Whether you're into the horror genre or not (and there's no denying the numbers and obsession), we are in the era of zombies. --- Post-apocalyptic, disease-ridden, genetic mutation, hell overflowing with the dead, or just the dumb luck of human society to be the only species that will walk the Earth until we rot to pieces, zombies have become a cornerstone in American pop culture, inspiring everything from parody music to survival kits. And while there's a far bigger essay to be written on that subject, today our focus is on more of the humor than the bloodshed.
At the very end of 2009, Ogden-based artist Carter Reid launched The Zombie Nation, a website dedicated to all things zombie including news and updates, zombie definitions, and most importantly, sketches by the artist himself that include his comicstrip of the same name. The strip itself has been running for over two years, earning Reid an online cult following from fans looking for a lighthearted look at the gruesome genre. Today, we chat with Reid about his art, the website and series, and thoughts on comics today.
Gavin: Hello, Carter. First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Carter: Sure. I’ve been a graphic artist for about 14 years and a lifelong zombie freak since I was old enough to be terrified of them. Sadly, I can’t take anything seriously for more than five minutes at a stretch and my big mouth and refusal to self edit gets me into tonnes of trouble. However, as long I don’t get arrested I’m cool with it; as I’m too pretty for prison. I wouldn’t do well there.
Gavin: What were some of your favorite comics growing up, and are there any specific comic artists who influenced your work?
Carter: I loved the old EC horror comics back before the “Comics Code” lobotomized American Comics. Tales From The Crypt and Weird War were my favorites. I’m not generally a fan of the “underwear on the outside” comics. I see enough of that at home and the magic is gone.
Gavin: What influenced you to start drawing, and what really pushed you to doing illustration?
Carter: That’s pretty easy. I was an out-of-control kid diagnosed with ADD and Hyper Activity Disorder. Drawing was about the only thing that could hold my attention for more than five minutes and keep me from lighting the house on fire. In desperation, my parents bought me all the pencils and paper I could ever need growing up.
Gavin: Did you seek out any professional training or education for it, or were you mainly self-taught?
Carter: Until I reached college, I was entirely self-taught. Then in college, I would butt heads with my professors about how much I never cared about the “Deep Inner Meaning” of art, and again I ended up being self-taught. Other than having a shiny but essentially useless degree, that was a lot of money for tuition I’ll never see again. Sadness.
Gavin: Professionally, you're a freelance artist; you create a lot of graphic art and design work. How has it been for you as a freelancer to make a career, and who are some of the people you've worked with since you started?
Carter: Freelance work can be incredibly rewarding or unbelievably frustrating. That almost entirely depends on your clients. When you get a client who appreciates your work and pays on time, you should cherish that person like they are made from solid gold and sprinkled with awesome dust.
Gavin: What made you decide to start your own comic, and where did the idea for The Zombie Nation come from?
Carter: I decided to do a comic for the express purpose that having a due date three times a week is a great motivator to get stuff drawn. Artists are notorious procrastinators, especially with their own work. Giving myself an artificial deadline has helped me learn discipline. As for the idea for The Zombie Nation, I needed an idea that I was passionate about and that I thought I could keep drawing for a long period of time. I’ve been fanatical about zombies since childhood, so it seemed the better choice rather than something I cared less about -- like, say, the plight of honeybees in our environment. I can’t do a heck of a lot a strips about bees ... maybe undead bees, though. I’ll think about that.
Gavin: Did you decide to go with traditional drawing styles or computer drawn, and why?
Carter: I started out doing it very traditional, but I have a slight problem. I have a permanent tremor in my hands that makes inking a comic very rage inspiring. So, I switched to inking my comic in Illustrator, which compensates for my tremor nicely and smooths out my lines. Now my comic is nearly 100% done in illustrator, and my wife is happier that I’m not swearing and cursing in my office anymore.
Gavin: What made you decide to go with a web comic rather than a traditional paperback book?
Carter: I didn’t start out with ideas of making this anything significant, and the immediacy of the web was too easy to be ignored. Now, of course, since I’m trying to use my comic to take over the world while grinding lesser men beneath my booted heel and stealing their women, I still think I made the right choice.
