Interview: Chris Roberson on iZombie and Fables

Chris Roberson is the acclaimed sci-fi novelist and publisher of MonkeyBrain Books. He has recently been delving into writing comics starting with critically acclaimed Fables universe as a fill-in writer on Jack of Fables and writer on the recently concluded minseries Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love. He's now turning his attentions to creator-owned work with the series iZombie with artist Mike Allred. Issue 1 hits stores May 5th with the usual Vertigo first issue price of $1.00. I had a chance to talk to Roberson about some of his recent work and what we can expect from his new series.


Ryan Haupt (RH): Before we dive into iZombie I’d like to ask a few questions about your most recent miniseries Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love. How did that project come about?

Chris Roberson (CR): Bill and I have been friends for years, and along with Matt Sturges and Mark Finn we were in a writing group here in Austin years ago, Clockwork Storybook (which has since risen phoenix-like from the ashes as a mutual support network with even more great writers added to the mix). As a result, I've been a fan of Fables since before there WAS a Fables to be a fan of, getting a chance to look at the penciled pages as they were first coming in, checking out some of the early scripts before the book was drawn, etc. 
I have always wanted to write comics. I've been going to the comic shop every Wednesday since New Comic Wednesday was on Thursday (and now they're talking about moving it to Tuesday?! Is nothing sacred?). But I couldn't ever figure out how to break in. Since I knew how to type, I figured I'd give prose a shot, and after a few years at it  managed to build a respectable (albeit humble) career as a science fiction and fantasy novelist. But the book trade has been going through a bit of a rough patch the last few years, and after a few years of publishing novels that got glowing reviews but only tepid sales, it was clear I was going to need to find another source of income. I was on the verge of having to go work at Kinkos when Bill told me I was writing a fill-in issue of Jack of Fables
Bill liked the script, as did his editor Shelly Bond, and so when the idea of a Cinderella miniseries came up in their discussions, they agreed to offer it to me. Suffice it to say my answer was a swift (and LOUD) "Yes!"
RH: How closely did you work with Fables creator, Bill Willingham, in developing this project? Did he just hand you the keys or was there a more intimate collaboration?
CS: It was somewhere in the middle, actually. We had a couple of long talks at the beginning about the state of the Fables universe at that point, which was in a bit of chaos following the defeat and subsequent breakup of the Empire, and the kinds of things that Cindy might be required to do in such a world. Then I went off and came up with a list of Fables characters I wanted to use, both those that had appeared in the various comics to date and those that hadn't been used as yet. Once Bill gave me the go ahead on that list, I came up with a three or four page synopsis that spelled out the major story beats. Bill read it, said essentially "Yeah, that's good, do that." And I went off and wrote it. 
Bill had a few tweaks here and there as the issues were being put together, most of them fairly cosmetic as I recall. (For example, I'm a fan of old school comic book typography, so in my scripts whenever someone is speaking a language other than English there are always greater-than/less-than brackets on either side, <LIKE THIS.> Turns out that doesn't happen in the world of Fables. Who knew?)
RH: Many people are skeptical of “spin-off” miniseries. Did you do anything special or different to work against that preconception?
CS: In large part, I approached not so much as a spin-off but as a cutting from the original tree. I don't know much about gardening, I'll be the first to admit, but you know that practice of cutting of a living bit of an adult plant, transplanting it elsewhere and then culturing it to grow into a brand new tree? That's what I felt like I was doing with Cinderella. I took those few issues of Fables which had featured her in solo adventures, read and reread them until I had committed them to memory, and then went off and did more of that. And in writing it, I didn't so much write the established characters the way that *I* thought they should be written, but I wrote them like I thought *Bill* would write them. I'm like the Rich Little of comic scripters, I guess, and what I was doing in those bits was my very best Bill impersonation. (And as a sidebar, every member of Clockwork Storybook has a Bill impersonation, of his speaking voice at least. Mark Finn's is my favorite, if you ever get a chance to hear it.) With the new characters, or those we hadn't seen much of before, like Aladdin and Puss in Boots, I felt a bit freer to give them a different voice, but with Bill's characters it was all strictly impersonation.
So I'm like a gardening Rich Little, if that makes sense.
RH: People overestimate the importance of making sense. Fables has a pretty rabid fan-base. So I guess my question is: groupies, right?
CR: Fables has a VERY dedicated fanbase. Which I knew already from lurking online in the various forums and discussion groups, but it wasn't until the book started coming out and I was at conventions that I realized just how dedicated they were, I think. They LOVE these characters, and feel very strongly about what happens to them. The fact that they haven't burned me in effigy (or in person!) suggests to me that they haven't been *too* disappointed with the work I've turned in.
