Q&A With H.L. Roberts - Creator of Infection

On Kickstarter at the moment, there's a brilliant sounding zombie comic from Peterborough based H.L. Roberts. A take on the zombie genre that has our interest. A zombie apocalypse comic set in the 2000s and located in England that's the result of shampoo? Some people might say there are too many zombie comics in the world already, but as long as someone comes up with some fresh ideas, what's the problem? And that's exactly why we love the look and sound of INFECTION.

H.L. Roberts is a 20-year-old comic book writer from Peterborough. He previously had experience on film writing and has applied that knowledge from transitioning from film writing to comic book writing. His genre of writing tends to be adult and dark, but sometimes he'll write something for all ages or for mature audiences. He is currently working on INFECTION, with Codename MOTORHEAD coming on the way.

You can back the Kickstarter here: H.L. Roberts' Infection Issue #1 by H. L. Roberts — Kickstarter. And this weekend, starting today at 6pm until the 27th of March, there's a flash sale for INFECTION where you can get copies of the retail and Kickstarter cover for cheaper. What's there not to love about that?

Now... onto the Q & A.

Infection #1 cover

You have your first Kickstarter going on at the moment for INFECTION. What made you think of using a shampoo product as the reason behind the outbreak?

When writing up INFECTION, the whole "the virus came from a lab" was out the window. That charade has been used too much that it's over-saturated the zombie apocalypse market. I wanted something a bit more unique that people could recognise INFECTION with.

I thought to myself that in order for a virus to break out, it would need to be associated with everyday essentials. Not luxuries, but things that people do before they walk out of the house.

At first, a mutation of toothpaste was an idea since that would explain the whole concept of zombies infecting humans by biting them, however, I decided against it since some people aren't constant with their oral hygiene.

The other idea, which is the one used in INFECTION: is a mutation of hair products, specifically shampoo. This was more logical as rubbing the virus into your hair that’s connected to the brain reverse engineers the human mind, hence zombies' craving for human flesh.

Other than the shampoo aspect, what sets this apart from other zombie stories?

There are a few aspects to INFECTION that splits it away from a story like 28 Days Later.

For example, the world-building of INFECTION. While it’s set in 2000 and based in Peterborough (a city in East England), a lot of people in the UK were deprived and poor after the political faults and fallouts in the 80s and 90s. Because of this, a lot of people had to downgrade on luxuries and were on the brink of even buying necessities.

There's a scene within INFECTION where all four of our survivors have met up inside a safehouse. They are all eating canned food, but some of the canned food has got yellow labels on them.

This is an indication of a cheaper alternative to a quote in quote "standard" item. I live in the countryside, and when going into a newsagent, you’ll find... let's say a can of Monster Energy that costs £1.49, but also the cheaper alternative that costs 59p or £1. The example I'll put below is of Euro Shopper, which is the concept that I will be using:

Energy drinks

Another example we'll use is of the fourth survivor: Octavia.

When looking into the zombie genre, and just media as a whole: Disability isn't really shown. This may be someone who is on the autistic spectrum, hard of hearing or deaf, and in Octavia's case: a mute (unable to speak).

When I did my Film Diploma in Cambridge, a short film I came across while doing projects was called Dawn of the Deaf. This 2016 short film takes on the aspect of deaf characters before, and the start of the zombie apocalypse. It's a very talented piece of work, which inspired me to have a mute character.

Of course, film is easier to portray deaf/mute characters as you can see them do BSL/Makaton then and there, compared to comics which are still images.

Not only that: Not a lot of people know sign language, even the basics. You'll see in the first issue that Octavia carries a notepad on her to write out what she wants to say, but going through the story (not the issue), the characters will pick up on it. An example here is within Issue 2. One of the main cast members (most likely Nessie) will pick up a book on sign language to understand Octavia more.

Also, a little fun fact about myself - I could not speak until the age of 7 and speak properly until the age of 10. During these times, I would use picture books and video game dialogue to help, but also a show on CBBC (British Childrens Network) that taught children Makaton (Sign Language).

What do we have to look forward to in the later issues?

The characters relations will be a big interest of the later issues.

Within the first issue, you'll be introduced to the four main casts of characters, being Cameron, Nessie, H.K. and Octavia, but also another character which I personally love the concept of. Won't reveal too much, but their objective within the apocalypse is very "Mad Max like".

Infection preview 1

Not only that but the character building. I am a big fan of character arcs, making characters the most disliked person in the story, to a character that you can sympathise with later down the line. Some characters will have bigger spotlights than others, and I think people will already know what character will get a big character arc as soon as they have read about... 3 to 5 pages of the comic, excluding the prologue.

Within the second issue, we'll be introduced to two more characters that play a significant part within the story, especially with the end of issue 2, and the start of Issue 3.

