To the Drawing Board

Inside the mind of a comic book writer


Zack Giallongo invented Broxo. For those of you who are less than mystics, Broxo is not a chemical solvent, but a teenage barbarian on a desolate mountain besieged by walking corpses. Fans are raving and buying his graphic novel by the boxo, with others about to be born, on the drawing board.

Giallongo, 33 of New Bedford, has dedicated his entire professional life to writing and illustrating comic book form graphic novels to please both a New York Times readership and rabid young adults. Sketching and inking on a drafting table in his apartment, surrounded by original artwork on the walls, including a Chuck Jones production drawing from an obscure Pogo-animated special, and action figures of various pedigree and punch, the animated Zack, well, animates.

His comic book figures – along with a dogged perseverance to professionally break into this highly competitive, difficult realm – are mythic. An incorrigible doodler since childhood, Zack knew his lifelong quest would be creative, although he didn’t think he would make a “serious go” of being a cartoonist until college. “I never wanted to be a fireman or an astronaut. I always wanted to be a paleontologist or a puppeteer or something,” he says.

The teen barbarian Broxo, the last of his clan, was the sword bearer who pushed Zack into this sacred realm vocationally. “Broxo is the last living person on this desolate mountain until he is found by Zora, a girl from a neighboring clan. The two of them work together (sort of) to unravel what happened to the mountain’s lost inhabitants,” is how he describes his most famous character’s plotline. “Broxo is really sort of a culmination of things I loved as a kid. Looking back on it, it’s really sort of The Jungle Book meets Dungeons & Dragons.

Zack will tell you that even harder than trying to survive as the last of your clan is trying to break into the exceptionally difficult realm of full-time pro cartoonist. “You have to literally be willing to give up everything: Relationships, food, shelter, money, stability, security. Even those who are lucky enough to get published often have to do without a lot of these things. The world at large is not kind to those in the arts. Not to mention, it is a job with precious few openings and thousands upon thousands of applicants,” he says.

But it is also one of the few jobs which truly reward skill and hard work. “If you keep refining your craft and get your work out there and don’t give up, you’ll break through. I think not giving up is the key. Many students get out of school and are completely disheartened when they are still working at a restaurant two years later,” says Zack. “It will easily take ten years before you see anything worthwhile. But if you want it bad enough, you will get it. I love every minute of it. Perseverance is the key to success, and with any kind of creative work, you absolutely must be true to your own heart.”

It is also gratifying, he adds, that comic book art and graphic novels are now being taken seriously; akin, on some occasions, to great works of literature; leading the way to major motion pictures, franchises and video games. It is a long leap in attitude, fearfully rewarded. “Remember, every artist alive today was introduced to the world of art through cartoons, comics, children’s books and the like,” says Zack. “I would say that comics are just as good as books. They do some things better than books, and vice-versa. I feel like comics have the strength of both books and movies. In a graphic novel, you can show a subtlety of emotion or grandeur of an expansive landscape that would be clumsy to describe in prose. “But unlike movies, graphic novels are not a passive form of entertainment. They require you to be an active participant,” he adds.

The father of Broxo is currently working on some funny Shakespeare comics for younger readers from First Second Books and a Star Wars graphic novel coming out later this year from Dark Horse Comics.