Not everything that ZombieMall.com is associated with involves zombies. Well, not exclusively. I was contacted a few weeks back by Jeff Mariotte, author of several genre’s of books, from Spider-Man to CSI: Miami, to Star Trek, to Conan. These are all subjects that I have certainly had an interest in, but when he told me about a new project he was working on, a Graphic Novel about a cop who is slowly turning into a zombie, well.. I was as giddy as a school-boy.
I usually weave my questions from the subject in which I am trying to promote. In this case, Zombie Cop. However, Jeff, with his history of writing, has such an extensive library to choose from; please forgive me if my questions go astray.
ZM: Jeff, I’ve read that the idea for Zombie Cop came from an conversation you had with an editor in regards to another zombie project. Can you give us a hint as to what that project is?
Jeff: What happened was that I was at Comic-con in San Diego, talking to an editor about what his needs might be. He mentioned that zombies were hot, but that he already had a zombie book going. My mind started feverishly looking for an angle on zombies that I had never seen. The basic idea behind Zombie Cop came almost fully formed–that we’d be watching the disintegration of this decent cop as he was living (or dying) through the process of becoming zombified, all while trying to solve the mystery of how the zombie plague began. That editor didn’t bite, but the idea wouldn’t let go of me, and I refined it a few times, but that’s still the main thrust of the story.
ZM: Let’s talk about Zombie Cop a bit. In what year does the story take place?
Jeff: The story is deliberately vague about time and place. It’s basically now, and it’s set in a big American city. But the city is never named and the time is never specifically mentioned. It’s a story that could happen anywhere, anytime that a zombie breakout occurs. Which, you know, could be in ten minutes or two years–you just never know with zombies!
ZM: I understand that it’s a one-shot, that is; it’s a complete tale. I have heard that you also have a novella included in the back. What is it’s title, and what is it about?
Jeff: The novella is called “The Strip.” It’s set in the same unnamed city during the same zombie outbreak, but way on the edge of the city, on one of those strips that so many American cities have surrounding them, by the highway, with motels and fast food restaurants and convenience stores. It’s about a guy who is trying to get out of the city, but discovers that the military has sealed it off to prevent the plague from spreading. So, like too many other people, he’s stuck living on this little strip of civilization, in an overcrowded motel, while basic services deteriorate. It echoes some of the themes of the comic story, but in a different way–how do we define what “human” is, and how do we define what “human civilization” is?
ZM: Is this a realm you feel you could easily delve back in to writing about again, or are you heading off to more lively pastures with future projects?
Jeff: The trouble with zombie stories is finding something new to say or do that hasn’t been done. I don’t know of any that track the deterioration of a single character in the same way that Zombie Cop does. But the situations surrounding Joe Mundy, the zombie cop, are open-ended enough that there could be lots of other stories told in his city, so I’d be happy to revisit it if the fans want more.
ZM: You are certainly not a stranger to comics, what has been your favorite to be associated with?
Jeff: The Presidential Material: Barack Obama project was definitely interesting, because it was nonfiction, which I don’t do often in comics or prose, and because the response to it was amazing–I wound up on CNN and Fox News and Reuters News internationally, and in newspapers from coast to coast and around the world. But my favorite would have to be my long-running horror/Western series Desperadoes, because I’ve been able to work with such an incredible variety of great artists, from introducing superstar John Cassaday to the mainstream comics world, to bringing the legendary John Severin back to comics, to helping launch the careers of people like Jeremy Haun and Alberto Dose.
ZM: How did you team up with illustrator, Szymon Kudranski?
Jeff: When I was Editor-in-Chief at IDW Publishing, he sent in some samples and I hired him to illustrate a 30 Days of Night short story for one of the Annuals. We re-connected, I think on MySpace, a year or so ago, and he showed me some of his more recent work. I loved it. I was looking for someone who could breathe life into Zombie Cop, and I thought he had exactly what the book needed. You’ve got some pages up on your site now, so you know what I’m talking about.
ZM: He is from Poland, isn’t he?
Jeff: Yes. Fortunately his English is very good. We’ve never met in person, but one of these days…
ZM: His work is amazing, hell, even the word amazing does not do his work justice.
Jeff: Thanks. I agree. He’s young and so talented, I know he’ll be an industry superstar one of these days.
