Zombies Vs Robots Are Back To Fight For The Planet – Chris Ryall In The Bleeding Cool Interview

Zombies vs Robots, the strange brain-child of Chris Ryall (Chief Creative Officer/Editor-in-Chief/Writer at IDW) and Ashley Wood, is back today from IDW with the all-new double storyline "Inherit the Earth" and "Orphan", set to be the first ongoing series for the title. Zombies vs Robots, or ZvR as it's widely known, has been around long enough that it strikes a pretty major claim to being a prime influence on creating the genre-splicing movement in comics that we now take so enthusiastically for granted. We applaud the "mash-up" and the crazy energy it sets loose, but Ryall and Woods were some of the first to show us just how mind-bending and fun that ride could be. Now, they're back, accompanied by Steve Niles, Val Mayerik, and Anthony Diecidue to set up a longer-running storyline and take a slightly more considered approach to ZvR's legacy.

All we can do is hail the masters who originally decided they liked zombies, and they liked robots, so they were going to put them in one comic. Based on what I've seen of this new series, the duo have lost none of that energy and they are back to show us how it's done.

Chris Ryall joins us here at Bleeding Cool to talk about Zombies vs Robots #1:

ZvR_01-1Hannah Means-Shannon: Zombies Vs. Robots feels like it has been fun to create from a reader's perspective. Has that been true for you?

Chris Ryall: It's been a blast, yes – Ash Wood and I originally set it up as the kind of "rule-breaking" series we could basically take in any direction. We essentially started the series at the end (nuking the entire planet in issue 2), and set out to do a series that featured pretty much nothing but characters who were unchanging and therefore could have no real story arc. Which, looking back on something that's kept going since then, might not have been the smartest idea, but it allowed us to establish early on that this was a series where we'd give pretty much anything a try. Bringing in amazons, a zombie minotaur, a giant squid and mermen, and then splintering out in a number of other directions has been great fun for me.

However, for this new series, since it's an ongoing thing, I wanted to try to reign in the craziness just enough to establish some humans who are more than just cannon-fodder, and look to make some sense of the senselessness, without losing the playfulness of the original.

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HMS: This is a world where the art that portrays it is incredibly important since the art literally shows us things that are unbelievable or hard to imagine on a massive scale. How do you write with that in mind? Are you incredibly descriptive, or do you leave things more open in collaboration?

CR: The nice thing about working at the start with Ash Wood is, I knew that whatever the story idea, he'd make it better in the finished art. So whether it was trying to show a lone infant swallowing one errant drop of zombie blood or blowing up the planet, he could go as big or small as needed and make it equally impressive.

Ash is a singular talent, so I was incredibly fortunate to have him as my partner to launch this book. And he's never shied away from anything I've written, or felt it was asking too much (if he did, he'd likely just draw something else and the story would shift in that direction and most likely be the better for it anyway).

I tend to always write full script, but like I say, Ash uses a script as a guide at best, which makes the collaboration as much fun for me as the reader. We often both get to wonder what's going to happen next on the pages…

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HMS: New readers can catch up on the world of Zombies Vs. Robots through the Complete edition, but what do you think is specifically going to appeal to longtime fans and what is more geared towards new readers in the new stories. 

CR: I worked hard in the new Issue 1 to help set up the world for anyone new to the series, but also to include things that pay off for readers who've been with us for a while. In the first issue, a drone-bot comes down from a secret moon base to explore the world post-nuking. As the drone reports back to a mysterious someone what shape earth is in, it helps show where we've been so far and then also re-introduces a robot whose origin dates back to the earliest ZvR series (although, in issue 3, we'll also finally reveal a secret about that bot that's been there from the start). So it hopefully does its job as a proper first issue in letting people know the situation and then plowing the story forward.

And Steve Niles, who's writing the second story in the issue, is doing an all-new story that is equally accessible to everyone, old or new.

HMS: Are you a fan of both horror and sci-fi in comics and other media? Why do you think they have both been such a big part of comics tradition?

CR: Oh yeah, I love 'em. I was doing an interview with the Horror Writers Association just recently, which got me thinking back to my first exposure to horror comics. I think the Pacific Comics Bruce Jones/Richard Corben were my first real exposure to non-superhero comics as a kid, and I loved them then and now. I mean, it's hard to ever go wrong with a Bruce Jones/Corben story, and these were so visceral, ugly-beautiful and thrilling that they just delivered to me something I didn't even know I was missing in comics.

