In a somber post-apocalyptic world, where survival against the undead is key; Z’Isle, a Montreal based comic and video game, is born.
When Lateef Martin (co-creator, illustrator) and Isabelle Duguay (co-creator, art director) first showed illustrations of their Z’Isle comic, fans quickly emerged. Between makeshift weaponry forged from the city’s remains, to newly formed kinships gathering on its rooftops, this world breathes a refreshing, and nostalgic, new perspective into the post-apocalyptic genre.
One of the ways in which Lateef wanted to reach out and find dedicated survivors of Z’Isle was by encouraging them to interact through photos posted on their facebook. Thus they could observe how the fans survived in the game; either together, or alone. Because that is what Z’Isle is all about: trusting, trading, hoping, and above all, keeping to the roofs. The duo’s warnings of barricaded bridges and streets littered with worn journal notes, paired with rich concept art as well as vivid photographs of Montreal, has opened the minds and hearts (not mouths) of Montrealers.
You may have seen their stickers in the metro, on street signs and all over Montreal. There is no mistaking that the red and black “Z” logo forebodes danger, adventure as well as the birth of a new genre: “Cyclepunk: Badass Bike Forged Weaponry”.
I had the chance to chat with Lateef about what’s to come for the Z’Isle comic, and what to expect from their upcoming video game. We also spoke more seriously of the importance of diversity (and the lack of it) in video games, of his opinion on what needs to be addressed immediately in that regard, and of what could be done to fix the issue.
ABOUT THE COMIC
Where did the inspiration come for Z’Isle?
Lateef Martin: Inspiration? Survival. So many buildings burnt down. That day the sirens didn’t stop. We kept to the roofs of the buildings that stayed up. Created networks of ziplines and skybridges to keep out of reach of those stinking Feeders. Seven years. We’ve finally got a handle on things. More or less. The blown-out bridges have been a blessing and a curse. We ran out of bullets years ago. But we’ve got a lot of bikes. Making weapons is a good way to pass the time-if you’re warm enough during our abysmally long winters. Keeps your mind off food too.
Talk to us a bit about the mastermind behind Z’Isle?
LM: Dan Buller and I came up with the concept then he moved on to his other projects. Isabelle came in with her vision of the world, narrative style and art direction. I myself think up scenarios, build all the concepts, illustrate and co-write. We also cosplay as our characters in the comic (Isa and Bomani). So Isa and I both embody the Mastermind.
The absolute best part about creating Z’Isle (can be a day to day basis thing)?
LM: Convincing people that they need to prepare NOW.
If Bomani were sent back in time to a more safer zombie free Montreal, what would be the first thing he’d do?
LM: Get his family out of the city. He’d probably make better locks on his bike shop too.
Tell us a bit about your amazing bike bow weapon?
LM: Actually the original design for the bike bow was based on the Bixi. I backwards engineered the concept with a friend of mine called Bénédicte LaFlamme who works in film, and we put together the first version of the bow. Actually, outside of my house there was this old school van that pulled up with a bike logo on it, and it so happened that the owner of the bike shop’s son goes to the nursery next to my place. So I approached him and asked if he was interested in building a partnership with his bike shop, called iBike, and in exchange for them building me a new bike bow they will be featured in the comic. Gab Michaud is the one who built the bow.
Best Zombie apocalypse tip for surviving in Montreal?
LM: Keep to the roofs. Don’t wait for the government, stay away from the mountains and enjoy the moment.
If you could talk about and give a copy of Z’isle to ANYONE in the world, who would it be and why?
LM: The one person who could Save Us.
ABOUT THE VIDEO GAME
Give us the run down of your new video game that’s in production?
LM: A zombie outbreak takes place on the Island of Montreal in 2015. But surviving it is just the beginning. With the right people and resources, you are instrumental in reclaiming your city, one borough at a time. Your crew and remaining survivor groups are working to build a new world. But there is a threat bigger than rival groups and the undead.
