IDW Publishing Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall launches his first ongoing series this month with “Zombies vs Robots” #1. Co-created by Ryall and artist Ashley Wood in 2006, “Zombies vs Robots” has followed the titular forces over the course of several miniseries, as they battle to inherit what is left of the Earth after humanity has almost died out. The upcoming ongoing will be co-written by “30 Days of Night” co-creator Steve Niles, and feature art by artists Wood, Anthony Diecidue and Val Mayerik.
In addition to the ongoing comic, Sony announced earlier this month that Andrew Adamson will be directing a feature-length version of the property, titled “Inherit the Earth.” In a conversation with CBR News, Ryall revealed his thoughts on Sony’s title — and why he needs to use it first. Ryall and Niles both explained what fans of the ZvR world can expect from the latest comics incarnation, including more of a focus on the humans trying to survive the war, introducing the long-awaited mermen into the mix and what comic book quote would make for a great text-based tattoo.
CBR News: We’ve seen the various miniseries telling stories in the “Zombies vs Robots” world, but what will the ongoing series be about?
Chris Ryall: We’re going full romance story. It’s a touching coming-of-age story — No, it’s robots and zombies fighting! But I’ve treated the human characters sort of cavalierly in the last few years, they’ve all been either punchlines or fodder for the zombies, so I wanted to do something a bit more with the humans this time. Characters that don’t just serve a violent purpose, but characters that move the story along and that people like and care about. So Steve and I talked a lot about establishing that. I mean, of course you want zombies and robots fighting, biting and shooting and all that, but you also want to do something with a little bit of weight behind it.
Also, in one of the first series that Ash and I did we had a teaser at the end that there were going to be some mermen coming and it’s never happened. Every so often I hear about the mermen from people at conventions. So I will promise that Mermen will be in the first storyline!
So does that mean longer stories than fans are used to seeing?
Ryall: Right now [Steve and I] both set out to do a six-issue thing. With mine I took a broader view. In the beginning there’s a robot drone that comes down from somewhere on the moon and that sets up the mystery that we delve into over the six issues. But it also sort of sets the table for everyone else, too. When the drone is looking at the current state of the world, he’s also catching people up on what’s been going on and introduces a few new characters and mysteries. Things restart from there.
Is the drone our connection to the world?
Ryall: No, it flies by the International Space Station, which has humans in cryosleep in it. They wake up and make their way back down to earth an issue later and they’re our connection to this world. The drone is just there to record; it has no real personality, and it’s just there to capture what it sees.
Steve Niles: I don’t know if you noticed Chris, but you just said a great title. “Fighting, biting and shooting.” [Laughs]
Ryall: I knew we should have called it that!
Niles: Now I’ll have to do a second story. The appeal of [writing “Zombies vs Robots”] to me was when Chris called and said he wanted to explore some of the more human elements. It was funny, because after reading all these stories, the humans had always been off to the side. It was fun to imagine what it would be like to be a human living in this world of robots and zombies.
For my story, I went with a little kid. A little kid alone in the wasteland that basically goes to a junkyard and builds her own bot to protect her and eventually become her friend.
Chris, why’d you bring in Steve to co-write your baby, “Zombies vs Robots?”
Ryall: It wasn’t so much a co-writer as another writer. I wanted another voice in these stories like Steve’s, who can tell a very different type of story in this universe. If I’m doing a thing that resets the table in a bigger way, and he’s doing a smaller, more human story, it gives people two very different and very fun takes on this world.
You guys have worked as editor and writer on many projects, but is this the first time you’ve collaborated on a creative level like this?
Ryall: It’s the first time that Steve has written something that started with me, and I feel kind of weird about that. Steve does these smarter stories. Steve doesn’t need a dumb book like “Zombies vs Robots,” but at the same time, I love the guy and I love working with him, so I wanted to see what he could do. So yeah, it’s the first time we’ve paired up on the same book. We’ve talked about a number of other things over the years, though, and I think it’d still be fun to make some of those things happen.
Niles: Absolutely. It’s funny — for as long as we’ve known each other, we’ve never actually teamed up on a project.
Ryall: Once I got the green light to do an ongoing series, I started to think how I could bring Steve in. The other stuff we’ve talked about has been more along the co-writing veins. We’ve kicked around crazy ideas all the way back to Steve’s book “Fused” back in the day. We’ve kicked around a Marvel project, too. We’ve danced around the idea of working together more directly as writer and editor over the last few years, but this is the first time where we’re both tackling the same world.
What was the Marvel project you kicked around?
Ryall: Look at how we both just went dead silent. [Laughs] This was years ago, back during the Epic Comics days when they were reaching out to different creators to do things. We had a really fun take on a Jack Kirby character that we wanted to do. But, ya know, we all went in different directions with it.
Steve, you just started your first ongoing series with IDW’s “October Faction,” and this is Chris’ first ongoing, as well. What’s it feel like to have ongoing series for the first time?
Ryall: For me, it’s weird because I’ve always treated the other “Zombies vs Robots” series like they were finite things. I never left characters standing in the end. I’d think of ways to blow through them before the end of the miniseries. Now, I can set up subplots? I can introduce characters that don’t get explained or killed right away? It’s pretty freakin’ liberating. I’m hoping this thing can last and move because I’ve got more that couldn’t fit into a two- or four-issue miniseries.
