Novelist Chris Roberson was practically unknown among comic readers when they first heard of him in 2009. As a friend of Fables creator Bill Willingham, Roberson got the task of writing a six-issue Cinderella mini-series.
The gig certainly worked out well for the writer. Two years later and Roberson is nominated for a 2011 Eisner Award for his Vertigo ongoing series iZombie, while also writing the high profile Superman and yet another Cinderella mini.
iZombie, which debuted in May 2010, has won a loyal audience with its surprisingly diverse and detailed world-building, all mixed with a bit of quirky fun. Focusing on a good-hearted (yet brain-eating) zombie named Gwen, iZombie has also introduced werewolves, mummies, vampires and monster hunters — and recently gave a specific "Unified Theory" about how and why they all exist.
But there are still plenty of mysteries that haven't been answered.
As iZombie enters its second year, Newsarama talked with Roberson about all the characters and rules he's introduced to this world — and what's coming next for the series.
Newsarama: Chris, you've built quite a diverse world in the first 11 issues of iZombie, with specific rules about this universe. What was your inspiration for this type of story, and in particular, for the rules you've set up?
Chris Roberson: It’s hard to point to any single inspiration for iZombie, since in actuality it’s made up from elements inspired by all kinds of different thing all mashed up together. I’ve seen people cite Archie comics and Scooby Doo cartoons, and both of those are definitely in the mix. But the old Universal monster movies are definitely in there too, as are the comics of Brian K. Vaughan, the television work of Bryan Fuller, and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.
Nrama Who are the main characters in the title as you head into your second year?
Roberson: Well, the main character has been and always will be zombie girl Gwen Dylan, who is usually accompanied by her pals Ellie the ghost-girl and Spot the were-terrier. Amon the sexy mummy and Horatio the sexy monster-hunter and his partner Diogenes make life complicated for Gwen, and Nemia and the rest of the vampires at the paintball outfit aren’t helping matters, either. In the second arc we met Galatea, a mad scientist with a long and dark history with Amon, who has taken on an undead vampire girl as her own personal Igor. And now Gwen’s brother Gavin has the hots for Spot, even though he doesn’t have any idea that his sister is dead and buried.
When the second year of iZombie kicks off with issue #13 next month, readers are introduced to a trio of undead secret agents, and then in issue #14, Gavin meets the creator of his favorite comic book character, the Phantasm. And then things get crazy.
Nrama: The rules about "souls" in this universe are really different from what's been done in comics before, and it all make the creation of "monsters" a little more scientific. Can you explain how it works?
Roberson: I don’t know that I’d call it “scientific,” so much as “rationalized.” It’s still clearly a fantastical notion, but one that we’ve worked out in a systematized “Unified Theory of Monsters.” The notion is somewhat borrowed from the Egyptian conception of the soul, or rather souls, since they believed that all living things had all sorts of different souls in their bodies that served different purposes, and went to different places after the death of the body.
In the world of iZombie, all living things have two souls, the oversoul and the undersoul. The oversoul is seated in the brain, and contains the thoughts and memories of the person, while the undersoul is seated in the heart and blood, and contains the appetites and emotions. Sometimes after the death of the body one or both of the souls sticks around, either inside the body or on its own. A dead body with just an oversoul is able to get up and walk around, but it lacks the appetites and emotions that it needs to last for long, and so it is driven to drink the blood of the living — a vampire, in other words. A dead body with just an undersoul is a creature of pure appetite with no memory or thought, and so is driven to consume the brains of the living to make up what it lacks — a zombie.
And though we haven’t ever really said this on-panel in the book yet, that’s why you stab a vampire through the heart and shoot a zombie through the head to kill them, because without a heart the vampire can’t absorb any more emotions from the living, and without a brain the zombie can’t consume any more memories. Unable to consume what they lack, they essentially “starve” to death immediately.