The Z’lsle game is a prequel to the comic book series that is set seven years after a zombie apocalypse. It is a top down ¾ view 3D turn-based narrative RPG. Your 5-person crew must collect resources, claim territory, trade with other groups and brain every Feeder (zombie) in your way. The diversity of your crew can bring you closer together or drive you further apart. The choices you make through dialogue and combat affect your crewmates’ chemistry and the crew’s overall morale.
Each mission helps expand your community, which you can upgrade between missions. You can add new facilities, defenses, guilds, and recruit to grow your population. Your community will also serve to upgrade the skills and equipment of your crew members, heal them or switch members. It has a reputation that is determined by how your crew operates during missions, and how you recruit or reject prospective citizens. The higher your rep, the better-skilled and generally good people you attract, and vice versa. Your community’s reputation can affect the types of allies or enemies you can make. It also affects your crew’s morale whenever they return from a mission.
What sets the Z’Isle video game apart from the other zombie apocalypse games?
LM: We will be running contests where your custom character and your crew’s achievements will appear in the overall lore. The world of Z’Isle is cyclepunk. Weapons, machinery and paraphernalia are all dependent on bike parts.
Little sneaky something fans can expect for the video game?
Can fans expect the characters from the Z’Isle comic to make an appearance?
LM: Yes, characters will appear from the comic book series and vice versa. Players will be able to play Bomani as a ranged attacker. There will also be a few more surprises.
What is great about being a video game dev in Montreal?
LM: The grant-I mean, er, the camaraderie. There is a great community here. Miscellaneum studios is a founding member of La Guilde, the largest group of indies in the world. But more importantly, we work together by sharing advice and resources; we all know that one studio’s success contributes to another studio’s success.
Talk to us a bit about what you do to educate and help today’s youth to inspire them to create their own comics/video games?
LM: I host presentations in schools and colleges about entrepreneurship, crowdfunding, following your dreams, keeping an open mind and staying creative. Using Miscellaneum Studios failures and successes, I am able to use myself as an example of what you can do. I’ve also presented at the Montreal and Ottawa Comiccons about the importance of diversity and inclusivity in media, from games to comics, animation, TV & film. I also presented at The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies about the roots of the zombie genre and how it relates to society and its fears.
How do you want to change the video game industry for the better and to become more conscious of the sexism and racism that happens? And what to do to change it?
LM: More women, people of colour, and members of the LGBTQ community need to be in key positions. We need to be able to tell our stories. Diversity on screen is great, but it’s equally important to have that representation behind the screen. A diverse team allows for a deeper understanding on wider range of perspectives. One writer may have misconceptions about a specific group and write that into the game, but if someone from that group is the writer or on the team, then they can consult that person; proper representation can occur and blunderous stereotypes can be avoided.
More serious now, what do you feel is the biggest problem that is facing the world of video games and comics right now?
LM: The backlash against more diverse characters. Watching the E3 announcement for Ubisoft’s Watchdogs 2 (in which the protagonist Marcus Holloway is an American of African descent) the Twitch stream was flooded with racist comments. It was crazy. The same is mirrored in comics, most recently with Riri Williams, a 15 year-old girl of African descent stepping into the shoes of Iron Man. He’s got five movies and hundreds of comics and toys and several games. He’s been around for over 50 years! It’s okay to shake things up a bit people.
What are some things we can do to become more educated and self aware of the changes that need to happen?
LM: Seek out works by women, people of colour the LGBTQ community and other marginalized communities. Look for different perspectives. In regards to games ,they’re out there-particularly in the indie space. Do your research, don’t just ask your friend from a given group. Ask them when you’ve learned all you can and are truly stumped. They may be able to break things down or point you in the right direction, but it’s important not expect it and do a little homework.
Changes that you have noticed (if any) that you love and inspire you (in direct relation to diversity in videogames)?
LM: I’m seeing more diversity and agency (a given character’s ability to make their own decisions that benefit them) in comics and games that aren’t stereotypes. I’m seeing studios take a vested interest in making well-rounded 3-dimensional characters. This isn’t to say for example that a black guy can’t be a bad guy, but who’s writing that character what’s their story, what’s the humanity behind their motivations, how can you make them relatable instead of just another empty husk stuffed full of cliches that is only there to move the story?