A Bug's Life, Vertigo Style: Talking "The Exterminators" with Simon Oliver

Sun, July 31st, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

In the event of nuclear Armageddon, scientists have stated that the only creature which will survive is the cockroach. At that point, the earth will be theirs. But what if the cockroach - and their insect brethren - didn't want to wait for this eventuality? What if they decided to take over our planet now? Who would stop them? This is where "The Exterminators" come in.

Announced at Comic-Con International in San Diego this year, writer Simon Oliver and artist Tony Moore ("The Walking Dead") are launching a new Vertigo series entitled "The Exterminators." CBR News contacted Oliver to find out the details of this new book, and to learn why we should never underestimate those pesky critters that crawl around the corners of our homes.

Oliver began with an explanation about where the idea for the series came from. "The original source was an article about bug exterminators. It really got me thinking about what they are and what they do-- how much a part of every major city they are and we don't really think about them," Oliver told CBR News. "It's one of the only jobs where you're paid to kill day in-day out. Anyway, from this news article spun a lot of research and the concept for the book emerged."

Expanding on this, he said, "…we exist on borrowed land and borrowed time. It's the bugs'/pests' world and it's just a matter of time before they rise to reclaim it from us. And that is where 'The Exterminators' starts off-- the first story arc is the beginning of that struggle. On top of this, the world of 'The Exterminators' is filled with human greed and suffering. There will be times when the reader is hopefully rooting for the bugs."

Oliver called the book a "dark comedy," and his description of the book's characters certainly seems to support this statement. "The Exterminators are a collection of misfits and social outcasts: Henry, our protagonist, is an ex-con-- a former drug business Mr. Fixit. Stretch, his partner, is a black, Buddhist Texan cowboy. Saloth, the company scientist, is a former member of the Khmer Rouge in hiding. Laura, Henry's girlfriend, is a bisexual, scheming corporate ladder-climber. Kevin, another Exterminator, is a roach-eating potential serial killer. And Detective Hunter, who is sniffing around Henry, is a sadomasochist."

The book begins in present day Los Angeles, which is as good a place as any if you're going to end the world. "The first story arc centers around a building full of roaches that-- because of genetic mutation brought on by a roach-killing chemical-- have become, in effect, super-roaches that are dangerous," said Oliver. "Later story arcs will feature other creatures, including a 'Mayan Hissing Bug' unwittingly imported in a banana shipment. Thought extinct, they were previously responsible for the downfall of the Mayan civilization."

In discussing the story's theme, the writer is hoping to impart some fairly large ideas. "I think, overall, I'm interested in showing the temporary nature of our civilization," explained Oliver. "Our shit will come tumbling down like every civilization that has come before. Nature will undoubtedly have a hand in it. The cracks made by our greed, ignorance, and complacency will be exploited by the pests. In the first few pages of the first issue, I tell the backstory of the fall of the Roman Empire-- I have no doubt that is what the future holds for us to. We're not prepared to accept this. I think one of the fascinating/scary things about the USA is peoples' complete ignorance of history. I really want the series to be a good read without being totally dumb, but then I would imagine that's the aim of most comic book writers."

As mentioned, Tony Moore is providing the art for this book's wild tale. After his acclaimed run on Image Comics' "The Walking Dead," the artist has been in high demand and Oliver says he was brought in after the initial pitch. "I can't imagine anyone doing a better job of it, he's really brought it to life. We interact a lot by phone and by email over the artwork. Everything he has done on it has been spot on. I'm very lucky for my first comic book to have people of this quality involved."

In a time when many series have a hard time getting off the ground, it can be tricky to launch a new ongoing book that doesn't have an "X-" in the title. Oliver explained that his publishers expressed great confidence in his ideas and abilities though. "It was a Vertigo decision. When they saw the work I had already done on it, I think they saw the potential for a lot of storylines."

The writer expects the book to hit stores in January, and encouraged readers to give it a try because "…it's not like anything else on the shelf and your mom wouldn't like it."

While Oliver is also in the early stages of two other projects, he is extremely excited about "The Exterminators." He said the book is fun to write, and he enjoys the opportunity to be "…gross, funny and sometimes hopefully smart."

When asked for clarification on the "gross" portion of that statement, Oliver responded, "I don't want to give away too much, but we do have blowflies crawling out of a dead man's anus, maggots feeding on the living and, of course, exploding people."

CBR Staff Writer Arune Singh contributed to this article.

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