Anderson and Yu Kill Zombies with "Rex"

Earlier this month at Heroes Con, writer Rob Anderson and artist DaFu Yu introduced the zero issue of a new comic book involving zombies. The two have a history with the creatures, having collaborated on a short story that appeared in "Great Zombies in History," an independent anthology Anderson also edited. The new book is "Rex, Zombie Killer," a book Anderson describes as "'The Walking Dead' meets 'The Incredible Journey.'"

Unlike either of those stories, "Rex, Zombie Killer" features a baseball bat-wielding gorilla.

CBR News spoke with the creators, who met at a networking panel at last year's New York Comic Con, about title's art style, their previous books including "MonkeyQuest" and why zombies are so fascinating to creators and readers alike.

CBR News: Can you each introduce yourselves for our readers who aren't familiar with your backgrounds?

Rob Anderson: Although I've been writing scripts for many years, I got serious about it after taking Andy Schmidt's Comics Experience writing class in 2009. In early 2010, I started a publishing venture called Panda Dog Press and published my first book, "Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit." Late in 2010, I joined the staff at Comics Experience, managing the Comic Creators Workshop, and reading and critiquing a lot of scripts over there.

DaFu Yu: I was trying to break into the industry back in 2004, but after a year and a half of rejections, I decided to go to graduate school to become an art teacher. When I graduated in 2009, I was set on entering that field, but I still had the comic book bug in me and continued to pursue my dream. That year, I finally broke through and got a gig working for Bluewater, which later led to some gigs at Zenescope. Then, in 2010, I met Rob.

How did the two of you meet?

Yu: Rob and I met at a creators' networking panel during the 2010 New York Comic Con. I'd never been to a networking panel before and it felt a lot like speed dating! [Laughs]

Anderson: Speed dating is a good description of it -- if you picture speed dating with a handful of women and a whole lot of guys. There were a LOT of writers, but not as many artists. All kidding aside, it was a great panel run by Buddy Scalera. I think he does one every year, and I'll certainly be attending again this year.

Yu: Yeah, if I remember correctly, there were about 40 people there. Everyone just went around meeting other creators for five minutes or so and then we would move on to the next. I'm a shy person, so I didn't approach people, but luckily the moderator saw me hanging around and introduced me to Rob. It was fate!

I knew Rob was the one I wanted to collaborate with because he had his printed "Animal Control" comic with him. Out of all the writers I met, he was the only one that had a printed comic. That indicated to me he was serious about the craft of comics. Afterward, we exchanged business cards and from there, as they say, the rest is history.

Your first collaboration is a short story in the recently released "Great Zombies in History." Could you tell us a little about that piece and how it came about?

Anderson: "Great Zombies in History" was a project cooked up by a group of Comics Experience writing grads under the publishing name Elevator Pitch Press. I volunteered to act as Project Editor on the first three issues, but also wanted to contribute a story. I had been looking for an opportunity to work with DaFu, so I contacted him right away.

Yu: When Rob approached me about the anthology, he did me a favor and tailored the story to my strengths as an artist. I love drawing action. Once Rob told me there was a double splash page action scene, I was sold.

Anderson: I do try to write stories specific to the artist. So, with DaFu in mind, I wrote an eight page story that included both a splash and a double-page battle splash. He's not afraid of detail and told me to "bring it," so on the second and third page, I called for a shot of King Leonidas and the Spartan 300 facing an army of two million zombies. I'm not even joking. I figured if that didn't scare him off, nothing would!

So, where did this idea for "Rex, Zombie Killer" come from?

Anderson: Well, my two big passions are comic books and animals, so it all starts there. "Rex, Zombie Killer" is the sum of so many things I love, starting with animal stories like "WE3" and the novel "The Incredible Journey." I've also always been fascinated with gorillas, and especially those projects where they've tried to teach apes sign language.

Plus, I'm crazy about post-apocalyptic stories in any medium, and have always wondered how animals would adapt to that situation. How would they perceive a zombie, for example? In the series, they call them "rotters" because dogs, especially, are all about their sense of smell. Add a hyper-intelligent Golden Retriever in there to lead a little pack of animals and you have a story I've been dying to tell for a couple years. I like to say it's like "The Walking Dead" meets "The Incredible Journey," if either of those stories had a gorilla with a baseball bat.

The art features realistic backgrounds and monsters, but the main characters are slightly simplified, with almost an animated approach. Can you explain the thinking behind that?

Yu: Going the simplistic/cartoony route on the animals was Rob's idea. I initially rendered the animals more realistically. I went through two revisions before I got the style down for the animals, but as I was working on "Rex" I realized it was better than drawing realistically. Animals don't have that many facial expressions, so if I had drawn them realistically throughout the comic it would be harder to tell the story visually. Now when I look at the finished pages, having both styles together creates an interesting twist to my style that I never knew I had in me. Good call on the simplistic/cartoony style, Rob!

Anderson: I'm glad you liked that, DaFu!

Part of it was knowing DaFu could pull off both realistic and cartoony. I'd seen DaFu's realistic stuff in "Great Zombies" and his Zenescope work, but also his more animated style in his own book, "MonkeyQuest."

