Exclusive Interview : Raise the Dead Comic Writers!

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Earlier we gave you your first look at Raise the Dead the new zombie comic from Dynamite and now we have an exclusive interview with the writers of the comic. You readers told us you loved our horror comic coverage, so we are gonna be bringing you ALOT more of it. This March, Dynamite Entertainment, publishers of comic series such as Army of Darkness, The Lone Ranger, Battlestar Galactica and Red Sonja, will release Raise the Dead!

Dynamite enters the land of the dead with an all-new Zombie tale set in the middle of a full scale zombie infestation! This time though, there's a twist as Dynamite puts the "living" into the living dead! Writers Leah Moore and John Reppion are joined by the newest Dynamite artistic sensation, Hugo Petrus, for this special Zombie event! Raise the Dead will also feature two covers from two Zombie experts - Sean (Marvel Zombies) Phillips and Arthur (Marvel Zombies, MARVEL ZOMBIES VS. THE ARMY OF DARKNESS) Suydam! From its shocking opening to its ever-evolving cast of doomed humans facing an overwhelming number of the undead, Raise the Dead sets a new standard in horror storytelling - and all the gory details will be presented in full color!

Raise the Dead writer, Leah Moore and John Reppion took a few minutes from their undead creativity, to answer a few questions with Brian James about Raise the Dead!

Brian: How does the collaboration between Leah Moore and John Reppion work? Do you each focus on a different aspect of the story? And how did the collaboration work for Raise the Dead?

John:  We’ve been writing comics collaboratively since 2003 so we’ve kind of got our system worked out now; we start by discussing the ideas, working out the start and end points of an issue and what needs to happen in between. Then we sit down and rough out the pages, drawing little thumbnail sketches of each one so that we get the layouts right. We also make little notes as to what the characters might be saying in each panel.

Once the roughs are done we sit down at our computers and type the pages up. We combine our separate pages into a single word document, read the whole thing through and then start dialoguing. One of us will go though the whole issue and block in the rough dialogue and then the other will go through and refine it. We can sometimes end up going over and over a script and changing things back and forth for quite a while but I think it makes for a better script in the end.

We don’t exactly focus on different aspects of the story but we definitely bring different elements to the whole just by virtue of our own personal likes, dislikes and influences. I tend to take a lot of my ideas from films generally as that’s the most influential visual medium in my mind, so that’s been useful with this series.

Brian: What’s your background and interest in the zombie fiction? Are you a really big fan of any particular undead movie, novel or comic?

Leah:  I’ve always loved horror novels and horror comics, but I hadn’t really been introduced to zombies until I met john. I have since been brought up to speed on the whole undead plague, walking dead, reanimation of the recently deceased and suchlike. I have to say it’s a really flexible genre. No two zombie stories are saying exactly the same thing and I think that’s because they are so blank they invite you to put your own ideas in there. I’m a huge fan of the Romero films, but I loved Shaun of the Dead.

I loved Braindead because it was so homemade but so totally successful and disgusting. And the old black and white ones are the best really just because it’s the flip side to all the classics like Casablanca and The Maltese Flacon. Watching I Walked with a Zombie or White Zombie is a very nice vintage bit of horror. I love the quiet bits in between the screaming, the tension, and the little noises. That’s what scares me. The big scares make me laugh because the tension’s been broken and I can relax and enjoy the gore, but the quite bits…yeugh.

Brian: Zombie movies are known for using scare tactics such as sudden eye openings, ominous silences and surprise attacks, as well as just an overpowering sense of doom. Was it problematic adding scare tactics to a comic book? What scare tactics were you able to utilize in Raise the Dead?

John:  A lot of modern horror films use the “boom” scare tactic where they add a big loud sound onto the soundtrack when they want the audience to jump. Obviously, we can’t do that in comics (although, I really wish there was a way to do so sometimes) but there are lots of tricks you can borrow from films.

Every time the reader turns a page there’s an opportunity for a shock or a reveal and stuff like the “audience”. Being able to show things that the characters haven’t noticed yet works equally as well on paper as celluloid. One advantage you have over films and even novels with comics is that it’s very easy for the reader to backtrack and check things out that they might have overlooked previously. 

Brian: It seems that over the past few years’ zombie fiction has developed into a genre all on its own. Now that you are a contributor to this zombie genre, do you have an opinion on what why zombie stories have become so successful?

Leah:  I think it’s just because zombies are such a nice basis to begin from. You have lots of people, all with the same purpose, to eat you, and all with the same slow shuffling manner, and the human brain immediately starts thinking of ways to outwit the zombies. Different people think in different ways so the stories just keep on coming.

Some people would get loads of guns and hole up and try and take the zombies out, some people would stay mobile, try and round the zombies up and get rid of them en masse, some people would think of ways to get the zombies to benefit them in some way and try and teach them to work in petrol stations. Because zombies are from all parts of the world, all walks of life there is no end to the fun you can have. Also everyone has people they know that they wouldn’t mind being zombified, and people they would be crying buckets to shoot through the head. The bit in Shaun of the Dead where he has to kill his mum…it’s horrible! A genre that can make a million zombie fans weep silently en masse must be doing something right.

Brian: Ranging from the comedy of Shaun of the Dead to the existentialistic The Walking Dead, zombie fiction seems to have the ability to cover every aspect and medium of the entertainment spectrum. What is the tone behind Raise the Dead? Is there a specific theory or philosophy that you used as the basis for the story?

John:  The tone’s not quite as bleak as say Night of the Living Dead but it’s still pretty harsh since the subject matter isn’t the most cheerful in the world. There’s a bit of humor in there just to relieve the tension really, but I think that makes it a bit more realistic too.

