Zombie comic book series wants Eugene’s braaaains
This originally appeared in last week's Eugene Weekly, the February 16 issue. I angle for EW's cover story now and then, which is not to say I always land it, and I was honestly sort of surprised when my editor Rick Levin lobbied to put this particular story on the cover. I certainly didn't write it with that in mind. It does seem to have struck a bit of a chord, though, as more folks than usual have sought me out to tell me they liked it. Evidently the Association of Alternative Newsmedia was diggin' it, too, as they posted it to their top stories for the week.
Many thanks to Chris Roberson and Michael Allred for the interviews!
Eugene can be a contradictory place. Some find numerous opportunities here, seeing Eugene as a community full of music, culture, good food and outdoor adventure. Others characterize the city more prosaically, as a nice place to live, but maybe a little … lacking in diversions.
Count cartoonist Michael Allred in the former category. “Growing up in Roseburg, Eugene was always the exciting place to go,” he says. Allred, creator of the independent critical-darling comic book Madman, moved on to college in Utah (where he met his wife, comic-book colorist Laura Allred) and eventually lived for a time in Eugene. He later relocated to various points all around the country, and even to Europe. But Eugene always held a special place in his heart.
Now Allred is the artist of a comic book series that is not only set in Eugene, but also embraces the line our city walks between the everyday and the extraordinary.
Published by DC Comics’ imprint for adults, Vertigo, iZombie follows the adventures of Gwen Dylan, a UO dropout who hangs out in a diner, makes her living digging graves in an eco-friendly cemetery and who just happens to be an undead zombie.
Gwen, helped along by her friends Ellie the ghost and Scott the were-terrier (yes, you read that right), solves supernatural mysteries, eats the occasional brain and dodges an ancient order of monster hunters … all punctuated by routine trips to the diner for chocolate and coffee.
Comparing his work to a cross between Archie comics and Scooby-Doo, iZombie series writer and New York Times best-selling author Chris Roberson, who lives in Austin, Texas, says that balancing the mundane and the fantastic sides of Eugene is one of his goals. Roberson’s stories cleverly subvert the standard monster-movie formula by showing how the undead spend their down time.
“It’s almost required that the moment that someone becomes one of these supernatural beings, they become angsty,” Roberson says. “If I became a werewolf, I’d still be the person I am now, I’d just have some personal hygiene issues once a month, or have some self-control issues.”
Roberson, who has never visited Oregon, relies in large part on online street views to inform the sense of place inherent in his writing. But his collaborator Allred just moved back to Eugene after a stint on the Oregon Coast. Having one half of the creative duo based in the city where the story is set has its advantages.
Besides advising Roberson on details of Eugene geography and daily life, Michael Allred incorporates real Eugene landmarks into the comic’s illustrations, which are in turn brought to colorful life by Laura Allred.
In the Eugene of iZombie, vampires troll for dates at the Downtown Lounge. A UO science lab is used as a staging ground for communing with extra-dimensional beings. The Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson mansion at the base of Skinner Butte doubles as the home of a centuries-old Egyptian mummy. And the diner where Gwen and her spooky friends hang out is modeled on Fins Drive-In in Springfield.
Continue reading "Grave Concerns" at Eugene Weekly.