Tag Archives: graphic novel

Interview with Chris Roberson

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picture of Chris RobersonChris Roberson is the co-creator, along with artist Michael Allred, of the iZOMBIE comics, which are the basis of the hit CW television series, and the writer of several New York Times best-selling Cinderella miniseries set in the world of Bill Willingham’s Fables. He is also the co-creator of Edison Rex with artist Dennis Culver, and the co-writer of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D, Witchfinder, and other titles set in the world of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. In addition to his numerous comics projects, Roberson has written more than a dozen novels and three dozen short stories. He lives with his daughter, two cats, and far too many books in Portland, Oregon. You can find him on Twitter by following @chris_roberson.

Shauna Kosoris: Where did you get the idea for iZombie?

Chris Roberson: The inspiration for iZombie largely came from two questions I asked myself. The first was, just why do zombies need to eat brains in the first place? What were they getting out of them? And the second was, would it be possible to tell a zombie story that took place in the modern day and not in some sort of post-apocalyptic setting? Answering the first helped me figure out a way to answer the second!

In an interview with Tobias S. Buckell, you said that your brain likes to think up ways of turning odd bits of trivia into stories.  What’s the most interesting bit of trivia you’ve ever used for a story?

I was still living in Austin, Texas when I was writing the original series, and the stylist who had been cutting my hair for more than a dozen years had recently joined a competitive Skee-ball league. So every time I went in for a haircut, she would tell me all about the latest competitions, and how her team had done, and I was just fascinated by the whole thing. At one point I planned to do an entire story arc built entirely around skee-ball, with Gwen having to take a dead woman’s place and help lead her team to victory, having inherited the woman’s skill at the game. In the end, saner heads prevailed and the whole story was dealt with  in a handful of pages. But Mike Allred did a fantastic skee-ball themed cover for the issue, so it was all worth it.

That’s super fun!  So in 2015, iZombie became a television show – what was that like for you?

It was, and remains, incredibly surreal. It would be enough if our comic was still well remembered and being discovered by new readers, but for it to have taken on this second life as a TV adaptation, especially one as fantastic as iZombie is, and made by such talented (and friendly!) people, has been a source of continual amazement.

Moving away from iZombie now, how did you get involved with Fables?

Bill Willingham has been one of my dearest friends for the better part of twenty years, and he asked me if I would be interested in writing a fill-in issue of Jack of Fables. That was my entrée into comics, which I’d been trying to break into for nearly 18 years by that point. My fill-in issue was well received, which led to Bill and his editor Shelly Bond inviting me to write a miniseries featuring the Cinderella character from Fables, and I’ve been a full time comic book writer ever since.

Now that you write comics full time, do you still write prose?

I still do a bit of both, though largely concentrated on comics. My most recent novel, Firewalk, was published by Night Shade Books last fall, and I’ve recently contributed a short story to a forthcoming Hellboy prose anthology, but most of my time these days is spent writing scripts for comic books.

I’ve read that your writing group become the publishing imprint Clockwork Storybook. How did that happen?

Clockwork Storybook was originally just four of us—me, Bill, Lilah Sturges, and Mark Finn— meeting up every week to read and critique each other’s latest stories, but in time it grew into an online anthology of urban fantasy, in which each of us wrote stories featuring our own characters that were all set in the same fictional city. This was the early days of Print On Demand (POD), so it was a short step from online publishing to releasing novels and short story collections in POD editions. Bill was already the old pro at that point, but the rest of us were still learning our craft, and I think that Clockwork Storybook played an immense part in helping shape the kinds of writers that we became.

Monkeybrain Comics, the imprint that you and your business partner, Allison Baker, launched was originally Monkeybrain Books.  Why the switch to comics?

Monkeybrain Books was an offset publisher (that is, traditionally printed and bound books, not Print On Demand) that originally specialized in nonfiction genre studies, and then went on to expand into novels, reprints, short story collections, anthologies, and even an art book and an encyclopedia! With the contraction of the bookstore market, around the time that Borders closed up shop, our book sales had dipped to the point where it didn’t make economic sense for us to keep printing traditionally anymore. But it was around that time that Allison and I started thinking about ways in which we could produce and distribute comic books digitally, which led to a partnership with ComiXology and the launch of the Monkeybrain Comics imprint.

So what are you working on now?

