Zombies, Vampires and U.S. History?? David Hine on 'FVZA'


David Hine is returning to his horror roots. The comics writer is perhaps best known for dealing in the world of superheroes and mutants at Marvel, but first gained notice for the horror story, Strange Embrace. And now, he's now gone over the deep, dark end: vampires and zombies.

David Hine is writing the upcoming Radical series FVZA: Federal Vampire And Zombie Agency, which is a retelling of US history – but with vampies and zombies thrown into it. Brought over as viruses during the waves of immigration to America in the 1800s, vampirism and the zombie plague are a real and present danger to the American way of life – and the FVZA was created to stop it. Initiated by Ulysses S. Grant and carried on for 100 years, the threat dissipated and with it the organization that was set-up to stop it. Mission: Accomplished in the war against the zombies and vampires, so no need to keep your army, right?

You see where this is heading. A new strain of evil has returned in 2009, a mixture of both zombies and vampires. With the remnants of FVZA thrown to the wind over 30 years prior, that's where this series begins.

Vampires and Zombies oh-my!

Hine is partnering with artist Roy Allen Martinez on this three-issue miniseries, with each issue charting in as double-sized. The first issue is scheduled to debut in October, and we talked with Hine by email for more information.

Newsarama: David, it's good to talk to you. Can you tell us about this book, FVZA?

David Hine: This is a book for people who love vampire and zombie books and for people who don’t.

NRAMA: Well, that covers about everybody!

DH: [laughs] Let me explain.

Personally I’m a big fan of the vampire genre, whether in literature, movies or comics and I love George Romero’s zombie movies and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. I’m also very aware that there are an awful lot of Undead comics and movies out there… with the emphasis on ‘awful’. So this book had to have a unique perspective. I wanted to tell a story of a family whose lives are blighted by the existence of vampires and zombies.

I also wanted to get inside the head of the vampires and zombies and make them both monstrous and sympathetic. Vampires usually exert a fascination and are often romanticized but I wanted to take the romance out of their existence. These are not sexy, seductive vampires in the manner of Twilight. Our vampires are truly monstrous and unattractive. Their hair falls out, their bodies become twisted and cadaverous and they have no interest in sex. We’re going to be following a young couple, who are into the goth fantasy of vampirism. One of the tragic elements of the story is to see how the constant joyless pursuit of blood gradually destroys their love for one another.


I also wanted to get into the heads of the zombies. Traditionally the zombies are totally mindless, emotionless eating machines and wonderful cannon fodder. I think one of the great pleasures of watching zombie movies is that you can get into the gruesome slaughter, without having to worry about the ethical issues of killing human beings; the mayhem without the guilt. In FVZA, there’s a suggestion that the zombies are retaining some element of their humanity. I really wanted to get across the sense of being aware that your humanity is being eroded as your body rots. We have a zombie mother who persists in picking the maggots from her kids’ diseased flesh, like a chimpanzee grooming her offspring for fleas. The maternal instinct persists and that makes the slaughter of the zombies more uncomfortable.

NRAMA: That's some sick stuff, David.. and I mean that in a good way. How did the idea for FVZA initially come about?

DH: FVZA began its existence as a web site: fvza.org. This web site is put together by Hugo Pecos who was a former director of the Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency.

NRAMA: Woah, woah David. This is sounding pretty real. But don't let me stop you.

DH: There’s a wealth of information here, on the history of vampires and zombies, particularly in the USA, their biology, sociology and the myths surrounding them. Dr Pecos is renowned for debunking the more ludicrous tales with a refreshingly no-nonsense approach. In case you still believe that vampires have no reflection, can turn into bats, fear garlic and so on, the web site will put you right.

There’s a fan following for the web site; who get involved in setting up their own vampire and zombie hunting groups. Clearly a lot of this is pure fantasy, but Hugo is very tolerant of the fans and takes it all in good humor. But he is personally very dedicated to eradicating the vampire and zombie threats from American soil. For him, it’s no joke.

NRAMA: OK, so how did this go from a website that takes itself very seriously to you writing a comic book?