ZM: I’ve read on your website, www.jeffmariotte.com, that you have a “loose” trilogy, starting with Missing White Girl, followed by River Runs Red. What is the newest book and when is it due out?
Jeff: Yes, it’s a “loose” trilogy because the books aren’t actually connected by a single storyline or even a continuing character. They’re all horror novels/supernatural thrillers set on various parts of the US/Mexico border, involving various degrees of border issues along with the supernatural terror that’s going on. A reader doesn’t have to have read one to follow the others, because there are no common threads. It isn’t until the third book, which is called Cold Black Hearts, that it’s shown that this stuff is all happening in the same world. Now I’m thinking about a fourth one, which would connect them all in more concrete ways, and maybe build toward the idea that all this terrible stuff afflicting the border region is tied together in some way. Cold Black Hearts will be out in May 2009.
ZM: Getting back to Zombie Cop, I’m hyped about it. I love to read various ideas and takes on how zombies “pop up”. I’m not going to ask how they do that in this one, I want people to buy it and read it for themselves, but what can you tell us about the reality of the graphic novel’s setting? Is this something that could spew forth in almost any country or city?
Jeff: I think it is, yes. The thing about most zombie outbreaks, in fiction or real life, is that they don’t come about through supernatural means but through environmental factors and/or man’s misuse of science, whether it’s chemicals, weapons research, whatever. That makes them terrifying, because those same things affect our daily lives. Think about all the plastic we’re surrounded by. Plastic is an entirely unnatural substance that’s only been around for a few decades–what happens when it starts to become sentient and wants to take over the world? Will zombies be one of its weapons? That’s not how the outbreak happens in Zombie Cop–because that’s what Joe Mundy is trying to find out, I don’t want to give it away. But it’s something to think about…
ZM: When the impending doom-plague of zombies breaks out here in the real world, what will be the first thing you would do, and where on the planet will you go?
Jeff: Fortunately, I live in a pretty safe place, with lots of acreage out in the middle of nowhere, far from any towns or chemical plants. So even if my closest neighbors turned, I could probably hold them off for a while, and if the outbreak was confined to cities I’d be in good shape. But Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later both showed us that not even rural areas are safe indefinitely. If I went on the run, I could make Mexico quickly and live off the land there for a while…
ZM: What is your favorite color?
Jeff: Royal Blue.
ZM: What were the last 3 books you read?
Hmm… The Spy Who Came for Christmas by David Morrell, Black & White by Lewis Shiner, and The World Without Us by Alan Weisman–which is fascinating nonfiction about what the world would be like if humanity suddenly vanished. In an uncontrollable zombie plague, maybe.
ZM: What were the last 3 movies you saw?
Jeff: In theaters? I’m not even sure I can remember…not many theaters out here in the middle of nowhere. Quantum of Solace, Appaloosa, and Dark Knight, maybe.
ZM: In closing, do you have anything you would like to plug? The floor is yours!
Jeff: That’s always a dangerous question… besides Zombie Cop, obviously, I think fans of horror comics should be on the lookout for Graveslinger, which is a trade paperback collection of a miniseries that came out about this time last year. It’s a horror Western in which a prison undertaker accidentally releases 117 executed killers from the grave, and then has to track them down and re-kill them. The word “zombie” never appears in it, but they eat flesh and brains and you don’t have to think about it too long to make the connection. The book comes out in February from IDW Publishing. Then in March there’s the Desperadoes Omnibus, which collects all the existing Desperadoes stories, published over a 12-year period. There’s more comic work coming, including more Desperadoes, more Graveslinger, and some other cool stuff, but most of it I’m not supposed to talk about yet.
Book-wise, of course Cold Black Hearts is on the way, but if people want to start with Missing White Girl and River Runs Red, they can learn more about those and read some sample chapters on www.jeffmariotte.com. And if your readers also like vampires, they might enjoy the 30 Days of Night novels I wrote with Steve Niles, the writer who created the original comic book. Again, there’s more in the chute but that’s plenty for now.
Thanks for letting me talk about Zombie Cop, and thanks for being a clearinghouse for all zombie info on the web! When the big outbreak comes, people will be turning to you for help and information.
ZM: Jeff, thank you taking the time to check out ZombieMall, and for the kind words. I especially want to thank you for your time and for the interview!