Roberson has "iZombie" on the Brain

Fans of zombie stories, Mike Allred and romantic comedies rejoice -- Vertigo has you covered with "iZombie," the DC Comics imprint's original ongoing series about a girl zombie detective named Gwen Dylan and her trials and tribulations as she goes on dates, solves mysteries, and, of course, eats brains. Writer Chris Roberson spoke with CBR News about the series, which he co-owns with artist Mike Allred.

"'iZombie' is a light romantic dramedy starring monsters recast as modern-day counterculture types in Oregon," Roberson said laughing when asked to describe the series.

In actuality, the plot of "iZombie" is fairly simple: a girl named Gwen died and woke up a zombie. She has to eat a brain every month, "because if she doesn't, she goes all George Romero 'Night of the Living Dead,' shambling, mindless zombie-thing," said Roberson. Not wanting to kill anyone, Gwen lands a job as a gravedigger and starts eating the brains of the recently deceased. However, "As soon as she eats [a] brain, for the following week she has to share her head with the thoughts and memories of the dead person, and feels compelled to finish any unfinished business they left behind," Roberson explained.

The series follows Gwen as she helps lay her victims affairs to rest and tries to live a normal life -- or as normal a life as she can. "Her best friend is a ghost, there's a were-terrier who's in love with her and the two rivals for her affections are a kick-ass, kung-fu monster hunter and a sexy [mummy]," said Roberson.

Drawn and colored respectively by Mike and Laura Allred, Roberson was incredibly enthusiastic, and a little shocked, about having the opportunity to work with the legendary duo.

"It's been ridiculous!" Roberson told CBR about working with his "iZombie" creative partner. A fan of Mike Allred since his "Graffik Muzik" anthology and a fan of Laura Allred since "Madman," Roberson recalled being blown away when Vertigo editor Shelly Bond approached him about working with the artists.

"She asked me what kind of art was I seeing for the book, saying, 'How about somebody like Mike Allred?' The operative word for me was 'like' because I thought she meant a starving college kid who drew like Mike Allred," said Roberson. Bond then revealed that Allred loved the concept and was onboard, but only if the title was changed and he was granted co-ownership in the series. "I started jumping up and down then, and probably haven't stopped since!" said Roberson.

If that weren't enough, legendary artist Gilbert Hernandez filled in for Allred on issue #12.

"The two words that sprang to mind was 'performance anxiety' because, you know, Gilbert Hernandez was going to be drawing something that I wrote," Roberson said. Though they had talked about using fill-in artists as Allred switched between working on "iZombie" and "Madman," Roberson admitted to being somewhat nervewracked about working with two of the comic book worlds most respected artists.

"I sometimes think I've slipped into some kind of psychotic delusion because it's too unbelievable that I'm able to do this for a living," said Roberson.

Hernandez and Allred are not the only high-profile creator/artists Roberson has had the pleasure of working with. Bill Willingham gave Roberson his start at Vertigo as a fill-in writer on "Jack of Fables" before asking him to write the miniseries "Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love." Roberson is also currently writing the second Cinderella miniseries, "Fables are Forever," in addition to "iZombie." Between Cinderella and "iZombie," strong female protagonists feature prominently in Roberson's work.

"I think I'm really just a big girl," laughed Roberson. Prior to comics Roberson worked as a science fiction novelist where many of his SF stories featured female protagonists.

"It's actually easier for me to write strong female characters than it is for me to write kick-ass, macho guys, because kick-ass, macho guys I can't relate to at all," said Roberson. Citing his mother, sisters, wife and seven-year old daughter as inspiration Roberson continued, "Strong female characters, I don't even have to pause to think about what would interest or motivate them, because I see it around me all the time."

While gaining a massive male and female readership would certainly be nice, Roberson told CBR writing an interesting story is always his primary goal, saying, "'iZombie' is designed to be a thing I would want to read, with the kinds of stories in it that would appeal to me."

Though zombies are more popular in comics now than ever before, thanks in large part to the success of "The Walking Dead," Roberson believes the sudden ubiquitousness of the undead hordes has limited the ways in which writers utilize the monsters.

"Two years ago, I never would have thought I would do a zombie story because Robert Kirkman's 'Walking Dead' is already all you ever need of a zombie comic," said Roberson. However, he realized that unlike vampires or other monsters, zombie stories were always apocalypse stories. "For some reason the zombie had been relegated to a near-future, post-apocalyptic, post-societal collapse dis-utopia. I thought it would be cool to do a zombie story that was now, that was in the modern day," Roberson continued, adding, "That's what led me towards a nice zombie who doesn't want to hurt anybody, and what that's like and what happens to her next?"

Unlike his work on superhero titles such as the "Grounded" storyline in "Superman" and his issues of "Superman/Batman," Roberson told CBR that the "iZombie" universe more morally ambiguous than the simple concept of good vs. evil.

"'iZombie' is a world where all the characters have different agendas; they all have things that motivate them or things they want, and some of those are beneficial to other people and some are destructive and bad to other people," said Roberson. Playing out in a kind of "moral calculus," characters like Amon the mummy are sympathetic despite murdering people, while Gwen tries to toe the line between survival and hurting the innocent. With the introduction of mad scientist Galatea in issue #10, the moral boundaries have become even more complicated.

"It's not so much good and evil as it is who benefits -- does everybody benefit, or just the individual?" said Roberson.

On a lighter note, Roberson told CBR that Scott the lovelorn were-terrier is closely modeled after himself.

"[Scott] is without question the most autobiographical character I have yet conceived or written about, at least in comics," said Roberson. Cursed to turn into a half-man/half-terrier at the full moon, Scott spends the rest of his time languishing over Gwen and hanging out with his nerdy friends.

"Playing role-paying games and video games, the very awkward social interactions with women, going to the comic shop constantly -- that's all me!" said Roberson.

The writer also told CBR that clues to what characters are can be found hidden in their names. "Galatea is the Bride of Frankenstein, so the myth of Galatea, the sculpture that comes to life, seemed an obvious choice for her name," said Roberson.

"iZombie's" monster-hunting Fossor Corporation also has real-world antecedents. "The Fossors' name comes from the third or fourth century AD. They were the gravediggers licensed by the Catholic Church to dig graves and deal with dead bodies," said Roberson. "The Fossors' job is to put dead things back in the ground that were already buried and came up."

Besides hitting vampires, were-creatures, zombies, mummies and ghosts, Roberson told CBR he wanted to introduce other horror monsters to the series.

"I don't know if I'll ever get a chance to do it, but I burn for the chance to bring on a big, giant, mutated kaiju monster at some point!"

In April, a new arc finds Gwen and her cohorts swept up into the mad schemes of Galatea, promising mayhem, murder and possibly the end of the world. "Starting with issue #13 everything goes nuts," said Roberson. "I'm just basically writing the comic I would like to consume that, so far, no one has made."

"iZombie" issue #11 hits stores March 9 while "iZombie Volume One: Dead to the World" comes out March 16

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