Most of my time these days is spent writing comic book miniseries set in the world of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. One series I did in collaboration with Paul Grist, The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed, recently wrapped up, and will be available in a collected edition later this year, and I’ve been collaborating with Mignola and a stellar cast of artists on the continuing Hellboy & The BPRD series, which are Cold War-era adventures set earlier in Hellboy’s career.

Let’s finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

Oh, wow. ALL of them? I joke, but it’s hard to point to any single point of inspiration. But the novels of Michael Moorcock were immensely influential on me from high school onwards, and reading Matt Wagner’s comic book series Mage: The Hero Discovered  in my senior year was probably the single greatest influence on my development as a comic writer (which is why I’m thrilled that we’re finally getting the long away third installment, Mage: The Hero Denied).

And what are you currently reading?

I just started reading Grady Hendrix’s novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and as a child of the 80s who grew up immersed in pop music and horror movies, it is hitting me right between the eyes. Highly recommended!

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

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Do you remember the campy version of Batman from the 1960’s TV show?  That’s the way he was portrayed for several decades. But everything changed in 1986 thanks to Frank Miller’s Batman: the Dark Knight Returns. Miller’s depiction of the Dark Knight, along with Alan Moore’s Watchmen, ushered in a new, darker era for comic books.

The Dark Knight Rises is itself a very interesting read. Batman retired ten years ago. But crime has continued unabated in Gotham City. When an extremely violent gang appears, something within Bruce Wayne snaps and he can’t keep Batman hidden inside anymore. But Wayne is over fifty years old; fighting crime is much harder in his aging body.

Gotham City has also changed. Commissioner Gordon is retiring. His chosen replacement, the first woman Commissioner, feels the Dark Knight is a menace who must be hunted down. This is part of a larger debate within Gotham City, where various individuals weigh in on how they feel about the Dark Knight’s return. This part of the story feels very relevant to today, both in the way that it is presented (with talk show hosts bringing in various guests to debate) and in how divided in thought everyone is. And while The Dark Knight Returns has these modern aspects, it is also very much a product of its time, having been written during the Cold War; it expressly deals with people’s fears from the time (but with a superhero twist).

One warning though: the physical book is rather daunting thanks to the sheer amount of dialogue in it. The art is also not particularly appealing, making this graphic novel a bit harder to get through as well. But the story is very much worth it!

Groot by Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger

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Since the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie came out in 2014, comic fans everywhere fell in love with this previously little-known superhero team. Out of the whole group of loveable misfits, my favourite is probably Groot, the sentient alien tree. I think I’m not alone in this because Marvel Comics decided to give Groot his own solo adventure, written by Jeff Loveness and drawn by Brian Kesinger.

 

Even though he’s been to Earth many, many times, in Groot’s opinion he’s never really experienced Earth. So he talks his friend, Rocket Raccoon, into going on a road trip to Earth. The pair take the slow route, starting their adventure by hitchhiking through space (after their vehicle explodes). Along the way they encounter a bounty hunter named Eris who wants the enormous bounty on Groot. When Eris accidentally captures Rocket instead, she decides to use him as bait. But no one accounted for Groot taking his time. He comes to Ricket’s rescue in his typical slow way, having many adventures and meeting many new people on his journey to save his friend.

 

While Groot is a crazy and fun adventure (as befits a superhero story), it’s also a very touching tale about friendship. Groot always finds the best in everyone, no matter who they are and what they can do. He’s also filled with a rather childlike sense of wonder at seeing the beauty of space and the marvels of our own planet; his outlook will have you looking at the world around you with fresh eyes. Groot made me love this big-hearted tree more than I thought possible, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same if you give this graphic novel a chance

Magic: the Gathering Volume 1

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magic the gatheringWhen I was younger I played a lot of Magic: the Gathering.  But as time has passed, I’ve kind of lost interest in the actual card game.  But that doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest in the world of Magic.  The multiverse and the various planes they’ve created have been fascinating and a lot of fun.  And some of their planeswalkers (people who can move between the worlds of the multiverse) are incredibly interesting, too.

Take Dack Fayden, the hero of IDW’s Magic: the Gathering comic series which is written by Matt Forbeck (the first issues are collected in Magic: the Gathering Volume 1).  Fayden is a thief.  But not just any thief: he can move between worlds.  So when he steals something, no one can catch him unless they, too, can move between worlds.  How cool is that?

