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Apocalypse Now

ae rabidjdaLocal writer JD Arnold pits humans against ravenous animals in new doomsday comic

The phrase “zombie apocalypse” has recently skyrocketed up to the No. 2 spot on Google’s list of trending search terms, thanks to a string of grisly murders and cannibalism. But if you were to ask Santa Cruz comic book writer JD Arnold who controls the fate of the human race, you might be surprised by his answer: animals infected by a mutated rabies virus.

Arnold’s vision for the apocalypse comes to life in his latest comic book, “The Rabid”: a tale told through the eyes of an Iowan farm family and a team of scientists, each grappling with the fact that ravenous animals have populated the earth and are rapidly multiplying.

To find out more about the comic book and our inevitably bleak demise, GT caught up with Arnold at his local shop, Comicopolis.

GOOD TIMES: What is “The Rabid”?

JD Arnold: This is the first issue of a five-issue story arc. … [and] if I get to tell the story the way I want to tell it, it will probably go 45 to 50 issues total. What I did in the first issue is set up the two main storylines. … The first is the Iowan farm family, and through them, my intention is that we’ll see this story, this horrific story of end-of-the-world survival, unfold through the eyes of the common man. Through the scientists … we’ll see this story of survival horror unfold, [but] through the eyes of those who are trying to figure out what has happened. More new characters will be introduced as these two groups start to travel and discover that this is widespread … that this could be the end of the world.

Where did your inspiration for “The Rabid” come from?

I’m a big horror fan and, this is not a zombie book, but it’s going to play out and feel like one. You have a mutated virus, a virus that kills and then seemingly reanimates its host. Although, that’s not technically what’s going on. The mutated rabies virus becomes a super virus and mutates to the point where it is basically this colony living in the central nervous system of its host. The virus colony is so strong and, as all viruses want to do, they want to spread themselves, that it motorizes the host to find another host. So, the animals in the story will [only] appear to be zombie animals.

ae rabidThe Rat Pack Critters become infected by a mutated rabies virus in JD Arnold’s new comic, “The Rabid.”But I love zombie stories, so I wanted to do something in the genre that was different and that I felt hadn’t been done before. I don’t think we’ve seen “zombie animals” before. But I also wanted to do something that was based in science, something that could theoretically happen. I actually consulted with a friend of mine, who is an anthropologist/biologist, who gave me some information and places to look regarding things like, could a virus mutate to this stage, and what are the factors that would be involved with that. You know, the George Romero films and The Walking Dead series, as much as I love those, there’s always this mystery as to how the zombie virus developed and you really never get those answers. What I’m going to do within the first couple of story arcs is, the reader is going to find out exactly how this virus became mutated and became the world killer that it is. The tension and the stress that is going to come from that, is they’re going to realize that they can’t stop it.

‘The Rabid’ really draws the reader into the action.  A lot of that is due to the artist, Tony Guaraldi-Brown. Tony comes from the fine arts. …

Just the way he lays out a page really draws the reader in and draws them along, the way he paces and flows.

What was the creative process like?

I’ve worked with a few different artists, so it’s always different, but with Tony, I give [a brief panel description] to him and I really leave it to him, within the confines of what is being said and what’s going on in the story. … As much as I want my words to go on the page, comics are a visual medium. People need to be wowed by the visuals.

When will the next issue of the series be released?

The book will hit nationwide in December [and then] we’ll be putting out issues monthly for the foreseeable future.

When did your passion for comic books and comic book writing develop?

I basically learned to read on comic books. … I remember picking up “Archie Comics” and “Richie Rich,” and quickly moved into a lot of the old DC horror stuff, like “House of Mystery” and “Weird War Tales,” and then eventually found superhero comics, as most of us do. So I’ve been reading comics my entire life, to the point that I bought a comic book shop.

And I’ve always had a passion for writing. … It was back in 2001, that I decided I wanted to be a comic book writer, and took some time off from an old job before I bought into this place and just wrote like crazy. A lot of that stuff is just now starting to see life. The story, “The Rabid,” I wrote five to six years ago; it’s been a long process. My first book, “BB Wolf and the 3 LP’s,” I wrote in 2005, and it wasn’t actually published until 2010.

There has been a lot of talk about a zombie apocalypse. Are we wrong? Will ravenous animals kill us all?

You know, I don’t know. It’s interesting, these events happening in the last couple of months. … The rational part of me knows that we’re never going to have zombies, but I think it’s just as likely that we’re going to have some kind of biological end of the world … some sort of disease is more likely than nuclear weapons to kill us all.

As dependent as we are on animals for our food supply, it’s not the rampaging zombie animals that are going to kill us. It’s the complete breakdown of the food chain and mass starvation and panic and riots. … Society is going to collapse.

[In zombie stories], when a person becomes a zombie, that zombie will remain a zombie for quite a long time, until it’s killed. But there is probably years of shelf life on that zombie. In my story, the virus, although it will reanimate the corpse of its host, it will run its course within a few days. Unless it finds another host, that host will decay and die. So, you’re not going to have these long-lasting zombies terrorizing humans, eventually this virus will just wipe out all life.

So the real threat here is complete loss of food supply, this thing killing all non-plant-based life. And the virus will continue to mutate. … That’s another source of tension in this story: Is this virus going to mutate to the point where it can reanimate a human?

Who would win in a fight? A zombie, or one of your ‘rabid’ rats?

[Laughs] You know, probably a zombie. But, if you have a pack of rats, they might be able to overtake you.

Purchase an advance copy of the first issue of “The Rabid” from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday, June 16 at Comicopolis, 829 Front St., Santa Cruz. Arnold and Guaraldi-Brown will sign copies of their new book and talk about the series at the event.

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