With the overwhelming success of "The Walking Dead" in both comic books and on television, it's no surprise that recent years have seen a proliferation of zombie stories -- an outbreak, if you will. But when one of the foremost independent comics creators of the last thirty years turns his hand to the genre, it's safe to say readers will see a whole new take on the flesh-eating undead. Gilbert Hernandez, co-creator of "Love and Rockets" with his brother Jaime, reveals his vision of drug-induced zombism in "Fatima: The Blood Spinners," a four-issue miniseries launching in June from Dark Horse Comics.
CBR News spoke with Hernandez about the creative appeal of zombies, the world of "Fatima," and its connection to the "Fritz" series of faux-adaptations.
"The first zombie story that made a big impression on me was the film 'The Last Man on Earth' starring Vincent Price," Hernandez told CBR. "His isolation and the casual way the film depicted the zombies more so as pests (however deadly) than monsters resonated for me. Even as a kid I could see that 'Night of the Living Dead' was an extension of the Price film."
There are, of course, a number of popular zombie stories presently being told in and out of comics. Hernandez said he had two very simple reasons for sending his own vision of flesh-eaters out into the world: they are "easy villains and easy set up" and allow "as much gore as I want to use." "From there I can tell this type of story with my way of handling naturalistic characters contrasted by the wild adventure," he explained. "Already a couple of Twitter twits have stated that the zombie thing is already over, but I remember pencil-neck rock critics writing in 1979 that punk rock was over. Wrong! Same for the zombie experts. More wrong! And also as it turns out, the Mayan doomster party poops."
"Fatima: The Blood Spinners" centers around a drug called "spin" which causes some pretty horrific side effects -- essentially, users quickly become flesh-eating zombies. Yet the allure of the drug is such that its popularity soars despite the consequences. "Like so many 'real' drugs, the promise of an intense, enlightening high is enough to get the curious started on it," Hernandez told CBR. "The drug is instantly addictive and the user is lost to it from only one dose. Then body and brain damage sets in turning the user into a zombie."
Though there have been some epidemics and other social ills associated with drugs in the real world, there has not been a substance that would threaten to tear down society in the way that "spin" will in Hernandez' story. There are factors, however, that make the drug even more deadly -- not the least of which is a particularly effective contact buzz. "The drug is so powerful that simply being in close proximity to a user will get you addicted," Hernandez explained. Of course, "Fatima" being a zombie tale, there are the usual methods of contagion. "As in classic zombie lore, zombies bite their victims and turn them into zombies and so on," the cartoonist said. "If a normal person is too close to a zombie for a short period of time, he will desire to be eaten by a zombie, hoping to become one himself. As per people's personalities these days, especially in politics."
As to where Fatima fits into this, Hernandez' heroine finds herself up against a world of monsters after initially engaging in merely a fight against narcotics. "She is/was part of a special missions unit formed to halt the spread of Spin, and when the zombie factor reveals itself, she goes from anti-drug cop to zombie killer," Hernandez said. "Again, as in zombie lore, she is mysteriously immune to becoming a zombie. I suppose that's in most zombie stories so that the reader will identify with the protagonist."
Despite the presence of a human protagonist, most readers should have no trouble sorting out the good guys from the bad in "Fatima." "Using a crowd-pleasing villain like zombies helps to give the characters an instant purpose and story exposition dialogue can be minimized," Hernandez said. "You can go hog wild with violence against zombies or aliens because neither group has support groups to complain about the poor treatment of zombies, etc.
"Oh, no; I just gave some hack writer a bad idea to be made into the next zombie TV show or movie..."
Hernandez' recent books and stories in "Love & Rockets" have incorporated some spectacular displays of violence, but each time the function of the acts and the way they're depicted has been particular to the story being told. With a zombie epic, the need for carnage may be obvious, but the artist sees another function for the horror. "Besides the basic fun of blasting zombies to hash, I wanted to use horrifying imagery of humans being transformed by the powers that be into other types of monsters; something that gave me the chills as a kid," he said. "As a kid, I was mostly horrified at what the monster's victims looked like after the monsters got to them, more horrified than of the monsters themselves. Except for the floating lady corpse in the film 'Black Sabbath.' She looked worse to me than any monster or victim. Hey, two of the movies I mentioned were released in 1964. The year pop/rock music came into its own. The first telecast of 'Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer' on TV..."
Several of Hernandez' recent books outside of "Love and Rockets" have been part of an informal "Fritz" series, united by the conceit that they are adaptations of films that Fritz, Luba's half-sister from the "Palomar" stories, has appeared in. "Love from the Shadows," published by Fantagraphics, belonged to this series, as did "Speak of the Devil," which was released by Dark Horse. But "Fatima: The Blood Spinners" stands apart -- at least for the most part. "Fatima was originally going to be a Fritz book to some extent, but a super athletic zombie killer would look silly with very huge breasts," Hernandez said. "And besides, Fritz wouldn't take the role unless she was the star(!).
"Fritz makes a cameo in 'Fatima' #2. Can't miss her, unlike Jonathan Frid (the original Barnabas Collins) in the new 'Dark Shadows' film. Not if you blink, anyway. About Frid, I mean."
"Fatima: The Blood Spinners" #1 hits the streets June 20.