But when Fayden steals a nasty-looking dagger from Ravnica’s Cult of Rakdos, it sends him on a journey to the plane of Innistrad.  There he hopes to pick up the long dead trail of the woman who murdered his entire village.

Magic: the Gathering Volume 1 was a very fast-paced and fun read.  It shows off three planes in the Magic: the Gathering multiverse and hints at a fourth (which we’ll get to see in Volume 2).  The story was unfortunately a bit short, but I’m definitely looking forward to reading more!

iZombie

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izombieIn the middle of this zombie craze, most people are reaching for The Walking Dead.  But if you’re not interested in a gritty and often depressing story, you might want to give iZombie a try instead.  iZombie is the story of Gwen, a zombie who needs to eat at least one brain a month or she’ll become a drooling monster.  She works at a graveyard, burying bodies during the day and digging them back up at night for snack.  But the brains come with memories and desires from the deceased; to quiet their voices, she has to finish up whatever the dead left unfinished.  And so she goes off with the help of her two best friends, Ellie, a ghost from the 1960’s, and Scott, a were-terrier, to lay the dead to rest.

iZombie has an almost Scooby-Doo-like feeling, thanks to both the mysteries Gwen and company are often solving and the art work of Michael Allred.  iZombie is a campy and fun read; it’s definitely worth checking out if you’d like a different kind of zombie story.

The Walking Dead

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walkingdeadgraphicI wanted to know what all the fuss was about The Walking Dead so I started reading the graphic novels.  The Walking Dead follows Rick, a cop who was shot on the job and awakens from a coma to find that the nursing staff have abandoned the hospital (and him).  Wandering around he finds undead monsters have taken up residence in both the hospital and  his town.  He manages to make his way home only to find his family missing.  And so he sets off to Atlanta, the one place he think his wife would have gone.

I’m really enjoying The Walking Dead because like any good zombie story, it’s not about the zombies.  The Walking Dead is about the survivors and how they cope in this terrible world.  Death is everywhere, possibly waiting for them around the very next corner.  And it’s not just from the zombies either; those left behind need to find food and water, too.  And with other people competing for resources, the survivors are having a hard time trusting others.  So if you’re looking for a good zombie story, give The Walking Dead a try.

Cowboys and Aliens

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I was really excited to see the recent movie “Cowboys & Aliens.”  Starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, I knew that whatever else it may be, it was going to be entertaining.  And in that regard, it totally lived up to my expectations; the movie starts out as a Western and then aliens attack.  It is a lot of fun, and Harrison Ford’s performance alone made the movie well worth watching.

When the movie was over I decided to watch a few of the behind the scenes features where I discovered that the movie is only inspired by the graphic novel; the movie is telling a completely new story.  So of course I had to go get the graphic novel to see just how different the two are.  Even knowing that these are two different stories, I was completely unprepared for just how different they were!  Yes there are cowboys, Native people and aliens who all end up fighting.  And yes, the cowboys and Native people must work together.  And there’s a helpful alien.  But that’s where the similarities end.

The biggest difference between the two is the narrative.  In the movie, the aliens show up looking for gold.  In the graphic novel, the aliens are compared to the Europeans who came to North America.  The aliens look at the Europeans as savages, much the same way the Europeans looked at the Native people.  The prologue shows the aliens subjugating another planet, enslaving or eliminating those people in much the same way the Europeans interacted with the Natives.  It’s disturbing seeing the images together.

The graphic novel also characterizes the aliens in a way the movie did not.  In the movie, the aliens were big and scary monsters.  The only one who is really characterized is the one who was hurt by Daniel Craig’s character; that alien has a large scar on its face, and clearly wants revenge.  In the graphic novel there are several different aliens who land together on the ship.  Their leader is a total jerk who thinks he’s superior and is damn well going to show it (ie. kill people) using all his technology.  His initial second in command questions his orders, and is swiftly replaced after a “friendly chat” to discuss things.  The aliens were also basically slavers, not bizarre and scary prospectors.  In this way it was much easier to relate to the graphic novel’s aliens; sure they’re different, but their motivations are human.

So if you’re looking for entertainment pure and simple, definitely check out the movie.  The cast and crew did a great job turning the Western on its head with aliens.  But if you’re looking for a much more thoughtful story that is easier to relate to, then the graphic novel is for you.