Juan Navarro: A Year in the Life of a Zombie WriterA comics interview article by: Mike Prezzato
Want to meet a hardcore zombie fanatic? His name is Juan Navarro and oh yeah...he also does a comic and its about zombies! His sick dedication to those undead brain suckers can be found atZombieYears.com. In addition to writing and illustrating the successful web-comic, Juan always goes the extra mile on his site, whether it be his takes on how to survive the zombie apocalypse, giving other artists exposure with their fan art, or his constant insight into all things zombie related.
Mike Prezzato: How long have you been working on Zombie Years?
Juan Navarro: I’ve been working on Zombie Years for a good 3 years now -- since 2008. Originally I had the story bumping around my brain since 2003 or so, after watching “Dawn of the Dead” one night with a friend, and we just daydreamed what a Zombie Attack would look like in Miami. I always wanted to get back to those ideas and Zombie Years is the result.
Prezzato: The comic takes place in Miami, a unique zombie setting. Your environment and heritage are definitely projected into your work. How do you think your personal take differentiates from the same old zombie-apocalypse routine?
Navarro: What is it they say, “there are only seven types of stories to tell?” Now add that along the adage of “write what you know” and that’s pretty much my approach. I can tell only the stories I can tell, so it would be from the point of view of having a Latin American background and living a very Latin-influenced city. Now it’s still America, but in a different way. Plus I like showing Latin Americans who don’t talk like fucking idiots.
Prezzato: How many issues/pages have you created so far?
Navarro: We’re currently churning through Issue #4, three issues in the can, with Issue #1 now just coming out of the printers and hitting the cons.
Prezzato: Who are the characters in your comic and where is the storyline headed so far?
Navarro: Well, my thing with Zombie Years, aside from trying to have fun locally with the horror genre, was also to test it, to see how far you can take something like surviving the zombie apocalypse. In the beginning of the comic, we meet Frank in the middle of the story and see how far along he is in being a scavenger and survivor. We see flashes back to the beginning, and then his partner shows up, Eusebio. Seb, as I like to call him in the book, is an old Cuban paramilitary type, wiry and cunning. Like many of those folks in Miami, he was paranoid of everything, and it’s that paranoia that allows him to survive.
We see the odd friendship between Frank and him, and later on Delilah in the series. There is slowly a population coming forth in the book and we’ll start seeing, that inevitably, humans, for being what they are, will expand and grow, and this bug, this itch to go past survival touches on them. Hence the mention of the “Plan” that will soon be coming.
Prezzato: What was your mind set going into this project-long term dedication, or did it sort of snowball into something bigger than your initial intention?
Navarro: Little of both. I think getting into a new book you have to be open to anything. Maybe you say everything in a few pages, or you say “fuck this” and abandon it. Maybe you write yourself into a corner one year, and then find a whole new angle later on. Now I want something huge, I think there is a gorgeous story that can be told that will be swooping and far reaching but also concise and personal. But that’s the high wire act right there, trying to get that across, that bit. It’s going to be fun.
Prezzato: As you’re the zombie expert, I must ask you…I’ve had a long running argument with a friend about if zombies can swim. I say no, they can't, although I do concede that some could possibly float, which, of course is not the same as swimming. What do you think? Have you encountered this situation yet in the book, being that Miami is of course, on the water?
Navarro: Hmmmmm, well without revealing too many secrets on the sense of how my zombies work, (it’s a clincher) you have to figure what kind of zombie you’re dealing with; you’ve got your plague/blood zombies which tend to run, like in “28 Days later”. You have your classic Romero zombies, slow moving and stiff but efficient and swarming. Finally, the crazy-ass “Resident Evil”/video game mutation zombies.
So that being established, write-off mutant zombies because really they can do whatever the fuck they want. Then that leaves you with the blood zombie and Romero zombie; I for one don’t think the Romero zombie would stay afloat for shit but hit the bottom and keep walking. Now there is something to be said about the water and rotting flesh, with all those microbes around it’ll just turn the zombie into fish feed in very little time, if not soften the hell out of them. So Romero zombie wouldn’t swim they would sort of soften up for you and walk across the bottom of the water until they get out or are eaten by the sea life.
That leaves blood/plague zombies.... hmmm.... if only we could get someone hopped up on PCP to run across a lake, see if they swim, as a type of analog to it. That's how I see it.
So no they would not swim, but assuming there are no critters in the water, they would be able to cross on the bottom.... though they would dissolve a lot faster from the parasites inside too.
Prezzato: The first few things that pop into my mind when I see your art are early Mirage TMNT, and that great late '80s Arrow/Caliber zombie comic Dead World, with art by Vince Locke. That whole gritty black/white/gray feel...and of course the occasional (and necessary...) red.
