April 10, 2010

Brain Picking: Interview with Creators of Zombie Roomie

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(creators Zombie Roomie web comic)
What would you do if you woke up to find a zombie in your apartment? Grab the shot gun and aim for a head shot? Seek out the voodoo witch doctor and make him break the spell? Barricade yourself in your bedroom and pray for salvation? Well, if you're John from the web comic Zombie Roomie, you'd probably join the zombie for breakfast and discuss Star Trek vs. Star Wars because the zombie is helping you pay the rent.

Filled with nerd humour, zombies, monsters, and the occasional celebrity cameo, Zombie Roomie is a comedy web comic by co-creators John Wigger (artist and creator) and Bill Mofield (primary writer). While their characters John and George the zombie went out for beers with Zedward (the Zed Word's faithful mascot), co-creators Wigger and Mofield stayed behind to answer a few questions.

Zed Word (ZW): What brought you two together to work on Zombie Roomie?

John Wigger (JW): Yeah, I met Bill through my [college] freshman resident adviser, as he was part of a role-playing game group that Bill was part of. So, being friends with Bill for more than a decade, I knew we had some similar tastes and found some of the same things to be funny.
John knows that when George and Zedward 
start drinking the night's not going to end well

I was looking for something to do to be productive and coming from an art background that was going to waste while just playing World of Warcraft. I thought of doing a webcomic. I had committed myself to doing a comic; I just hadn't come across the idea of what that comic was going to be. It was [during] a month or so of random ideas and trying to come up with jokes/premises for a very general comic that I came up with a gag that involved a zombie... and BAM, the ideas for jokes were coming in fast and furiously. I quickly decided that this zombie would need someone to play off of and that I couldn't have him just be a moaning, mindless walking corpse... he needed to have personality.

Bill Mofield (BM): When John mentioned that he was planning to start a web comic featuring a human/zombie odd-couple, I had a few ideas for scripts almost on the spot. John was receptive to having some outside input on the comic, so I penned a few zombie jokes and sent them to him. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to be consistently funny in a four-panel setting, and I seemed to have a flair for humorous dialogue.

JW: The early strips of Zombie Roomie were designed to set the tone and establish the characters and their roommate relationship. Some of the scripts that Bill sent me fit that very well, so I would put them in with little to no editing. Other times his strips would be good, but, the tone of the comic wasn't ready for them so we'd have to stick them away for a later date, including some of the strips that just recently ran (notably the voodoo priest bit).

I would write out the script for a strip and I started to bounce them off of Bill and he'd send me some changes and punch in some one-liners. Pretty quickly, I started to send him rougher and rougher scripts that basically just had the theme of the joke I was looking to get across for the particular strip.

BM: As time went on, I began contributing more and more often. Finally, John asked if I wanted to come on board as the primary writer for the strip, and I agreed.

(ZW): Considering the popularity of zombie media, what do you feel Zombie Roomie offers that is unique?

BM: Probably the most unique facet of Zombie Roomie is that it features a zombie with personality. It’s uncommon in the genre to encounter anything but mindless shamblers or rampaging engines of death. George may not be alive and just might eat your brain, but he’s not an indiscriminate killer or a slave to his hunger. George’s ability to think and reason allows him to be just as colorful a character as any other, which helps create a very fertile ground for humor.

JW: Yeah, very early on with creating George I wanted to make him pretty different than your run of the mill zombie, but I wanted him to retain some core concepts that were true to being a zombie... like being undead, eating flesh and organs of people, etc. But, I wanted him to be a full character and have personality to play off of others in the comic. There's also a hinted at organizational structure to zombie culture in the fact that they've unionized as mentioned in an early strip.

[A]rguably the best zombie media uses the zombie apocalypse as a veil to discuss something important; Romero did it with Night of the Living Dead to talk about Civil Rights and in Dawn of the Dead to talk about American consumerism. I'm not saying that we deal with issues that have the same gravitas as that, but using the zombie and other supernatural creatures to reflect on different 'cultural' interactions was in the back of my mind when I sat down to create the various characters.

ZW: Aside from zombie humour, there's a fair bit of nerd humour in your comic. What are your influences in writing and drawing Zombie Roomie?

