Rob Anderson, Panda Dog Press, hits the market with a comics featuring animals. He combines his love for comics and animals. In his most recent comic series, Rex Zombie Killer, Anderson tells the story of a pack of animals surviving a zombie apocalypse. Another Anderson series,Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit tells the story of an Animal Control unit focusing on genetically modified and odd animals.
What attracted you to comics as a fan?
Rob Anderson: I practically learned to read from the Sunday newspaper strips and comic books, so it must have been the artwork and imaginative concepts at first. I can still remember straining so hard to understand the words – I wanted to read them so bad! I was 15.
Just kidding! That was before I started school, of course.
That is very similar to how native American writer Sherman Alexie credits learning to read.
What was your favorite comic as a younger reader? When did that change?
Anderson:As a really small child, I loved Disney comics, stuff with animals, all kinds of monsters (if you count Casper the Friendly Ghost as a monster). I graduated to books like Where Monsters Dwell or Monsters on the Prowl, then made the leap to superhero books via Fantastic Four, I think because I saw the Thing as a monster. So probably Fantastic Four first, then I shifted to the Avengers. Fantastic Four #111, with the Thing fighting the Torch on the cover, is the book I cite as my “first” comic, because that was when I got hooked on the idea of continued stories and became a real fan. It ended with a shot of the Thing and the Hulk about to fight. A lot of years passed before I got to read the end of that story!
In my first news report on this comic, I mislabeled it a web comic. It was an easy mistake to make and one that was also easy to fix when you pointed it out. It is an especially easy mistake because so many fine works are being created online. So, in 2011, why did you chose to create a small press print comic instead of a web comic?
Anderson: I love web comics, I read and enjoy them, and maybe I’ll do one in the future. But I had the ideas for Animal Control SCU and Rex, Zombie Killer many years ago, before I was even aware of web comics. Animal Control goes all the way back to like 1990, when the news stories broke about Alba, a rabbit that was spliced with a jellyfish to glow in the dark. So, the answer is really that’s just what I had my heart set on for those stories from the beginning.
Why did you decide to found Panda Dog Press rather than court another press to print your work?
Anderson: It’s just a reality of the current marketplace that if you’re a new writer and want to get your work out there, you’ll probably need to self-publish something first, so that’s what I did. I think of Panda Dog Press as an “imprint” or a personal brand, I guess. The plan now is that my first two miniseries will be distributed via another publisher, and I’m close to that being official, but the initial launch of each title’s preview issue was under the PDP banner.
The upcoming deal sounds exciting, but I understand you’re staying close lipped at the moment. Keep us posted.
Let’s shift gears. You have worked with a variety artists in the past few works. How do you find artists to collaborate with when you begin a new project?
Anderson: It’s really varied. Some folks I connected to via the Internet, directly seeking an artist for a gig. That’s how I met my collaborator on Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit, Leandro Panganiban, as well as my letterer/designer, E.T. Dollman. Others I met at conventions, which is how I met my Rex collaborator, DaFu Yu. Still others, now, I’m meeting through mutual friends. So, “however I can” is the honest answer.
Speaking of convention meetings, besides our online correspondence we met at HeroCon in Charlotte this year. It gave me a chance to chat with you, buy a book, and later bring back friends to buy books too. At HeroCon, you mentioned that while Rex, Zombie Killer is a story you have been wanting to tell, it took a workshop for you to focus and write it down. Can you recap that for our readers?
Anderson: Sure! The class/workshop angle goes back even earlier, to my first project, Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit. I’d had that idea for more than a decade and had made multiple attempts at a script over the years, but was never satisfied with the results. Then Andy Schmidt, who runs a company called Comics Experience, *finally* started offering classes online in 2009. Before that, his classes were in-person in New York City, and I was just too far away to make that work.
So, his online Intro to Comic Book Writing course is what got me started down this path. He taught me a method of building the script, step-by-step, which really focused me. And beyond the script, he spent a LOT of time teaching us about the industry. By the time another year had gone by, I’d taken the Advanced Comic Book Writing course, published a couple comics, done conventions – and eventually quit my corporate day job and joined the staff at Comics Experience!
Currently, I help run the Comic Creators Workshop over there, which is an on-going forum, not a class, where people can get critiques of their scripts and art, in addition to interacting with pros like Andy, Robert Atkins, Chris Sotomayer, John Barber, and others; it’s a great place to improve your skills.
Anyway, I can honestly say taking that initial course not only helped me focus but also changed my life! (ha)
Where Rex, Zombie Killer fits into that story is I sat in on the most recent Intro to Comic Book Writing class again, and decided it was time to take a crack at that particular story, which I’d been wanting to make the time to do for a while. So, the class homework deadlines forced me to carve out time for a brand new project, basically.
Are those the only courses you’ve taken on comic writing?
Anderson: No, since I started really pursuing comic book writing, I’ve been taking every opportunity I get to learn. For example, I attended a MoCCA workshop on plotting taught by Paul Levitz, and a CBLDF workshop on pitching taught by John Layman. Both sessions were excellent.
