As of today, Vertigo Comics’ ongoing comic book series “iZombie” begins day-and-date digital release on comiXology, starting with a new story arc and a new jumping on point for readers. Co-created and written by “Cinderella: Fables Are Forever” writer Chris Roberson and “Madman” artist Mike Allred with colors by Laura Allred, “iZombie” follows a zombie girl named Gwen and her friends, Ellie the ghost and Scott, a man who turns into a terrier during the full moon. Together the three solve mysteries in Eugene, Oregon, fulfilling the final wishes of the dead people whose brains Gwen must eat to stay alive.
Nominated for a “Best New Series” Eisner earlier this year, “iZombie” goes digital starting with #19, which takes place in the aftermath of the Eugene zombie outbreak and offers revelations about how Gwen became a zombie in the first place. Roberson spoke with CBR News about his hopes for the digital release and his creator-owned series, as well as explaining how romance and armageddon go hand in hand in his next two story arcs.
CBR News: Today “iZombie” is releasing day-and-date digitally on comiXology. Was this a decision you were privy to or always planned to do from the get-go?
Chris Roberson: Neither! I was not involved nor did they officially alert me; the assistant editor on the book told my wife, so she told me and that’s the only reason I know! It was in a press release a few days later, so I would have found out. But I think it’s great and I think it’s a great issue to start with day-and-date. Issues #1-5 were available on comiXology, we’re hoping to get issues #6-18 put up in relatively short order so anybody who does not have a comic shop near them or who is afraid of comic shops can read the whole thing online or on their iPads. #19 is the beginning of a new storyline, but it’s also a significant chapter in the life of our were-terrier pal Spot. This is the issue where he finally acts on realizations that he’s quietly had behind the scenes and between panels about himself and goes on his first date.
So it’s a good jumping on point for new readers who might be coming on through comiXology?
Absolutely. We do see a lot about [what] the titular character Gwen the zombie is doing and a bit of what everyone else is doing in the aftermath of the recent zombie invasion. But the bulk of the issue is this fairly quiet story about what happens when Spot goes on his first date.
Do you think you’ll start to attract a wider audience now that it is available digitally?
It’s right in the middle: I’m hopeful for new readers, but I’m trying not to have too many expectations so they’re not dashed and I’m terribly disappointed. I think digital comics [have] the potential to reach a much broader audience than we’re currently reaching, because right now most books have to divvy up the audience that walks into comic shops. Even if we can manage to get more people to walk into comic shops, it’s still that finite number of potential readers. But digitally the number of potential readers is virtually endless. I would love nothing more than to continue to satisfy direct market readers who’ve enjoyed this stuff, but at the same time reach out to a new audience of people who might not have a comic shop near where they are, or if they have one might not carry the comics they want to get. I hear a lot from readers of English language comics overseas who have a lot of difficulty getting some of the American comics, even some of the Vertigo comics. So the ability for someone in Brazil or Ireland or Australia to go onto the comiXology iPad app and add that book the day it hits stands in the United States is fantastic.
Touching on the next story arc starting with #19, Eugene is a bit destroyed right now between the zombies and the Fossors and the Dead Presidents mixing it up. Are you going to begin addressing the fact that regular citizens now know zombies are real?
Lots of people in Eugene know; the question is what does the rest of the world find out? And do you believe them? Because honestly, if you heard people in Eugene had seen zombies would you believe them? Those people are crazy! That’s definitely something that we’re going to be dealing with in a smaller scale in this storyline and definitely in the broader scale in the next storyline.
With all these new revelations and secrets, will Gwen still be trying to solve the problems of those whose brains she eats? Will that simple “Scooby-Doo” mystery-solving aspect still be at the core of the comic, as in the solicits for #19?
It will remain at the core. I’m sorry to confess that the current solicitation for #19 is completely false. That script was written and pretty far along and the editor and I both agreed that we hated it, so we threw it away. So you won’t be seeing that story! [Laughs] Bits of that story will show up in a few issues, so we’ve salvaged the best bits. That’s something that’s happened several times with “iZombie” where we have a plan, we have an idea, we do the solicitation, and when it comes time to actually have the thing drawn and we’ve gone back and forth quite a bit on the script we decide it just doesn’t work, it’s not as good as it could be, and we go in an entirely different direction. We did that with the first issue of the previous storyline that just wrapped up, and now I’m thinking we just have to do it every single time to keep people on their toes!
So the focus [of #19] will be on Spot on his first date. Spot’s totally gay, which a lot of readers have figured out already, and when we were looking at #19 it was a smaller plot point in a bigger story that we all agreed deserved more attention. That was one of the reasons why the issue got restructured, we thought Spot’s story deserved more space. With the publication of that issue readers will finally realize something that I’ve known all along, and that is that “iZombie” is a book that doesn’t have any straight white male characters.
Now that the Dead Presidents are in Gwen’s world, will you continue to do back-up stories in issues with other monsters and exploring Gwen’s world?
We’ve talked about it and certainly I think it’s a trick we’re going to pull out again. It won’t be in the immediate near term. We did it with the Dead Presidents largely because it was a group of characters we’ve never met before that were going to be colliding with out main cast of characters but in such a way we thought it would be too confusing for readers to suddenly start cutting away to a different location, a different group of characters with a different set of priorities that we hadn’t met before. By showing them all for four issues as a backup the idea was we could gradually ease them in. Bafflingly though, I know that there are a handful of readers who skipped the backups even though it’s the same writer and artist, so [they] had to backtrack when the Dead Presidents actually arrived in Eugene. To each his own, I guess!
