IDW Publishing continues the longest currently running zombie saga in comics this December with “Deadworld: Restoration” by legendary writer Gary Reed and artist Sami Makkonen. “Deadworld” first debuted in 1987 by Reed and artist Vince Locke, following the adventures of survivors and zombies alike as they struggled in the shadow of the all-powerful King Zombie, until the King was deposed in 2012’s “War of the Dead.”
Reed spoke with CBR News about “Deadworld: Restoration,” explaining how his zombie saga moves on without mainstay King Zombie, discussing the current zombie trend, revealing specific details about how he feels “The Walking Dead” borrowed from “Deadword” and much more.
CBR News: For readers who aren’t familiar, what is “Deadworld” and where did you leave off in 2012’s “War of the Dead?”
Gary Reed: “Deadworld” is a zombie series that first launched in the 1980s, first from Arrow and then most of its original run at Caliber Comics. Toward the ending of Caliber, the series was put on hiatus as it was signed up for a movie with George Clooney’s company through Warner Bros. and I thought it best to hold off so it could tie into the movie series. After a few years, though, the movie was pulled off the schedule. I decided to reboot the series around 2006 and a relaunch came from Image Comics. It has since moved to IDW who have also released quite a few of the back material.â€¨
“Deadworld” is the story of the world plunged into a zombie apocalypse. Civilization has been shattered and the zombies have taken control because in “Deadworld,” you have a few intelligent zombies. So, it’s not just mindless, slow moving zombies in huge hoards that one has to worry about. The leader of the intelligent ones is King Zombie and he is on a mission, a mission of bringing death to the entire planet.
“War of the Dead” was the series from last year and dealt mostly with King Zombie and his breeder camps. He knows he needs humans so he set up a camp to breed more humans. You also had the lepers, victims of bizarre experiments to see if the diseased flesh could infect the zombies. It didn’t work but it did give the lepers the chance to walk amongst the zombies undetected because of the dead flesh. In the battle between the zombies and the lepers, the breeder camps were liberated but with King Zombie dethroned, the new Queen Zombie figured a way around the lepers and most of them were killed.
What do you have planned for “Deadworld: Restoration?”
In doing these miniseries, I try to make sure it’s a complete story and has a sense of both introductions and closure to it. Yet, at the same time, I want to build off the previous storylines, so it’s a delicate balance. In “Restoration,” obviously, it builds on the “War of the Dead” and all that’s come before, yet I think new readers can join in.
This series deals with a new leader of the zombies, the Queen, and she has a much more specific goal in mind. She’s not interested in bringing the world to death, she just wants her daughter. Her daughter is human so there’s a conflict there. She can’t really restore the world to the death knell it was heading for because then her daughter can’t survive, so she has to wrestle with her own nature versus her daughter’s survival. Of course, you have factions existing that want to push the Queen to one direction or the other. She is half human and half zombie and so far, she’s been surviving as both. But that can’t continue — she is going to have to be one or the other.
What is human society like at this point?
There really isn’t any society. You have pockets of civilization, each with their own agenda and motivations. Some want to restore the past, others are more mercenary and are driven purely by self interest. Surviving at this stage of the game is a given and we’ve moved past just simple surviving. Those who are still around have a sense of this world; they’re not in shock with dealing with it anymore.
How does the absence of King Zombie affect the power balance now?
King Zombie over the years has been the backbone of “Deadworld,” so going into this series I’m sure some fans will wonder what happens without King Zombie at the nexus. I think I take care of that early on in the first issue so they will see an inkling of the power balance right away.
What does artist Sami Makkonen bring to “Deadworld?”
I guess the best way to put it is that Sami brings sort of a chaotic energy to the series. With this series, we’ve done about 14 issues together and I really like what Sami does. He really creates an atmosphere and I think does a great job of establishing not only a look to the series but a feel. One reviewer said that reading “Deadworld” was like reading a nightmare. And it should be, I mean, after all, you have a near annihilation of the human race and the zombies have set up breeding camps for humans who willingly go as it’s their best chance at short-term survival. The humans themselves conduct bizarre experiments or hunt zombies for sport, so there’s a lot of things going on and Sami does a great job of capturing it all. He is also surprisingly good at knowing how to play the more intimate scenes and even though this is about a war between humans and zombies, there are the quieter moments when people step into a more personal relationship.
