Sam Humphries is a writer who joyfully and explicitly depicts his readers as brainless, drooling humanoids. Yet, he's pretty quick to defend them.
"Dude, you keep trying to get me to rag on certain fans," he says, laughing. I laugh too, but really, he's right.
You can't blame me for being a little skeptical of Humphries: It's hard to believe there's not a little contempt going into his comic, Fanboys vs. Zombies. The plot follows a group of super-friends who take it upon themselves to defend Comic-Con after a zombie outbreak spreads through the San Diego Convention Center. In Humphries' books, nerds, movie stars and (perhaps most terrifying) publicists are blood-thirsty monsters, shambling over each other to fulfill their basic needs.
And when they become zombies, shit gets really nasty.
Therein lies my skepticism. Since the original Night of the Living Dead, the genre has been ripe for social commentary; for everything from war to consumerism, a zombie has been there, shuffling forward an agenda. To think of Fanboys vs. Zombies as a cynical critique of nerd culture isn't out of line.
Or worse: that Humphries' creation is an exploitation of the zombie craze that's prevailed for the last decade. For every brilliant Shaun of the Dead or even Zack Snyder's inspired Dawn of the Dead remake, there are a thousand stripper-, Nazi- or Victorian-zombie variations that cash-in on the success. Having been a super-fan even before 2002's 28 Days Later hit big (ask and I'll show you my four-disc special edition of the original Dawn of the Dead signed by George Romero himself ), the idea of Fanboys seems to veer dangerously close to bandwagoning on the craze—immediately gratifying sustenance for the hordes at Comic-Con who are already whipped into a frenzy.
These are my points of contention during the phone interview with Humphries, so it's a huge relief to hear that his love for zombies is free of irony and that portrayals of fans are ultimately reverent to the culture with which he grew up. When prompted for his favorite zombie flick, he responds with Night of the Comet, a b-grade-yet-strangely-lyrical film from the 1980s that few new-school fans have ever seen. He passes the zombie test.
"Let me just say this: Comic-Con is full of ridiculous people, myself included. That's what makes Comic-Con so great," he says. "And having a book like Fanboys vs. Zombies—you get to use zombies as a way to lovingly mock the entire Comic-Con experience. You get that first shock of initial horror and revulsion of seeing humans turned into the walking dead, seeing humans diseased and desiccated with their faces falling off, feasting on brains. But you also get to cut that horror with the humor of parody and spoofing the Comic-Con experience that we all love."
Having spent 11 consecutive years at the convention, Humphries has earned enough clout to parody the experience. He first came to the Con working as a consulting editor for a publishing company that was bringing Japanese manga comics to America. However, in 2010 he decided to embark on his own career writing comics.
The transition wasn't as smooth as he'd hoped. He had a couple short stories published, but without any major projects in the pipeline, his career would be dead in its second year. He turned to self-publishing.
Last year, he self-published Our Love is Real, a story about a post-apocalyptic military state where citizens fu—er, make love to plants. The buzz that that comic garnered caught the attention of comic publisher Boom, who put out Fanboys vs. Zombies. Since then, he's worked with comic titans Image, Dark Horse and Marvel, which hired him to write for its Ultimates and John Carter lines. (During the Marvel interview, Humphries says, "I kind of had to stop them and say, Are you sure that you read [Our Love is Real]? Are you sure? A hard sci-fi book about dog sex and plant sex and crystal sex is going to get me in the door to Marvel comics?'")
The string of sudden successes secured Humphries a residency at Comic-Con—this year, he's promoting no less than five books and appearing on as many panels—and cements his status as an authority on what to do when or if a zombie outbreak happens in San Diego.
"In some ways, Comic-Con is the worst place for a zombie outbreak to happen because you got 165,000 people, all in one confined space, so a zombie outbreak would not take very long to spread and consume the entirety of San Diego Comic-Con.
"On the other hand, San Diego Comic-Con is the best place for a zombie outbreak to occur because you got 165,000 who have grown up on comic books, who have seen every horror movie and have battle-tested their reflexes with every combat video game. You would be surrounded by all these nerds with everything that you need to know to survive the zombie apocalypse."
His zombie and nerd love confirmed, I ask him for some tips for surviving the zombie apocalypse when or if it happens at Comic-Con. He offers up these fleshy morsels:
1. Stay away from the food.
"Whether there's a zombie apocalypse happening or not, don't eat the food at the convention center. That is the one thing that never changes at Comic- Con: It's always bad. It's been exactly the same for 11 years," he says. This feeling is so strong that Humphries made a convention center hot-dog the source of the virus in Fanboys.
"But if you need zombie-killing fuel, Pop-Tarts are a pretty classic Comic-Con snack. They're portable, they're full of sugar to get your heart racing and they're fucking delicious."
2. Cut the toy collectors from your group. "Their collection is too big and too bulky. It's just going to slow you down."
3. Land, sea or air: Which escape route is best? "It's got to be the pedi-cabs. San Diego pride!"
Sam Humphries will appear on these panels during Comic-Con: Thursday, July 12: 10 to 11 a.m.: Marvel: Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way; noon to 1 p.m.: Editing Comics the BOOM! Studios Way; 1 to 2 p.m.: Dark Horse: Powered by Creators—An In-Depth Look at the Best in Creator-Owned Comics. Friday, July 13: 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.: Marvel: Ultimate Comics. Saturday, July 14: 4 to 5 p.m.: BOOM! Studios / KaBOOM! / BOOM! Town Panel.
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