The last part of '68: Scars came out last month, but fans of the zombie series don't to wait long for a new issue. Next month, the first issue of the '68: Jungle Jim will be published and it continues the story we first read in the 2011 one-shot.
I recently had a chance to talk with '68's Mark Kidwell and Jay Fotos, who told me all about the upcoming mini-series, future plans, and upcoming events. We also have exclusive preview pages from '68: Jungle Jim #1, and photos of life-sized '68 zombies they created for convention appearances.
Things don't seem to be getting any better in the world of '68, even with trained soldiers going up against the undead. Will there ever be a turning point in this battle, or is the US military spread too thin and hopelessly outnumbered?
Mark Kidwell: Let me begin to answer that with a quote from George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”: “We’ve got to stop the killing…or we lose the war.” The surviving US soldiers, Vietnamese Villagers, Viet Cong, NVA, etc. who populate the world of ’68 in ever dwindling numbers are still, despite the rise of the living dead, embroiled in a vicious guerilla conflict where very few want to “surrender”. Even though we’ve seen an official “end” to conflict as ordered by what’s left of the United States’ federal government, there are hundreds of pockets of surviving troops still facing an enemy who has quickly adjusted to the new world order and has even learned to use the hungry dead as a weapon. Soldiers and survivors caught in this unending turmoil soon discover that they’re bolstering the ranks of the undead every time on of their own “human” fellows dies by anything less lethal than fire, complete dismemberment or of course, the classic headshot. If there’s a turning point…it will most likely not turn in favor of humanity.
Without going into spoilers, a number of recurring characters make it out of '68 Scars. Will we see them pop up in the upcoming Jungle Jim mini-series or will the focus just be on that character?
Mark: The band of survivors you follow at the end of “SCARS” will return in the next four-issue regular series story arc entitled: “’68: RULE OF WAR”. For now, the new series swings the camera toward the continuation of the story we started in the original “Jungle Jim” one-shot. The series will focus on Brian Curliss in his all-new personification of the Grim Reaper in a Gas Mask. There’s a whole cast of supporting characters that populate the mini-series…and…Heh…there’s a tiger.
Can you tell us about how the Jungle Jim character came to be? What made you want to tell his particular story in the previously released one-shot instead of weaving him into Scars or going with a different one-shot story?
Mark: Jim was born kinda by accident. Jay had contacted comic artist and illustrator Nate Van Dyke about possibly doing a one-shot for the ’68 line. Nate was interested, but tired of doing continual pages that required him to draw buildings, cars, etc. Jay called me and asked if I could come up with a script that mostly focused on a limited number of characters and used mainly jungle as a backdrop. Using that tall order as a jump-off point, I sat down and three days later, sent Jay the script for the first “Jungle Jim” book.
The character evolved a bit from my original script. My original design for Jim didn’t have the gas mask. He was armored up with heavy burlap and gloves, but swathed his face in burlap strips as well…like a mummy, with thick goggles to cover his eyes. Jay and Nate jammed on some character designs, adding the gas mask and the bamboo gauntlets and transformed the image I’d created into something more. It went from, “Hey, that’s freakin’ cool.” To “Holy Shit! That kicks ass!” It takes a village to properly nurture and raise a killing machine.
Jay Fotos: Jungle Jim has all of us very excited, as Mark mentioned he was “blossoming” into such a cool character from the initial concept. I describe him as our Rambo meets Captain America in the ’68 world…a one man arsenal the “Grim Reaper of the dead.” We also have a life-sized prop made of Jim for conventions, all decked out with weapons and holding a dismembered zombie head, it’s awesome!
Is Jungle Jim going to be another 4-issue mini-series? Will we see a new issue each month, starting in April or will the releases be spread out like '68 Scars?
Mark: Yeah, the new “Jim” series, subtitled: “HELLHOLE” is a four-issue story arc, self-contained and perfect as a jumping-on point for new ’68 readers. There’ll be a lot of backstory provided through character interaction that will bring new readers up to speed on some of the elements from the original one-shot if they haven’t gotten the chance to pick that book up. As far as schedule, we hope to get all the ’68 series back on a smoother release track, starting with “Jungle Jim”, and if all goes as planned, once issue #1 hits in April, the book should come out monthly and wrap up in July.
Jay: Yes, we are set with having issues #1 and #2 done prior to when issue #1 hits, so we are set to stay on that monthly schedule.
I really liked the idea of the Jungle Jim outfit/character of being passed on from one soldier to another, along with the madness. Is that something that you'll dive deeper into in the mini-series?
Mark: You’ll definitely see a continuation of the “JJ Madness” established with the passing of the gas mask in the one-shot. Part of what makes the character so fascinating is the effect donning that grim headgear has on our main character. With Brian Curliss, the mask tends to shut down a lot of his own self-doubt and allows him to tap into a more experienced, primal killer instinct. He’s a different person with the mask off. You’ll see some interesting metamorphoses during the story and witness the physical and mental toll that strapping on the JJ gear and accepting the character’s strange mission can have on a person. At the heart of the Jungle Jim legend is classic pulp myth-building. Jim’s our Batman, our Shadow, and to the Cong, he’s Jack the Ripper.
Will Brian Curliss continue Sam Adler's search for Jungle Jim?
Mark: Yes. Curliss is guilt-driven to find Adler’s “needle in a haystack”. Alder gave his life rescuing and defending Curliss in the original one-shot and Curliss is now hell-bent on finding whatever’s left of Sergeant Jim Asher in the jungles of Vietnam and Laos. He wants to repay Curliss…help his ghost to rest…and this is the only way he knows how.
