Over the years, Vertigo has enjoyed incredible success by recruiting talent from a writers’ collective based originally in Austin, Texas known as Clockwork Storybook.
Multiple Eisner Award winner Bill Willingham is the mastermind behind critical darling and TPB mega-seller, “Fables” while Matthew Sturges co-writes the “Fables” spin-off “Jack of Fables” with Willingham. The two also co-write “House of Mystery” for the DC imprint.
Well if those books tickle your fancy, you may want to check out “I, Zombie,” later this year, Vertigo’s latest ongoing series written by another Clockwork Storybook alum, Chris Roberson.
The award-winning alternate history novelist is joining forces with superstar artist Mike Allred, the creator of “Madman,” who has also worked for Vertigo in the past on best-selling titles such as “Fables” and “The Sandman.”
CBR News caught up with the two on the eve of Comic-Con International to discuss their monster mash-up and discovered “I, Zombie,” is not your regular ‘walk-of-the-mill’ zombie tale.
CBR News: First off gentlemen, how did this project come together?
Chris Roberson: “I, Zombie” actually began life under a different name entirely. I’ve been working with Shelly Bond on various “Fables”-related projects, like the forthcoming “Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love,” thanks to Bill Willingham putting in a good word for me last year.
This last spring, I’d finished the scripts for all of the assignments we’d already lined up, and I was talking to Shelly about other books I might be able to do. Shelly ran down a list of titles and names that Vertigo was thinking about revamping, and one of them was “Gravedigger.” They were interested in a completely new concept, unrelated to the old DC war comic, and that afternoon I mulled over what kind of book would fit the title. It was actually on the couple-mile-long drive to and from my daughter’s preschool a few hours later that I realized that gravedigging would be a perfectly reasonable job for a zombie who had retained enough of her faculties to abhor the idea of eating live people – simply dig up the freshest bodies, assuming that this wasn’t the kind of cemetery to employ embalming fluids, and soup’s on.
One thing led to another, and as the concept evolved it gradually transformed into “I, Zombie.”
Mike Allred: For me it was Shelly Bond who has been trying to get me to do a continuing series at Vertigo for as long as she's been there. She was my very first editor when she was at Comico and I was doing the never-released “Jaguar Stories” with Steven S. Seagle.
She showed me Chris’ proposal and it just struck me like a lightning bolt. I felt it could be a catch-all monster book that would make a nice progression for what I want to do and tap into my affection for monsters that I’ve had since childhood.
So it was Shelly who brought us together, but coincidently Chris is married to filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s former assistant who took care of us when we worked on “Spy Kids 2.”
CR: As Mike says, it was all Shelly. As we were developing the concept, we talked early on about what kind of art I envisioned for the book. I’m a huge fan of clean-line and somewhat iconic styles, so I mentioned a few names that use that kind of approach. When Shelly said, “What about someone like Mike Allred?,” I assumed she meant someone who drew like Mike Allred. I’ve been a fan of Mike’s since the “Grafik Musik” days, and I never in a million years would have imagined that Shelly actually meant Mike Allred himself. The next thing I knew she called to say that she’d shown the proposal to Mike and that he loved it. I don’t think my feet touched the ground for the rest of the day.
As Mike points out, there were already a number of points of connection between us. My wife had escorted Mike and his wife Laura around town when they were in Austin a few years back for the filming of “Spy Kids 2,” and the screenwriter who Mike’s been working with on the “Madman” movie in development, George Huang, actually filmed and edited the video of our wedding. I’d been corresponding with Mike’s brother Lee Allred a few years ago, after I raved about one of the stories in “Solo” #7 on my blog. I still contend that “Doom Patrol vs. Teen Titans” is one of the best superhero stories DC has published in years. And we’ve also discovered that Lee and I have both been nominated for the same award for alternate history short stories, though in different years.
It’s like you’ve been working together for years. So it’s safe to say the collaboration is going well?
MA: Super swell. Smooth as silk. It feels like we’ve all slipped into the same groove quite nicely.
CR: The collaboration so far has been a dream. I can’t wait for people to get to see the terrific stuff that Mike’s been coming up with.
The title, “I, Zombie” – is this a nod to the 1980s’ classic “I, Vampire” by J.M. DeMatteis, that appeared in “House of Mystery”?
MA: It’s a completely original concept.
So the two titles aren’t connected?
MA: Not that I know of. Chris?
CR: Nope, no connection at all. “I, Zombie” takes place in its own universe, without any connections to any other characters or concepts.
That said, there are vampires in it. Though not quite like any that have been seen before.
What can you tell us about your main character, Gwen Dylan?
MA: Spunky. Sexy. Lost, yet confident.
CR: And she eats brains.
MA: I’ve actually modeled her after one of my favorite rock stars – a tiny little gal who worked the stage and studio like a master. I wanted Gwen to have a vulnerable, ethereal, quality, but still have a power and strength. Is that possible to draw? We’ll see.
