“ZOMBIES VS ROBOTS” IDW’s Unique Book Program Explained by Jeff Conner/IDW Publishing

Today I’m pleased to be posting this “guest post” by Jeff Conner of IDW Publishing to introduce their new line of prose books:

IDW’s Unique Book Program Explained
by Jeff Conner/IDW Publishing

As a contributing editor for IDW Publishing it’s my job to produce a line of prose collections, a relatively new venture for a company that most readers associate with award-winning comics, graphic novels, and art books. And by “produce” I mean commission work from writers and artists, edit their texts and critique their images, and finally design the book and set the type.

For now IDW is concentrating on original short story collections, which is great since short stories require more craft and creativity (science has proved this). Also, the short story format allows us to work with top writers in their fields (those fields being horror, fantasy, science fiction, and thriller/modern crime). Since IDW is all about putting words and pictures together, most of our prose titles are also fully illustrated, often in full color. So it’s win-win, from my perspective, and for the book buyer, of course.

Yes, I really love books, in much the same way that Uncle Scrooge loves money. Not to get too Reading Rainbow-y, I do believe they can be repositories of magic (the good ones anyway), and can have the added benefit of being cool art objects, giving a unique context to its contents. With each new prose project we strive to achieve something that is more than just words on paper (or a screen, dammit). Whether we succeed is for you to judge, but that’s the core goal, from the design standpoint.

But before we can get to that point, the writers and artists have to do their thing. With Classics Mutilated we took on the pernicious notion of mashup fiction, after that we did us some G.I. Joe with Max Brooks as guest editor, and now with THIS MEANS WAR! we’re exploring the apocalyptic world of Zombies vs. Robots. It’s a big world to be sure and we’ll be roaming around in it for quite some time. Years, in fact.

Just what is Zombies vs. Robots—besides the most awesomest concept ever?

ZVR first shambled and clanked to life as a comic book in 2006, the spawn of an unholy union between Australian master visualist Ashley Wood, and debonair scripter Chris Ryall (also IDW’s editor-in-chief). Originally conceived as simply a platform for them to stage insane robot-zombie fights (because who doesn’t love that), the four-issue miniseries was an unexpected hit with both fans and critics. A second miniseries was duly issued, this time with Amazons in the mix (because there was a criminal lack of naked women in the first series). Again, success! And a movie deal as well, with Sony Pictures optioning ZVR for Platinum Dunes, Michael Bay’s production company. (The project is currently in the script stage.)

Following Ash Wood’s return to Australia (he’d been working out of IDW’s secret California lair during); Chris Ryall continued writing new ZVR tales, collaborating with a rotating roster of artists. After a brief hiatus, more ZVR comics are currently in the works, this time with Ryall taking a purely editorial role as new writers and artists bring their talents to bear. So really, ZVR has taken on an unlife of its own.

By way of brief explanation, in the ZVR “origin story” a time-traveling scientist inadvertently brings back “Z spores,” which have the unfortunately effect of turning humans into rabid brain-eaters. Desperate, the military initiates a crash robot-building program, figuring that metal constructs would be immune to zombie bites. In retrospect the decision to help program these clunky warbots by using ’80s action movies was perhaps ill-considered. Now legions of wise-cracking bots are gleefully taking on the zombie hordes, with us squishy humans trapped in the middle.

Bringing ZVR into its prose incarnation required that a bit of discipline be administered to this “anti-continuity” series. We ultimately commissioned 36 stories, and for them to successfully inhabit the same universe, a few guidelines had to be established. These were mostly fanboy concerns, like the mechanics of the Z virus, or in what ways warbots differ from docbots. (Man, do those fanboys keep you honest!) For awhile I was driving Ryall crazy with pestering inquiries, but ultimately it worked out great and the writers had tons of fun.

Also, it was important not to simply adapt the comic book plots. The whole point of these stories is to present wholly original adventures from the fevered brains of our award-winning horror, thriller, and dark fantasy authors. To that end each story is a stand-alone work that doesn’t require prior exposure to the ZVR comics, just the ability to operate standard English.

In alphabetical order, THIS MEANS WAR! features the work of Jesse Bullington, Nancy A. Collins, Lincoln Crisler, Brea Grant, Robert Hood, Nicholas Kaufmann, James A. Moore, Norman Prentiss, Rachel Swirsky, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Rio Youers. Co-creator Chris Ryall contributes an introductory essay detailing the origins of Zombies vs. Robots. All of these folks have signed the limited edition.

The book’s evocative art work comes courtesy of an exciting IDW discovery, one Fabio Listrani, a young artist based in Rome. Each story features an original, full-cover illustration, and Fabio provided a striking wrap-around cover as well. We’ll be working with Fabio on future ZVR books (but not all of them, we like to switch things up).

Fabio, who also plays guitar in an underground metal band, was really enthusiastic about depicting the ZVR world. (After all, classic Italian exploitation cinema reinvented the zombie film, in much the same way it appropriated the Western a decade earlier.) In other words, Fabio really brought his A game to this project, and it shows. I am so pleased that IDW opted to print THIS MEANS WAR! as a full-color book; there is gorgeous art throughout, with numerous decorative illuminations and subtle textural elements—all very unusual for prose collection.

THIS MEANS WAR! is the first of at least five ZVR prose books that IDW will be releasing over the next 18 months or so. Each release will either have a limited edition version or be issued only as a limited release. Naturally they’ll feature special binding, slipcases, and signature pages, along with unique design and construction elements. And relatively low numbers in terms of availability. In the past I’ve produced limited editions with Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, Robert Bloch, and Karl Edward Wagner, among others. These new IDW projects will build upon that legacy and I hope you’ll be along for the journey.

Jeff Conner
Contributing Editor,
IDW Publishing