Sporks, Girls & Guts: Hicks talks "Zombies Calling"

Really, there's just no stopping the undead these days, with the zombie plague continuing to spread everywhere from terrifying movies like "28 Days Later" or the hilarious "Shaun of the Dead" to numerous comics including the runaway Robert Kirkman hits "Walking Dead" and "Marvel Zomies."

You can add another graphic novel to the list. "Zombies Calling" is a 104-page graphic novel and the first to be released by newcomer Faith Erin Hicks through SLG Publishing. The story follows three university students who're trapped in their school due to an invasion of the undead and have to fight their way out using only their knowledge of zombie films. As the story is set in Canada, there are no guns available with which to fight the zombies. Additionally, the heroes aren't athletic types, meaning they've no potentially lethal cricket bats lying around. Instead, the students are forced to use kitchen utensils like sporks, which, Hicks told CBR News, can be deadly in the right hands.

Though a new face in the printed comics world, the Nova Scotia-based Faith Hicks works in a Canadian animation studio and has created more than 900 pages of Webcomics, one of which, "Ice," was nominated for a Joe Shuster Award.

"Zombies Calling" is a book filled with respect for zombies, but at the same time skewers the genre in a very novel way. With the graphic novel shipping to comics stores this week, CBR News caught up with Hicks to learn more about the inspiration for "Zombies Calling" as well as her Webcomics background.

Tell us a little about the cast of characters you've created in "Zombies Calling." Who are these university students taking on hordes of zombies?

Well, there are three main characters: Joss, Robyn and Sonnet. Two girls, one boy, and they're your typical university students. They've been raised on movies and pop culture, and aren't like every single character in a zombie movie: they've actually heard of zombies. Wild!

The book is a complete, stand-alone story, but honestly I really love the characters and I could see doing comics about their other adventures. Maybe if the comic is successful, I can be like the very action movies I'm mocking and do a completely unnecessary sequel.

Zombies seem to be everywhere in pop culture today, whether in films like "Dawn of the Dead" or "28 Days Later" or their invasion of comics, novels, video games, etc. They are literally everywhere. Did some of these projects serve as inspiration for "Zombies Calling?"

There were a lot of things that inspired "Zombies Calling." I love action movies, and always wanted to see more female characters in them (and specifically, girls like me: geeky girls). I also saw the movie "28

Days Later," and afterwards was all, "I want to make something just like that! Only it'll be a comedy! And a musical!" Later, for obvious reasons, I gave up on the musical bit.

Well, singing zombies doesn't sound like a necessarily bad idea.

"Zombies Calling" started out basically as a one-joke mocking of horror/action movie cliches, and as the story evolved, grew to include my bitterness over the student loan system and university in general. The first incarnation of "Zombies Calling" was a Webcomic, which you can see in all its awkward glory right here. I think I drew the first version of the story in 2004, so it's been a long road to get to the final version.

How'd you get hooked up with SLG for this book?

I'd always liked SLG's work, mostly due to the Andi Watson stuff they publish, and during some unemployment I noticed that they had an open submissions policy for pitches. So I made up a little pitch package, sent it in, and a year later they got back to me.

You'd already given up hope by then, surely?

Right, by then I'd completely given up on the project, so it was really exciting to hear that they wanted to publish it. And honestly, it was nice to have a year to practice my drawing skills.

Have you any collaborators on "Zombies Calling?"

It's all me! That's the nice thing about comics: if you're an obnoxious control freak like I am, you get to do everything. And then you get all the glory. Or, you know, eggs thrown at you if it turns out the book sucks. SLG's Editor-in-Chief Jennifer DeGuzman did help with the story a bit, though. I should mention that.

Zombies are clearly popular these days in comics and are a horror film staple, but why zombies as the subject of your first graphic novel? Is it simply you keying into that popularity, or do you have your own fascination with the undead?

I think the current obsession with them probably stems from the inherent social commentary linked to zombies. They're former people transformed into something mindless, something that you could argue our society does all too well. We zone out in front of TVs; work mind numbing, dead end jobs; and often seem to have lost our conversational skills (we'd rather text each other).

Me, I think zombies are funny. I had my snarky potshots to make in this book, but I think there's a lot of comedy in horror and action movies, and that's where "Zombies Calling" came from.

As for the current popularity of zombies in comics, I honestly had no idea they were that popular when I sent the pitch to SLG. If I'd known, I might've done something different. But I'm kind of glad I didn't, as I really enjoyed doing this book.

How would you describe this book? It sounds like some sort of horror/comedy hybrid. To whom do you think "Zombies Calling" would appeal?

I think a lot of people will like it. I have three brothers, ranging in ages from 15 to 26, and I know they all like it. It has everything guys like: crazy fight scenes, comedy, explosions, and girls in bed together. And I know someone like me (a girl reading comics) would get a kick out of it too, because it has two strong, unconventional female leads who have to kick ass and save the world.

The artwork suggests a little Bryan Lee O'Malley or Jim Mahfood influence. Who inspires your artwork?

I've never actually read a Jim Mahfood book -- does that make me a bad person?

Well, you really should.

The Bryan O'Malley comparison is always flattering; I'd like his career. I like Jim Rugg, Paul Pope, Andi Watson and Ted Naifeh's work a lot, and my Artistic God is Jeff Smith. I'd love to shake his hand someday and tell him what "Bone" means to me, but I'm afraid I'd make a complete fool of myself. I'm a big fan of animation art, especially the work of storyboard artists like Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois, and I think a lot of my influences come from that.

Thanks very much, Faith.

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