Riley Rossmo has a lot on his plate. The creator mostly known as an artist on books such as "Proof," Cowboy Ninja Viking" and "Green Wake" or as an inker on Marvel's "Daken: Dark Wolverine," has decided to try his hand at writing comics with the help of friend and co-writer Alex Link. The result is a four-issue miniseries called "Rebel Blood" set to debut in March from Image Comics' Shadowline imprint.
Described as a different kind of zombie tale, Rossmo's "Rebel Blood" not only finds its human characters infected, but also the animals. The book's hero is a forest ranger named Chuck Neville who misses the first wave of the infection and has to figure out how he feels about his wife while journeying to save her. With so much going on for the writer/artist, CBR News spoke with Rossmo about bringing animals into his story, what makes Chuck Neville tick and how he got Image to okay a zombie book after very publicly telling potential submitters not to bother with the horror subgenre.
"I'd been thinking about this concept for a while," Rossmo told CBR News. "It took me a while to fine-tune the pitch before sending it to Image/Shadowline, especially with the success of 'The Walking Dead.' Jim Valentino prefaced his response to the pitch with 'normally I would say no to this' but went on to say that he loved it. Without giving away too much, there are several things about the story that make it pretty unconventional. I think it also helped I had nine covers, five interior pages, a synopsis and an issue breakdown done for the pitch too."
Once Rossmo had the plot details in order, he brought in friend and fellow art college teacher Alex Link to help out with structure and other basic writing elements.
"Alex and I met a few years ago through a mutual friend at the Art College we both teach at," Rossmo said. "I knew I needed help with scripting. My grammar is pretty horrendous. Alex and I had been talking for a long time about working on a project together, and this seemed like a good opportunity to try it out. Alex took my outline, which was lacking structure in issues #2 and 4, and started fixing all the logic gaps and plot problems, while still maintaining the tone of the piece."
In addition to plot points and structure, Rossmo and Link worked hard to flesh out their hero Chuck. "When the story kicks off Chuck is working in a fire tower deep in the woods with no human contact other than a research student and a poacher Chuck has a deal with," Rossmo explained. "Chuck receives a message from local police officer Red. Red informs Chuck there has been a viral outbreak and he needs to get home across the acres of wilderness. At the same time, he's become pretty ambivalent about his marriage, so the idea of rescuing his wife raises some complicated emotions."
In addition to working with emotions, Rossmo also broadened the scope of zombie fiction by having his mysterious disease infect animals as well. It's an element that has been seen before in zombie fiction, but has not been as common place in recent years. Rossmo's inspiration wasn't another story, but, in fact, actual diseases.
"My wife works in intensive care, she was hearing day in, day out about the swine flu, which started me thinking about cross-species infection," Rossmo said. "The West Nile Virus is also capable of infecting humans, horses, dogs, cats, bats, skunks, squirrels, domestic rabbits, crows, robins, crocodiles and alligators. My thoughts were around what a virus would do in an environment with so many available hosts. Plus tumorous, ravenous chickadees scare the shit out of me."
While infected poultry scares Rossmo, making the leap from artist to writer/artist wasn't quite so frightening. "I've been gradually becoming more and more interested in writing comics and building narratives," Rossmo said of the transition. "Last year I started thinking about what kind of book I want to write and draw. I wanted to use personal experience as much as possible for whatever I was going to work on. As a few ideas started to come together I did a series of illustrations/covers for the half formed-idea. This was all about nine months ago. Months went by before I felt confident to revisit 'Rebel Blood,' which I was initially calling 'Spoiled.' In July I sat down with my brother and roughed out what would eventually be the plot to 'Rebel Blood' #1 through 4."
"Rebel Blood" #1 hits stands March 28th from Image Comics.