There are few directors better known for their influence on the horror film genre than George Romero. Starting with “Night of the Living Dead,” Romero invented the concept of the modern zombie: the flesh-eating, reanimated corpses that rise from the grave. While his “Dead” saga has spawned a plethora of films, the director had more recently debuted a story in comics, writing Marvel’s “Empire of the Dead” with art by Alex Maleev.
CBR’s executive producer Jonah Weiland sat down with Romero during New York Comic Con 2013, discussing his seminal horror classic “Night of the Living Dead” as well as the story behind “Empire of the Dead.”
On the cultural significance of “Night of the Living Dead”: I am [aware of how popular it is] and it’s a little disconcerting because I used to be the only person on this playground. Now, everybody’s jumped in — but I used zombies differently. I used them as political and social satire. I never thought when I made the first film — “Night of the Living Dead” — I never called them zombies, I never thought of it as a zombie film. To me, then, zombies were those boys in the Caribbean who were doing the wetwork for the Lugosi. But people started to write about the film, calling them zombies, so I said, “Okay, maybe they are — a new kind of zombie.” Zombies, traditional zombies, aren’t dead. They’re made slaves by some chemical formula. That’s what traditional zombies were, so I created these dead people who come back to life and start to eat and want to eat flesh a la vampires. … I really thought I had done a new thing, but then I found out I had actually created a new kind of zombie. Instead of exotic voodoo things, I turned them into the neighbors.
On Marvel’s “Empire of the Dead” comic: It’s not a continuation of my mythology, it’s not. It takes a turn left. It’s a continuation of my thoughts about zombies, but it’s not in any way a continuation of the same phenomenon that’s in my films. The main reason that I was keen to do it is because of what I said — everybody’s doing zombies now. I need to get out of the zombie movie for a little while and this was a perfect way to do it — write something where I could really let my imagination run wild, and not even shoot it. … It’s a classic zombie story, but we come to find out that in addition to zombies, there’s another kind of living dead in this universe: vampires. That’s really the big twist here.
On his early experiences attending conventions: It used to be much more intimate, and smaller. It was really a boutique, not that many people — no one would come around in costumes. … Now, it’s just unbelievable. It’s just mushroomed incredibly. It used to be these small little get-togethers. A local magazine would put something together, and that would be it. You’d get maybe a couple hundred to two thousand people would show up. That was it. It was really boutique and there would be conversations at the bar. I couldn’t possibly have a conversation with all these people. It used to be much more casual with the guests hanging out right with the fans. You could get to meet them without a crush of fans. I just did a panel onstage and when we closed the panel up, the stage was mobbed with people that wanted to have a handshake or autograph or whatever. It’s unbelievable.