RH: But you’ll be creating your own undead hordes of groupies soon with iZombie. What can you tell us about your next project?
CR: iZombie is the story of Gwen Dylan, zombie girl detective. She’s a zombie, naturally, and once a month she has to eat a human brain or she goes all shambling Night of the Living Dead and loses her memories. But when she eats a brain, she slowly “digests” the memories and personality of the dead person for the next week, during which time she feels compelled to finish any unfinished business they left behind. Her best friends are a ghost and a were-terrier, her nemesis is the vampire who runs the paintball outfit in town, and the two rivals for her affections are a sexy mummy and a kick-ass young monster-hunter.
RH: Am I an idiot for not being able to track down if this is an ongoing or a limited series? What are you trying to hide?!
CR: It is indeed an ongoing. As for what I'm trying to hide, well, if I just *told* you then I wouldn't be *hiding* it anymore, would I? 
RH: How did the collaboration with Mike Allred come about?
CR: Shelly Bond, the editor on the series, made that particular Love Connection. I've been a fan of Mike's work since Grafik Musik days, and I have the lunch boxes, yo-yos, action figures, and trading cards to prove it! When Shelly and I were first talking about the project that eventually became iZombie, she asked me what kind of art I had in mind, and I talked about my affection for that kind of clean-line, somewhat iconic (and often vaguely retro) style that you see with Darwyn Cooke, J. Bone, Cliff Chiang, guys like that. Bear in mind that I'm talking about a *school* of art, essentially, not these artists in particular. Because in my head I'm talking about us finding some hungry young art school grad who draws like these kind of guys. So when Shelly said "What about someone like Mike Allred?", I thought she meant someone who drew *like* Mike Allred. "Exactly!" I answered, "Someone like Mike Allred would be perfect!"
Then later that day she called to ask if it was okay if she showed the pitch to Mike. "Well, *sure*," I said, "if you want to bother him…" She said that was a good thing, because she'd already *shown* it to him. He loved it and was onboard. I was driving in my car at the time, on the way to pick up my daughter from school, and I only narrowly avoided careening off the road into a ditch.
RH: Mike Allred is a bona fide story teller and writer in his own right. Has he helped shaped the idea beyond what you had originally conceived?
CR: Oh, definitely! In particular in the formative stages, where the characters weren't yet as defined, and he was really able to help bring them into focus. Mike had lots of ideas about how they would look and act, and that fed back into the scripts. Now when I write the scripts I'm actually imagining what Mike will ultimately be drawing, and then I just describe *that*. (But the finished work always ends up better than I could have imagined it.)
Really, though, one of the things we learned early on in the collaboration was that the book *already* incorporated a lot of the themes and issues Mike has revisited so often in his previous work, and I think that's because he's been such a *huge* influence on me over the years.
RH: How did you swing Darwyn Cooke doing covers and how cool has it been to see those results?
CR: That's all down to Mr. Allred. He and Cooke are pals, and the whole thing was a fait accompli when it was presented to me. I am a HUGE fan of Cooke's, and when they told me he'd be doing a variant cover my jaw hit the ground. Then I SAW it. Absolutely gorgeous. AlI can do is sit back and try not to bruise my arms too badly when pinching myself.
RH: I know from previous conversations that you're a writer who takes lettering seriously as part of the craft of comics. You even mentioned typography a few questions ago. Therefore I must know, is the kerning good?
CR: The inestimable Todd Klein is doing the lettering for iZombie, so of course the kerning is *impeccable*.
RH: Any other projects being worked on for the future that people should know about? 
CR: About the only thing I'm allowed to talk about yet is Dust to Dust, the prequel comic to Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep that I'm writing for Boom! Studios. The first issue is due out in another couple of months, I think. Other than that there's one more SUPER cool project I'm doing for Boom!, but it remains officially Top Secret for a little bit longer, yet.
And speaking of secrets, this August sees the release of my next novel, Book of Secrets, from Angry Robot, which is a mystery novel about a secret history of mankind involving masked avengers, secret societies, and mythology, and which anyone who enjoys my comic work is likely to get a kick out of.  

Ryan Haupt tweets back and forth with comic creators and then calls them conversations. One time he was drunk and talked with James Robison about SCIENCE then put it on the internet but this is his first text interview for iFanboy. Be gentle, Chris wasn't.


  1. You guys are working my up into a frenzy! Can’t wait for tomorrow!

  2. er… "me up", oh how I wish iFanboy had an edit button.

  3. This is going to be great.  I’m really hoping to get that Cooke variant!

  4. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Everything about this looks so ridiculously good. 

  5. I enjoyed Cinderella.  iZombie looks interesting.

  6. My shop was out of Hellboy in Mexico, so I picked up iZombie.  I look forward to reading it.