It’s been over 20 years since “Deadworld” started. Do you have a “ending” in mind for the story or will it go on forever?
I have a general direction for the series but no, not really an ending. Another reviewer mentioned that he thought “Deadworld” was so bleak and that humans didn’t have a chance, they could never win. In general, I have a lot of faith in humanity, not just in “Deadworld” but in the real world. Yeah, I know we screw things up but I am always amazed how resilient and resourceful we are. I know that a lot of people think that the human race will destroy itself, but I don’t. I think unless the world has some kind of natural catastrophe and is destroyed, humans in some form or fashion, will be here. Who knows, maybe it will be in a partially zombie form? After all, if the decay can be completely halted, that might give a sense of immortality that we all crave.
As someone who has been working in the zombie genre for some time, how often have you seen the genre come into and go out of vogue? Is it cyclical or do you think the current zombie craze is more permanent?
I think there has always been an interest in zombies and it has ebbed and flowed but stayed pretty persistent. Of course, in the last 10 years or so, it has really exploded. So much so, that in many cases, it borders of being ridiculous but that’s how things go. I think it may swell up so big that the zombie bubble will burst but you’ll always have the zombie purists. What will be lost are the fringe fans but I certainly think that the zombie genre will continue very strongly although it may slip out of the craze stage. It always frustrates me when people see “Deadworld” and give a smirk and say something, “Oh, you’re jumping on the zombie bandwagon too?” But I can’t expect people to realize that it’s been around for some 25 years.
What’s going on with the “Deadworld” film that was announced back in 2009 with David Hayter attached to write?
The script went though some rewrites but nothing is really happening. I think it’s following the typical path that happens in Hollywood. To be honest, I really don’t pay much attention to it. I told the producers that I didn’t want updates about things happening because so much of it is spin from all the parties involved so I only want to be informed if something concrete happens. So, I haven’t been informed of anything. Maybe something is real close? Maybe it’s completely dead? I don’t know. I’m not going to get emotionally invested in something I have absolutely no control over.
Do you read or watch “The Walking Dead?” How do you rate it?
Well, I’ve never read the comics but have caught some of the TV show. My general impression of the show is that it’s a little slow but it seems pretty interesting. I actually get asked a lot about it not just because of the zombie worlds but because the events that I’ve seen in “Walking Dead” are very similar to a lot of stuff that happened in the original “Deadworld” series. I mean, I don’t want to be that guy that screams “rip-off” like so many others, but there are a number of similarities… the guy with the hand cut off and blade attached, the sword wielding female with chained up followers, a wife named Laura and a son named Carl, a religious family that seems unaffected by zombies, these are just some. I really don’t think about it too much unless someone asks and I do get lots of advice from many people about going after them. I don’t really think about it as I’m so busy and I have to determine if I should think about it more. The current “Deadworld” storylines are so far removed that it’s hard to look way back in the past. I guess I need to give it some more thought and actually explore it in more detail about any kind of connection.
Do you have any other projects coming up beyond “Deadworld?”
Always. I have a kid’s book coming out and a couple of reference type books that I love to do but my main comic series coming out soon is “Saint James Infirmary.” It takes place in the early 1900s and centers around a doctor in an insane asylum who is pulled into some crimes with the police. He’s what you would call an alienist, albeit a reluctant one. Caleb Carr did his great novel, “The Alienist,” about doctors who determine if a patient is able to stand trial for his crimes and superficially, it might seem similar to that. But I use the asylum as sort of the base to tell a lot of stories, whether they deal with this new type of crime which is serial killing — although that term wouldn’t be used until much later — to exploring some of the history of the insane patients. It gives me a chance to explore a lot of different directions and I weave in and out of the crime scenes with reflections on the patients. Plus, the whole nature of psychiatry was changing at that time. If anyone has read my “Saint Germaine,” I liken it to that quite a bit. There’s a couple other projects, of course, but this one has three issues done and I’ll be looking for a publisher very soon and may go Kickstarter on it.
“Deadworld: Restoration” #1 is on sale December 11 from IDW Publishing.