The world has gotten used to the battles between good and evil warlocks in Harry Potter, and is adjusting to the idea of good and evil vampires in True Blood and Twilight.
But is there room for a good zombie among them?
There is in I, Zombie, the quirky new Vertigo comic where the world is filled with bizarre paranormal creatures like werewolves, mummies and zombies. Written by Chris Roberson with art by Mike Allred, the comic focuses on a young zombie named Gwen who ends up using her brain-munching tendencies to help others.
"Gwen quickly learned that, unless she ate a human brain once a month, she would lose her own memories and personality and quickly become a shambling zombie straight out of a George Romero film," Roberson explained of the comic, which begins in May. "But she doesn’t want to hurt anyone, so instead of attacking the living, she gets a job as a gravedigger at an eco-friendly cemetery (because embalming fluid tastes icky), and once a month she sneaks in and digs up the freshest body for a quick bite."
Although eating a human brain helps Gwen keep her own memories and personality intact, she also slowly "digests" the brain she just ate – filling her head with the memories and personality of its former owner.
"She finds herself compelled to finish any unfinished business that the dead person left behind," Roberson said. "If they were murdered, she has to solve the murder. If they never told their dad that they loved him, she has to track down their grieving parent and make amends. When the week is up, she has a few weeks of relative normalcy, but getting there can be a serious pain."
But the world of I, Zombie also has a host of other fun monster-types who serve as Gwen's supporting cast, including her best friend Ellie, a teenage ghost who died in the '60s, and their loyal buddy Spot, a "were-terrier" – something that's just a little different from a werewolf.
"Werewolves are people who find themselves overcome by the appetites and lusts of a wild animal," Roberson said. "When the moon is full, Spot finds himself overcome by the appetites and lusts of a well-behaved house pet. He gets all furry, has an extra bowl of food at dinner, and goes to sleep on the couch."
The comic also has two men competing for Gwen's affection: A sexy mummy named Amon who has offered to help her, and a no-holds-barred, martial arts-wielding monster hunter who doesn't suspect she's a zombie. And like any good comic, there are villains too – like the attractive female staff at BloodSports, a paintball outfit outside town. Because the women are secretly vampires, players who wander off alone might come back with a red spot on their collar – but that's just paint, of course.
"Mike and I are trying to create as broad and as rich as a world as we can, and a huge part of that is populating the world of I, Zombie with our own take on every kind of monster we can think of," Roberson said. "The ones we meet in the first arc are just the tip of the iceberg. But we didn’t want to just shove monsters in there without rhyme or reason, and so I worked out a rationale that explains how all of the different types work and fit together. By the end of the first arc, readers will have been given the basic ground rules that underlie Gwen’s world, a basic mechanism that explains how normal people can become vampires, or werewolves, or zombies, or what have you."
The action starts off quickly when I, Zombie #1 is released on May 5th, as the issue opens with Gwen already being a zombie for a few months.
"When she eats the brain of a murder victim and sets out to solve the mystery, she quickly discovers that the man’s death has more to do with her own condition than she ever could have suspected," Roberson said. "Matters are only complicated when a pair of monster-hunters arrive in town, and when she bumps into one of them and they immediately hit it off, Gwen’s life become very complicated, very quickly."
After the first story arc, Roberson and Allred will give readers a one-shot focusing on Spot, entitled "I, Were-terrier," the story of how an IT worker who loves video games and superhero comics was transformed into a half-man, half-terrier.
"Then in the second arc we’ll learn a bit more about Nemia and the other vampires at BloodSports, and we’ll also be introduced to a new member of the cast, our resident mad scientist," Roberson said. "In future arcs we’ll meet a Teen Frankenstein, a ghostly pulp avenger, a fish-man, cultists, secret agents, Soviet Zombie Super Soldiers, and so on. Oh, and a talking chimpanzee, naturally."
Roberson is hoping that, among all the zombie stories being published nowadays, I, Zombie has a different enough premise to make it stand out.
"I think one of the main differences is that our story takes place not in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies, but in a modern world in which supernatural creatures – zombies, vampires, ghosts, and werewolves – live in the shadows, their existence hidden from the general public," the writer said. "And I think readers will quickly find that this is a considerably more light-hearted story than the typical zombie fare. There are heavy moments and the occasional scare, of course, but even zombies need to cheer up every now and then.
"And it probably goes without saying, but I’ll say anyway," Roberson added, "that this is the only zombie book I know of that is drawn by the lovely and talented Mike Allred!"
Roberson said he's a long-time fan of Allred's art and was enthusiastic when editor Shelly Bond said she thought someone like Allred would be good on the comic.
"She said, 'What about somebody like Mike Allred?' And I assumed she meant someone that drew like Mike Allred – some starving college kid who was as big of fan of Mike’s stuff as I am," Roberson laughed. "So naturally I said 'Sure!' Then later that day she called back and told me that Mike loved the idea and was onboard to draw it. I still haven’t quite recovered from that call.
"What makes Mike so perfect for this story, I think, is his ability to modulate tone," the writer said. "He can do the lighthearted stuff, the romantic stuff, but he can also go all out with the creepiness and the tension. And the work that he’s doing on I, Zombie, along with his wife and colorist Laura Allred, is seriously some of the best work he’s ever done. I think he’s leveled up, somehow."
Roberson, a long-time comics fan, wrote several novels and short stories before breaking into comics last year with the Vertigo mini-series, Cinderlla: From Fabletown with Love. While he said there's a possibility of another Fables-related project in his future, there's nothing to announce yet. "I’ve had an absolute blast working in the world of Fables, and would do it again in a heartbeat," he said.
As for I, Zombie, Roberson is trying not to think too much about what audience will end up reading the comic, but is instead just writing what he enjoys himself.
"I think it will appeal to two groups of people: Those who like zombie books, and those who don't like zombie books," he said. "There’s a lot going on in I, Zombie, and if a reader isn’t crazy about the kick-ass kung-fu scene, there’s a tender romantic moment in just a few more pages. Or if they get bored with the scene with two girls talking about their favorite kind of food, hang on a minute because one of them is about to eat a brain."
Besides, Roberson pointed out, the first issue is only a dollar. "Honestly, you’re losing money if you don't buy it."