Rex #0 came out recently. Issue #1 comes out early next year. At the con you mentioned upcoming storyline tidbits and teases. How long do you want this series to run?
Anderson: My initial goal is to get the four-issue miniseries out there and see how people react to it. But I have a much longer tale I’d like to tell, given the chance. There’s a definite end point to Rex, but I have enough stories to fill a number of miniseries, for sure.
Issue #0 brings the pack of household animals together with the sign language gorilla. This short introductory story is only a few pages. Will this connection be retold in issue #1 or will it pick up where it leaves off?
Anderson: I don’t plan to reprint the story from the zero issue in #1, but I will make it clear how they all got together as the miniseries begins. People can jump on with #1 with no problem.
Will we see flashbacks to the life before the zombie apocalypse or will this story only move forward in time?
Anderson: For the most part, the series will be moving forward. I haven’t written any flashbacks yet, but we’ll certainly be learning about the animals’ pasts, whether in flashback or not.
Will the animals ever find out how the outbreak started or will they remain clueless and survival directed?
Anderson: Rex is too smart not to be interested in that question, but whether they find out or not…I’d rather not say just yet.
That’s interesting that Rex is going to try to figure it out because of innate curiosity. In another wildly popular zombie story the characters haven’t found out in years, although in the TV adaptation they ended the first season with a plausible reason. It is interesting how some comics and movies find it necessary to reveal and some don’t.
I know from our discussion at HeroCon that to you Rex is not about being a zombie story, but instead is a post-apocolyptic setting that happens to use zombies as the device. One of the things that stuck out in our HeroCon conversation is that you don’t want people to think you are just jumping on the zombie bandwagon, but have been thinking about this story for years, although it has come out during this recent boom in zombie popularity.
Let’s shift gears away from Rex, and discuss Animal Control.
How long would you like to see your other series, Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit run?
Anderson: Whereas Rex, Zombie Killer has a definite end point, I feel like I could tell stories about the Animal Control SCU cast indefinitely. In issue #1 of ACSCU, you meet the full cast. It’s an ensemble book, so there’s endless stories there. But as with Rex, we’ll be starting with a 4-issue miniseries, early next year.
The common link between Rex and Animal Control: SCU is the animals. You mentioned that animals are a passion. With which animal centered charity do you most identify?
Anderson: I have a deep love for the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA in Virginia. I volunteered there for many years when I lived in Charlottesville and did everything from dog walking to helping them renegotiate their contracts. They’re the only shelter in the area – meaning they take every animal; they act as the local “pound” — and yet they have managed to become a successful “No Kill” shelter. It’s an amazing accomplishment and a model that many other shelters are trying to emulate. I moved a couple hours away, unfortunately, and I miss it so much!
Since you’re putting together a Homeward Bound-type story, with a gorilla, and your animals talk, how do you hear the voices of the characters in your head?
Anderson: That’s a great question. I don’t hear any particular actor’s voice or anything like that, but each animal’s voice sounds very distinctive in my head. For example, Brutus the Pit Bull has a rough, growly tone, whereas Buttercup the Corgi has an upbeat, girlish voice.
I worked with a LOT of dogs volunteering at the SPCA, and each dog’s personality was so distinctive. You could “read” so much of what they were thinking from their face and body language — the strong ones, the stubborn ones, the ones who started out scared, or who just loved everyone from Day 1. So, thinking about it now, each felt like they had a distinctive voice that suited their appearance and personality. I suppose, in a way, I “hear” a voice for every animal I’ve ever worked with. But, oddly, I never really thought about that until just now. Funny.
Have you been following Super 8, the comic turned summer sci-fi movie?
Anderson: I know it’s out, I’ve seen a trailer that just shows the kids filming the train wreck, and I want to see it based on the creative team. I’m hoping to see it this weekend, in fact. But I’ve avoided reading anything about it so I can just experience it. And just last night, I was reading DC’s Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown, and in the center there was a Super 8 comic book inside that mentioned the Soviets sending a dog into space on the cover, and I thought “huh, wonder if there’s a dog angle in that movie?” I’ll go back and read the comic after I see the movie, but don’t tell me anything right now!
If you could write a self contained story about any pet of a superhero, what pet would you pick and why?
Anderson: Oh, geez, that’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child. As you can imagine, I love superhero pets. Let’s call it a tie between Krypto and Lockjaw, but there are so many I’d love to write.
What pets do you have at home?
Anderson: Right now, I have a silly, happy little Corgi mix dog and a spoiled, fluffy white cat. The cat insists on “helping” me with my writing most days. I don’t know how he can sleep on my arm when I’m typing, but he does.
For me, one of the very best things about writing is getting to hang out with my animals all day. But you could probably guess that from the comics I write!
Rex Zombie Killer
Rob Anderson-Writer/Publsiher, Panda Dog Press
DaFu Yu- Artist, Cover Artist #0
Paolo Chaz Gomez- Colorist
Animal Control: Special Creatures Unit
Leonardo Panganiban- Pencils and Inks
E.T. Dollman-Letter and Logos
Check out the 3 page preview