With zombies infecting all areas of pop culture, it's easy to miss a new property or think that it is just more of the same. The Walking Dead may be the most popular zombie comic book title, but the team behind '68 give zombie fans a different look at the zombie pandemic by taking readers into the Vietnam War.
'68 is off to an impressive start and I recently got a chance to talk with Mark Kidwell and Jay Fotos about all things '68. We cover the Romero zombie rules, unanswered questions from the first 4 issues, and future plans.
Jonathan James: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Can you introduce yourselves to Daily Dead readers and tell them a little bit about your work in the comic book industry?
Mark: I’ve worked professionally in comics for nearly a decade and have produced or contributed to dozens of books, graphic novels and mini-series. My work runs the gamut from horror to western to dark fantasy. My creator-owned horror series BUMP was the flagship title for the Fangoria Comics line and I’ve worked with Nat and Jay on tons of stuff including several projects for their Frazetta Comics line through Image Comics.
Jay: A Long hard road, but I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. I’ve worked with nearly every major comic book publisher on hundreds of projects for more than a decade. To name a few, from Spawn to Beowulf, Transformers to Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show, Rob Zombie’s The Nail, Sam and Twitch, 30 Days of Night and the Eisner nominated series Locke & Key. Not limited to just the comic medium, I also work in other creative media, ranging from animation, video games, album art, TV, motion pictures, and toy design.
In 2006, Nat and I founded Frazetta Comics, first releasing Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer, holding a record for the fastest sellout for issue #1 in 6 hours and multiple reprints. With the success of the Death Dealer series, helped launch a new variety of Frazetta inspired comic titles and hard covers.
'68 started out as a one-shot released by Image Comics back in 2006. Why did it take so long before it picked up for additional issues? Was it a matter of everyone being busy on other projects or did the continued push of zombies into pop culture make Image Comics come to you guys looking for more?
Mark: Since the creation of the original one-shot, all of the creators knew they wanted to do more-needed to do more. We’re all very passionate about the property and for years kept tossing around story ideas and plot directions within the group. The big obstacle to continuing the series was time. Everyone stayed super busy, producing projects together and separately, so ’68 always had to take a back seat. Once everyone’s schedule cleared and commitments were met elsewhere, Jay, Nat and I put our heads together and decided to commit ourselves to a long-haul creative push toward ’68. The fact that zombie fiction, comics and film are still mega-popular in media today is a happy accident and one we don’t take for granted, but it was never the prime reason to revive the brand.
Jay: As Mark stated we’re all had our hands full, but always knew we would come back to ’68. Fans kept demanding it, so now we are answering them.
For readers that may be unaware, 1968 is the year that George Romero's Night of the Living Dead was released and '68 has ties to the film. In terms of continuity, do you see '68 taking place in the exact same world as Romero's Night of the Living Dead or did you feel that '1968 would be a good starting point for the Vietnam story and started there as more of an homage to Romero?
Mark: Personally, I will always credit the creation of the American “Cannibalistic” zombie to John Russo and George Romero. Their initial creation, while a spin on Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”, still stands as the birth of the sub-genre and 1968 was the year of that brainchild’s delivery. The world shown in NOTLD is the same as that of “’68” in that it’s a quasi-realistic depiction of the United States in the turbulent 1960’s and we adhere to history as well as most of the rules set up by the original film. I don’t think you can play in this particular undead sandbox and not pay homage to the guys who built it. Our twist is pulling the “camera” back and increasing the budget astronomically by panning away from rural Pennsylvania and widening the frame to include the broader scope of a zombie outbreak centered on the conflict in Vietnam.
How close is '68 to the Romero zombie "rules", including infection, movement speed, and behavior?
Mark: Very close. As in the Romero films, zombification is achieved not only by the transfer of the “virus” by bite, but by something unknown in the earth’s atmosphere itself. In other words, damned if you’re bitten and damned if you’re not. You die after the morning of February 13, 1968…and your brain stem is intact, you’ll rise again. As far as speed, that changes as zombies decompose. Our zombies will never be “Fleet of Foot”-you do experience rigor mortis and muscle atrophy after expiring. But fresher specimens will have a greater range of movement and ability than ghouls that have been animated for weeks. As far as behavior, our adherence to the “rules” established in the Russo/Romero canon can be seen plainly in our zombies’ use of weapons and familiar objects as well as their tendency to return to places that held some sort of meaning to them in life.