DH: A while back, the rights to develop the FVZA concept as a comic book were partnered into by Radical Publishing. There are also plans for a movie with Contrafilm and Radical Publishing producing. I actually met with the producers before starting on the script, but our immediate priority is to create a great comic book series. The high concept is perfect for a movie and we certainly have the three-act structure for a screenplay but this is far from being a glorified storyboard. I’ve been given an unusual degree of creative freedom on this book and publisher Barry Levine is adamant that there will be no compromises in producing the best comics possible on all the Radical titles.

from FVZA #1

NRAMA: Ok, let's get into this world you've so animated about. In this book, the attributes of vampires and zombies are given to be diseases. How does it work?

DH: In a nutshell, the Human Vampiric Virus is a rabies-like disease that is spread in livestock through fleas and then once it enters the human population is spread almost exclusively by bite. It’s very important to be aware of the dangers of vampirism because the initial symptoms, headache, fever and so on, are similar to flu symptoms. In the past the vampire vaccine was completely effective during stage one infection. But once the disease takes hold, the vaccine becomes decreasingly effective and the only ‘treatment’ once the victim has reached the transformation stage, is extermination. Vampires will normally start to hunt for blood within 24 hours, although there are some who fight the hunger and we’ve seen many reports of vampires committing suicide rather than succumb to their urges.

The vampire does have many of the attributes we know from fiction. They have elongated teeth and nails, unusual strength and agility and potentially unlimited longevity. No vampire has been known to die of old age, although the activities of the FVZA have made certain that most vampires have a short life and a violent death.

The zombie virus is similar in origin. It is propagated through ticks and spread through rats and other animals. As with vampirism, humans pass on the virus through their saliva and other body fluids. A scratch or a bite from a zombie will infect you. Once infected, breathing and pulse rate slow and the victim enters a catatonic state. Mercifully the zombie is slow-moving. Again many of the myths are based on reality. Zombies eat human flesh and are particularly fond of brains. Unlike the vampire, the zombie brain atrophies very rapidly. They do have a heightened sense of smell but their other senses are very weak. While vampires can theoretically live forever, zombies aren’t going to survive longer than a year, as they are literally rotting away and their putrefying flesh is being fed on by everything from bacteria to fungi, maggots and even ants.

NRAMA: Are the existence of vampires and zombies known to the general public in this book?

DH: Yes. It has been a major part of American history. The story of the USA is inextricably bound up with the battle against outbreaks among the earliest pioneers. Every school kid knows the story of the Copper Creek Siege, when an entire mining community was overrun by vampires.

NRAMA: How and when did the vampires and zombies end up becoming such a menace?

DH: Like smallpox, the vampire and zombie viruses spread very quickly, along with the spread of settlers through the North America continent. The outbreaks were initially battled by local militias and professional bounty hunters. They were effective enough in controlling small outbreaks but there was no central organization. Infected individuals would always slip through the net and move on to trigger new outbreaks. At its peak, at the beginning of the twentieth century, there were an estimated 300,000 vampires in the USA.

NRAMA: How does the FVZA group fit into all of this?

DH: After the Civil War, President Ulysses S. Grant set up a branch of the Armed Forces, originally called the Vampire National Guard or Vanguard. That evolved into the Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency in 1897. The Agency was split into scientific and military sections. The military trained their agents to hunt and exterminate vampires and zombies wherever they flourished. They were expert in urban warfare and a precursor of our modern SWAT teams. It was the scientific side of the FVZA that finally appeared to end the threat of the twin viruses, when their laboratories developed effective vaccines.

from FVZA #1

By 1975 vampires and zombies had been effectively eliminated from the USA.

More recently there has been a major outbreak of zombieism in the USA. Surviving vampires from Europe appear to be using the zombie virus in terrorist attacks on the USA. That’s something we haven’t seen before – vampires using the zombie virus as a weapon of mass destruction. It seems that there are new strains of both the vampire and zombie virus that are immune to existing vaccines.

The FVZA was disbanded in 1975 and they have had to reform very quickly. Most of the original agents are past retiring age, so it’s a case of having to retrain volunteers from other military and intelligence agencies.

NRAMA: We've covered a lot of story ground here David, but let's make this personal. Who are the central characters in the book?

