Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks

Faith Erin Hicks signing copies of Zombies Calling tonight at The Beguiling

I met Faith Erin Hicks at Paradise Comic Con earlier this year, where she stuffed a Zombies Calling postcard into my hand and told me all about her then-in-progress graphic novel wherein zombies attack a university campus. Half a year later, the book is in the shelves, and is even better than my lofty expectations - one of the most entertaining reads I've had all year.

Tonight, Hicks is in town signing copies of ZC at The Beguiling, alongside fellow graphic novelist Svetlana Chmakova (Dramacon). After reading Zombies Calling for the second time, I fired a slew of questions at Faith about the work, its origins, and what she'd like to do next.

Me: Zombies have managed a rather lively resurgence in popular culture over the past three or four years. Why is that? Is there a metaphor at work here?

Faith: Zombies are all about metaphors. It's a rule! I think a lot of it may have to do with the current state of our society, and how many people feel very zoned out and disconnected. People are always describing things like "driving trances" where they'll drive from point A to point B and they've no memory of how they got there. There's the rise of things like the internet and texting, where we're becoming more and more disassociated from the people around us. Don't get me wrong, I'm no Luddite (I love my computer), but I do think it's a bit strange how closed off many people are.

That being said, I really hate it when strangers come up and talk to me on the bus. Bus people are scary.

How much of Joss (the pink-tressed principal character and resident zombie expert of Zombies Calling) is you? How much of Joss is Joss Whedon?

Bill Watterson was right when he said that every character you create is half you. I see a bit of myself in all three of ZC's main characters. Even in Robyn, who's kind of a pervert. But honestly, I don't think I'd react to a zombie invasion the way Joss does: I'd be more like Sonnet, freaking out and bawling in the corner. I wouldn't make a very good action hero.

As for the Joss Whedon connection... never having met him, I can't say. But I like to think Joss Whedon would react much the same way my Joss did to a zombie invasion; he's just that cool. Or dorky, whichever.

How long have you been working on the book? Has it changed much from its original idea?

I put pen to paper and started drawing the actual comic pages in December of 2006, but I'd been working on the comic in its many forms for years before that. I drew the first incarnation of it back in 2004... of course, back then it was just a 15 page gag comic about a certain horror/action movie cliche: that main characters in horror/action movies always turn into badass ninjas whenever whatever it is they're supposed to be fighting (zombies, Transformers, Fox News) pops up. Eventually the story gained a plot and a purpose (ragging on the student loan system). After that, it was fairly smooth sailing.

We're about ten years post-Scream right now, so obviously there's been a lot of ground covered in the "the protagonists are aware of their own movie cliches" sub-genre. You definitely get back to the freshness of the idea with the writing, and particularly the writing of your three lead characters, in ZC. Are you naturally zombie-knowledgeable, or did you have to lose a month or two watching Romero flicks on VHS?

I wasn't terribly "zombie movie knowledgeable," but I was fairly "action movie knowledgeable," and a lot of the zombie movie cliches also tie into action movies... but yes, I did sit down with the original George A. Romero trilogy and scour it diligently. And I watched the remake of Dawn of the Dead, which I thought was
completely terrible... and that's where the whole "zombie movie characters seem to live in an alternate dimension where zombie movies don't exist" thing came from.

What was your relationship like with Slave Labor Graphics (the publishers)? Were they hands-on, did they buy the book as a completed project, was there feedback, etc.?

They expressed interest in the comic when it was in its pitch stage (I'd sent them a 15 page mini comic, character sketches and a brief outline of the story), so I didn't have to complete the comic before seeing if they'd publish it. Which is always a relief; doing a comic while balancing a full time job and trying to keep up what little social life I had was really hard, and it would've been devastating to finish the whole thing and then be rejected. SLG gave me notes on the story in the beginning, and their Editor-in-Chief was there to help me through the occasional rough story patches, but generally I think they're fairly hands off, and let you have a lot of freedom.

I'm giving several copies of ZC away as Christmas gifts this year. What other non-denominational holiday giftage from the graphic novel world would you recommend?

Oh man, got a month? My recommended comics list is huge ... Let's start with the classics: Bone, by Jeff Smith. Possibly one of the greatest stories in comics, period. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi is a wonderful way to introduce someone (say, your mom) who doesn't normally read comics to the art form... I love pretty much anything by Andi Watson and Ted Naifah (Skeleton Key and Courtney Crumrin are favourites). I'm reading some Usagi Yojimbo volumes from the library right now, and they're pretty awesome.

I think everything on that list is black and white, isn't it? Man, I'm a snob... I find colour comics are kind of expensive, so I don't tend to buy them very often.

What are you reading right now?

Lost at Sea by Bryan O'Malley, America: The Book, by your god and mine, Jon Stewart (and The Daily Show writers), and a biography of the women behind Nancy Drew, called Girl Sleuth, by Melanie Rehak. I usually have about five or six books on the go, piled beside my bed.

Does that get confusing, or does it stimulate the creative swamp?

I try not to pay attention to the work of others when I'm doing my own work; reading is strictly for pleasure. Of course, I do ingest it so I'm sure it influences me unconsciously, but I try and avoid things that I feel will directly influence my work. Like The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. I haven't read it, mostly because I was afraid some of it would end up in Zombies Calling. But now that that's over, I guess I should pick it up. I loved World War Z.

What Marvel superhero would you kill, and why?

Marvel is a mess, and I think if I had my druthers, I'd commit mass murder and reboot their entire Mutant franchise. Man, that sounds so evil... I think they supposedly did that a while back, and wiped out a lot of Mutants, but honestly, every time I pick up an X-Men book and try and read it, I'm struck by the plastic, action figure nature of every single character, no matter the writer (even Joss Whedon couldn't save them). There's no humanity to the characters... I keep thinking of that marvelous scene in the second X-Men movie where Bobby Drake visits his family, and they say quite plaintively: "Have you tried not being a Mutant?" I thought that summed up the whole human/Mutant conflict so well... and I've never seen that scene's equivalent in the comics.

What's your next project?

Ummmm, I don't think I can say yet, as I don't have contracts in hand. I'm diligently harassing a couple of publishers, and hope to have something new to announce eventually. I love drawing comics, and I feel completely lost when I'm not in the midst of one.

You can keep up with Faith via her web site, faitherinhicks.com. The signing at the Beguiling runs tonight from 4-6 p.m. at 601 Markham Street.

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