Writer Chris Roberson and artist Mike Allred created an Eisner-nominated series for Vertigo Comics in 2010, but when news broke that “iZombie” was picked up by The CW as a television series for the 2014-15 season, the creators learned of the news via Twitter like the rest of the free world.
And that’s fine by Roberson as he told CBR News that television and movie projects based on his properties have come close to fruition in the past only to be dashed in the final stages, so while he was cautiously optimistic that Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero, who previously collaborated on “Veronica Mars,” would get a deal done with The CW and DC Entertainment, he was happy to go about his business at MonkeyBrain Comics with his wife and business partner Allison Baker awaiting the good news.
Roberson also confirmed that he’s not involved in the TV series but has read the pilot script and there’s plenty of content, tone and feel from the original series that should whet the brain-loving appetite of comic book readers — even if the lead character, the supporting cast and overall high concept have undergone some fairly significant changes.
A long-time friend and collaborator of Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges, Roberson is most gratified by the apparent diversity in the casting choices for the TV series to date, which echoes the cast of the comic book series, which by the end of its run featured no straight, white men.
Roberson also discussed his creative breakup with DC Comics in 2012 and how that failed relationship had zero impact on the development of the “iZombie”“iZombie” TV series, which is not set to debut until midseason on the CW.
CBR News: “iZombie” started with Scooby Gang-styled done-in-one adventures before the series exploded into this mind-blowing full-scale war that included everything from dead and undead monsters to Lovecraftian gods. Did you know where you were heading with Gwen Dylan when you and Mike Allred launched the series for Vertigo Comics back in 2010?
Chris Roberson: No, [Laughs] but I did know fairly early on the direction it was going to go. And I think where we ended up in the final issue was the end that I had in mind from sometime in the first year. The idea at the outset was to create a story engine and tell stories using it but what we quickly found was that once we did a couple of them, it felt — I don’t want to say formulaic, but I think people knew what to expect. What we started to do was do things that readers didn’t expect and would not only maintain their interest but maintain my interest and Mike’s interest. And as it went along, it continued to mutate in ever-weirder directions.
The series ended in 2012 and the final trade has been available for well over a year so I don’t think I am spoiling anything but when “iZombie” ends — I’m not sure dies is the right term because Gwen is already a zombie — but she leaves this world and is resurrected as a god-like entity. Was that ending devised in a hope that you could one day return to the character or at least leave the door open?
The idea was definitely hanging out there that she could potentially turn up somewhere else, anywhere else, as could some of the other characters like the green-haired Strider dude, who possessed Horatio. Gwen has become this benevolent, Lovecraftian hyper-dimensional being looking after us all from a higher plane of existence. It was never the intention that she would reappear as the character we knew but that she might pop up in the background somewhere in some other story.
“iZombie” was well received by readers and critics alike, earning an Eisner nomination for best new series in 2011. Why do you think folks responded to it so well?
I don’t know, you’d have to ask every individual reader but I would think that its strength included that it was different than most of the books that were out at the time. And certainly Mike’s art is going to carry with it a certain amount of charm regardless of what story he’s illustrating. That gives any series a big leg up. But it was also very important to me to try and build a cast of characters that were all likable — even the villain. I wanted to make them all relatable in some way. I like stories where there are people that are friends and get along and have adventures other than the constant conflict that we so often see.
And I think that’s something that people have always responded to whether it’s Joss Whedon’s stuff like “Buffy” or Rob Thomas’ stuff like “Veronica Mars” or Bryan Fuller’s shows. They all have likable characters that get along and have adventures. Not to say that there can’t be conflict but it’s not people constantly antagonizing one another — these mean, broken characters. There are characters that you would want to be friends with and you want to see what happens to them next.
You mentioned Rob Thomas, and he’s behind the “iZombie” TV series. Are you a fan of his work and specifically, “Veronica Mars?”
I was a very latecomer to the show because my daughter was born just a few months before it debuted and I didn’t watch any TV for a while. [Laughs] But we have started catching up on the show. Everyone we know has raved about it forever and now we’re reliving the experience circa 2004 and enjoying it.
As the TV series started to come together what was your level of involvement?
The first that we knew of it was a call that I got from [DC Entertainment CCO] Geoff Johns last September and at that time, it was only that the possibility existed. And Geoff and Hank Kanalz and Pornsak Pichetshote kept us up-to-date as the months went on. Having done this as long as I have, you develop thick skin and a fairly jaded sensibility because I’ve gotten really close to TV and movie things happening before so as my wife, Allison Baker, puts it, we are cautiously optimistic.
And to be honest, we visited the set in April and even then it was like, “Yeah, this would be cool if it happened but I’m not banking on it.” And we didn’t know that the series had been picked up until it was on Twitter and everyone else knew.
You mentioned that you were on set. Are you going to be involved in the TV series?