Gavin: What were some of the first reactions from friends and family to it when you started publishing them online, and what kind of reception did you receive from average comic fans?
Carter: I am saddened by the complete lack of hate mail I’ve received. I try very hard to be a horrible ass and people still manage to like my work. It’s incredibly frustrating not to be making people angry and filled with rage. The one exception I’m happy to say are the in-laws. Their solid disapproval of the comic and everything I stand for gives me the motivation and willpower to keep going that I so desperately crave.
Gavin: You've earned a cult following with zombie fans and have received a lot of exposure through major genre websites and postboards. How is it for you to have that kind of a following from fans?
Carter: Wait a second -- I have a CULT?!! That is awesome, I can’t wait to start abusing my power and start making up strange doctrine for my followers to do. Does that mean I don’t have to pay taxes, like churches? What am I saying? I don’t pay my taxes. That’s crazy talk. Wesley Snipes told me I don’t have to and it’s worked out well for him. Honestly, though, it’s pretty humbling to realize people take time out of their busy day to check out my nonsense. I didn’t realize they were my cult, though. This is going to be sweet.
Gavin: You've also earned a big following from online- and digital-comics fans. What's it been like for you earning that kind of respect from the online community, who are more prone to criticizing books than supporting them?
Carter: Well, I’m not entirely sure I’d say I’m respected. I’m pretty sure I’m just tolerated, really, with maybe a sprinkle of “Don’t look him in the eye and maybe he’ll go away” kind of attitude thrown in. When I’m looking for criticism, I hang out with my in-laws or channel the spirit of my ex-wife. Sometimes I thumb through the various restraining orders people have taken out on me and that keeps me humble.
Gavin: Do you have any major plans for the comic or the website, or are you liking things how they are?
Carter: Global domination is, of course, high on my list. I’m hoping to achieve this by putting out more books and eventually flash cartoons and games. If they ever make a movie based on my life, I’d like Brad Pitt to play me; not so much because I think I look like Brad Pitt -- I don’t -- but it will help me with my rich fantasy life, which involves Angelina Jolie to an alarming degree.
Gavin: Going a bit local, what's your take on the Utah comics scene, both good and bad?
Carter: We live in a pretty conservative state, there’s no denying it. But I think we have the same proportion of nerds and geeks that other states do, so the comics scene seems to me to be the same here as anywhere. However, living here does give me the opportunity to joke about my many, many wives and massive amount of children. I find that very satisfying.
Gavin: Who are some local artists and writers you read and recommend others check out?
Carter: Utah does have an incredible amount of writers in it. I was shocked at how many were there at the “Life, The Universe and Everything” convention. Some that I would recommend, and have had the good fortune to become friends with, are David Butler and Brad Torgersen; both talented writers who I can’t recommend enough.
Gavin: Going more national, what are your thoughts on the comics industry today?
Carter: There’s a slow and inevitable shift toward digital media. I don’t think it will replace printed comics, as there is something about holding the comic in your hands that can’t be replaced. But digital comics are going to take a bite out of those sales, though. I’m in a weird position, as I have the comic all online but I’ll be printing compilations to sell to people. I’ll have to find interesting ways to add value to the print version for people to buy.
Gavin: If you had to make a top five, what are your most favorite comics currently out?
Carter: Penny Arcade, Player Vs. Player, Chainsaw Suit, The Adventures of Dr. McNinja and Edmund Finney’s Quest To Find The Meaning Of Life.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and The Zombie Nation the rest of the year?
Carter: Oh, lots of manly stuff, of that you can be sure. Nope -- curling up in the fetal positions and weeping softly that I can’t take the pressure. You can rest assured about that.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Carter: There is, of course, me and my humble work on all things zombies and comics. Then, check out David Butler’s series Rock Band Fights Evil; I’ve been doing the covers of them and I love it. Brad Torgersen is a great sci-fi writer; you can check out his blog here. Also, for more of the incorporeal undead, check out Tom Carr at the Residual Hauntings Network because ghosts are scary and cool.
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