These characters will actually be revealed if the stretch goal of £1200 gets raised, as hitting that number will give all pledgers access to two extra pages, teasing the next issue.

What’s been your favourite part about writing INFECTION? Do you have a particular panel that Samanta De La Rosa Batllori has drawn?

Like the previous question: It's got to be the characters.

Out of the four characters: It's a hard decision to pick between H.K. and Nessie being my favourite character to write about.

H.K. was fun to make because when designing him I immediately knew what his personality and look would be like. To put it into perspective, William Salyers WAS the inspiration. The guy has got an amazing voice and an amazing roster of characters that he's voiced. He did Rigby from Regular Show, and Hugo Strange from Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, but the main inspiration was Dr Octopus from PS4 Spiderman and Hoffman from Back for Blood. These two certain characters are very spoilt and their ego overshadows them, which is what I was looking for. H.K. is a very unlikable person, and you'll see that with things that he says and does.

Infection preview 2

Nessie on the other hand wasn't based on someone, but what makes her unique is the golf club, called The Nine Iron. The inspiration from this was a subclass from Valve's Team Fortress 2 called Demoknight. You can equip a sword and charge around, decapitating people. There's a certain item in the game called Nessie's Nine Iron, which put two and two together: You can see the logic.

I really like this concept of using a golf club to decapitate zombies, and if it wasn't for a character called James in my next year's project, Nessie would have wielded a fire extinguisher.

I also really enjoy writing her Pre-Lore stuff, and her dialogue between characters. On one hand, she'll get on with Cameron easy but on the other, she and H.K. are like an old married couple.

She’s also Scottish as well.

As for the particular panel - INFECTION hasn't gone from writing to art yet. That will be done on the 26/27th of April when Samanta comes back from holiday. I can tell you the panel that I am looking forward to, and that's a two-page artwork of our cast of characters holding off against the zombie apocalypse.

You have another project in the works called Codename MOTORHEAD. What can you tell us about that?

I can tell you a lot about it!

The base story within Codename MOTORHEAD has dated back to 2018 on written paper, but 2015 within the mind. Unlike INFECTION, Codename MOTORHEAD and the universe it's set in is very dark and adult.

To put it into perspective, there is a scene within the base comic (not MOTORHEAD) where, without revealing too much on names, a guy's head gets decimated. Like, full-on crushed by an £800 Lego Death Star that's been "accidentally" dropped from 25 stories high of the apartment that our cast of characters live in. It's like dropping a bowling ball from that height. You'll see the Lego set get smashed, with 4x2 pieces flying out from the set (and the guy's head) with blood and brains splattering everywhere, mainly on the apartment wall. This scene will probably be made before the base comic comes out next year so people can see this gruesome but somehow satisfying kill.

In Codename MOTORHEAD, we follow an on-call fire-fighter called Barry King who moves to the city of Cambridge (where the base comic is set). Whilst he is in Cambridge, he realises that there's no police force since there's a guy that acts like a sheriff of the town. This guy's name is Origin, also known as Maxwell Boyd (Part of the main cast of next year's project). You'll see that Origin is... "impervious" and after some sequences in the comic Barry King will take on this Origin guy one on one.

This will tie into the base comic of next year, as Barry plays a part within a segment of the comic.

Codename MOTORHEAD is also an application for an artist and letterer since I am looking for artists, letterers, and a publisher that will accept this idea. They also have to be from the UK, which I am contradicting myself here, but I really don't like when people ostracise based on a subject. The reason I’m looking for UK based people is that I can see them, so I can hope that people will understand my method.

Do you plan on taking INFECTION to any comic conventions this year after the Kickstarter?

Good question, which I'm going to say yes to one convention this year.

First of all, I want to build up a roster of comics that I sell so people can understand what genre of comic they're reading when they purchase work with my name on it. I definitely don't want it to be the case where someone aged... let's say 12 (which INFECTION is rated a 12) think my work is matured based because of INFECTION, for them to pick up Codename MOTORHEAD or next year's project and see someone's head get decimated by an £800 Lego Death Star (even though that will be age-rated 18)

Secondly, I will be running a table at The Big Huntingdon Geek Out! This is a local convention running on August 7th that will feature publishers, writers, and artists; alongside with cosplayers alike

I should be selling copies of INFECTION there, alongside possibly Codename MOTORHEAD if I can get that printed out before August, which is likely. I'll be looking forward to talking with people about the comic and more in-depth about the series!

I'll also see how that goes, and if it goes well, I may expand out to a convention like Nor-Con (Norwich Comic Book Convention) and other smaller conventions.

If you want to keep up to date with everything H.L. Roberts is up to, particularly with his comics, then make sure you're following his Twitter @HLRobertsComics.

You definitely want to check out the Kickstarter for Infection. Backing this surely won't leave you with any regrets.

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