As a kid, I was also a big Twilight Zone/Ray Bradbury/Creepshow fan—and this was before I discovered the glorious EC Comics through reprints—so I've always gravitated toward sci-fi and horror works. And if those works have a nasty sense of humor along with the thrills and scares, even better.

HMS: When you sit down to write, how do you characterize a robot or a zombie? What kind of motivations do they have that are just non-human and therefore require different approaches?

CR: I set all the zombies up as these programmed, intractable personalities. Like, the Warbots are all programmed to fight, and as such, they're all programmed to speak in total soldier-cliches. The Docbots are the healers, and as such they're a bit fussier and methodical. And on from there—just the way they're built, they're at odds with each other. And that allowed me to have some fun with the ridiculousness of their personalities.

With the zombies, I've treated them like a kind of encroaching weed, this plant-like mass just forever moving forward. Although in the new series, I could swear I heard one of them utter a guttural word or two. Because when an entire planet is nuked, some shit is bound to change, and did.

-1HMS: What can you tell us about the plot and characters in the new work? Any teasers?

CR: I wanted new humans and new zombies, but one challenge to that is the fact that, like I say, I nuked the entire planet before. We've expanded outward a bit since then before, like in the "UnerCity" story, which established an underground base and mole people and all. But even then, only a human or two was left alive.

So this time, there was (luckily!) a space station with humans in cryo-sleep who are woken up and make their way back down to earth. Where they run afoul of the mermen I've been promising to use in the comic since the ZvRvAmazons days. And the identity of the person (?) on the moon gives us a bit of a mystery to play with. I should also mention that at least one of the robots might be a bit more than a robot. And some of the zombies likewise seem slightly altered from the earlier nukes.

HMS: Why do you think the world of Zombies Vs. Robots continued to appeal to you over time?

CR: Hopefully the "anything goes" aspect of the comic, and the fact that we definitely don't take any of this too seriously, is as much fun for readers as it is for me to write. And if that doesn't work, well, there's a giant zombie squid in the first storyline, too.

The ZvR film that's in development now has a working title of "Inherit the Earth," which is the name of the first storyline in the ongoing series, too. I wanted to do my part to establish that title as a ZvR title. And that's also the approach I'm taking with the new series, two sides fighting for a planet that is now a blank slate and there for the taking.

Oh, man, and one thing I forgot to mention before: on a nuked planet, which presumably wiped out most all the zombies, how are there new hordes of zombies in the series? That's one more mystery I try to build upon here. Actual subplots, human characters who aren't just wiped out for laughs… it's almost like we've gone legit here. But don't worry, it only looks that way on the surface.

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HMS: Genre-splicing has become even more of a widespread phenomenon in comics as well as prose and films since the beginning of Zombies Vs. Robots. Do you think the comic might have had a hand in encouraging that development and making creators feel more free to explore combinations of story types?

CR: Yes, I'd say this little comic is solely responsible for all of it. ALL OF IT. I mean, it's not hyperbole to claim that Seth Grahame-Smith owes me his entire career.

…okay, not really. And I am never one to think that a goofy comic like this one had any influence on anything. That's for other pretentious types to say (but, I mean, please, feel free to say it, whether it's true or not. If enough people claim ZvR was there at the forefront, eventually, future generations will accept it as absolute fact and our legend will be assured). Although I might be more inclined to credit the Toho Godzilla movies or, say, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. But if Plants vs Zombies, Zombies vs Cheerleaders or whatever else got borne as a partial result of our comic, cool.

With ZvR, it was basically Ash saying "Hey, I like to draw robots, and zombies. Do me up a series with those two things." That was as lofty as our goals got. And it was fun to try to create a world where these two groups, who really don't belong together, got together and spilled out into a series of comics. It's gratifying that it worked, and initial orders on the new Issue 1 are the best we've had for ZvR, so I appreciate the fact that we're still able to do these.

All of that said, I did recently buy a "zombies vs robots" coffee mug from Think Geek and, I mean, that one made me go "hmm." I'm inclined to think our comic book maybe had a slight influence there. At the very least, I should've been sent a comp mug…

There's our ZvR legacy. Inspiring coffee mug designs. Already, that's more than I'd ever hoped…

Make sure to check out Zombies vs, Robots #1, out today, Wednesday, January 21st, from IDW! You can also find the Complete Zombies Vs Robots here.

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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