JW: When I was trying to come up with the world that Zombie Roomie would take place in, I knew it would have to revolve around pop culture and the aspects of it that I find interesting, or it wouldn't feel honest. You always hear, “Write what you know.” So, since I'm into comic books, video games, horror flicks, and all other manner of fanboy fetish whatnots... it was going to be part of any comic I came up with.

As far as drawing influences, I would have to say I really look at Lar deSouza (Least I Could Do and Looking for Group), Scott Kurtz (PvP), and Mike Krahulik (Penny Arcade). I've really tried to push myself to get the characters to be far more emotive and “cartoony” in the last few months... and to do that I've really studied how Lar does what he does with his comics. Beyond those three web comic artists, there are tons of print comic artists and traditional artists that I really dig, so I'm sure that their influences seep into my style in some fashion.

BM: My influences are far too numerous to easily list, but if you can think of a nerd-oriented (or should it be nerd-centric?) past-time, it’s almost a certainty that I’ve indulged at some point. I think the same is true for John. We’re geeky beyond belief, and the nerd humor in Zombie Roomie is basically unavoidable. Since you can never be certain what someone else is going to find funny, the best bet for a writer is simply to build a joke that makes you laugh and hope it’s got a blast-wave large enough to include your audience in the collateral damage. One of the great things about building the strip in a collaborative manner is that you always have a sounding board for every gag; it helps weed out references that are too obscure or of too narrow appeal, which is a serious hazard when you’ve achieved a level of geekdom equal to John and me.

JW: Yeah, Bill is correct... I'm a giant dork too.

ZW: As Zombie Roomie develops, I've noticed you are adding more supporting characters. Was this always the plan or does the nature of the humour require more characters to interact with John and George.

JW: I always wanted to have the other supporting characters show up, yes. That's why they're there to support the main characters. I know it sounds silly, but that's their role. Plus, we get to have different attitudes to have various jokes that couldn't be done with John or George because it would be against their established character.

BM: It’s a bit of both. John and I always planned that a large number of supernatural creatures would be routinely featured in the strip. Vladimir (the vampire), Francis (Frankenstein's monster), Jack (the wolfman), and Glenda (the witch) have always been a part of the Zombie Roomie roster. Others, however, like Sean (the apartment superintendent) , Valerie (the hippie neighbor), and Jean-Paul (the voodoo priest) were more organically developed. These spontaneous creations range from a one-shot character so charming we decide to bring him back (Sean) to a more deliberate creation intended to drive a particular piece of humor (Jean-Paul). I think the more John and George develop, the more frequently you’ll see new characters appearing to challenge and motivate them.

JW: Also, I wanted to let the supporting cast show up after a period of time where we got to “know” George and John. It wasn't until the third week of the comic that we introduced another character to the cast (that being George's goth girlfriend, Zoey). The comic needed to focus on the relationship between John and George first. Then, as characters that the two main characters knew were brought in, we'd see how they'd interact with the established folk. It ended up being almost two months before the other supernatural creatures appeared in the strip and a while again before we touched back with them in additional strips.

ZW: Would you rather have a zombie roomie or a vampire roomie? Why or why not?

JW: I'm over six and a half feet tall and weighing in at three hundred pounds... so, I'm pretty sure either a zombie or vampire would consider me a super-sized meal and I wouldn't last very long in the company of either.

But, if there was the off-chance that I wasn't going to be a tasty treat for them, I'm thinking I'd pick a vampire to live with [because] zombies outside of Zombie Roomie aren't much for conversation or motor skills, so it'd be boring and co-op video games wouldn't go over well. That, and vampires are typically shown to be much cleaner and long lived, so they might have a treasure trove of riches that could cover some really swank pad.

BM: That’s a fairly tough question. I think my answer would depend on what brand of vampire fiction you’re drawing from. If I could pick a hip, cool, self-controlled vampire like Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt, I’d definitely take the vampire. In fact, with a vampire as cool as Joe Pitt, I’m sure I’d quickly become the modern day equivalent of Stoker’s Renfield. If I had to live with one of the pathetic, whinging creations of Stephanie Meyer or Anne Rice, I’d rather feed myself to a zombie. It’s far better to be apocalypse fodder than run the risk of being turned into an Edward or Louis.

Zombie Roomie updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday @ http://www.zombieroomie.com