This September, IDW Publishing continues to grow its world of comic book horror with the release of “Rot & Ruin” #1 by “NY Times” best-selling writer Jonathan Maberry and artist Tony Vargas. The first ever comic book adaptation of Maberry’s ongoing award-winning young adult novel series of the same name, “Rot & Ruin” tells tales in which the remnants of humanity try to survive in a world where zombies have already won.
Maberry explained to CBR News why why he’s decided to bring the award-winning novel series to comics as all-new stories rather than adapting his prose work, the current state of the “Rot & Ruin” film — and when we can expect to hear more about it — how fast the “Rot & Ruin” zombies move and much more.
CBR News: Jonathan, for those who aren’t familiar with the novel series, what are your “Rot & Ruin” stories about?
Jonathan Maberry: The “Rot & Ruin” stories take place fourteen years after the zombie apocalypse. The dead rose, we fell. Now there are seven billion wandering zombies and thirty thousand humans living in fenced towns along the Sierra Nevadas.
The story focuses on fifteen-year-old Benny Imura and his friends. These kids grew up after the end of the world, so it wasn’t their world that collapsed. They don’t share the same PTSD as all the grown-ups, nor do they feel as depressed or defeated. They intend to have lives, to grow up and to make something of their world. But — there are still those zombies.
What adventure does Benny and the crew find themselves in during your first “Rot & Ruin” comic story?
Benny, Nix, Lilah and Chong — reeling from the events at the end of [the prose novel] “Dust & Decay” — are on the fringes of Yosemite National Park, heading toward Nevada on the trail of the jet. They encounter a man named Farmer John who may have the secret of rebuilding and reclaiming the world from the zombies. The question is whether his dream is something the four teens can accept. This story isn’t a clash of good and evil; it’s a clash of ideologies and worldviews. I leave a lot of decisions up to the reader to decide how they would react and what choices they would make.
How does the comic series fit into the novels?
The “Rot & Ruin” comic is set between the second and third novel in the series, but it’s a great entry point for someone who hasn’t read the books. The four teenagers are looking for a plane they saw in the sky — hoping that there is a civilization out there somewhere.
Why did you decide to move “Rot & Ruin” to the comics medium? Why now?
Ah, I’m a comics guy from the jump. I learned more about reading, ethics, the world and a lot of other important stuff from reading comics as a kid. I started when I was eight, and I was living in a rough environment. Comics taught me some of the skills I needed to get out and have a better life. No joke. So it makes sense that I’d want to use comics to tell the kinds of stories that tackle some pretty tough issues.
And having done comics for Marvel for years — “Captain America,” “Wolverine,” “Punisher,” etc. — I wanted to explore comics based on my own characters. “Rot & Ruin” is my world, and I have more stories to tell than what went into the four novels in the series I did for Simon & Schuster. IDW has given me the chance to go deeper into that story.
I’m not a huge fan of straight adaptations. If I’ve read a novel or comic, I want something I haven’t seen. That’s why I like AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” It takes some of the comic, and then goes down a crooked side road into new territory. Ditto for “Dexter,” “Game of Thrones” and “True Blood.”
And, I’ve already done the stories that are in the novels, and those will be adapted for the upcoming “Rot & Ruin” movie. No, I wanted to take the path less traveled and tell new, fresh stories. Dangerous stories.
Speaking of the “Rot & Ruin” movie, can you tell us what’s going on with that?
A lot of the details are being kept under wraps, but at DragonCon we’ll make an announcement about the production company and at least one actor attached to the project.
What I can say is that it’s moving forward and the direction the filmmakers are taking has my complete support. They really get these books and they are going to do it right.
One of the more interesting aspects of “Rot & Ruin” is the generation gap in how people deal with living post-apocalypse. How are youth dealing with the state of things differently than adults?
Every adult in the “R&R” series is broken. They’ve all seen the things they relied upon — society, religion, politics, the military, the whole infrastructure — fail and fall apart. It’s taken from them the optimism to believe in anything, and so they pretty much believe in nothing, or they think that the survivors of the apocalypse are doing time in some kind of purgatory. Even those who have some of their act together feel like failures because the world they’re handing to their kids is flawed and broken, and they know that they were not able to fix it.
The kids don’t see it that way. They see the world as a diamond in the rough and they believe they’re going to have the skills to recut it into something beautiful and lasting. The story is then balanced between optimism and pessimism. Is either side a right or wrong choice, is either path a good or bad one?
Do Benny and his friends have extreme PTSD without realizing it, or have they completely normalized the world as it is?
Benny and his acquire some PTSD because of what they’d been through, but it’s not related to the trauma the adults are experiencing. Benny, Nix and Lilah (not so much Chong) have all lost their families to horror and murder. They’re orphans now, and that’s a recent thing. All four of them have seen firsthand that the real monsters in the world aren’t the zombies but humans who see the apocalypse as an open door to taking what they want however they can. This has changed the worldview of Benny and his friends, and it’s left some scars. Sadly for them, things will only get worse. I am not known for being kind to my characters, not when the story demands something harsher and more powerful.
What kind of zombies does “Rot & Ruin” feature? Fast/slow/smart/dumb?
The zombies in the first two novels, and in the comic, will be the classic George Romero slow shufflers. Brain dead and sluggish, but what they lack in agility and smarts they make up for in numbers and relentless aggression. There is every chance that Benny and his friends will encounter other kinds of zombies should we decide to continue the series. The novels allow for all kinds of mutations.
“Rot & Ruin” has been described as a “gateway” book for kids and reading. Did you intend this to happen? Is the goal of the comic to serve as a similar gateway for comics?
I didn’t know it would accomplish that, though now that it’s won so many awards for being a gateway book, I feel so incredibly happy. To think that these crazy tales encourage kids — particularly boys — to read, is tremendous. It makes me feel fifty feet tall.
My intention with the “Rot & Ruin” series was to tell exciting stories that also touched on elements of humanism, ethics and courage. It takes courage to be tough, it takes a lot more courage to be tough and moral. The books explore what it means to be human, and they take a look at the process of how enemies are demonized and dehumanized.
“Rot & Ruin” is available from IDW Publishing this September.