Tobin Explains Why Game Sensation "Plants vs. Zombies" is Headed to College

PopCap's hit mobile game, "Plants vs. Zombies," launched in 2009 with a simple concept: plant a garden that will protect you from the approaching zombie horde. Though the game spread like a zombie plague across platforms, it stayed focused on taking down the undead and did not develop much of a plot.

Writer Paul Tobin and Dark Horse Comics stepped into the franchise in 2013 with "Plants vs. Zombies: Lawnmageddon," a digital comic that was soon followed up with "Plants vs. Zombies: Timepocalypse" and print editions of both stories. Tobin explored the character of Crazy Dave and introduced readers to his niece, Patrice, and her friend Nate, capturing the game's irreverent humor and distinctive visuals with artist Ron Chan.

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Starting June 17, Tobin and Chan return to the world of "Plants vs. Zombies" with a new monthly series at Dark Horse. The series features short, three-issue story arcs starting with "Bully for You," as well as backup stories by guest artists. Dark Horse's all-ages Free Comic Book Day issue will also feature a "Plants vs. Zombies" story written by Tobin.

CBR News spoke with Tobin about why he's returning to the franchise, what it means to tell monthly adventures in print, how he's approached crafting a narrative for the franchise and the thrill of working with guest artists on the backups.

CBR News: Two "Plants vs. Zombies" books have already been published, in digital, digest and hardcover. Now the property is going into a monthly ongoing series. What can readers expect to change with this new format?

Paul Tobin: It gives me a chance to expand into some areas, have longer stories. I'm taking advantage of that by getting in some "named" plants and zombies over time. So far, from the perspective of the zombies, we've really only had Zomboss, but we're moving toward some other regularly appearing zombies. None of them can hold a candle to Zomboss, of course, because he's Zomboss. Despite that, he will see his supremacy challenged, and we will give more (for lack of a better word) life to the zombies, past that of simply shuffling around and yelling, "Brains!" And the same goes for the plants. More actual characters will be appearing and getting screen time. The longer-format stories give us a chance to do that, and we've been moving in that direction for some time.

The title of the first story is "Bully for You" -- how does bullying work in a world filled with zombies?

The first storyline has to do with the ramifications of what a total jerk Zomboss was back in his college days. Back when he was, ahem... "earning" his doctorate in Thanatology. Zomboss was, as you would expect, seen as a bully, and his zombie classmates have held a grudge for a long time. Now, they're going to do something about it. Something that isn't good for Zomboss, or for Nate and Patrice, or Crazy Dave and the entirety of Neighborville.

In the series, Nate, Patrice, and Crazy Dave are investigating a college campus. Are the characters growing up at all or are they just there to fight zombies?

It's the zombie college campus in this case. We're keeping Nate and Patrice at their same ages, barring occasional accidental trips into the future where we see what fate has in store for them as adults. But, for this first storyline, the college is only for zombies, Zomboss' dear ol' alma mater.

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You're known for the very scary horror series "Colder," as well as your all-ages series "Bandette" -- that's quite a range. With the zombies, do you bring any scary elements from your mature work into this all-ages title?

Not really. We try to keep the "horror" aspects of the zombies to a minimum. I'm not out for chilling scares, here, just good adventure and a few laughs. I think we can make the stories thoughtful, too: we don't want the stories to be just fluff, but as far as making any readers sit up in the middle of the night with all the lights on, staring at the closet door and intently listening for the distinctive sound of a foot shuffling against the floor, that ain't what we're about.

Ron Chan has always been the artist on these comics. With backup stories in the ongoing series, now you're bringing in some new collaborators. What has it been like to have other creators playing in your sandbox?

Well, there will be no guest writers, so it's still all me and my weird little stories. But, yeah... lots of different artists, including a group of really fun folks we haven't announced yet. And it's been great, but I have to change the way I think. Up until now, when I've been writing "Plants vs. Zombies," I could always picture how the page would look in my mind, because I'm so familiar with Ron Chan's art and the way he thinks. But, now, I'm forging new relationships, new ways of working together, and that's been really fascinating. PopCap games has been very accommodating with these backup stories, which gives us a chance to put a spotlight on secondary characters. The range of artists we're using is huge, grabbing people from all over, and we haven't had any pushback to all of these strange artists doing their personal interpretations.

"Plants vs. Zombies" isn't the only licensed book you're working on -- you're also writing "The Witcher" comics, another video game book, and you wrote "Prometheus: Fire and Stone," among others. What have you particularly enjoyed about "Plants vs. Zombies," compared with other licensed series?

In a way, even though it's a licensed book, I've been given complete leeway to create the world. Only the first game was out when they brought me on board, meaning that the "story" of "Plants vs. Zombies" was literally nothing more than "Plants and Zombies meet in Crazy Dave's back yard and they line up against each other and they fight." So when it came time to do stories, actual stories, there was a huge amount of material that needed to be created, and it's been almost entirely me doing that, as far as the comics. And now some of the aspects of the comics could be making their way into the cool range of games, and that's pretty dang spiffy.

When you're playing "Plants vs. Zombies," what's your go-to strategy?

I'm all about the cattails and the winter melons. I mean... all about them.

"Plants vs. Zombies" #1 arrives June 17 from Dark Horse Comics.

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