Steve, you have a well-known and well-documented love of Frankenstein — it comes up every time we talk. Well, zombies are undead monsters, too, so do you see any connection there?
Niles: What’s really funny is I am working with some Frankenstein themes, but I’m using the robots as the Frankenstein monster, not the zombies. The little girl in my story not only builds her robot but is able to find ways to upgrade and perfect it. So she’s constantly messing with her robot to make it as good as possible, which is Frankenstein-y.
I really got to point out that working with Chris has been a blast, and working with Val Mayerik has been amazing. The comic is looking great. Chris could maybe talk about it more eloquently than I am, but I just love working with Val and seeing the artwork coming in. It’s exactly what I’ve scripted. It’s been a pleasure all around.
Ryall: I would use similar superlatives [about Val Mayerik]. He’s a guy I knew from “Howard the Duck” back in the day, and his “Demon” run 15 or 20 years ago. He’s been out of comics for a few years now, so to see the level of detail on the pages coming in has been great. He’s been working in advertising and stuff like that.
How’d you get connected to Mayerik if he was off in advertising land?
Ryall: He dropped a line and said he was looking to get back into comics. He asked if we might have anything interesting and I said I might.
And you’ll have artist and co-creator Ashley Wood returning for covers.
Ryall: And two-page spreads, too. We’re doing these standalone vignettes that look at different parts of the world. We’ve also got guys like James Stokoe doing variant covers. He’s just a madman. It’s fun to see other people play with these characters, with the world Ash created.
Niles: I don’t know if you’ve see the first issue, but it’s jammed pack full of stuff.
Ryall: There’s a letters page, too. Letters, sketches, whatever people want to do. I love that.
Have you gotten any cool “Zombies vs Robots” fan art in the past?
Ryall: I’ve gotten some, but then I see people with the tattoos of Ash’s art on their arms.
Niles: That’s always so strange, when people decide to put something you’ve worked on permanently on their bodies.
Ryall: But I take zero credit for it because they wanted a cool Ash drawing tattooed on their arm.
But you told him what to draw. That’s important, right?
Ryall: Well, you suggest what to do to Ash, and then Ash does what he’s going to do.
Steve, no doubt you’ve seen people with tattoos from your stories.
Niles: Oh, yeah! I’ve seen “30 Days of Night” tattoos and “Remains” tattoos and a few others. Chris pointed out something important there, though. They’re actually getting tattoos of the art. I have yet to see somebody with one of my script pages on their arm. [Laughs]
Ryall: Nobody says, “Oh that characters personality is so good, I need that tattooed on my body!”
You could get a favorite quote.
Niles: That’d be hilarious if somebody actually did get a word balloon of their favorite dialogue.
Ryall: What line of old dialogue would you tattoo on your arm?
Niles: You want me to pull my favorite dialogue out of my –? I don’t know. What would you do?
Ryall: I would go with a Frank Miller “Born Again” line. There’s either, “A man without hope is a man without fear,” or when he’s talking about Captain America, “a voice that could command a god… and does.”
That’s awesome. Mine would be “Gaze into the fist of Dredd” from the original “Dark Judges” story in “2000 AD.”
Ryall: Oh, yeah!
Niles: Man, you guys are nerdy! [Laughs] I’m sitting here trying to think of a quote, and I can’t think of one!
Do you guys have any comic-related tattoos already?
Ryall: I don’t, no.
Niles: I have an Edgar Allen Poe tattoo from the ’80s that has — not aged well.
Ryall: Is it the tattoo that hasn’t aged well or [you]?
Niles: Well, both. It was a raven head that says “Nevermore,” but now it’s a pigeon that says “Nevermind.” I was 18 when I got it, and I’m 49 now.
Ryall: I always said I’d get a “Zombies vs Robots” tattoo if the movie got made, but I don’t know.
What is going on with the movie? [Note: This interview was conducted before the announcement that Andrew Adamson would be directing “Inherit the Earth” for Sony.]
Ryall: It’s been at Sony for a number of years, and there have been various dalliances and scripts and things. It’s still very much moving forward in positive ways, but until it actually gets green lit — Steve knows this better than just about anybody. You just never count on it, but you always hope.
Niles: The rule is, don’t get excited until they send you tickets to the premiere.
Ryall: But regarding the movie, they would rename it “Inherit the Earth” which is why I wanted to reclaim that title for “Zombies vs Robots.” So the first storyline I’m doing is called ‘Inherit the Earth.’
Why wouldn’t they want to call it “Zombies vs Robots?” That’s the best name ever.
Ryall: I think that makes it too easy for their marketing people. They wouldn’t have anything to do. I also think in a world where some of the previous ‘vs’ movies haven’t hit, they wanted to rebrand it. Look, I don’t care what they call the thing as long as they call it getting made.
Did the studio come up with the title “Inherit the Earth?”
Ryall: Either the studio or the writer. It certainly fits where they’ve taken the storyline and I like the direction they’ve gone with it. So if that helps get it made and helps reposition people’s minds, then I’m completely fine with it.
“Zombies vs Robots” #1 is available this week from IDW Publishing.
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