June 17, 2009

Brain Picking: Interview with Stephen Lindsay (creator of JESUS HATES ZOMBIES)

Caricature by Lauren MonardoI recently had the opportunity to pick the brain of Stephen Lindsay, creator of the indie comic Jesus Hates Zombies, which is now available in the Jesus Hates Zombies: Those Slack Jaw Blues trade paperback collection from Alterna Comics. The story begins six days after the zombie plague brings the earth to the brink of annihilation, and God has sent his favorite son Jesus back to earth to kick some zombie ass! (right: image by Lauren Monardo)

Does Stephen Lindsay fear for his soul for crafting such a deliciously blasphemous concept? Read on as we discuss zombies, indie comics, writing, and controversy with Stephen Lindsay. We even get a little philosophical.

ZED WORD (ZW): Stephen, in your blog, you mention that you were working on a zombie comic, After the Rising, when the idea of Jesus fighting zombies came to you. Can you expand on what you find so appealing about Jesus whooping slack-jaw ass? Did it have something to do with the fact that zombies, like the Beatles before them, became bigger than Jesus and you felt the score had to be settled?

STEPHEN LINDSAY (SL): The most appealing aspect of writing Jesus for me is making him someone people wouldn't expect. That's why I removed most of his 'powers'. I wanted to explore what he'd be like as a real working-class kinda guy. So I went into this with the idea that Jesus loves people so much that he's willing to sacrifice himself for us. And if he's willing to do that, there's no way he'd let some disgusting, soulless monsters devour the entire race! Plus, I spent 8 years in Catholic school, so getting a chance to deprogram myself a bit was pretty welcomed.

ZW: Most of the latter stories collected in Jesus Hates Zombies: Those Slack-Jaw Blues are written by your good friend Michael Bartolotta. Although you two have been writing together since you were 13, did he ever propose ideas that took Jesus Hates Zombies into places you never expected?

SL: Absolutely. As soon as I decided to do the anthology before the full series, I asked Mike if he wanted to write any of the stories. I totally gave him free reign on what he wanted to write. He knew that I wanted to infuse some pop-culture references, so when he busted out the story with the heavy Karate Kid references, I was in heaven (no pun intended). Mike and I have very similar senses of humor, so there have been times when I've actually forgotten which stories he wrote and which ones I wrote!

Art by Jeff McComsey

ZW: Every story in Jesus Hates Zombies: Those Slack-Jaw Blues is about five pages long and illustrated by a different artist. This creates a very episodic and sometimes disconnected feel because of the 5-page length. However, several of the later stories start to develop the character’s relationships and suggest an on-going story line. Do you intend to move Jesus Hates Zombies away from the stand-alone episodes and start writing an ongoing story arc?

SL: It actually started as a full story. But when you're a completely unproven comic writer with no published work, getting an artist to commit to a full book (especially when you can't pay them up front) is damn near impossible! But getting relatively new artists who are hungry to showcase their talents to commit to a 5 page story is very doable. So, instead of going for the full story first, I started writing these short 5 pagers and getting as many artists involved as I could. I figured, it was a great showcase piece for them, and if the book did well, it would make it much easier for me to find a full-time artist to work with on the longer story!

ZW: Who were your indie and zombie influences in creating Jesus Hates Zombies?

SL: As far as writing comics goes, my influences were definitely Steve Niles and Robert Kirkman. Kirkman is a freakin' genius. No matter what genre that guy decides to write, he kills it. It's amazing. And Niles is the same way. Those two are really responsible for bringing horror back into comics, as far as I'm concerned. On the indie front there's a book called Living With Zombies by Matt Billman and Christopher Herndon that I adore. It's funny and irreverent and fantastic. As far as zombie influences go, I absolutely LOVE the dead-pan humor of Max Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide. It was brilliant. And his follow-up, World War Z, was even better. I'm also infatuated with Romero's original Night of the Living Dead. As far as I'm concerned, no zombie movie has ever come close to it. But I think you'll also see some influences from Shaun of the Dead and Bubba Ho-Tep in my work as well.

