It’s early for Halloween, but NBM Publishing knows that it’s always a good time for a monster story, making this the perfect time to release the North American debut of French cartoonist Arthur de Pins’ “Zombillenium.” The graphic novel tells the story of Aurelian Zahner, an ordinary guy who winds up becoming a monster and finds himself working at a theme park which shares its name with the comic. Throughout the course of the humor-filled story, the monsters fight amongst themselves, deal with unions, corporate bosses and the fact that none of them — yes, including the zombies — are considered scary any longer.
De Pins spoke with CBR News about “Zombillenium: Vol. 1 Gretchen,” his career and what fans can expect from the series’ upcoming volumes, the third of which arrives this Fall in Europe.
CBR News: Because this is your first book in North America, I wondered if you could introduce yourself and just share a little about your background?
Arthur de Pins: I’m a Paris-based cartoonist. I started my career in animation (short films, character design and TV series) and moved to illustration when I discovered the great vector software [Adobe] Illustrator which is still the one and only tool I use now days. The will to tell my own stories (and to draw them) pushed me to make my own comic books. The first ones were talking about sex, and then I got interested in zombies and underseas animals. To me, comic book writing is the best way to share what’s in my mind. Animation is sometimes too industrial, illustration doesn’t allow much timeline to develop the characters, so I make books.
Where did this idea of the Zombillenium theme park come from?
Five years ago, my entire comics production was concerned with sexy/glamorous stories. I used to be interested in vampires, skeletons and witches back when I was a teenager, but I let it aside while I was in university and never thought I would go back to it (precisely because it was “a teenage interest”). But five years ago, the publisher of Spirou (a very well known French speaking comic magazine) called me up and commissioned me to make a cover for the Halloween issue. I was delighted to draw monsters again — and this lead to three albums,and more to come !
The book is a comedy, focusing on how so many of the monsters and creatures that populate horror stories are no longer scary. Why do you think that is?
Although I’m not a huge fan of classic or recent horror movies, I always loved monsters. The only interesting pitch concerning them is to make them the good guys (and, of course, make humans the bad guys, such as in the classic masterpiece “Freaks”). The other question I asked myself was: “What would vampires, zombies and werewolves do if they lived nowadays ?” My answer: They would work like anyone else and pay their taxes — because death and taxes are the two things one can’t avoid! Which leads to another question: What job would allow them to show in public the way they are? Answer: An entertainment park! You see, I’m not interested in zombies except if they talk with their job mates at the coffee machine or organize strikes.
I had to laugh at how zombies are described as no longer scary and old news. Is that your own opinion or is it just a funny line?
It’s my opinion that, in pop culture, fear has “moved” from horrible creatures to some expressions of sadism, cruelty, dehumanized behaviors, such as in films like “Saw,” “Human Centipede,” “Hostel.” Zombies have just become old romantic figures and their purpose is not to be the face of evil anymore, but a mirror of the consumer society, like in the brilliant “Zombieland.” They even fall in love in “Warm Bodies!” “The Walking Dead” may look like the last exception, but in the comic, the biggest threat comes from the humans.
So I imagined a “zombie blues” for my living dead characters, which makes them even more sympathetic, doesn’t it?
Do you have a favorite monster or creature you got to draw in “Zombillenium?”
I like all of them. Gretchen is directly inspired by a friend of mine, Aurelie, and Francis is inspired by my father, so these two have naturally a big piece of my heart. But my favorite character is Sirius, the union representative skeleton. He’s the one who represents the spirit of “Zombillenium” the most!
How would you describe the two main characters, Gretchen and Aurelian Zahner?
Aurelian Zahner is the very common guy. He’s the character who “brings” the reader into the park. I didn’t want to tell much about him (I don’t show his wife, his past life, etc.) because it’s not the point. All we know about him is that he used to be a loser and will discover himself into the park.
Gretchen Webb is a young witch from England. She used to study at some witchcraft and wizardry school (another question I’ve always asked myself: what’s the career after Hogwarts?) and landed as some trainee in Zombillenium. She’s the one who will help Aurelian to do his first steps into the park. I can’t tell more about her without spoiling the books. The entire series is on her shoulders.
Your artwork is all done digitally. What’s your process as far as writing and drawing the book?
I draw exclusively on Adobe Illustrator 9.0, which is a very old version of the software, but to me, still the best one! I don’t make sketches or roughs, but to compose my page and place the dialogue. The artwork is drawn directly on screen, but each and every line or shape in Illustrator is always removable/redesignable/recolorizable/resizable, so you don’t have to care about missing your first trace. Every object or character is a combination of shapes and lines, every line is a sequence of points, and every point is changeable at any time. I sometimes spend 20 minutes just to adjust Gretchen’s chin.
Has your experience working in animation affected your comics work, or vice versa?
When I was in my art school in Paris (Arts Decoratifs), I studied many different things, but I knew that I wanted to tell stories with drawings. I chose animation, just to learn the technique, and my graduate short film, “Geraldine” (2001), had a little success. I made other shorts, including “The Crab Revolution” (2004), but even though I was pleased to give life to my stories, I felt a little bit frustrated when I realized how hard it was to make sequels. Making five minutes of animation can take two years of your life, which is not enough to me. Not enough to create a big story, develop the characters, create a whole universe. That’s why I (and a lot of other European ex-animators) decided to switch for comic books.
You clearly have plenty of more ideas for the future volumes of the series. How much had you planned out the series before you started?
I already know the ending of the “Zombillenium” book series, and it ends with the sixth book. I plan to make characters go beyond, in another series with another name.
The second book is out in France and the third volume comes out this fall. Do you want to say a little about what people can expect in the upcoming books?
With pleasure ! The second book will talk about the relationship between monsters from the park and the humans (peasants, farmers, etc.) who live outside. It’s the classic theme of, “Who are the real monsters?” We also follow a very special family who come to the park as visitors. The question about the hiring in the park is a little bit answered.
The third book starts the story of the park itself. We learn how it works, why it has been created. In this book, the danger does not come only from outside, but from within the park, with the appearance of a new character: a consultant who happens to be also a vampire with long, long teeth.
Besides the third “Zombillenium” book, what are you working on next?
I’ve put my first series “Peches Mignons” aside to devote to “Zombillenium” and another series that I’ve just finished. It’s called “March of the Crab” (or “Crabwalk”) and it’s totally different. It’s the whole story of my short film “Crabs Revolution.”