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A Longer-Term Apocalypse - Sophocles Sapounas Talks Not Alone

Interview conducted by James Ferguson

You may have seen a lot of zombie movies, TV shows, books, and comics, but not like this. This July sees the release of Not Alone from Sophocles Sapounas. The original graphic novel published by BHC Press is presented in a widescreen format and adds a healthy dose of humor to the mix. It's like Walking Dead by way of Scott Pilgrim. I had a chance to speak with Sapounas about the project.

Twenty years into a zombie apocalypse, with nothing more than a jacket and a handful of clues, a teen sets out to find her lost uncle. Her journey takes a drastic turn when she collides with a young man and he loses his memory. The girl, unknowingly marked with zombie-attracting totems, finds herself evading hordes of the living dead with an amnesiac sidekick in tow, only to form a lasting friendship that breaks the trope of the atypical buddy adventure.

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James Ferguson: There are quite a lot of zombie stories out there right now. What makes Not Alone unique?

Sophocles Sapounas: The story is more of a hero's journey/Greek tragedy and not just a pure survival one. Zombies are just part of the world design. It’s 20 years after the original outbreak and believe it or not, that's not really something that’s been done before. I think that’s what makes Not Alone a tale to tell. Since it’s such a saturated genre, I really tried to think about how this would be just as interesting as something that came out before it, but not necessarily in the same vein. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel, or waste time doing it. We all know the first 24 hours of the zombie apocalypse is incredibly stressful and scary. We know it’s the same 28 Days Later, 28 weeks gets more interesting. What about 240 months? There’s so many fresh questions when it’s that long. Think about all the zombie arguments about how long they last or how they survive, and that was just promoted from movies that spent the entire time covering a few hours of an event.

It’s also wild having to race time like, this project took me almost ten years to get out into the world. I started this before Last Of Us came out, you know how bummed I was at that fact that I’d always be second to the longer-term apocalypse story, even if I had it all cooked up and written at least a year prior to it? But still, I know that my story is different even from Last Of Us, and really my belief in the uniqueness of Not Alone, it’s what kept me going as well.

JF: How would you describe the relationship between the two main characters in Not Alone?

SS: Tense. Fraught with mistrust. Imbalanced. Ever-changing. All in all, they're two strangers brought together by a single mishap, and they continue to press on. Much like in the military, or crewmates where you don’t choose the people around you and yet you bond over time through the shared experiences. A lot of my experiences growing up were like that. Still to this day I always like to plan for a little chaos in my itinerary because…well it’s gonna happen regardless so might as well have the right attitude for it. But it’s the bonds I created with my friends through these adverse times that I cherish the most. The shared grumbling and annoyance at the world or whatever it was that was happening, the funny things that were said, the interesting things that we saw regardless if we were drenched to the bone, or parched and dangerously hungover hitch-hiking home back down a mountain in Greece. You learn about each other more, you fill in the gaps naturally because it’s more about making it out and less about wants/needs. I guess you’d call it a utilitarian relationship that depends on itself for the sake of its participants. But because we’re humans and not machines we develop feelings (not just romantic), regardless of the utilitarian nature of the relationship.

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JF: Why aren't the main characters named? I think the only names I saw were for the Bobs.

SS: To be easier for readers to place themselves with the characters. Names have an intense gravity to them and tend to shape more of our world than we think, and I have a hard time naming things in the first place without panicking and becoming incredibly symbolic and esoteric so I freed myself from that burden. Think of it in the way that Chuck Palahniuk did Fight Club. To this day we only know Tyler, the alter ego. It was easy to be Norton’s character because he really was “us”, and was easy to sympathize with. That’s kind of what I’m trying to do here. I know my characters have binary genders, and are probably Caucasian, but through their strong personalities, their relationship to themselves, each other, and others, simple clothing and hairstyle, and lack of overly exotic names they are easier to identify with regardless of those things. At least I hope.

JF: What drew you to the landscape layout used for Not Alone instead of the traditional portrait style used in most comics?

SS: I’m very cinematically driven and knew that the actual landscape would play a role in the series, so I wanted to help it rather than hinder it. The world itself is almost like another character. The vistas are just as important as the fight scenes, and I somehow really got stuck on a piece of advice I read somewhere- something about how backgrounds in comics are important because they ground the action and satisfy the brain. I think I got way too focused on that and try to have background in almost every panel whether it’s a tree branch, a rock, or just dirt on the ground. It feels scary to not include it. My book is kinda hard to read as it is, and might as well do what I can to keep the reader's brain satisfied. Background and vistas aside, I knew that it would look cool. It took like five years to get that test print back and see it in my hands, but the widescreen really really worked and definitely gave it that cinematic feel. I’ve always wanted to write or make movies and novels, but a cinematic graphic novel sounded cooler.

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JF: There's a fair amount of humor in Not Alone. How do you approach the laughs in a zombie apocalypse setting like this?

SS: Humour is divine. It’s what the universe gave us to confront the absurdity of life. As a person that would rather find the funny in my adverse situations so that I don’t fall into crippling despair, I’d hate to think something like an apocalypse would take the humour out of everyday living, especially when it’s been such a “long” time within the apocalypse for people to adapt. So I approach it in a way that I think humour would be in a place like that. Dark, dry, left-field, and impatient. I’ve lived through, and put myself through adverse situations because I know that I will either be laughing in the moment due to the absurdity of it all, or weeks, months, years later when thinking back on it. Humour has helped me live fuller, kept me sane, and is my greatest defense mechanism. I assume you’d need a good dose of it to keep on.

Horror DNA thanks Soph Sapounas for speaking with us. Not Alone is set for release on July 22nd from BHC Press.

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About The Author
James Ferguson
Lord of the Funny Books
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.
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