ZW: How would you say your book is different from the other zombie comics out there these days?

SL: I'd say the vast majority of the zombie comics out there go for the gore. A lot of times, the story seems secondary to the gore. And that's cool. I'm definitely down with that. The exception, obviously, would be The Walking Dead. No other book has ever fused the amount of storytelling with the amount of gore (and it's freakin' black & white) that Kirkman does. It's amazing. Me? I wanted to take it in a different direction. I wanted it to be funny. I wanted it to be wacky, but not so far out there that you lose people. More than anything, I wanted it to be fun. I think the sense of fun is missing from a lot of mainstream comics these days. Everything is heavy and deconstructionist. I just wanted to take people on a journey that they could enjoy.

Art by Steve Willhite

ZW: Finally, I promised artist Deborah Valentine, who is a vocal atheist, that I would ask you her question: “How can an unsubstantiated mythical figure hate anything, including the undead?

SL: This question again? I get asked this at LEAST a dozen times a day! ;) Hey, I can dig what Deborah's saying. I don't believe 99.9% of the crap I was fed in Catholic school. In answer to her question... he couldn't. An unsubstantiated mythical figure exists only in the minds of those who believe in it. But then, isn't that everything? Without our conscious (and unconscious) minds telling us what it is we see, hear, taste, touch and smell, wouldn't NOTHING exist? So, in this one little corner of my warped mind, Jesus does exist -- as do angels and werewolves and zombies and all manner of shit that my conscious mind tells me isn't real. I don't care if people do or don't believe in Jesus. Just believe in MY Jesus. Hey-- I sound like a religion now!

ZW: I ask because one could assume your book is poised to set off religious debate by making Jesus a swearing, smoking, fighting, car-stealing zombie hunter. At the same time, the book feels kind of non-religious despite the fact that God and Jesus are characters. The stories never feel like they’re taking shots at Christianity or trying to undermine the faith. Has your book ever sparked any religious controversy? Is this something you openly welcome?

SL: I certainly didn't write the book to piss off anyone who believes in Catholicism or Christianity or God or any of that shit. Sure, it's bound to upset some people, but that was never my intent. Comedy that's simply mean spirited just isn't funny to me. But comedy that's fearless is! And that's where I try to align myself. Mel Brooks is a comedy genius not because of the inflammatory stuff he puts out there, but because of the fearless manner in which he does it. That's how I want to do it. That being said, my book actually hasn't sparked any controversy. And I think that's mainly because it's small potatoes. If it really got any big-time recognition, I think the religious zealots would come out of the woodwork to denounce it, even without reading it and realizing that ultimately, it's a book about the power of faith (be it faith in family, friends, god, whatever...). Yeah, I'm definitely open to a little controversy. I'll gladly engage in a conversation with anyone who feels offended by the book... as long as they take the time to read

And you should all read it! Jesus Hates Zombies is available from the Alterna Comics store, but The Zed Word is also giving away two free copies of Jesus Hates Zombies: Those Slack-Jaw Blues (Contest ends Monday, June 22).

Stephen Lindsay is currently finishing work on the series Jesus Hates Zombies (feat. Lincoln Hates Werewolves). Also, keep an eye on his upcoming work:

* 'Necessary Horrors', a vampire tale set in Leeds, England in 1888 with artist Michael DiPascale
* 'Massive Awesome', the story of Commando Bacon and Zombie Pickle with artist Rolf Lejdegård
* 'Being Super', a superhero comedy about a group of former heroes in group therapy together with artist Fabrico Bohrer

Stephen Lindsay's also all over the net. You can catch him at his WEBSITE, on his FACEBOOK, or through TWITTER.

While you're on twitter, why not follow THE ZED WORD to find out more about what I'm up to and to be alerted of new interviews, contests, reviews, and features,