I told Laura I wanted her to have an odd skin and hair color that looked ‘zombie-ish,’ yet still beautiful. I think she nailed it.
CR: Gwen is a girl whose life – and death – haven’t worked out quite the way she planned. She has few friends, including a ghost and a were-terrier, but she’s fiercely devoted to the few she has. Oh, and she’s a zombie.
And it was announced she’s a zombie girl detective? What’s that?
MA: That’s a reluctant aspect to her situation, but I’ll let Chris decide what to spill on that.
CR: After coming back from the grave, Gwen quickly discovered that she has to eat a human brain once a month or she turns into a mindless and shambling, “Night of the Living Dead” flesh-eater. To retain her own memory and personality, she digs up the freshest grave in the cemetery and tucks in—though the experience is far from appetizing for her. After she eats the brain, though, she finds herself sharing her skull with the memory and personality of the dead person for a whole week, and if they died leaving any business unfinished, Gwen is compelled to finish it for them.
It could be that the dead person was murdered, and Gwen is compelled to catch the killer. Or it’s a single mother whose last will and testament has gone missing, so Gwen has to find it so that her kids are sent to live with her sister out-of-state, and not to an orphanage. Or a guy who dies before reconciling with his estranged father and Gwen has to find a way to mend fences between the man and his dead son.
You mentioned a ghost and a were-terrier? Any more details on those two characters?
CR: Gwen’s best friend is a ghost named Ellie. A guy called Spot, who has a mad crush on her, turns into a terrier whenever the moon is full. And her nemesis is a vampire who runs a paint-ball outfit outside town. Over the course of the first arc, Gwen meets the two men who will become the rivals for her affections, a dashing young monster-hunter named Horatio, and a sexy mummy named Amon.
What can you tell us about the overarching story of that first arc?
CR: The plan is to do a mix of stand-alone stories and longer arcs. The book opens with a five-issue arc, tentatively titled “Zombie Girl Detective,” in which Gwen has to solve the strange murder of the man whose brain she’s just eaten. She runs afoul of those vampire paintball bitches, encounters a pair of kick-ass monster-hunters who have just come to town, and meets a mysterious man who knows far more about Gwen’s condition than she does. And then, hilarity ensues.
Mike, artistically, what’s the feel of the world you are developing here with Chris?
MA: Dark with bursts of light. I’ll be using more black in this series than anything I’ve done before. It’s about contrasts for me, appreciating light because of experiencing darkness, standing against evil, because you want to embrace goodness. So artistically, I want to play more with solid blacks and what color emerges from the blackness. I’m eager to stretch out on this, baby.
Does this series live within a shared universe with any other Vertigo titles? If so can we expect any crossovers or cameos?
MA: I think we’ll be busy creating our own little world for the foreseeable future. But never say, never.
CR: What he said.
There are a lot of great zombie books out there already like “Walking Dead” and “Marvel Zombies.” What makes “I, Zombie” different?
MA: I’m a huge fan of the Romero films and their ilk. And I think [Robert] Kirkman and [Charlie] Adlard have created the definitive zombie book from that lineage. That’s where I’d point for your stellar zombie fare. Great stuff.
The Marvel Zombies stuff is really just a lark, yeah?
We’re doing something completely different. No one will be able to accuse us of treading on familiar ground. This will be like nothing anyone has seen before. At least nothing I’ve ever seen before. Promise.
CR: I second Mike’s comments about “Walking Dead,” of which I’m a huge fan.
We’re hoping to do something different with zombies in “I, Zombie.” This isn’t a post-apocalyptic setting, but a story that takes place in the shadows of a modern-day American city. And as the title indicates, this is a monster story that’s told from the monster’s point of view.
Chris, can you please give us an update on your “Fables” miniseries starring Cinderella? What’s it about and when can we expect it?
CR: I’ve just seen the solicitation copy for the first issue of “Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love,” so I think it’s going to be solicited any time now. The first of the six issues is coming this fall. What can I tell you about it? It’s Cinderella, super-spy, as so brilliantly re-imagined by Bill Willingham in the pages of “Fables.”
It’s got gorgeous art by Shawn McManus, with terrific covers by newcomer Chrissie Zullo. It’s a globe-trotting, worlds-spanning story of spies, sex, and shoes, and answers the age-old questions of “Whatever became of the Fairy Godmother?” and “Who watches the shoe-store while Cindy’s away?”
And Mike, readers are loving what you’re doing with Neil Gaiman on Metamorpho in “Wednesday Comics.” Any chance we’ll see you to work together again? Maybe on a “Metamorpho” ongoing set in the same continuity?
MA: Been there done that with Metamorpho. Climbed that mountain. I’m always very, very happy to work with Neil. He gave me my first major break way back when. He and Matt Wagner pointed folks to my work when no one was giving it even a glance. And I’ll be forever grateful. It’s sheer joy working with Neil, but it's always a little like planets lining up.