But DaFu's right that it was also a storytelling choice. Not to go too egg-headed on this, but for this story I wanted what Scott McCloud called "amplification through simplification," and in particular I was going for how some comics, like Herges' "Tintin" or Sim's "Cerebus," put iconic characters in really detailed backgrounds. I'm not saying we're at that level or anything! But that idea of simplified designs that can amplify the animals' reactions and our identification with them, in contrast with the realistic zombies and backgrounds that make the situations more intense -- I'm hoping it makes for an interesting reading experience, especially as readers get to know the characters better over the course of the longer story.

Dafu, I would be neglecting my duties as a comics journalist if I didn't ask, what is "MonkeyQuest" and can you tell us a little about it?

Yu: Thanks for asking! "MonkeyQuest" is my anthropomorphic comic about a band of galactic thieves overthrowing a tyrannical empire. Think of it as "Star Wars," "Thundercats" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" all rolled into one comic with a Saturday morning cartoon feel to it.

It started as an entry in the 2010 Small Press Idol contest. At first, it was a PG-13 comic, but as I progressed through the contest, it evolved into a more kid friendly comic and I'm glad it did. There aren't that many kid-friendly comics in today's market. I want to do my part in fostering the next generation of comic book readers.

Right now, I'm in the process of writing the first minieries. and I plan to have it completed before I submit it to publishers. I'm a one man team on "MonkeyQuest," so it'll take some time before it comes out, but it will eventually, I promise.

We'll keep an eye out for it. So, zombies... They're big right now and they've clearly been on your mind for a little while. What is the appeal for you personally and why do you think they resonate with so many people at this moment?

Yu: I don't know why everyone's got a zombie craze on right now, but I remember watching a zombie flick when I was little and it scared the crap out of me. I had nightmares for days. From then on, I stayed away from anything zombie related until "Resident Evil 2" the video game, where I got my vengeance on them for frightening me as a kid. I loved pumping bullets into those suckers. Maybe that's the appeal -- people are trigger happy or they want to vent. Take it out on them zombies!

But from an artistic standpoint, I enjoy drawing monsters, and zombies fit in that category. Drawing grotesque monsters are actually easier than drawing anything else for me. I am detail oriented, so I get to go crazy when I draw zombies.

Anderson: It shows! I love the detail and even the zombie body language of the undead doctor in the zero issue of "Rex."

For me, it's not just zombies, but any post-apocalyptic story, and I've thought quite a bit about why I'm drawn to them. I think it's because I'm fascinated with the idea of hitting the "reset" button on society and everything we've built, and I think that fascinates a lot of people.

In that situation, I feel like you'd find out what you're really about. And that makes it fascinating to me from a storytelling perspective, too. In the world of "Rex," we can put Kenji the gorilla or Rex the dog in extreme situations and see how they react to the situation and to each other -- and how those experiences will change them over the course of the story. So, wearing my "writer hat," zombies help you reveal character, and hopefully that makes for a good story.

Do either of you have any favorite scenes from "Rex?"

Yu: Hmm, normally my favorites are action scenes, but in "Rex" there's a touching moment between Kenji and Buttercup on page 5, which gets me on an emotional level. Hopefully, the readers will understand once they see it. That scene also exemplifies why a more cartoony style is necessary for the animals. Especially when you see Buttercup's expression, there's no way a real Corgi mix can make that expression. Actually, Rob, can your dog make that expression?

Anderson: Yes, I think she makes that face every time I pick her up. She likes to have those stubby Corgi legs on the ground.

My own favorite shot is probably where DaFu drew Kenji the gorilla grasping the bat for the very first time. It's just a shot of Kenji's hand. I wanted Kenji to start out very awkward and tentative with the bat, and he nailed that in the hand gesture better than I could even picture it in my head.

Where is this story going and what can we look forward to in upcoming issues?

Anderson: The pack is going to face so many challenges on the road, but first up will be an outlaw biker gang. A hardcore biker gang is just perfectly suited for the zombie apocalypse. I lived near one of those compounds years ago in a southern city and they had like an 8-foot barbed wire fence around the whole place. Add in the mobility of motorcycles and plenty of guns and ammo, and you have a BIG challenge, even for someone as ingenious as "Rex."

The zero issue just debuted at Heroes Con. What was the con like and what was the response you got to the book?

Anderson: Heroes Con was fantastic! I've been going as a fan for more than a decade, but this was just my second time with a table. One of the reasons I love that con is there's a huge Artists Alley and it draws in a ton of fans interested in trying new things. So, the reception for "Rex" was very warm.

Really, when folks looked at the banner with the dogs, the gorilla, the zombies -- a smile broke out on their face, whether they were hardcore zombie fans or not. It was very exciting to have so many people checking it out.

Yu: I wish I could have been there!

Anderson: Me, too! But we'll both be at Baltimore Comic-Con, at least -- that's another favorite of mine.

Nitty-gritty: how many issues, what's the release schedule, how much?

Anderson: We're working on a 4-issue, full color miniseries that will be available early next year, once you factor in the solicitation cycle and all that. We're in discussions with a couple publishers about the book, and we hope to have news on who will be officially releasing the miniseries shortly. Final pricing will have to be worked out with the publisher, of course. But in the meantime, the zero issue was published by my own Panda Dog Press, and folks who are interested can get all the latest info at www.PandaDogPress.com.

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