Jay: We tap into the “tradition sense” of the rules, but we add another feature that we feel “breaks the mold.” With our newly reanimated zombies they have some “sense” of the personality they had prior to their demise. To give and example, in issue #1 of the new series a VC sniper was “picked” out of a tree by a US soldier, later that morning when the VC reanimated, with gun in hand he begins to fire the weapon(not very well mind you) as “instinct.” This we feel ads a little more depth to the zombies, rather than totally mindless undead.
Is zombie evolution (zombies becoming smarter) something you'll touch upon in the series?
Mark: In my opinion, zombies could potentially be “trained” or have some semblance of trace memory stimulated by events or visual perception following resurrection, but as far as actual learning, no. That would take a fresh, active brain function that (again, in my opinion) these rotting shells no longer have. Now, could some sociopathic neuro-surgeon hardwire an undead brain to stimulate long-term, semi-intelligent aggressive behavior and trigger a murderous, Pavlovian response in an army of ghouls? Stick around…
Jay: Don’t give away to much now Mark! But yea, stick around cause it get’s pretty crazy.
In issue 2, we see a corpse pile zombie creature. Will we see more non-traditional zombie creatures throughout '68? Will there be an explanation of how/why these types of creatures exist?
Mark: Yes and yes. The corpse-pile, multi-zombie from issues #1 and #2 was an amalgam of secretly buried Viet Cong corpses, joined accidentally in death by hasty burial in the mud walls of an underground tunnel. Natural decomposition and adiposity was the culprit there. As multiple bodies rotted and flowed together in the soil, the mysterious atmospheric “zombie-virus” worked its magic, raising the dead. As multiple minds became active again, the thing shambled out and moved the only way it could, using the many appendages and brains that now made up it’s whole.
Jay: As we state in the comic, the VC buried their dead within the walls of their tunnels to hide the body count statistics from their enemies. So the bodies would tend to be stacked on top of each other…hence our zombie/blob mess we created.
Now that this has been picked up as an ongoing series, how much of the storyline is mapped out?
Mark: We don’t adhere to a tight outline. The story is in a constant state of flux until finished scripts are produced and the artwork begins. Everyone contributes ideas to ’68. That’s what keeps the creation process fun and exciting. You never know what your fellow creators are brewing up and multiple sets of eyes on the story keep the direction fresh and new. We have a loose framework that all the story ideas fit into and we mold it as needed to adapt to some new horrible epiphany.
Jay: Yea, we only just started. The first series just takes place within a 24 hour timeframe when “the shit only STARTS to hit the fan” we got way more to tell for sure. This process is fun, we all have ideas and get thrown into the pot, some stick some don’t but we all contribute to the final outcome.
Do you have a specific end date in mind or are is there interest in continuing this indefinitely as long as there are interesting stories to be told?
Mark: I think Nat, Jay, myself and everyone reading this will be long gone before all the potential story ideas inherent in the world of 1968’s rise of the dead are exhausted. There’s no end in sight at this point.
Jay: As long as I’m breathing I will be there to help produce more ’68.
We've seen the story shift temporarily from Vietnam to the US. Is the plan to focus most of the time in Vietnam or will we see continuing storylines take place in the US and other countries?
Mark: Vietnam will always be the series’ main focus, due to its rich component of dramatic storytelling opportunities. The book’s main focus, however, is the rise of the dead in the Age of Aquarius. While the book centers on Vietnam, we won’t miss any opportunities in swinging the camera around and showing the overt horror of the situation anywhere and everywhere. The one-shot books that accompany the main series give us a broad, unique opening to do that, but you’ll see glimpses of it in the main ongoing storyline as well.
Jay: Yes, with ’68: Hardship(one shot due out in Nov.) it takes place in Nebraska but our main character was just sent back from Vietnam on a hardship leave…and he brings a lot of baggage home with him. With ’68: Jungle Jim(one shot due out in Dec.) we jump back and stay in Vietnam.
Similar to the one-shot, characters introduced over the first 4 issues tend to be killed off pretty quickly. While I don't want to jump into any spoilers for those who haven't read the book yet, will the series follow a specific group of characters for the long run or will the series jump around to different areas of the Vietnam war and feature new lead characters?
