Kevin Eastman swaps turtles for zombies this October with the re-release of his 1992 horror miniseries “Zombie War” through IDW Publishing. Originally published in black and white, the art, by Eric Talbot, is being colorized for the re-release by Eastman’s current “TMNT” colorist Ronda Pattison.
Eastman stepped away from his drawing board to speak with CBR News about “Zombie War,” explaining why he’s re-releasing the story now, his deep passion for the horror genre, the current status of his and artist SImon Bisley’s long-gestating “Lost Angeles,” affirming his cameo in next summer’s “TMNT” movie and much more.
CBR News: How did “Zombie War” come about?
Kevin Eastman: Because I’m a genius. [Laughs]
It’s so bizarre because I’m a child of genre and grew up reading comics in every way, shape and form, but I also love movies of every way, shape and form. I remember going to the drive-in and seeing “Night of the Living Dead” in black and white, in Portland, Maine. I was scared shitless and have always wanted to do something fun with zombies since. It was just finding the right vehicle.
Going back fifteen-plus years ago, I thought it’d be wild to have a zombie war, where the war comes from aliens going to Arlington National Cemetery and raising up all these ex-soldiers. The zombies from “Night of the Living Dead” to “Day of the Dead” to today have all been sort of similar. I wanted to do something different. So this is zombies that were all ex-soldiers from the Civil War right up until the current day. Anybody who was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. [Laughs]
I laugh because I deeply love the genre. All the way from “Night of the Living Dead” up to “28 Days Later.” I love seeing George Romero hailed as a hero, finally, for some of the stuff he’s done, and to see guys like Zack Snyder start out with zombies is great. At 51 years old, it’s something I’ve grown up just loving, leading all the way up to me taking my fiance to see “World War Z” recently. She loved it and I thought it was awesome, too.
If I wasn’t sitting at a table for something like “Zombie War,” I’d be standing in line at a table for something like this. I just hope that fans dig it and want to see something more than “Ninja Turtles” from me.
“Zombie War” originally debuted in 1992. Why re-release it now?
Honestly, whenever I have a break in my “Turtles” schedule, all the way back to my original run with Peter [Laird,] I’d always return to the horror genre. My passion for many, many years has been horror movies. Freddie and Jason and “The Hill Have Eyes” and the original “Evil Dead” movies and all those things that we love to be scared of. One of the stories I did during those breaks was “Zombie War.” It was 64 pages based on an idea a great friend of mine Tom Skulan had. Tom was a big zombie enthusiast so we kicked around this idea of doing a bigger zombie story.
A few years ago I did a collection of short stories between “Turtles” stories called “Ronin Bebop” that I put out with my good friend Simon Bisley. It included “Zombie War,” which I had done years ago. A lot of people thought it was an awesome story and wondered how I came up with it 15 years ago, because it seemed contemporary.
When talking to my good friends at IDW, who I’ve been doing so much new “Turtles” stuff with, I mentioned I had this really cool zombie story that had been published in black and white, and I’d love to see it published in color because it’s a little bit relevant now with how popular zombies are. They said they’d love to do it and put one of my favorite colorists on the planet on it, Ronda Pattison, who also colors “TMNT.” It was a great happy accident and I feel really blessed.
What was it like working with Pattison to colorize “Zombie War?”
I’ve worked with quite a few colorists, and Ronda’s been such a savior for me. I’m always the last guy to turn in my covers at IDW, and she always knocks them out of the park. She just does beautiful colors. I love her color sense, it’s very earth-toney and natural. It’s a natural flow, not garish. When we originally discussed “Zombie War,” which is the same kind of inks we did for the original “Turtles” series, it’s kind of a sepia tone. I knew Ronda would be perfect if she could fit it into her schedule. She was and I’m pretty excited about it. She’s helped re-visualize it.
My only comment to her, and her stuff was already awesome, was to add more blood to it. More blood, more splatter. [Laughs]
What are the chances of new “Zombie War” material coming out after the re-release wraps?
This story is two 32-page issues, but we did leave the door open for what happens afterwards. Obviously, much like everything else I do, I have to rely on the fans. If the fans like what I’m doing and want to step up and pay four bucks a pop, then I’d love to do more with it. It’s a matter of economics. I love the genre, I love the concept, I love the possibility and I love the opportunity to tell another “Zombie War” story. To get to do more stuff with those characters would be awesome. That’s up to the people who buy the material to give me the chance to do it or not.
