Friday, December 6, 2013

Max Brooks: 'Zombies are not half as scary as zombie preppers'

(Editor's Note: This interview serves as something of a second part of a story that ran at The Huffington Post. Check it out)

Max Brooks is an old school zombie lover -- which is to say that zombies terrified him. He was a child of the George A. Romero zombie, and the nightmares the director's movies caused served as a creative inspiration. Basically, Brooks wrote 2003's "The Zombie Survival Guide" as zombie therapy. He followed up that success with "World War Z" in 2006, and he's been something of the duke of the dead ever since.

Recently, while Hollywood is taking a crack at adapting his work, Brooks has been playing in the comics medium. He wrote the IDW comic "G.I. Joe: Hearts and Minds" and is currently working on "The Extinction Parade," the Avatar Press comic about vampires living in the midst of zombie apocalypse. But Brooks is also a creative force behind "Shadow Walk," a new Legendary Comics graphic novel about a group of soldiers, a scientist and clergyman who investigate the Valley of the Shadow of Hell -- a place that exists in his version of our modern world. I spoke with Brooks at length about "Shadow Walk" over at Huffington Post, but wanted to take a few minutes to chat about zombies with him.

What follows is a brief conversation where Brooks and I discuss the connection of zombies to religion, as well as to the prepper crowd, the longevity of the zombie genre and -- of course -- about George Romero. Please read the first part of our talk, which primarily discusses "Shadow Walk" and pick up the very cool graphic novel (co-created by writer Mark Waid and artist Shane Davis).

What do you think zombies say about our current relationship with religion in American culture?

I think you can always peg religion to the rise of anxiety. The reason Christianity swept Europe after the fall of Rome was because Rome fell. People need something to hold on to, to comfort them. Especially, with the New Testament, he’s a loving god. He’s not going to kick your ass if you don’t believe in him, he’s like, “Hey, it’s ok.” The Jesus I was brought up to understand was a loving, kind man. If I lived in Medieval Europe where my life wasn’t worth spit, I would love to know somewhere out there the son of god will welcome me into his arms and love me, nor matter who I am – which is why I can’t understand why people use religion to hate on other people.

Right now we’re in such a time of anxiety. And your work like “World War Z” taps into that, but does religious fervor scare you more or less than zombies?

It depends on how it’s used. If people have that glow, and say, “God loves you no matter what,” I think that’s great. There are many people who are lost out there and self-destructive, and maybe a little religion could help them. But on the other side is, “You are going to hell and burn!” That's like, whoa, hey, hey.

I actually once dated a very religious Christian girl. It was like romantic anthropology. I said to her, "I don't know if I'm a good man, but I try not to lie, I try not to steal -- never killed anybody -- I try not to wrong people but because I'm a Jew, I'm going to burn forever in the fires of hell!" She looked at me how you would look at someone who drinks and drives. No judgement, just sadness. She was like, "Why do you joke about that? That's so sad, it breaks my heart. I love you..."

Because she thought it was true...

Right! Because she literally thought it. She would look at me and say, "I love you and it breaks my heart we won't be together in heaven with god's love because, you're ...ehhhh."

I do feel bad for you about that! I remember watching the Harold Camping Rapture wave a couple years ago, and the Rapture ripple effect was a little scarier to watch than horror movies and zombies…

I always say zombies are not half as scary now as zombie preppers. There is small sub-cult of zombie preppers who want this to happen, and they’re stocking up, and that’s really scary. That’s why I say you have to be careful with the stuff you put out there. You don’t want some mentally ill 20-something with a perfectly legal AR-15 to be like, “The moment has come!” That’s why, in “Zombie Survival Guide,” Rule Number One: Obey the law.

Because you helped launch this modern zombie wave, when do you think it is too much or has peaked?

I have no idea. I don’t have a problem with people putting out zombie stuff, but I have a problem with jumping on the bandwagon to make money. There’s a good chance right now that somebody has already written or is writing the next novel that is going to blow “World War Z” out of the water. So good, so smart, but because there’s so much zombie stuff out there, nobody may find it. It may get buried under piles and piles of just hackery. That’s what bothers me: The passionate stuff getting lost. There was a writer, I won’t say his name, but he wrote in a writer’s magazine how to cash in on the zombie craze and make money off it. I was like, Dude!

Like, “hey kids, zombies are big right now, can you write a zombie novel?”

Right! “You don’t even have to know about zombies; George Romero? Who’s that?”

Speaking of Romero, does he get enough credit?

No, he does not get enough credit. When I used to do zombie talks, like 10 years ago, if I said George Romero, the audience erupted in applause. Now I say it and about a third of the audience is still like, “Yay.” If they’re under 20, most of them are like, “Who’s that?” That’s scary.

If he’s not getting enough credit, is the social commentary and message of Romero’s films taken a back seat in zombie fiction to just gore and head shots?

I think it depends on who is doing it. Like “Shaun of the Dead,” one of the greatest zombie films ever made – maybe of the greatest movies ever made – had such deep social commentary. It was like the “Clerks” for that generation of English people. As long as there is going to be another one of those, then I think the message will continue. The truth is, it’s easier just to write about head shots and who’s having sex with whom. That’s just easy. But every now and then you’re going to find a Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, who are like, “No, I want it to mean something.” As long as those guys are out there, I think George’s message will continue.