Avatar Press' zombie epic "Crossed" is recognized as one of the most violent, disturbing comic books to hit the stands in years. Created by Garth Ennis and originally brought to life by artist Jacen Burrows, the various "Crossed" miniseries all take place in a world where a violent plague has turned the majority of the population into blood-thirsty, demented psychopaths marked by, what else, a giant scabbed cross covering their faces.
Since Ennis and Burrows' initial miniseries, "Crossed" has expanded and now includes, in addition to various other minis, a bi-weekly ongoing series, "Crossed: Badlands," and a free, weekly webcomic, "Crossed: Wish You Were Here." The writers behind these two ongoing stories, David Hine ("Badlands") and Si Spurrier, spoke with CBR News during New York Comic Con about the world of "Crossed," what it's like to develop new and creatively violent deaths for a living, the liklieness of a crossover between the two series and their favorite "Crossed" deaths -- so far!
CBR News: For readers who may not be intimately familiar with the "Crossed" universe, how do "Crossed: Badlands" and "Crossed: Wish You Were Here" relate to one another?
Si Spurrier: They don't have anything to do with each other if we can help it. With the "Badlands" ongoing that David writes, it's a series of self-contained stories. Usually one to six episodes. It's as if you could go in to the world of George Romero and tell stories about other characters. Same world, same global epidemic, but each writer has their own characters. With my webcomic, "Wish You Were Here," the difference is that my story is ongoing. But there is an end, and I know what it is.
David Hine: The whole thing with the "Crossed" series is that each story is self-contained. You can read the arcs in any order; it doesn't matter when you read them. They don't actually relate to one another at all. They all die, basically. Nobody ever survives.
Spurrier: Or do they?
Hine: Yeah, there actually are a couple of people. I have one character survive in my arc. She survives, but for how long, who knows?
Is she the first survivor in "Crossed" history?
Hine: There were a couple of others. Garth's characters are actually quite up compared to some of the arcs. But the whole idea of the "Crossed" concept is that each one of us goes in and it's all ours to do what we like with. When it's done, it's over. The readers know they can get a complete story every arc.
Is there a master timeline or "Crossed Bible" used to keep all the stories straight?
Hine: There's a very loose bible. The bible is mainly rules about not having rules. It'll never be revealed what the crossed epidemic is or where it comes from. The problem with those disaster movies is, sooner or later, there is hope. There's never gonna be hope in "Crossed." That's rule one. There's no hope. There's no escape. People may fight back briefly and get hope but just long enough until they are dashed again.
Spurrier: In the web series, it's about people who think they have found hope and have found sanctuary on an island. But they know that they're doomed, they know it's just a temporary thing, it's just that they've run out of energy. They just want to stop and try to make a life. They know it won't last. Deep down they know it won't. You have to drip feed just enough hope so that maybe people think there's a way out.
Si, how does "Wish You Were Here" compare to the typical length of a "Crossed" arc?
Spurrier: I've got a cast of 24 characters. I knew I needed to have enough people to kill off over two years! But even then you can tell stories about characters who come along or who have left the island. One of the things I'm doing for the "Crossed: Badlands" annual is kind of a crossover with my webcomic. A character that appears and disappears in the webcomic appears in the "Badlands" annual.
Hine: With the "Crossed" books, you can go back to the beginning or you can jump ahead to the future. The farthest we've gone is 18 months or two years or something. At some point, someone is gonna want to tell a story ten years down the line, if anybody is left. You can even go see what happened in Japan or Australia. It's a vast world.
You've both already alluded to the fact that almost everybody dies in a "Crossed" book. It almost seems to be the point of the thing. Do you design characters differently knowing they will almost certainly meet a gruesome end at some point?
Hine: I've worked in a certain amount of irony to the way my characters die, let's put it that way! I'm still only two issues in to my run so I won't give away too much. I can give away the fact that they die, but not how they die! That's for the surprise.
Spurrier: There's an element of creativity as to who can do the best death.
Hine: This is the real challenge with "Crossed," to come up with new and exotic ways of having sex and killing people. It's a challenge.
Spurrier: I should add that I completely cheated. The main character in the webcomic is a slightly different version of myself. Very shamelessly. He's a comic book writer and novelist who is sitting in a café in Soho on the day that the Crossed come bursting in. And I was sitting in that café in Soho when I was writing the scene. He's not exactly like me -- I like to think he's more of a craven, asshole coward -- but maybe that's how I turn out.
Hine: He's not as handsome as you.
Spurrier: Not as handsome, not as witty, not as hung-over.
It must be interesting trying to think up ways to kill a character that's based on yourself.
Spurrier: You're assuming that he's going to die, and that might not be the case. But I've thought about it quite a lot! That's all you do, isn't it? Sit at home in your pants working out how people should die.
Hine: I do spend some good parts of my day contemplating horrible deaths. Makes for some interesting research as well. I do occasionally see things online and go, "That's a good one!"
Is it challenging to tell a good, compelling story knowing people will probably only want to talk about the crazy deaths and gross-out factors?