“iZombie” artist Mike Allred co-owns the book with you. For the new storyline did the two of you sit down and discuss the plot, or are your roles more rigidly writer and artist?
It’s kind of more the latter. It’s more that’s the working relationship that’s evolved than an intentional choice. We were lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time together over the course of the last few months at various signings and conventions and whatnot. And we just never talk about “iZombie!” I think at one point I did bring up “iZombie” and said, “Maybe we should talk about what I had in mind for the next arc.” He said, “Well, last time you put in that zombie invasion, that was great. So whatever you want to do next is fine with me.” So I said OK! [Laughs] But definitely it’s almost more like a personal challenge on my part to give Mike stuff that he’s going to be excited about drawing. It’s like he’s testing me — he won’t tell me what to write! It’s like a co-dependent relationship where I’m supposed to read his mind and figure out what he wants, and I do my best, and he seems generally pretty satisfied.
Has he ever requested any specific monsters to draw?
With all of the new monsters, I run them by Mike first. That’s the one point where I bounce things off of him, but more along the lines of, “Hey, I think it will be really fun to do a teen Frankenstein.” Which I immediately just started calling Frankenteen. We don’t call him Frankenteen in the book, but that’s how he’s referred to in the scripts. And I asked if he was OK with that, because Frank Einstein in “Madman” has a lot of that vibe. I did want to run that by him and see if he was fine with it, but also say, “Hey, I think we can come up with a cool novel way of doing the visual so it doesn’t look like Frank Einstein.” And he was like, “Yeah sounds great!”
And issue #20 has that great Allred cover with Frankenteen, done up like the cover of a “Cosmopolitan” magazine —
To be pedantic it’s more like a “Tiger Beat.”
You’ve done your research!
It’s not my first rodeo, I’ve been around.
Is that teen magazine angle going to translate into the script?
Part of my motivation for the Frankenteen storyline, which involves Ellie the ghost girl falling in love with a teenage Frankenstein who she can’t touch because she’s a ghost, was that “Twilight” has done sexy teen vampires and we’ve seen sexy teenage werewolves. No one’s done a sexy teenage Frankenstein! So this was an attempt to do “Twilight” for Frankenstein, but hopefully a little less sappy. So we don’t have dating tips in there or any discussion about Justin Bieber’s favorite junk food, but it will be informed by those types of teen romance stories.
Last time we spoke about “iZombie” you said one of the themes you were tackling was this idea that your villains don’t see themselves as villains but as people with different agendas. With all the drama going on with Gwen and Spot and Ellie, is “relationships” the thematic thrust of these next story arcs?
Oh, definitely. I feel like we spent the last few storylines introducing all these characters, establishing who they are and what they wanted and what was in the way of what they wanted. Which ideally any interesting character — whether a main character or just a character in the background — they’re interesting to readers because they want something and the drama or the comedy or the tragedy comes in why and how they can’t get what they want. So having done all that I spent a lot of time thinking about what would be interesting pairings that would give us the most storytelling possibilities. In my head this next storyline was going to be all about couples. Every issue would focus on a pair of characters and their conflict, and I’ve written now up through issue twenty-two, I have one more issue to go.
What I did not anticipate until after I had written at least three of those scripts was that I was totally wrong and what was actually going on was all the pairings were actually triads, they were all three characters. It was all about how three characters interacted in complicated ways preventing each other from getting what they wanted, or helping each other getting what they wanted but it wasn’t what they thought they were going to get. That’ll make sense when you see the stories! [Laughs] But it was a weird thing. People often talk about how characters write themselves. I usually think people say characters started suddenly talking on the page and writing themselves because they’re crazy and the voices in their head have taken over. That’s certainly happened to me a time or two, I’m not one to cast stones. But what was weird about this was the way the character dynamics evolved in ways I hadn’t anticipated in the slightest. So definitely thematic in that the relationships are the core themes of the storylines, but not necessarily the relationships I thought we would focus on.
Going along with that, the person most affected by both the relationship drama and the physical upheaval of the Eugene zombie outbreak has been Gwen. Was it challenging to get her back in the story? Was that the thinking behind focusing on Spot and Ellie, to give her breathing room rather than immediately throw her back into the mill?
As I said, I threw away the first script I wrote for the storyline and I threw away chunks of the next one. There was more than one script that [was] done that I decided I hated. It was really the tension between the two options you just gave me because originally it was much more one ring or the other. Either you’re going to focus on what the supporting cast is doing and leave Gwen cooling her heels or focus on Gwen entirely and only glimpse what the supporting cast is doing. I found that neither option worked, and I tried both and I hated them both. Luckily with the help of Shelley Bond, editor extraordinaire, we worked out a way to do both at the same time by kind of accelerating things a bit and skipping to the most interesting parts. Rather than seeing the protracted development of a character’s arc, we would pick up with them right before it got very interesting and trust that the readers would be invested and canny enough to fill in the gaps on their own. But that was a struggle that occupied most of my summer. Lots of pacing! But I think we figured it out.
Finally, last time we spoke you mentioned you burned with the desire to write a Kaiju Godzilla monster. Are we any closer to seeing a Roberson Mothra destroying Oregon?
You know what? For you, I’m going to put it in the next the storyline. The next storyline is basically the apocalypse, the one after this one. This is the quiet before the storm as everything starts to go to hell. I was working out what the big immediate menace would be, but now that you’ve mentioned that I’m going to make it some sort of giant Kaiju thing. I’ve been talking about it for two years, it’s time to man up and do it!
“iZombie” #19 is available in stores and online on comiXology now.