Interview: From Animation to Print With James Farr and ‘Xombie’
In 2003, James Farr posted online the first chapter of Xombie, a short film he produced using Flash animation, on the ‘Net. The eerie tale introduced viewers to Zoe, a young girl who finds herself alone in a zombie wasteland with no memory of how she came to be there, as well as a sentient zombie named Dirge who rescues her from the menacing flesh-eaters.
Four years, 10 episodes and 13 million views later, Xombie: Dead on Arrival (as the series was later named) is widely regarded as one of the InterWebs’ first "cult classic" original animated series, and Farr remains one of the most popular filmmakers from the early days of the Flash-animation scene. The series, with its well-scripted dialogue and pacing, as well as Farr’s use of talented voice actors who gave life — or rather, death — to many of the characters, continues to be held up as a prime example of the medium’s potential.
So, with a celebrated animated series behind him, what did the talented creator do next? He jumped into the world of comics, of course.
The first issue of Xombie: Reanimated, a six-issue series written by Farr with art from Nate Lovett, hit comic shops in 2007 courtesy of Devil’s Due Publishing, just a short time after the final episode of Dead on Arrival hit the online world. Reanimated continued the story of Zoe and Dirge, picking up ten years after the first adventure and moving Farr’s unlikely heroes (along with their zombie dog, Cerberus; the Egyptian mummy, Nephthys; and her zombie dinosaur, Chimaera) into a brand new medium.
According to Farr, Dead on Arrival and Reanimated provided the first two chapters in a trilogy that, he hopes, is breathing fresh air into the musty, recycled conventions of zombie-genre storytelling.
I spoke with Farr about the recent release of the Xombie: Reanimated collection, as well as the line of Xombie-inspired figures produced by DDP. We spoke about what’s next for the series, and his forays into manga, sniper-avoidance and his "big role" in last year’s live-action Transformers film.
COMICMIX: James, I was blown away by your original animated series, Xombie, years ago. Can you tell me a bit about the genesis of that series and your thoughts on how popular it became?
JAMES FARR: Thanks so much. You know, Xombie really just evolved out of my frustration with zombie movies in general. They all look a bit different, but structurally, they all follow the same formula. Xombie was my attempt to inject something new and fun into the genre. Why it had never been done before still baffles me. But I am thrilled people responded so well to the story and to the characters. It’s still evolving as we speak, and though I can’t reveal too much… I can tell you the best (and biggest) is yet to come.
CMix: How did the jump to print with Devil’s Due Publishing come about?
JF: A few dark rituals and a lot of cocktails. Devil’s Due really put together a ridiculous amount of talent for those books. I have never had such an effortless (and fun) writing experience.
CMix: What was it like to make the move from animation to print with Xombie? What sort of changes did you have to make in your creative process?
JF: Well, the animated series is far from perfect, but I was always reassured by the ability to go in and change things later on. The web allows you that sort of ongoing creative control. With the comics, the pressure was really on to get it right the first time. I had to make a lot of decisions regarding the story, the characters, what secrets to reveal and when. It was incredibly educational, and the editors at DDP could not have been kinder or more patient with me.
CMix: How do you feel about this chapter of both the Xombie story and your professional career?
JF: To be honest, I can barely believe it. It’s finally allowed me to be a published author, to take on other properties, and opened doors for me to work with many of my all-time heroes. The fact that I’m now (technically) a professional storyteller is almost too much to absorb.
It’s also a trip to see yourself on Amazon and eBay.
CMix: Who are your favorite characters from the Xombie universe?
JF: Dirge and Nephthys are probably my two favorites, as they represent two distinct aspects of my personality. As a result, they essentially write their own dialogue. Gallows was a blast, in that his speaking style is so over the top. But I feel closest to the two leads. That’s always been something I’ve worked on. If I don’t feel like I know the character, I don’t write for them. It was a great, great help to have
the cartoons already produced, so I could see their faces, and also hear their voices.
CMix: What’s next for Xombie? I read that you intend to make this a trilogy, with the animated series and accompanying book, Dead on Arrival, serving as the first chapter, DDP’s Xombie: Reanimated series as the second chapter, and the third… well, what’s going on there?
JF: Hmm. That’s a tricky one. There is a soulless, trigger-happy sniper on a building somewhere behind me. So I must be careful. Needless to say, Xombie is currently undergoing a major facelift.
CMix: Devil’s Due recently started selling vinyl "Dirge" figures, and they look great. How does it feel to see your creation in toy form? What level of involvement did you have in creating the figure?
JF: I can’t really describe the excitement level. My home is filled to the rafters with toys, action figures, and the like. So to finally have one based on my own creation… it’s genuinely surreal. Dirge and Optimus Prime, together at last.
I supplied the artwork and color palette on which the toy is based, so it mirrors my design almost exactly. I also got to name that awesome red repaint.
CMix: You’re working on a feature-length film now. Can you tell me anything about it? What type of story is it? Will it feature any of the Xombie characters who we’ve seen already?
JF: In that order: Not much. A very familiar one. And YES. Is that sniper still back there?
CMix: You just wrapped up work on eV: Volume 1. Is this your first manga work? How did this project come about, and what was it like to move into the medium of manga?
JF: eV was also a happy accident brought about by Xombie. The idea was pitched to me as a series of cool-sounding bullet points. Cute girl. Super powers. Outer space. I love all three of those things, so I was an easy sell.
I admit I am not a huge manga aficionado, so I approached the story more like an American movie. I think the result is pretty surprising. If you like hot babes, hard sci-fi and H.P. Lovecraft, you’re gonna lose your mind.
CMix: What’s happening with Call of the Cryptids these days? I haven’t heard much news about the project in a while.
JF: Currently, it’s making the rounds. I’d love to launch it as an ongoing series, so I’m actively seeking another publisher reckless enough to work with me. Know any?
CMix: I read on your website and your wikipedia page about something I definitely wasn’t aware of prior to this interview — you had some sort of cameo in the recent, live-action Transformers film?
JF: I have been blessed to get to know the folks behind the Transformers film, and we’ll leave it at that. (Does the sniper look mad?) Anyone who knows me understands my perverse affection for that franchise, so as a result, they were gracious enough to write me into a piece of "Sector 7" lore. Of course, I was immediately killed off. If you ever wondered why they had to lock them in that little room with the Nokia-bot – I’m the reason. Correction. I "was" the reason.
CMix: You seem to be juggling 100 different projects in 100 different mediums these days. How do you keep everything organized, both creatively and business-wise?
JF: It’s not easy. I am terribly disorganized. But I am very fortunate to be surrounded by people who aren’t. Cindi, Meredith, Lauren… all my girls. They keep me on track, on schedule, and remind me how long I’ve worked to get here.
CMix: Thanks for talking with me, James. Best of luck with eV, Xombie and the that other, mysterious project of yours…
JF: No problem. I’ll be sure to call you once the sniper goes to lunch.
You can view all of the Xombie: Dead on Arrival episodes at the official website for the series, Xombiefied.com. Xombie: Reanimated, collecting issues #1-6 of the 2007 series by James Farr and Nate Lovett, is available now from Devil’s Due Publishing. You can find out more information about James Farr, Xombie, eV, his Transformers moment and the rest of his upcoming projects at Farr’s official website, www.jamesfarr.com.