The Life of a Zombie- Shane White on 'Things Undone'

Everyone loves zombies, but have you ever felt like one of the walking dead? Like you’re just trudging through life, going through the motions, while slowly falling apart? Shane White (The Overman, North Country) knows that feeling, and he’s bringing it to life in Things Undone, a new original graphic novel from NBM that premieres this August. The dark comedy is already earning great advance buzz, and features an introduction from one Robert Kirkman, who knows a thing or two about zombies. White recently gave us the 411 on Things Undone, and some insights into the real-life craziness that inspired this new work.

Newsarama: Shane, give us an idea of what Things Undone is about.

Shane White: Things Undone is a dark comedy about a guy named Rick Watts who’s wrestling with change in his already messed-up life. Despite his best efforts to keep it together, he’s literally coming apart at the seams--he’s turning into a zombie.

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After a cross-country move with girlfriend in tow, his fresh start turns into a festering mess. As a video game artist, Rick is subjected to the incompetence of three bosses and a kinky art director. His overactive imagination helps him cope, until...his seven-year relationship tailspins and his ex takes flight with a budding new romance. His only oasis of sanity is his colleague, Eli, who is bilking the company by creating a rival start-up. Caught between his fantasy world and reality, Rick decides to pull the trigger, ending one of them once and for all.

NRAMA: How did you come up with this story?

SW: A few years ago I was offered a zombie script for an anthology which didn’t really work with my sensibilities. It made me ask the question, “What’s the motivation of a zombie, anyway?”

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Robert [Kirkman] was using the zombie genre in The Walking Dead as a constant threat that keeps everyone unstable, while at the same time having the predicaments of real life to deal with. But beyond that, I wanted to find how people like you and I can identify with a zombie or in Rick’s case, that dead feeling we have inside when life just sucks you down.

For the longest time, I had wanted to write and shoot a film about working in the game industry with my friends who were there with me, but the task seemed daunting at the time. With the success of The Office, I thought the comparisons would over-shadow our efforts.

So I did it in the medium that was a lot more accessible to me weaving the two ideas together.

NRAMA: Why did you go with a black, white and orange color scheme?

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SW: I like the art and printing to fit what I’ve written.

Each time out I reinvent how I make comics, it keeps it fresh for me. I wanted something of a rock poster feel to the work rough around the edges, simple and easy to read. I remember Mike Allred did it in Madman working with blue as his main color, and at that time I was working in the screenprinting industry and thought, “Oh wow, I think I know how he did that!”

Twenty years later, and it still stuck with me as a powerful coloring choice.

NRAMA: Also, I'm curious about the basic design -- how did you come up with the look for these characters?

SW: A few years ago I had a storyboard gig for a videogame company where I had to mimic the concept art style. I picked it up after a day or so of studying the work. I liked it so much that I adapted it for an older audience, and found a more natural fit to my hand and mindset.

I tend to change styles and retrain how I draw to fit a story. Much like acting, I think it helps to find all the pieces that best make up the character of the work you’re portraying. It keeps life interesting and the audience guessing.

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NRAMA: Why do you feel zombies (or zombie-metaphors, in your case), are so popular in today's world?

SW: Haven’t they always been popular?

Maybe it just reached a tipping point where the presentation made sense to a lot more people than ever before, and the social consciousness picked up on it. Like I stated, in Robert’s book, the zombies are the threat that the people live with. Since 2001, we’ve been relentlessly pounded by fear-based media, that “the threat is out there” and like cows some of us let ourselves be herded into this mentality.

But like any threat, knowing one’s aggressor is the key. Knowing how others survive the threat informs us of our own lives, and gives us clues of how to deal with it.

Luckily, the genre is absurd enough to make us forget the real world just for a little bit by letting other people deal with fear. Personally, I’m not a purist fan of the genre, hence my metaphoric route.

NRAMA: How did you get Robert Kirkman to do the introduction to this, and what does it mean to you personally?

SW: I asked him one day, “If I did a zombie-love-story, would you write the foreword.” And he agreed. I didn’t realize it would be like trying to raise the dead to get him to follow through, egads! If I could have had Lucio Fulci do it, I would have probably gotten it quicker (the joke here is that the director Lucio Fulci has been dead since ’96).

Seriously though, I think Robert is a really intuitive writer. He knows his market very well, and has killer instincts. We’ve been friends for quite some time, so I thought he could speak on behalf of the work, and of knowing me when I went through a lot of this.

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NRAMA: Rick works in the video game industry, and you’ve mentioned your past in that industry – I take it some of the incidents you dealt with helped inspire this story?

SW: Yeah, for about 15 years. I just recently quit my job as a Cinematic Director at Sony Online Entertainment so I could take the summer off.

A lot of the book is a mash-up of some of the people I’ve worked with, while the location of the game studio is based on a now-defunct company. There are so many stories that I wished I could have used that didn’t fit in the book because of context or continuity…like having to clear the offices because a developer, who used to carry a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist, had a gun and was threatening our producer. Or having a co-worker arrested at work for having over 50 unpaid parking tickets.

We even had an Art Director try to run someone over with his SUV at a company party. All of it fun stuff, just not the right time to use it.

NRAMA: A good bit of the book's lesson is be your own man and follow your own passion. Why is this theme important to you?

SW: Often, I’ve let circumstances dictate my decisions in life. Being in charge of your own destiny and/or driving toward your passion is something I’m always struggling with. It took me a long time to find out that, simply put, my passion was storytelling. Now that I have focus, it’s a lot easier to take charge of my life. If it doesn’t fit into the context of what I’m living for, then I course correct.

NRAMA: What's next for you?

SW: I’ll be at the San Diego Comic-Con at the NBM Publishing booth selling advanced copies of Things Undone, as well as copies of The Overman trade paperback. I’m going to the Windy City Comicon in Chicago, and I might try APE this year in San Fran.

Other than that, just painting more this summer and concept designing two other graphic novels I have in the works.

NRAMA: Anything else you'd like to talk about?

SW: You can order the book here:

You can follow me blogging about the process here:

And you can check out my other comics work here:

Things Undone premieres from NBM in August.

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