Brian: Zombie fans know what they like and it seems will never complain about redundancy in storyline or theory as long as they’re served up a healthy portion gore and guns. What were your source materials for Raise the Dead?

Additionally, guns, ingenuity and survivalist instincts play a big part in surviving a zombie outbreak; did you use any source material outside the zombie or horror genre?

Leah:  We wanted it to be like one of the great survival series, “Survivors” being the one I instantly think of, where normal British people are suddenly left alone in the countryside, having to fend for themselves, fight off rival communities and stake out territory. It’s that post apocalyptic thing where you think “how much water could I physically carry, how much food? Would I share it with someone? What if they were my Grandma?” those kinds of questions make the survival genre and the zombie genre so engrossing.

I remember reading Z for Zachariah as a kid and being totally chilled to the bone by the idea that the girl is trapped there with her supplies, and that her family is all dead, and then it gets worse and the man Mr. Loomis gets there and takes over. Really horrible stuff. Whether the threat is nuclear like in Z for Zachariah, or a plague like in “Survivors” the overall concepts and the really frightening parts are the same as in zombie stories. Where do you go that’s safe? Who do you take?

I want there to be real emotional impact, so that instead of it just being a body count exercise, you really get to know the characters, really watch them struggle to survive, then when an undead traffic cop bites their face off you actually have a response, rather than just thinking “huh. Cool, a traffic cop zombie”

Brian: And now for the answers fans are dying (pun intended) to know…. What form of zombies is the world facing in Raise the Dead? Are they fast? Slow? And just how hungry are they? And, most importantly, how do we kill them?

John:  This was not a difficult thing for us to agree on as I’m something of a pedant when it comes to zombies. They have to be slow, unintelligent, only interested in devouring the living, unable to talk, unable to use tools or learn and the ONLY way to kill them is by removing their heads or destroying their brains. Anything else just isn’t a proper zombie.

Brian: It’s been released that Raise the Dead is going to put the "living" into the living dead. Can you sneak a hint on the basis behind this concept? How much originality are readers going to find in Raise the Dead?

Leah:  Well I can’t reveal too much, but there is an unexpected element which even the characters aren’t ready for. Someone in the Raise the Dead world is slightly better prepared for the outbreak than the rest of them. That person might be only adding to the mayhem, but maybe they have the solution…we have to wait and see.

Brian: Now for the still breathing side of the cast; who are the players, and how can readers relate to them? And most importantly, should we get attached to them?

John:  The series opens with a cast of seven with a bus driver, a real estate baron, a conspiracy geek and a young brother and sister amongst them. You’re right of course, there’s a good chance that not everybody’s going to make it, but yes, we definitely want people to get attached to them. This isn’t a book where we want the reader to end up rooting for the zombies. We want you to care about these people because they have families and homes and jobs and favorite ice cream flavors and songs and smells; they had normal lives before this whole things started and maybe, just maybe, they can get some semblance of those lives back one day. All they have to do is stay alive.

Brian: So you’ve created a bit of an ensemble cast, and obviously not every one lives (although they may keep moving!) When writing a book like Raise the Dead, how do you decide who lives and who dies? Are characters created to be expendable? And have you ever found yourself developing a sort of rapport or fondness for a character that, for the lack of a better term, keeps them alive?

Leah:  It’s weird because until we write the dialogue we don’t really know how the scenes are going to pan out. So someone who we quite liked might be a total arse in one scene and it really puts me off them. Dramatically it would make sense for them to carry on in the story, but I kind of resent them for it. It’s hard to get the balance right, building the characters up but maintaining the action. I want them all to survive but sadly that’s impossible. We haven’t written issues three or four yet so there’s still hope for the little blighters yet.

Brian: Raise the Dead appears to really hit the ground running! Is there anything that readers need to know before delving into the series? 

John:  We deliberately wanted to start the series right in the thick of it all and let the readers learn things gradually as we go along. You could easily spend half a series (or indeed a whole series) setting up the events that might lead to an outbreak of zombie-ism but that isn’t what we wanted to do here. We wanted the whole thing to be as full on and unrelenting as the situation we’re trying to depict and hopefully that’s what we’ve achieved. My advice to someone about to sit down with issue one and read it for the first time would just be “brace yourself”.

Brian: What will a reader who is not a horror or zombie fan find appealing about Raise the Dead?

Leah:  I think just the logistics of it, the conversations and incidents and how the people deal with the horror of it. The Nihilism of zombie outbreaks is appealing even if you don’t watch horror films. The bleakness really focuses the characters outlook on life; they suddenly figure things out about themselves. It’s all good fodder whatever you’re into.

Brian: And finally, now that you’re part of the zombie world, do you have a plan… y’know, just in case of an outbreak?

John:  Don’t you worry; we’ve had our plan worked out for a good few years now. We live in Liverpool, right on the River Mersey which flows out to sea. The way we figure it, all we have to do is head into town and steal one of the “ducks” they use to take tourists around the city and across the river. The “ducks” are ex-military vehicles that used to be used for beach landings; they’re half jeep, half boat and you have to climb up a set of steps to get on board them.

Once we get the vehicle we just drive straight into the river, then the sea and head out to the nearest oil rig; they’ll have plenty of supplies, means of generating their own electricity, purifying their own water and good communications with the mainland. Basically, we just sit the whole thing out there. If it doesn’t blow over in a year or so we start making plans to head out to some tiny island and farm our own crops and stuff. Well, you did ask…

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