Interview: Steve Urena on 'Zombie Date Night'
We chat with the mad brain behind the sloth horror saga 'Slow Pokes' about his new genre-bender.
Sometimes we drift back into our memories and recall our first date. It was exciting, clumsy, and filled with pop culture conversation. Brad and Lisa have always been on brand. But you gotta wonder, what would have gone down if that first dinner transformed into a ravenous Zombie Date Night?
That's the premise of the new comic book from writer Steve Urena. The twisted weirdo who brought us the deliciously demented Slow Pokes is smashing an awkward romance adventure into a zombie invasion, and we cannot wait for this book to plop its pages in our hands. From the early peeks we've glimpsed, Zombie Date Night promises to be just as gnarly, comedic, and heartfelt as his previous outing.
Illustrated by Sergi Domènech, lettered by Anthony Rella, colored by Josh Jensen, and edited by Allegra Calderaro, Zombie Date Night should look somewhat familiar to those already well-versed in George Romero's land of the dead. The tone and vibe, however, is one-hundred percent, Steve Urena.
We had an absolute ball chatting with the writer about the comic. We get into the lessons learned from launching his first Kickstarter campaign, why comic book classes were crucial for his experience, and just why The Cheesecake Factory might be the best place to defend yourself from an undead horde.
Zombie Date Night is currently under construction via Kickstarter. We've already backed the project and we encourage you to do the same if you like what you read here. This interview was edited for length and clarity, but you can listen to the entire forty-minute discussion on our Patreon feed. Just 1 Dollar.
Lisa: So here's something I super admire about you. Before you started working on Slow Pokes you were doing journalism and copywriting. And you wanted to write comics so you got off your behind and took a class. A lot of people go like, "Oh, I have this dream and I want to do it," and then that's where it stops or maybe it exists in a journal under their bed or something. But you're like, "I'm going to make this happen by taking a class. First, what about you is a take-a-class guy, and second, would you recommend the take-a-class route to others?
Steve: So, for me, I've always wanted to be involved in comics in some way, but when you're a kid and don't know how to draw, slowly the door just shuts on ya. Growing up, I used to read comics, I used to read all that stuff, and I wanted to be involved with it, but I didn't know how. I knew I couldn't draw so that dream kind of stayed in the back of my mind. I always was on the lookout for a class or for something where I could break-in. I'm like, "There are all these writers, but where do they go? Or how do you even get started? One day, I was just like, "You know what? Let me get back to this. Let me see if there's anything out there now." I found Comics Experience, which is run by Andy Schmidt and Paul Allor, who just wrote Hollow Heart, which is awesome.
Brad: Aw yeah.
Steve: They run classes, both writing and art. Whatever you want to do to get into comics they have it. It's online so I was able to take the writing courses there and they were so positive. Just a very good experience. A good comic experience, I guess, I could say [Laughter]. It started there and it just built my confidence of like, "Yes, I can do this. In the 20-page course, I wrote Slow Pokes just to entertain myself. The feedback was very positive and they were like, "Why don't you do this? Why don't you make this happen? You already wrote the script." So I paid my money and here we are. Now, I'm talking to you, which is crazy.
Lisa: Zombie Date Night is your second Kickstarter comic. I loved Slow Pokes and I'm just going to find all of the reasons to bring it back to Slow Pokes -
Steve: Go for it! Listen. It's really funny too, because with Zombie Date Night, a lot of people were expecting Slow Pokes II. Eventually, we're going to get there.
Lisa: Oh, good.
Steve: It's just very funny because I'm the sloth guy now. So anytime somebody sees a sloth or sees something about sloths on TV, or somebody has a shirt, or anything sloths, I will get the text, I'll get the email, I'll get Tweeted at, and it's great. I want to be the sloth guy! I love it! I love that people want to talk sloths with me. I'll talk about that any day.
Lisa: What a beautiful problem to have.
Steve: I know. That is a beautiful problem. To go off of your last question that I didn't answer, I do recommend taking classes. If you see something, go get it. You know what I mean? If you want something, go get it, because it's not going to happen unless you kick down the door.
Lisa: I feel like there's this artsy-fartsy contingent that goes like, "If you're a true artist you don't take a class. You go to the school of hard knocks baby." I'm a take-a-class person, but I'm also artsy-fartsy. So I feel mixed up about it.
Brad: You don't hear too often people promoting the class route, but then comics are also steeped in celebrating places like The Kubert School.
