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SDCC: Tobin Solves Puzzle of "Mystery Girl," Hungers for More "Plants Vs Zombies"

Writer Paul Tobin, long known for a comics resume filled with diverse projects, from "Bandette" to "Colder, from "Prometheus" to "Witcher" and beyond, is celebrating this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego with two new Dark Horse Comics titles, both set to debut later this year.

"Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare" is the latest entry in the video game franchise's comics line, paving the way for the next game, "Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2," due out from PopCap in early 2016. Tobin has written a number of series for the franchise , starting with 2013's "Lawnmageddon," all of which have been illustrated by Ron Chan. However, for the new project, artist Jacob Chabot will be taking over to help Tobin tell the latest chapter of the zombies attempt to take over suburbia.

Tobin's second new project, "Mystery Girl," is an original story about a young detective with a hidden history of her own. While she knows the answer to any mystery, she's unable to remember her past or recall the origin of her power. Artist Alberto Alburquerque, known for Oni Press's "Letter 44", joins Tobin on the project.

CBR News spoke with Tobin about introducing new characters in "Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare," the secret of Mystery Girl's mysterious powers, and why her story is one that even she may not be able to solve.

CBR News: When it comes to "Plants vs. Zombies," the games and the comics have been closely linked, with all of them following the same timeline. How much information about the new characters and the new game does Popcap give you when you write your stories?

Paul Tobin: A lot of the new characters were forming even as I began writing, so information was a constant flow, sometimes changing course. It was a bit of a two-way street, because there's a lot more room for personality in a comic than in the game, and that meant that my interpretations of some of the characters became canon. Working with PopCap is incredible. A great group who really understands that sometimes "because that would be awesome" is an entirely valid reason.

What can you tell us about the new characters that we'll meet in the comic? Which are your favorites?

There's an engineer zombie called Gene Error -- a play on "engineer" -- that I'm particularly fond of. I don't generally see the zombies as all that smart, but Gene is the goofball of the zombie crowd. Most zombies shuffle, but Gene stumbles, and I like him for it. I'll admit that I generally feel puzzled in life, so maybe there's some empathy going on there. Plus, he has sideburns. A major plus.
There's also a medical scientist zombie named Doctor Patient, and there's Longbeard, a zombie with a super-long beard. I think that's probably influenced by how ZZ Top was the first live concert I ever went to. Oh! And there's Super Brainz, a super-powered zombie whose muscle is only surpassed by his ego. Super Brainz is super fun to write! And I've always loved the imps, and they take center stage here.

Have any characters that you created ended up in the games?

I don't think any of my characters have made it into the games yet, but it's not going to be all that much longer before I'd have to revise this answer.

With players being able to play as zombies in the first "Garden Warfare," and stories in the comics like "Bully for You," which explored Dr. Zomboss's backstory, we've been learning a lot about the zombies lately. Are they taking a larger role in this comic?

Heck, yeah! I always love writing the villains in the story, and I have a lot of sympathy for the zombies. Not Zomboss, of course, because he's a total jerk, but the poor zombies who have to take his strange orders, when all they want to do is just shuffle and eat brains. But he complicates things!

That said, Zomboss is probably my favorite character to write. Or maybe Crazy Dave. No matter how outlandish an idea, Dave is up for it. It's fun to have Dave create entirely useless inventions that eventually save the day.

From the super simple concept of the first game, "Plants vs. Zombies" has really developed into a complex world with a lot going on. What do you think is the most unexpected turn that the story has taken?

The introduction of time travel, I think. That opened up all sorts of tomfoolery, and even some shenanigans. But, there's a new group of characters in this comic (and the game) that I can't talk too much about yet. I can remember when I first heard about them, I raised an eyebrow. I don't normally raise eyebrows. But I did.

Switching gears, you have another newly announced book coming out from Dark Horse: "Mystery Girl," coming out in December. Where did the idea for "Mystery Girl" come from?

I've always had a love for women detectives, probably stemming way back to reading "Nancy Drew" novels that my grandmother was always picking up at garage sales. But I wanted a whole different type of detective story. So, Trine Hampstead -- the Mystery Girl herself -- already knows the answer to all of the mysteries. If you present her with a mystery, she just knows the answer. The series is about the ramifications of those answers, giving the writing a twist that I've been reveling in, devising what it means to know the answers. But sometimes, knowing is only half the battle.

As is probably appropriate, with a name like "Mystery Girl," there are a lot of mysterious layers here -- mammoths frozen in ice, a forgotten identity, and an assassin, too. Can we expect to see satisfying resolutions to all of these threads, or will we have to learn to live with uncertainty?

A lot of the mysteries will be solved in the first arc, but Trine's powers are a mystery to herself, and that's part of the greater overall story. She can't solve mysteries about herself by anything other than conventional methods. Trine isn't just a mystery girl because she solves mysteries, but because she herself is mysterious.

"Mystery Girl" touches on some themes that you've explored in other books, like identity, adventure and secrets. What keeps you returngin to those concepts?

Those are core concepts to me, for sure. I love the theme of identity because the axioms say that the only one you really know is yourself. But really, I wouldn't even go that far. I think we're mysteries even to ourselves, so exploring identity is a concept we all share. And, adventure? That's just rollicking good fun. Plus, adventure and the exploration of secrets both make for good suspense, and excellent story structure to boot! They're the writer's gift that keeps giving.

If you had Mystery Girl's power, what question would you want answered?

Oooo. Maybe the location of Alexander the Great's tomb? That one cute barista's phone number? Where I can get the best cookies in Portland? There are so many questions of vast importance!

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