Launching its second arc – “uVampire” – with last week’s issue #7, the ongoing series tells the story of Gwen: a 20-something zombie who eats brains only once a month in order to keep her wits about her while she navigates an almost too complacent life in Oregon. Of course, the brain-eating leads to psychic flashes from the recently deceased, leading Gwen and her friends on a few murder-solving mysteries in the process including recently unlocking the secret of how monsters work in the “iZombie” world. Each type of night creature from gravedigger zombies to vampire vixens to men that turn into dogs come from an unnatural combination of bodies and either oversouls (the part of our essence that hold our memories) and undersouls (the parts of us that contain our appetites and unconscious).
“I started with the idea of the smart zombie, and I wanted to figure out a mechanism that would give me a lot of other monsters that would work under the same rules. Over the course of a weekend, I pretty much cooked up the basic laws of that world and figured out what that would let me do,” Roberson told CBR News about how his eternally high concept led the book to the longform series model Vertigo is known for. “It led me to Ellie the ghost girl and Spot the Were-Terrier, and I finally figured out a month ago how to get a Godzilla into the book if we want to – what combination of soul and body could come together to make a giant monster, so that may happen sooner or later.”
If the book sounds complicated in terms of its world-building, the writer said that for he and Allred, keeping the stories and characters relatable has been the key to keeping things accessible to readers, particularly when talking about their core trio. “For me, the main three characters occupy this space that I and a lot of my friends occupied in our 20s. We weren’t kids anymore, but we had to figure out what kinds of grown-ups we were going to be. It was just a gradual period of figuring out who we are and what we wanted to do. We didn’t have to eat brains to do it, but in a lot of ways what those characters are going through and will go through in the book is a dramatized form of the stuff we went through.”
As “iZombie” progresses, the creative team will have plenty of opportunities to delve further into both the ongoing drama of its leads and the internal workings of the world of the tragically hip undead. “I’ve planned out the first three years of the book,” the writer said. “It’ll be in five-issue arcs with the sixth issues being one-off character spotlights. The second arc running from #7 through 11 explores the status quo we set up in the first arc, and then the third arc from #13 to 17 mixes it up a bit to break that mold a little. The extra issue will always be an opportunity to dig deeper into the supporting cast and find out what they’re about. And we should have some exciting, exciting guest artists on those, but I can’t say who they are yet.”
With the first spotlight issue (which Roberson refers to as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Spot the Were-Terrier”) already in fan hands, the focus of Gwen’s growing rediscovery of her past life through the brains she’s ingesting. “The most recent brain she’s eaten belongs to a woman who lived next door to Gwen -Â a woman who had a daughter Gwen’s age that was her friend. The mission Gwen has to accomplish is to reconcile this woman with her estranged daughter, and as far as that girl knows, Gwen is dead. Gwen doesn’t remember this woman or her friend very much, but there are things about her own family she’s seeing as part of this woman’s memory. In the process of that, the friend comes under the sphere or influence of the vampires.”
Also part of the story is Gwen’s still-living brother, who’s been lurking on the edges of the book. “That will definitely be completely addressed in the course of this second arc,” the writer said.
All of those elements are wrapped in pop culture junkie quirks like comic shops, action figures, secret monster-hunting organizations and far out imagery as artist Mike Allred is well known for trafficking in. The artist’s inclusion as part of the books creative team (along with his wife/colorist Laura Allred) came from the creator’s penchant for swinging between creator-owned book like his recent “Madman Atomic Comics” run and series for the big comics house that fit his particularly poppy style. “I’ve been a big fan of Mike’s since he was doing ‘Grafik Muzik,’ right before Madman hit from Tundra. I have the lunchbox and the action figures and the yo-yo and the trading cards [for Madman] too.
“I came up with the whole concept and had written the entire first script for ‘iZombie’ before an artist was even mentioned. Shelly Bond, my editor at Vertigo, asked me what I was thinking for the art, and I told her I liked the clean-line style of like a Darwyn Cooke or J. Bone. She said, ‘What about someone like Mike Allred?’ and I thought she meant someone that draws like Mike Allred, like a starving college kid. I said, ‘Someone like that would be fantastic!’ So she sent it to Mike, and he loved it. That was a year and a half ago, and I’m still not quite over it.”
The creative pairing was a perfect fit for Roberson, who’s been hearing about it since the book debuted. “People will come up to me at panels at conventions and things and say that I seem to be writing for Mike – writing things he likes to draw or has always drawn. But really, I think that’s just because Mike is such a formative influence on me. I’ve consumed and ingested so much of his stuff that it’s actually the kind of thing I want to see. Even if he wasn’t doing this book, that’s the stuff I would want. It’s just so much better that it’s Mike doing it.”
Overall, Roberson hopes to continue exploring what originally attracted him to the world of monsters in a way that any reader can easily pick up and connect to their own stories. “Growing up in the ’70s, all school libraries, including mine, had a series of books called ‘The Crestwood House Monster Series,'” he said. “They were these little hardcover books that spotlighted each kind of monster: one about Dracula, one about Frankenstein, one about Godzilla. I was obsessed with those things to the extent that I’ve spent a considerable amount of my adult life reassembling them. But whenever I read those things, I’d think, ‘Here’s a character bitten by a vampire or turned into a werewolf or whatever…and their lives always become dramatic and brooding for some reason.’ I thought if that happened to me, that’s not what I would want to do. I’d want to keep eating pizza snacks and playing video games, so this is an opportunity to explore that. Most people in this situation wouldn’t become horrible, blood-thirsty monsters. They’d find a way to continue their lives as best they could.”
“iZombie” #7, the first part of the “uVampire” arc, is in stores now from DC/Vertigo Comics.