Navarro: I love that assessment you made on the drawing style and such, because really that's what I love and was sort of going for. I grew up on those old TMNT and various Punk, Metal, and Skate Zines so those had a huge influence on me. So yeah you could say that's what’s coming out in Zombie Years too.
Prezzato: Tell us about the printed collection of the web comic. What page format are you going with? That is to say, are strips presented how they are on the web page, or is there an attempt to recreate a standard comic page size, piecing together strips in the printed version? Who is putting out the collection?
Navarro: When I first started working in Web Comics, I unfortunately found that the 11x17 format we regularly use to make comics doesn’t translate well into a computer screen and just scrolling down can mess up the reading experience so after doing a whole comics series on Graphicsmash.com, called VIGIL, and messing with formats, I came around and started working on a more cartoonist/Sunday paper sort of size that fits the screen.
Now that I hooked up with Creature Entertainment and we decided on printing the series, we knew we had to find a way of printing the size it is. Since it was made in that way, it should be read in that way. Luckily we were able to work that out with our printer.
Prezzato: Personally, I think that printed comics are a more legitimate realization of a creators work, in that it takes a bit more dedication, on your and the publishers part, to put out a book than to simply publish your work online. I realize that comics are much more accessible via the internet, but it still seems more of a stepping stone towards that goal of being published.
Do you find more satisfaction in seeing your work in print, or is simply producing it and having it in either format just as gratifying to you?
Navarro: Oh Hell yeah! I mean I grew up reading comics in my hand, feeling the paper, to see something I did, printed right in front of me is a HUGE satisfaction. I mean, it's going to be generational, to a certain degree because maybe our grand kids will turn around after telepathically reading their adventure games and look at us as crazy old barbarian men who read their entertainment on dead wood.
All in all, even for an independent comic book maker, anyone out there who puts together a comic book, be it on web or print, it’s an endeavor like you wouldn't believe. You could possibly read a comic in 10-15 minutes but I might have taken a month or two to make it, so it’s a labor of love. The last step, when you send it to print means a lot; it means you’re willing to put your nuts on the chopping block and say “hey look I made a comic book, come get me!” It’s fucking great.
Prezzato: Tell us about your first Zombie Years short film "Thanks Grandpa". Do you have any plans for more shorts?
Navarro: We are planning various ideas for that, and I'm currently working on another short film script. We hope to garner enough attention for a feature but for now we’re glad to be making more and more short films to really let people know what we’re doing. Alongside the web comic, digital comics on Graphic.ly, and the films bring another dimension both to the Zombie Years line but also to the rest of the Creature Entertainment line of books and films.
Prezzato: You obviously have an affection for the Walking Dead, with good reason. Following the success of that television show, and your interest in short film making, do you think there is a viable chance at making a run at some sort of mainstream Zombie Years production?
Navarro: Oh absolutely, and I think it’s mainly because we’re talking about another subset of American culture, that Miami Culture. When you look at Cubans, or Haitians or any other immigrant culture there, they’ve been through some shit. Not zombie level shit, but some really horrid shit on their own, so I imagine in that instance they may survive a bit better.
Plus the “Magic City” is just an odd place, a place with lots to give in the sense of ideas and approaches. Nobody sees a sunny horror movie, and I want to make that, something right in front of you plain as anything, scaring the hell out of you. Fun.
It gives a whole slew of ideas to play with for these characters.
Prezzato: How much zombism can fans take? Is there room for more than one zombie tv show?
Navarro: I don’t know. I think even the “Walking Dead” is hard to swallow for most folks to tell you the truth. I mean I am obviously biased since I love both the zombie genre of horror films and everything that has to do with comics, so it’s hard for me to say no. I think you just need to be careful with the pay off. You have to give the audience something to keep them going because if not, people after a while, will just be done with you and walk away. I think the “Walking Dead” was scared of that and that’s how you got silly shit like that bunker and all that, it’s just something to goad a wider audience than those who have read the book, but hopefully now on a regular playing field, Frank Darabont and company will do something awesome with it.
Prezzato: Any other big plans, comic con appearances, etc, in the future for ,em>Zombie Years?
Navarro: Well depending when this comes out, we’ll be hitting Orlando Megacon at the end of March and then I think we have Heroescon in June in Charlotte. We were planning to hit the New York Comic Con in October but that whole construction thing they have going on does not excite me for shit.
Plus we will be doing small shows all around the place in Miami, mostly at any comic shop that will have us.
Prezzato: Last question: you can only watch one zombie movie for the rest of your life. What do you pick?
Navarro: Good God, that is a hard question and an easy question, because one tends to over think the fuck out of it, but I would have to say “Shaun of the Dead”. I know, I know, it’s not a classic like “Evil Dead”, or “Night of the Living Dead” but it’s the one that probably has the right amount of humor, drama, and horror that I like, that I aspire to. I can watch it again and again and not get bored.