Brad: All the amazing people come from there - Stephen Bissette, Rick Vietch, Steve Lieber, Ed Piskor. So I do think that there is less of a stigma with classroom learning around comics.
Lisa: Just the network connections are so important.
Steve: Yeah. It is very important. The Kubert School was right behind where I grew up, which is even crazier because everybody's like, "Oh, why don't you go there?" I was like, "They don't have writing classes. They have classes for artists." So I felt like I was out in the rain. I was like, "Why don't you guys have a writing course? Just one. That's all I need. I just want to learn how to do it."
Lisa: What did you learn from Slow Pokes that you applied to Zombie Date Night?
Steve: What I learned from Slow Pokes that I applied to Zombie Date Night was to keep being myself and to keep doing whatever I think is entertaining to me. With Slow Pokes, I was very nervous to put myself out there because I'm like, "This is the most me that I could be." I always thought of that as like, "This is my introduction to anybody who wants to read my stuff. This is what I'm going to give you."
So with Zombie Date Night, I learned from Slow Pokes just to keep being myself and keep doing stuff that entertains me. Also, I learned the beauties of shipping and how I cannot mess that up because I will lose my ass on everything. I had to do the research on shipping. So if you're doing your Kickstarter, looking in the US is easy, but when you look at shipping outside of the US it is very different. Some countries have this amount of money and this country has this type of shipping. So you definitely got to do your research on that.
Brad: Going into Zombie Date Night after Slow Pokes, you're entering what looks like on the surface a more traditional genre. Zombies! What sent you into George Romero's kingdom?
Steve: Back in the day, when I was on the dating apps, before I met my girlfriend, it was more like, "If I'm on these terrible dates, what if a zombie invasion happened? Would I stay or would I go?" If the date is going well, would I stay? Or if the date is going bad, would I bail?" So that was my gauge, I guess, when I would go on these dates of like, "All right. If I'm sticking around, it's probably a good idea that I'm going to call this girl back or I'm going to keep dating this girl. But, if I wasn't, I'd be like, "Well, time to go." So that was my gauge and I thought that would make a good story, because I think a lot of people have had bad dates, awkward dates. Dating is scary but if you had a zombie invasion while the dating was going on, I think, that's even scarier.
Lisa: So would you rather have a zombie outbreak during an awkwardly good date or an awkwardly bad date? I would rather have it happen during an awkwardly good date.
Lisa: Yeah. Because I might not be good at the chitchat, but I think that he will become trauma-bonded to me, you know?
Brad: Like Sandra Bullock in Speed!
Steve: I would actually agree with you because I feel like if it's a really good date and then zombies happen, I'd be like, "All right. I'll look even better because I'll be fighting these zombies with her and then we'll have this experience." Then when the zombie outbreak is over, I'd be like, "Hey, remember our first date when the zombies came out? That was crazy, right?" So I would agree with you.
Lisa: I think that an awkwardly bad date, you can't leave them because then you're a terrible person. So the best you can hope for is that they get eaten, you know?
Steve: Maybe. But I imagine that's how the date becomes stronger because you both push them in the way of the zombies. You both want to get out of it so they're like, "Oh, you were going to try to kill me." "Oh, yeah. I was going to try to kill you," and then maybe that would have blossomed the relationship at some point. But, yeah, yeah, it's all fodder for a good comic!
Brad: I find it fascinating that both of you have that point of view. When I heard the concept of Zombie Date Night is I imagined the zombie invasion taking place on our first date, Lisa, and where would we be if the dead rose at The Cheesecake Factory?
Steve: That's another good title! The Dead Rose at The Cheesecake Factory. I think that'd be a better title.
Lisa: You just have to beat them with the hefty menu because there are so many options.
Steve: Yes. That menu's very hefty.
Lisa: We'd be screwed.
Steve: That would definitely split some heads open.
Brad: They're bricks.
Lisa: They're wrapped in plastic, what's that word? Laminated!
Lisa: I bet you could take an eye out.
Brad: This is what your comic might be exploring, Steve, but the best version of us, Lisa, was certainly not those early days. It took a lot of tryouts, a lot of dates, to figure that out. One, that we would work together and then, two, there's something even more than just dating beyond that. Would you fall into that pattern in a zombie invasion?
Lisa: [Long pause]
Steve: I think she's falling in love with you all over again.
This conversation is far from over, and if you want to hear how Lisa responds to Steve's comment, please consider supporting Comic Book Couples Counseling by joining our Patreon. And, please, if you've made it this far, consider supporting independent comic book writers like Steve Urena by backing Zombie Date Night on Kickstarter.