Not in any direct creative way at this point but it was really interesting visiting the set. They’ve taken the basic idea and gone in a very different direction. It’s a similar character with a similar personality but with a different cast of characters around her and a different setup. But they’ve worked really hard to capture the tone and feel of the comics to the extent that any everyone on the cast and crew has read the whole comic. And there are certain wardrobe choices and other elements of the show that are being influenced by the comic. Basically, I’m in the same position as the audience. I will be watching it when it comes on the air.
You mentioned an effort to capture the tone and the feel of the comic for the TV series. Obviously, Mike Allred is a special talent and you already touched upon what he brings to a project but can you talk about how you hooked up with him on “iZombie?”
My relationship with Mike started with me being a fan of his work in the early ’90s, dating back to “Graphique Musique” and “Madman.” When the idea of “iZombie” was first being put together and proposed at Vertigo, it was now-executive editor Shelly Bond, who played Chuck Woolery in making that love connection. She was looking for a Vertigo project for Mike and she sent the early, rough proposal that I’d put together, which had the basic cast of characters and the basic premise of the series and a bit about the tone that I was trying to capture and Mike liked it and that was it. We started working together and it’s been fantastic. He and his wife Laura, the artist, colorist, collaborator, are just fantastic people and it’s been great working with them.
You mentioned the show’s Liv is a similar character with a similar personality to Gwen, who was the lead in your comic. What are your first impressions from what you’ve seen of Rose McIver’s Liv?
I read the script for the pilot and when I visited the set, I saw a couple of scenes shot and it’s been really interesting because they are different characters but in terms of personality and voice, Liv is very similar to Gwen. And the characters around her, even though they’re not Spot and Horatio and Ellie, they are very similar types of characters and they have very similar types of relationships with Liv.
The one thing that I was very gratified to see was how diverse the cast is on the television show because while lots of readers noticed that we had a fairly diverse lineup in the “iZombie” comic, I don’t know if they realize that by the end, there were no straight white men in that book, which is something that just kind of happened over time. By the end, every character that has a main/speaking role is something other than a straight, white man. What’s been released, so far, of the TV cast, it’s really nice to see that it has a similar kind of diverse lineup.
When “iZombie” was coming to an end, you were also writing “Superman” for DC Comics and that relationship, to put it mildly, wasn’t such a clean break. Is that water under the bridge or does the TV series have little to do with your relationship with DC editorial?
I have never had any objection to anything done by anybody in the west coast offices and have nothing but respect for what Hank Kanalz with the digital-first stuff and the various all-ages and multimedia stuff that they have been doing. My objections were with the editorial policies of the New York office and the one doesn’t really affect the other. The reality is that “iZombie” is a property owned by me and Mike Allred and the people in the Burbank offices for DC Entertainment have been fairly tireless in making sure that our interests are looked after and that we don’t have any questions or concerns and so I have no problem whatsoever working with them. I think they’re great.
You mentioned you learned of “iZombie” getting a series order via Twitter, but as a property owned by you and Mike Allred, were you involved in the negotiations at any point or in any way?
Vertigo and by extension Wildstorm, because Vertigo has absorbed some of the Wildstorm creator-owned properties, they have had a number of types of creator-ownership and creator-participation deals over the course of the past 20 years. It really depends case by case and it also depends on the era. The time that I came on board, it was the tail end of Paul Levitz’ stewardship of DC Comics. And I think “iZombie” was the last Vertigo book that Paul Levitz signed off on. The terms of the deal that Mike and I struck with DC were that Mike and I would retain copyright on everything — so everything belongs to us — and ultimately, when no one cares about “iZombie,” the rights will revert to us too. DC and the creators would split any money that comes in from media or merchandise or clothing or anything of that sort and DC has negotiating power on those things. DC is in the position to make the deals but whatever deal they strike, they owe the creators half of the money that comes in.
If Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero asked you to be involved in the TV series, either writing an episode or script consulting, would that interest you?
Absolutely, I would be delighted to. As I said, I read the script for the pilot and it has a solid lineup of characters and it’s a solid idea for a TV show. The producing team, Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero, are fantastic and have been nothing but accommodating to us. Again, I would be delighted to participate. We’ve actually had interesting conversations with them about some things from the comic that they might be able to incorporate. Not necessarily characters or things like that but just ideas or character types or plot devices. There are certain elements of the comic that I think might translate well to television and I think that’s something that they are still investigating.
Are you going to host a viewing party for the first episode or are you going to DVR and watch it when you have had a chance to digest the feedback and early reviews?
I imagine we will have viewing parties for every episode. [Laughs] I’m something of an amateur mixologist and we normally have people over to our house for tasty cocktails so they’ll just have to come over and have tasty cocktails to watch a TV show that has my name in the opening credits.
The complete “iZombie” Vertigo Comics series is available in collected editions at comic shops or digitally via www.readdcentertainment.com The “iZombie” TV series premieres midseason on The CW.