'68 is really known for its gore and a good variety of zombie-types. Can you give our readers a tease of what you've done this time around to raise the bar?
Mark: Well, not to reveal too much…we’ve got packs of hungry, feral dogs roaming the jungles, following mobs of the rotting dead, feeding on the scraps they leave behind. We’ve got dismembered ghouls nailed to wooden handcarts that are used as torture devices by rogue Viet Cong…and we’ve got a huge zombie battle between Jim and a rather unlikely ally…I mentioned we have a tiger, right?
Jay: Jeff Zornow is having a blast with the art, and it shows…with all the blood and guts it’s so much fun!
'68 Volume Two will be released soon. For those that already own the individual issues, is there anything special planned so they'll want to pick this up as well?
Mark: Oh yeah…we’ve stuffed the upcoming trade with all kinds of extras, including the award-winning ’68 one-shot: “HARDSHIP”, reprinted here for the first time. That book is long sold-out and getting harder and harder to find, so having it in the collection is a huge bonus for folks who missed it. In addition, similar to “Better Run Through the Jungle-Vol.1”, we’ve crammed the book with behind-the-scenes material including script and layout pages, sketches, roughs, pinups and a sweet cover gallery. It’s quite a gruesome package.
Jay: Yes, ’68 Vol 2 is an real nice package. With the award winning ’68 Hardship included gives you a taste of what to expect from Zornow in Jungle Jim.
Aside from '68 Jungle Jim, are there plans in place to continue the story of '68 indefinitely? Do you still have plenty of stories you're interested in telling?
Mark: Definitely. ’68 was designed, in the very beginning, to be an ongoing series, told in four-issue story arcs, one-shots, even two or three issue arcs if the stories fit. As mentioned above, we’ve already got “Rule of War” on the schedule as the next arc and it will pick up right where “Scars” left off, continuing Yam’s exodus through the new world of the living dead. Beyond that, the storytelling opportunities are endless. We’ve got a one-shot coming up entitled “’68: HALLOWED GROUND” that takes place in a small-town church fortified against an onslaught of the dead by survivors of a train wreck. (Zombies on the tracks…derailed a train. They aren’t all stupid…), we’re working on another called “Tanker Tom”, based on an amazing design and makeup sculpt Jay came up with and there’ll be more from the home front, showing the effects of the ghoul apocalypse on US shores. To quote Willy Wonka…”So much time…so little to see…WAIT! Reverse that!”
Jay: As Mark mentioned the ’68 world is constantly growing with “Oh shit!” ideas that come to mind. Tanker Tom is based off that idea, “We have to make a comic about this guy, he’s too frigging cool!” ’68 Hallowed ground will be a special issue for the late Josh Medors started this project whiles battling cancer. We will use as much art as Josh completed with added extras in memoriam to his passing.
What are your thoughts on the reader response to the series? Has reader response to stories like the Jungle Jim one-shot influenced your plans for moving forward?
Mark: Jungle Jim, Hardship and the tunnel rat scene from issue #1 are the three things fans and readers talk about the most online and at shows. We’ve hit some definite high notes with those moments and plan to give readers more. I’ve said before that ’68 is our baby and we strive to knock it out of the park with every new series. We know that we can’t always top what’s gone before, but you can bet that we’ll always be trying. ’68 will never lack for fast paced, cinematic style action, heaps of gore and intelligent, researched character design and plotting. As long as the readers want more Kuen Yam, Jungle Jim and Warface…they’re gonna get it.
Jay: Jungle Jim will raise the bar for sure, every issue has that “oh shit” scene…issue #1 sets the pace that your in for a while ride. We mentioned Jim vs. Zombies vs. a Tiger right?...yea, I just said that.
I missed those '68 grenades you were selling. Do you have plans to bring those back or any other military-related products?
Mark: Talk to Jay…those things were mega-popular, but he had to paint them all by hand. Getting him to do more is like pulling rotted zombie teeth. Sweet talk him and maybe he’ll cave.
Jay: Ha! They were awesome, but yea a pain in the ass to make. Maybe some day we’ll bring those back. But we have plenty of other cool products out or coming out soon, check out our ’68 STORE at www.68zombie.com for all the neat-o collectables.
Many of our readers hit up comic and horror conventions around the world. Where are some of the events where our readers can meet the '68 team?
Mark: The upcoming Phoenix Comic Con for sure. We’re all gonna be there, the whole team of Nat, Jay and me. It’s Jay’s home turf as well and he gets to pull all the skeletons out of his closet and unleash his personal zombie horde on fans and con-goers. I’ll be doing shows close to home in Kentucky (Lexington Comic and Toy Convention-March 16-17, Tri-Con in Huntington WV-April, Cincinnati Comic Con in June and Wizard World Chicago in August.) Shows are always great times and it’s amazing to get out there, away from drawing tables and word processors to meet and thank the readers for all their support.
And with that, thank you Jonathan, for the opportunity to get the word out on ’68! Cheers!
Jay: The Phoenix Comicon www.phoenixcomicon.com is our SDCC in sorts for we have the opportunity to pull out all the stops. We call it the “’68 Experience” for it’s interactive with life sized zombies, a ’68 theme Army Jeep, a sand bagged covered bunker, POW cage, prop weapons and maggot covered surprises under every severed zombie head!
The '68 Volume Two trade will be available on March 27th, while '68: Jungle Jim #1 will be available on April 3rd. We'll continue to cover upcoming issues, so check back regularly for new details and preview pages.