Spurrier: Absolutely. It's kind of annoying. It's something I've said before, you sit here at the Avatar booth and, thankfully, a lot of people come up and say it's really good, the story's good, the drama's good, the characterization's good. But we'd be lying if we didn't say that most people just come up and go, "Aw, dude, it's the most brutal thing in comics!" and that's the hook for most people. Yes, it's a little bit depressing because we work hard to make these comics slightly more than just rape and violence. But you have to accept that's what a lot of people want from it, so you have to provide it while maintaining a desire to do something more clever.
Hine: I just had a dad come up with his kid saying they both loved it and there was none of that over-the-top reaction. They just enjoyed the story. I think that's why it's been successful. I wouldn't say that there's no gratuitous sex and violence, because the concept is gratuitous in a sense, but everybody is enjoying it because it's good storytelling. It's good characters, even if the characters are gonna die.
What's been your favorite non-violent moment and favorite violent moment from your own runs?
Hine: There's a nice moment where a character wakes up to find his girlfriend giving him a blowjob. What was the second part of the question? I've tuned out now!
And on the flip-side of that, what's been your favorite death?
Hine: Oh, right! There's a guy in the latest issue who uses a meat grinder. You know where you put the meat in the top and turn the handle? Do I have to say anymore?
Spurrier: In my case, the quiet moment I'm proud of is that there's a woman on the island. She's deaf, she's Spanish, and so she can't even write to anybody. She's completely isolated. All she does is fuck. She's the island's prostitute and she's ok with this. It's her only human contact and she's broken inside. The others describe her as being a living corpse.
There's a moment where some stuff happens, she goes to sit down and then our main character goes to find her. He's going to try to cheer her up. He sees that she's staring at her and it cuts up to the aurora borealis in the sky. Just this big panel, beautiful moment, very silent and very still. Then you turn the page and realize all the time she's been sitting there and he's been talking to her, she's already cut her wrists and she's just bleeding out and she just flops down dead. Yes, it's a little bit violent, but it's a very quiet, nice moment. I was very proud of that.
The violent stuff? Too many to mention. The book opens with a guy raping a dolphin in its blowhole. There's a bit where one of the crossed forces a guy in a coffee shop to fellate the milk steamer on the coffee machine, bursting steam out the back of his neck.
Hine: How more much is there!?
Spurrier: There's loads, there's loads! There's a bit where a character comes to a sticky end. He's caught in barbed wire, the crossed are just about to get him and the other guys are watching him, and people are saying to shoot him and put him out of his misery. The leader of that community, who's this real little Napoleon asshole, says they can't risk the bullets. So they have to throw a knife at the guy, that he can catch, so he can cut his own throat. And the entire time he's shouting "You bastards! You bastards!" and they're just standing there watching him kill himself. Yay! Yay comics!
Do you guys actually know the reason behind the Crossed epidemic?
Hine: No, I prefer not to know where it comes from. I like the idea of it being an absolute mystery, almost supernatural. It's not a disease, it's not science, it's something beyond that. The ultimate evil, I suppose.
Spurrier: I have a lot of characters sitting around for long periods of time, and one of the things they think about is, "Why?" Is it a curse, a biological weapon, God's judgment, what? Frankly, it makes no difference, so they do their best not to speak about it. Maybe there'll be a day that Garth reveals something, but I doubt it. It's here, deal with it.
So what's coming up next in "Crossed: Wish You Were Here" and "Crossed: Badlands"?
Spurrier: In the webcomic, four or five episodes in, this insane Scotsman named Jackson walks in. He's incredibly capable, a bit of an action man, nobody really understands who or what he is. He's a bit mental, likes to fuck sheep, that sort of thing. He disappears in my second arc and the "Crossed: Badlands" annual is his backstory.
Hine: I haven't thought a lot about the next arc. I've been busy with other projects like the "Night of the Living Dead" ongoing for Avatar. Right now I'm really hyped up for that, we're releasing it on Halloween. It's the aftermath, starting with the original George Romero movie. The first arc is set in LA and then Las Vegas.
Have you ever come up with anything that is so sick, so disgusting, that you've decided not to put it in "Crossed"?
Spurrier: No, I really don't think there has story-wise. However, sometimes a piece of art will come in, usually in covers, that crosses the line between. But anything that I've come up with, as long as it serves the story and as long as it's not just to outdo somebody else's scene, then yeah, I'll do it.
Hine: The key thing is, and Garth has said this, there's nothing in "Crossed" that doesn't happen in the real world. It's absolutely true. You look at some of the things that happen in war situations, you see people cutting off the arms of kids so they won't grow up to be soldiers. Mass rape. You name it. Experimenting on people in Nazi concentration camps. Literally, nothing in "Crossed" hasn't been done before in real life. I can't imagine any of us will ever come up with something that hasn't already happened in the real world. That's the real message and the real shock.
"Crossed: Badlands" is available bi-weekly from Avatar Press. The "Crossed: Wish You Were Here" free webcomic publishes new installments weekly at CrossedComic.com.