A disembodied oversoul is a ghost, a disembodied undersoul is a poltergeist, and a person possessed by either soul of an animal is a thrope — a werewolf, or wereterrier, that kind of thing. There are loads more permutations, but those are the basics that we’ve dealt with so far.
Nrama: Will we find out more about the rules of the universe in the future? Are there any mysteries in particular you're going to be addressing soon?
Roberson I think that we’ve introduced almost all of the basic rules of the universe, with a new one mentioned by Galatea in issue #11, but it’ll be a long while before we run out of ways of playing around with the ways in which the various rules can be twisted and turned.
As for mysteries? Yes, having set the stage and asked a lot of questions in the first year, we’re going to be knocking things over and blasting through answers pretty quick starting with year two.
Nrama: Gwen's challenges bring a lot of drama and humor to the title. But probably most interesting is the love triangle you've set up between her and the two relationships she's developed. Why do each of these guys appeal to her? And can you tell us anything about what's coming for them?
Roberson: I think it boils down to what each of them can offer her. Amon is a revenant like Gwen — not a zombie, as such, but an undead person with both souls still in their bodies — and he knows how to stop the memory loss that will eventually cause Gwen to lose everything she is. But if she goes with Amon, Gwen has to become a true monster. Horatio, on the other hand, loves her without realizing that she’s one of the undead, and if she stays with him she can remain a good person — but she runs the risk of losing herself when all her memories go.
Nrama: One question about the monster hunters I have — do they have powers? Or are they just equipped with knowledge? They seem to do their job well.Roberson: The monster hunters are technically called “Fossors,” after the people who were officially licensed to dig graves by the early Roman Catholic Church, and that’s why their unofficial nickname is “Gravediggers.” They are all humans, and have a strict no tolerance policy when it comes to the undead, so no special powers. But they are usually trained almost from birth, and so are very good at their job.
In issue #18, we’re doing a spotlight issue on Diogenes, and we learn quite a bit more about the Fossors and how they operate.
Nrama: Along with scenes that are, well, kind of disgusting, the series has a lot of humor. How would you describe the tone of this series?
Roberson: A tangy blend of grotesque and groovy?
Nrama: That's perfect. And I think the perfect example of "groovy and grotesque" is the grandfather who has possessed a chimp. But that's just one example of the really far-out concepts you've got working in this series. Is there anything you've written so far that even creeped you out a little?
Roberson: I am a weepy, sentimental bastard, and so I’ve been moved almost to tears by some of the scenes of loss and grief when I go back and read the final lettered and colored pages. But creeped out? Nah, that stuff is fun!
Nrama: Upcoming solicitation reveal that you'll have back-up stories. What's the thought behind adding those?
Roberson: With issue #13, we’re introducing a trio of undead secret agents, the Dead Presidents. I had originally wanted to introduce them halfway through the first year in a short story in the second House of Mystery Annual, but when Mike Allred and Shelly Bond read the script for it, they liked the characters so much they thought we should go bigger with them. So instead of one short story in another book, we decided to do a short backup story in every issue of the third arc, both to introduce the Dead Presidents and to show more of the world that Gwen inhabits.
Nrama: What type things will we see in the back-up stories?Roberson: Soviet zombie supersoldiers. Brains in jars. Were-cougars. The secret headquarters of V.E.I.L., the government agency that monitors the supernatural, located far beneath the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. The mysterious “Chief” who gives the agents of V.E.I.L. their marching orders. And, of course, the agents themselves — the Dead Presidents!
Nrama: You've got a new storyline starting next month with issue #13. What can you tell us about it?
Roberson: It’s called “Six Feet Under & Rising.” Gwen is a “good zombie.” In this storyline, we meet a whole lot of bad ones.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about iZombie as you head into your second year?
Roberson: Thanks for reading the book! Mike and I are having a blast making the book, and we’ll keep doing it as long as we can. So if you like it, tell all your friends to pick up a copy and give it a shot. And remember, the holidays are just around the corner — well, eight months around a corner — and issues of iZombie make great stocking stuffers.