Chris Roberson: Fond Memories and Talking CatsA comics interview article by: Steve Morris
Chris Roberson is the writer of iZombie for Vertigo -- a series which will be concluding this August -- as well as several novels. He also wrote two miniseries spinning out of Bill Willingham's Fables series focused on the character of Cinderella and was one of the collaborators behind DC's House of Mystery. You can check out his back-catalogue more extensively at ComiXology, which also happens to be where you can (and should!) buy copies of his current miniseries for IDW: the brilliant Memorial.
Drawn by the wonderfully detailed, endlessly expressive Rich Ellis, Memorial is set in a somewhat fairytale world, filled with pirates and ninjas and shadow-people, kicking off when lead character Em falls through a magic door, ends up in another world, and… well, let's let the interview explain it for you.
Steve Morris for Comics Bulletin: Memorial is about the story of a girl called Em, who steps through a doorway into another world. Another, really weird, world. It's a lot like a modern-day fairytale, complete with myths, monsters, heroes and pirates. What initially inspired you to write this kind of story?
Chris Roberson: It was a mix of influences, actually. I was thinking a lot about the kinds of fantasy stories that have been popular in children's literature since the nineteenth century and what those kinds of stories had in common. And I had a real desire to construct a world that could be explored in many different kinds of stories, like the worlds of the BBC's Doctor Who and Neil Gaiman's Sandman. But beyond the things that inspired the story itself, I was also trying to capture the feeling that I had as a reader when I first encountered the stories of writers like Roger Zelazny and Diana Wynne Jones.
CB: The story is filled with secrets and mysteries -- Em's identity, her purpose, the door she stepped through. When you first thought of the story, which parts of it came to mind first? Which parts worked themselves into the plot as you started to build on it?
Roberson: The first image that I had, almost a decade ago now, was of a young woman in a strange antique shop that travelled from place to place while she was inside. Everything else built on from there.
CB: Did you decide to have the door be green as a tribute to Shakin' Stevens?
Roberson: That was one of the reasons that the door is green, actually! Another is that one of the very early examples of the "wandering magic door" appeared in a story by H.G. Wells, "The Door in the Wall," in which the door in question is green.
CB: You've said that you plan to write Memorial as a succession of mini-series, in the same fashion as Locke & Key. Have you already worked out what will happen in each one, or are you saving space to introduce new ideas as they come to you?
Roberson: A little bit of both. I know what happens in the next series and have a lot of ideas for what can happen after that, but I'm leaving myself lots of room to improvise along the way, if I think of something better.
CB: Should we expect Em to remain the central character as things go on, or are you looking to jump around to other characters and explore more elements of the greater universe?
Roberson: Em will continue to be the central character in Memorial, but she won't always necessarily be the one that we spend the most time with. She's our viewpoint on this world, though, and so when we meet new characters it will be through her eyes.
CB: Em is established early-on as having no memory of her past or where she came from. What's it like to write about a character who doesn't know what her own character is? Is it hard to write someone like her as a protagonist?
Roberson: It brings with it certain advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that the viewpoint character doesn't know any more than the reader does, and so the reader discovers things about the world as the character does. The disadvantage is that it's sometimes harder to establish a character's personality if they are still in the process of defining themselves.
CB: Will Em's backstory be one of the more long-term storylines, or are you planning to resolve and explain her by the end of this first mini?
Roberson: Many questions will be answered by the end of the first miniseries, but more questions will be raised.
CB: One thing I've really appreciated about Memorial is that is seems to be suited for all-ages. There's no language, and no strong violence. Was that a conscious decision?
CB: There are a lot of moments throughout the first four issues where the characters seem to be inadvertently breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the reader about subjects like imagination and narrative. Would it be fair to describe Memorial as a commentary on storytelling as a medium?
Roberson: Maybe not so much on a conscious level, but in as much as Memorial is about stories and history and memory, some of that sort of commentary is bound to creep in, here and there.
CB: Schrodinger the talking cat appears to be an immediate fan-favorite. He's certainly a me-favorite. What is it about talking cats that is so great?
Roberson: It's because cats are normally so inscrutable, forcing people to guess what they're thinking. With a talking cat, you don't have that problem, because they'll just tell you!
CB: Did you consider having a different talking animal to begin with? Like a talking bunny rabbit?
Roberson: I actually considered a whole menagerie's worth of different animals before settling on a cat. In hindsight, as so often happens, the answer was obvious.
CB: Your world is split into several different lands, each with their own purpose. They're called "Is," "Maybe" and "Was," based on what lives there. Schrodinger's cat may or may not exist, for example, so he lives in Maybe. Based on this, where would unicorns live in the world of Memorial? (Yes, I am asking you if you believe unicorns are real or not.)
Roberson: In my personal view, unicorns would reside in the land of Maybe. If they did exist previously and have been forgotten, though, it might be because Moment has stolen them away to the Everlands.
CB: You're dancing around it, but I get the feeling that you secretly DO believe unicorns are real. As should we all, amen.