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‘Conan’ Writer Probes the President’s Brain with Comic Book ‘Shrinkage’

You don’t have to love mainstream comics to create a comic book.

Rob Kutner, a comedy writer for the TBS late-night series “Conan,” says he was never heavily interested in comics for the simple reason that he doesn’t love superheroes, which comprise the bulk of the storylines of most mainstream comics. But he was compelled to create the comic book “Shrinkage” to tell a very different kind of story.

“Shrinkage” focuses on the efforts of neuroscientist Lana to save the world from World War III after the president of the United States’ brain is taken over by tiny, nuclear-war-prone aliens. The eight-episode book was recently named one of the best comics of 2017 by prominent comics website The Beat.

Kutner, whose writing credits include “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” — which won five Emmys for writing during his time at the show — said writing for late night and writing a comic book aren’t too dissimilar.

“When you write comics, you have the write these panels with basically word limits, otherwise there’s no room for the art,” he explained. “You have to really think of the pithiest possible way to express things and if you’re writing a late night joke, you’re trying to get efficiency in phrasing and the maximum power to each word choice.”

He did have to flex different muscles in planning the entire story and character arcs, he said. He first conceived the story around five years ago, which he says is probably why the president looks a bit like Mitt Romney. The political landscape of the comic came second, however, as the first seeds of the idea stemmed from his interest in the brain and brain science.

“Might as well put [brain science] to a background, like an interesting, crazy story,” he said. “So I thought of aliens taking over someone’s brain, tiny aliens, and then I thought, ‘I have to make the stakes higher,’ so I put them in the brain of the most powerful person in the world.”

Kutner had no idea that the crux of his story would become so relevant, however, in the Trump era.

“This administration has outstripped anything anyone could have thought of,” Kutner said. “So we’re all playing catch-up. In some ways, I prefer the idea of the aliens in the comic book. At least they have a rational plan of action, I’m not sure the current guy does.”

He spent some time shopping the idea to the major publishers, but didn’t find any takers until he discovered Farrago, a now-defunct “Spotify of Comics” that was also interested in commissioning its own series, which is where “Shrinkage” came in. Farrago helped Kutner find John Lucas, who’s worked for Marvel and DC Comics, to draw “Shrinkage,” and organized crowdfunding to get the series to print.

The story also became personal for Kutner. The main heroine, Lana, is motivated throughout the book by the search to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, a plotline Kutner had created before his own father was diagnosed with the disease while “Shrinkage” had stalled due to lack of funding.

“There was this period where [Farrago] ran out of money, so it was sort of so close and not really manageable, and my dad passing away sort of inspired me to regroup and get it done,” Kutner explained.

Once it was printed, Kutner managed to get table space for “Shrinkage” at San Diego Comic Con through his TV writing contacts, and nabbed himself a badge by offering an interview to an SDCC podcast.

Now, Kutner says, the sky’s the limit on “Shrinkage’s” future. Available for purchase at robkutner.com, the comic is also currently on the shelves at Golden Apple, Los Angeles’ largest comic book retailer, and is available in digital form on ComiXology. Kutner says he’d love to do a second volume, but that just getting a first one to print is rewarding.

Especially because I work in late night, so much of what we do is so ephemeral, it’s washed away with the day’s news,” he said. “To have something that’s tangible and evergreen is a big perk that you don’t really get to enjoy with what I do normally.”

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