DH: Dr Hugo Pecos, a former agency director, is the one man who never relaxed his guard. A lot of people thought he was obsessed with a menace that had been eliminated forever. He brought up his orphaned grandchildren in private, training them in martial arts and specialist weapons to be the perfect vampire and zombie hunters.

When the zombie outbreak occurred and the FVZA was reformed, Dr Pecos was brought on board in an advisory capacity, while his grandchildren, Landra and Vidal were immediately recruited to train and lead the rookie agents.

The comic book series follows the lives of Vidal and Landra from childhood to their hand-to-hand battles with vampires in the sewers under Los Angeles.

NRAMA: How about on the vampire / zombie side of things – who's leading them up?

DH: We’ll see the devastating effect on ordinary people when the zombie virus enters the water supply of a small town in America. The vampires who unleash the virus are led by Mandrake, a young, ambitious vampire who is setting out to destroy the fabric of society and undermine government, so that vampires can take advantage of the chaos to effectively gain control of the country.

Back in Europe the old vampire ‘families’ are under the control of a centuries-old vampire called Nephilis. These old-school vampires are content to stay in the shadows, running their packs like mafia dons. Nephilis is furious at the upstart Mandrake and sends Yaelis to America to regain control of the situation. But Yaelis turns out to be the biggest threat of all. She is one evil vampire with a lot of skeletons in the closet. There are a lot of twists to this story and it goes way beyond a simple battle between humans and undead. Let’s just say the lines between good guys and bad guys become blurred.

We also have the newly transformed vampire couple, Tess and Jules, who desperately try to retain their humanity. On one level FVZA is about the battle for the survival of humanity, but at its heart, this is also a story about three doomed love affairs.

FVZA #1, variant cover

NRAMA: This is a lot of story to fit in an issue – good thing Radical switched to those over-sized issues as announced recently. This series is done in a series of three 48 page installments – quite big for a standard comic. As the series' writer, what do you think of these extra-sized issue?

DH: This is terrific from my point of view. My biggest gripe about working for monthly comics is that 22 pages in never enough for a single episode. To make the comparison with TV, it’s as if you had to make do with a half-hour episode of Lost or The Wire. And these are monthly, not weekly episodes. I always find myself having to condense or eliminate scenes and cut dialogue to the bone to compress everything into those monthlies. It’s no wonder people refer to them as ‘pamphlets’. We have two issues of 44 pages and one of 48 pages and that is a pretty substantial read. When you see the quality of artwork, I think you’ll agree that these books are much better value than most of the monthlies out there, particularly with standard price edging towards $3.99.

NRAMA: You're working with artist Roy Allan Martinez on this book. How was your collaboration with him?

DH: This is my second comic book series with Roy. We worked together previously on Son of M for Marvel. I like to work with someone whose work I know, because I can tailor my script to his strengths and I have a good idea what the finished page is going to look like.

We looked at a lot of samples when we were assigning the art. A lot of new guys, some who had a Manga influence, some whose portfolios were obviously aimed at Marvel or DC, but we were looking for something else. Roy’s work has always been a distillation of all kinds of influences, from superhero, fantasy and horror and stylistically from American and European sources and of course from his fellow Filipino artists. I think what really clinched it was looking at his online portfolio. There were some amazing samples of horror pages that really blew me away. When the pencils started coming in they were so good. The best work Roy has done.

We then had the problem of finding someone who could paint over Roy’s pencils and retain all the qualities of the line while still rendering in full digital paints. I lost count of how many samples I saw. It was enlightening to see how different the interpretations of a single page could be. Totally different choices of color pallette, tonality and lighting effects. Never underestimate the importance of the colors in a comic book. A different painter would have produced a completely different book. The guys at Radical were incredibly long-suffering and persistent and they finally bagged the Malaysian artist, Kinsun Loh to paint the book.

Kinsun and Roy are a magic combination and the team is completed by editor Luis Reyes, who was my editor at Tokyopop and letters by Richard Starkings, who has been my editor, publisher and good buddy for many years. It’s a very tight team and we’re going all-out to make this a totally kick-ass series.

FVZA: Federal Vampire And Zombie Agency is published by Radical, and is set to debut this October.


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