar-nominated Monster House and develop Channel 101: The Unavoidable Future of Entertainment, an Internet-based society giving writers, actors and directors the free creative reigns to make shows as crude, politically incorrect and gross as desired, so long as they garner a laugh. Despite his many successes, Rob insists he’s just doing what he has to do: working hard, being scared shitless, and running away from lions.
*Illustrations by Rob Schrab