Was “Zombie War” the first time you wrote a script for another artist?
It was. It’s funny, because Eric Talbot is a very dear friend — we went to the same vocational school, and we both love comic books. This was in, my goodness, 1978 or 79? And people at that time interested in [horror] were considered geeks and pathetic. [Laughs] But we really loved it and cared about it. So when I had the good fortune of teaming up with Peter Laird and getting some success with the “Turtles,” Eric was one of the first guys I reached out to and said, “Look, there’s an opportunity that I could pay a page rate and you could make a living cause I think you should be drawing comic books.” As the “Turtles” evolved, he drew some “Turtles” stories and other things. We brainstormed a bunch of ideas. Eric was the first official person I did something completely non-“Turtles” with, using another artist. Having someone else do my artwork was a trip!
I don’t want to say I’m a control freak, but at the same time I love what I do and I have a particular idea in my mind when I tell a story about how to pace it and tell it. When you work with another artist, you have to take other stuff into consideration. The best part about working with Peter [Laird`] was that he had such a wonderful vision, too. Our battle plan from day one was to meld our two visions into something that worked as a whole. That’s always the trick. You can’t always have two co-pilots, though — sometimes you have to have a driver. [Laughs]
When will we finally see yours and Simon Bisley’s co-created “Lost Angeles” debut?
“Lost Angeles,” which is kind of a remake of “The Warriors” set in a future Los Angeles, was one of the first big ideas I came up with Simon. We have the story and we have all the characters mapped out, but it’s come down to me. It’s the first non-“Turtles” work I’ll be doing all the artwork on, so it’s a mixed blessing. I can’t wait to get to it, but I’m having so much fun with the “Turtles” that I can kinda wait. [Laughs] But it’s teed-up. It’s ready to go. I was actually drawing right before you called.
In a perfect world, I’d like to see “Lost Angeles” #1 out by Comic-Con [International], which would just be a matter of me getting it on the schedule. It’s going to be six 24-page issues. I need to get the first three issues done by [Comic-Con] so the first issue can debut there.
I have a weird schedule. I wake up at 3 in the morning. I was working on “Turtles” #26, which has to be finished tonight. You have to make your deadlines. Everyday I’m doing something. I’m trying to pen “Lost Angeles” into my schedule, and I’m hoping by December I can be fully on that. I love the fact that I complain about having too much work! That’s freaking awesome!
Moving over to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” for a second, what are you thoughts on some of the casting that has come out recently for Michael Bay’s big-budget reboot?
I’m a huge, huge, huge fan of somebody like William Fichtner. I actually got to do an awesome scene in the movie with him. It’s my cameo at the end of the movie. The casting for the regular crew of the “Turtles” has been spot-on, too. It’s always hard to do. You want to embrace the character’s personalities in the casting. You don’t want to go too far. That’s what’s been great about the director Jonathan Liebesman. He’s been trying to make the action as big and intense as possible while keeping the character’s true to the original versions. That includes Michael Bay, too.
It’s funny, because I had heard for many, many years that Megan Fox was a huge fan of the “Turtles.” This was pre-“Transformers.” From everything I’ve seen in the new movie, she’s fantastic. She makes a great April, besides the fact that she’s incredibly beautiful. I think she connects with the character. You include people like Will Arnett in there, and the pieces that I’ve seen are just fantastic. I’m stopping myself because I don’t want to give anything away, but I think it’s going to be pretty intense. It’s going to be a big movie — a tent-pole. Everybody’s got their heart in the right place, from every character and every role to the cast and crew of the movie. It’s going to be intense and I think it’s going to resonate across all the fanbases.
Can you tell us what your cameo in the film will be?
I’d love to, and I asked them if I could, but they said no! Jonathan Liebesman has been nothing more than a good friend from the earliest stage of the movie. He called me in, and we’d sit for hours at a time, going over different ideas and concepts and plotlines and themes and possibilities. We’d watch movies, too. Everything from every Jackie Chan and Jet Li movie to “The Raid: Redemption” to know what we had to step up to. We’re dealing with the most jaded fans in the world, if you will. Martial arts fans, that is, because they’re fanatics just like me. I’m a huge fan. I love and believe and practice the stuff. We wanted it to be something as original and intense and satisfying to all the fans that we could. So we came up with my cameo to be sort of a surprise, and I said it sounded great.
“Zombie War” #1 (of 2) is out this October from IDW Publishing.