Mark: A good watchword for the ’68 series would be “Aloha”. Hello and goodbye. There’ll be a strong continuity throughout the series and we’ll explore some characters deeply, while others will make brief appearances and bloody, violent exits. The cast will grow as the series moves along and as always, we’ll attempt to breathe life into our characters, give them personalities, passions and three-dimensions, but in the end…well, nobody is really safe.
Jay: Like Mark said “…nobody is really safe.” But I do champion a certain character, that I won’t say who…but I really like him and hopes he stays around for a while at least ;)
The series has seen the introduction of the CIA into the storyline. Will you continue to explore the CIA's involvement in Vietnam and are we going to see more of them trying to deal with the zombie infection?
Mark: Maybe. As previously noted…fluid story outline. I can guarantee you haven’t seen the last of the cold, surly agent Declan Rule. We have some big plans for him- stay tuned. As far as the CIA itself…if there’s a story there and we like it, then it’s undead wetwork for the G-men.
Jay: Like Mark mentioned, Agent Rule has a long road ahead of him and if you “read between the lines” your mind can almost figure out what we have in store for him.
Have you seriously considered or been approached about taking '68 into other forms of media? For example, I think that '68 could translate really well into a video game, even more so than The Walking Dead.
Mark: There’s lots of stuff going on in the realms of new media direction for ’68. I’ll let Jay fill you in more on that…
Jay: At first we have the mindset of setting a solid foundation with our property. We wanted to concentrate on just finishing our first story arc, build a solid website(www.68zombie.com) and upkeep all of our social media with facebook and twitter. That alone is a lot of work piled on top of busy schedules with producing the books and other projects.
We have been approached by other media and now that we have this first arc in the bag it’s something we can show off as a whole completed product. We gave ourselves a little break to concentrate on that as well. Even though we have the one shots to help fill the void between our main series, it gives us a little more breathing room and focus to pursue other avenues of our property. We hope for a very bright future for the ’68 brand and as mentioned, we’ve only just begun!
What can you tell us about what's in store for '68 in the near future? I know that there is a new one-shot in the works and that the story from the first 4 issues is expected to continue in spring 2012.
Mark: There are currently two ’68 one shots in the pipeline that will immediately follow the release of the main series’ fourth issue. “’68 HARDSHIP” and “’68 JUNGLE JIM”. They’re very distinct, different stories, but both have their roots sunk deeply into the Vietnam origins of the series. They’re even darker than the main book, so hardcore zombie/horror fans will not be disappointed and their close adherence to the book’s continuity and theme won’t be a break from mood for series followers. I’m hard at scripting right now on the next story arc in the ongoing series and there are more one-shots and micro-series planned.
Jay: These one shots in my opinion are perfect, they bring in fresh ideas and only broaden our world. Our heads go into tailspins on the ideas branched off these books. ’68: Jungle Jim alone, I can’t tell you how many ideas we have planned for this character.
The artwork in '68 is fantastic and I've seen prints, shirts, and signed comics in the 68zombie.com store. Is this something you will continue to do?
Jay: Yes, we feel our merch will be a strong backbone to our property and will continue with it vigorously. Not only does it help generate income so we can still move forward with the comics(as much as we love them, they don’t pay all the bills) but it gives our fans a little “piece of us” and we the creators control it. You have to remember we are a creator owned property and have no backing…so go buy some stuff will’ya! ;)
For those that missed out on the limited edition '68 grenade offering, do you plan on selling more? Are there any plans to sell any other war-related or unusual '68 items?
Jay: As mentioned we have tons of ideas and plan to move forward on all of merchandise, but again we need to take baby steps, further building that ’68 foundation and spend any monies earned wisely…we are still in a recession remember ;)
Will the one-shot and first 4 issues of '68 see a collected trade release in the near future?
Jay: Yes, we are in talks now on a release date and what options we have with a hardcover ect. We are shooting for a March 2012 release on the trade, right before the new arc starts in April, ’68: Scars.
Again, thank you for taking the time to talk with me about '68. Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
Mark: I’d personally like to thank everyone that gives ’68 a try. We’re all working hard to produce a high-quality, high-concept horror book with a realistic historical backdrop and so far reader response has been explosively positive. We couldn’t do this without the fans and we try our hardest to give them their money’s worth each and every time at bat.
Jay: Our fans have been ravenous, it’s great and we appreciate all the support. We plan to “spread the disease” as long as you let us.
Come back later today for our 6-page preview of '68: Hardship, which was just released today. If you'd like to learn more about '68, visit the official website at: http://www.68zombie.com