Fan Expo: Brooks, Ennis discuss zombies, "Crossed" and more

Max Brooks and Garth Ennis would be terrible at fighting legions of the undead. With Ennis returning to "Crossed: Badlands" with issue 50 and Brooks continuing the march with the "Extinction Parade," it seems like they wouldn't have enough time on their hands to fight back the horde.

Avatar Press Editor-in-Chief William Christensen hosted the Fan Expo 2013 panel on the publisher's hottest titles and writers. The loud audience laughed when Brooks made wisecracks and whenever Ennis deadpanned. The comics were all about zombies, plagues and vampires.

Ennis ("Punisher Max," "Preacher") was put on the spot first. Issue 50 of "Crossed: Badlands" comes out in March, kicking off a seven-part story called "The Thin Red Line," which will be about the initial Crossed outbreak.

"You'll see how things developed from the original patient zero," Ennis said. "You'll see how things fall apart on a government level, and see society try to respond to the outbreak and fail."

The arc will also see the return of the four characters from the "Fatal Englishman" arc that began in issue 25. Ennis said he believes that readers will be surprised by the original occupations of those characters.

"Crossed" is about a massive plague outbreak that drives people mad, but doesn't erode the brain. As a result, those infected retain enough intelligence to use firearms and lay traps.

Meanwhile "Dicks" will have a third series in which Dougie Patterson and Ivor Thompson will travel back in time to the very first story Ennis and artist John McCrea ever made together.

Avatar will as republish all of Ennis' "War Stories." Ennis wrote the series for Vertigo in 2001 and 2003. The first series will be released in February, followed by the second in March. This will be followed by an entirely new series.

2014 will also see the release of the new series "Caliban" and "Red Rover," the latter of which Ennis called "hard to describe, but you'll know it when you see it."

Then Christensen turned to Brooks ("Zombie Survival Guide," "World War Z"), who is two issues into his new comic "Extinction Parade."

The vampire versus zombie series began with a short story Brooks wrote several years ago. Soon after, Brooks was on the Discovery Channel series "Deadliest Warrior" that pitted vampires against zombies to see who would win. The show made him want to dive back into that world. Christensen came to him and offered to publish a longer version as a comic book series, with someone else writing the script. That didn't work.

"I realized that I have this superpower. I'm a huge control freak. The scripts were awesome, probably better than anything I could do, but they weren't me," he said. Brooks then rewrote every issue, and slowly expanded the series from six to 12 issues.

While at its basics, the story of "Extinction Parade" is about zombies fighting vampires, Brooks sees social commentary within that framework. Vampires represent the upper class, those who have never had to work for their achievements.

"Everyone around me saw vampires with envy, but what I saw was the Kardashians. I saw the French aristocracy. I saw a species that was very vulnerable. And that's what I'm exploring here," Brooks said.

As for why the series keeps growing, Brooks attributes that to his obsessive-compulsive nature. The books were originally 60 pages long with long-winded word balloons.

The setting also makes the book more challenging. Brooks set the series in Malaysia, but Brooks has never been there. He said he researched the culture, the politics and the economics within the nation, going so far as to buy an entire set of traditional Southeast Asian machetes.

"I just have to know what they feel like and what they look like. I have to know. That's just part of me being weird," he said.

Brooks' tendency to make the scripts longer and longer while requiring very specific visual references forced "Extinction Parade" to become bi-monthly. According to him, the artist, Raulo Caceres is having trouble keeping up with his pace.

"I will literally give links on Google Earth and say, 'Look, if someone was standing on this street corner and then looking this way, this is what the skyline would look like,'" Brooks explained. "I live in fear that someone at this convention from Malaysia will come up to me and be like, 'Dude, you are so wrong.'"

Ennis agreed with this sentiment.

"When I write fiction, I assume that there are going to be enough people interested enough to follow up on some of the tidbits I threw in," Ennis said.

Christensen then called for questions from the audience. Brooks was asked about his opinion regarding the "World War Z" movie, which had little to do with his book beyond the setting. Brooks explained he was disappointed but a chat with prior "Walking Dead" executive producer, Frank Darabont, cheered him up.

Ennis then clarified that he would never return to Marvel and that he had no unpublished story ideas that he wanted to pursue. Brooks had one story idea that fell by the wayside, because Ennis wrote it first in "Battlefield: Night Witches."

An audience member also asked Brooks if he had a plan in case Fan Expo was suddenly overrun with zombies.

Brooks laughed and said he would stick with Ennis, who lived in Northern Ireland during the IRA terrorist bombings. Ennis shook his head. He grew up in the suburbs of Northern Ireland, away from all the fighting.

"If you're looking to me for help, all I can say is I forgot to bring the primo bottle of bourbon I've set aside for when the apocalypse comes," said Ennis.

Issue three of "Extinction Parade" comes out in October. The next issue of "Crossed: Badlands" comes out Sept. 11.

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