When it comes to horror, Jeff Mariotte knows of which he speaks. The best-selling novelist has numerous horror and tie-in books in print, and as the former editor-in-chief of IDW Publishing, he oversaw such fright titles as "30 Days of Night" and even wrote some of that series as well as comic books like "Desperados" and "Covert Vampiric Operations." Just as Mariotte mixed horror with the Old West in the former and horror and espionage in the latter, the writer's once again crossing genres with "Zombie Cop," a new Shadowline graphic novel fully painted by Szymon Kudranski that's one part police procedural and one part tale of the undead.
CBR News sat down with Jeff Mariotte to talk about "Zombie Cop," his take on the current boom in zombie fiction, and what's coming up in his future.
"The title makes the book's subject pretty clear," Mariotte told CBR. "When describing it this year at conventions, I've often said, 'He's a cop! And a zombie!' But in fact, it's a little more complex than that, thankfully."
"Zombie Cop" follows Joe Mundy, a detective looking into a missing persons case in a city that has just been struck by a plague of zombies. "His missing persons case dovetails into the mystery of how the zombie plague started--and while working the case, Joe is attacked, becoming a zombie himself," Mariotte explained. "That's where the book opens, when Joe is recently turned. He still considers himself a cop, and is trying to do that job, and solve that final case, even as he's losing his mental and physical faculties and slipping deeper into zombie-dom. So the ticking clock element drives the story, as he's desperate to find an answer while he's human enough to do so."
The initial inspiration for "Zombie Cop" came about while in conversation with an editor about a different zombie project. "I'm not a writer who chases trends, and didn't have any intention of doing zombie comics," Marriote remarked. "They seem to sell, but the market might be a little glutted with them at this point. At the same time, after I came up with the title, Joe's story clicked into place, pretty much beginning to end. It was the story that compelled me to write it, because I became so fascinated with the idea of following this honorable man's gradual deterioration. So I'm doing a zombie comic after all, albeit one that I think is very different from anything else out there."
As Mariotte indicated, there is no shortage of zombie stories in the market, but his view is that zombie stories come in cycles, and that we're deep in one now. "I think it started with George Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead,' in 1968, before which most zombies in fiction and film were the voodoo kind," Mariotte said. "In the late '80s/early '90s, my pals John Skipp and Craig Spector revitalized the zombie genre among the horror fiction crowd with the anthology books 'Book of the Dead' and 'Still Dead.' Now, thanks largely to the success of 'The Walking Dead,' comics are leading the way. I suspect at some point, the zombies will shamble back into obscurity for a while, only to return again when our guard is down."
Mariotte hopes "Zombie Cop" differs enough from other tales of the undead to make an impact on readers. "The viewpoint character is a zombie when the book opens, but we go back to his human days during the story, and we see every step of the dissolution of his humanity," the writer explained. "Most zombie stories are about the people who are trying to survive zombie plagues, but this one focuses on a single zombie, how he got that way, and what he's dealing with as he tries to hang onto some shred of what made him who he is."
It's also the zombie boom in comics that gives Mariotte a clear target audience. "That wide world of people who love zombies," he said. "Seriously, zombies are pretty popular across the spectrum, from the various comic books to the '28 Days Later' movies to books like 'World War Z' and 'Zombie Haiku.' Because of the zombie element, I don't think it'll necessarily appeal to people who just like straight cop stories -- the 'Law & Order' crowd, for instance."
Besides the main story with its 96 pages of fully painted artwork by Szymon Kudranski, "Zombie Cop" also comes with an original prose novella called "The Strip," set in the same zombiefied city Joe lives in and accompanied by black-and-white illustrations by Kudranski. "I'm better known for my horror novels than for my comics, so fans of my fiction will find plenty to love in this book, as well as comic fans," Mariotte said.
"Szymon is great," the writer said of his collaborator. "He's a young artist in Poland, so we've never met face-to-face. I don't think we've even talked on the phone, although his English is very good--far better than my Polish, which is nonexistent.
"His is a very painterly approach. There are unexpected splashes of color that create an almost impressionist feel to the pages. But at the same time, it's easy to follow the story, and to see Joe Mundy's physical deterioration coinciding with his loss of mental faculties. In the gory spots, Szymon doesn't flinch. I don't think there's another horror book on the stands that looks like this one, and I mean that in a good way."
The decision to produce "Zombie Cop" as a graphic novel as opposed to a miniseries was one driven by creative needs. "I always envisioned 'Zombie Cop' as a graphic novel," Mariotte said. "It's one story, beginning to end. Obviously, over a comic book writing career spanning something like 15 years, I've written a lot of miniseries, but to me those work best if there are smaller stories within the stories, so each issue can have some sort of conclusion to it, even if there's also a cliffhanger ending that draws the reader back next time.
"I saw 'Zombie Cop' as a single piece, and pitched it that way to Jim [Valentino] and Kris [Simon] at Shadowline. The good luck that started when Szymon joined the team continued when they accepted it, and again when they brought in Brant Fowler to do lettering and design.
"Plus, having it out in book form allowed me to write the bonus prose novella, a little 'value-added' treat for those who buy the book."
Though "Zombie Cop" is a complete tale, Mariotte won't rule out a future installment. "The novella, 'The Strip,' at the back of the book, is set in the same city, and there are certainly other stories that could be told in this universe," he said.
Fans looking for more Jeff Mariotte won't have to look far. IDW recently released his comic book biography of President Elect Barack Obama, and his latest novel, the supernatural thriller "River Runs Red,' is on sale now and gathering positive reviews. He's also authored the recent Spider-Man novel, "Spider-Man: Requiem."
Additionally, Mariotte is writing the comic book adaptation of "Terminator: Salvation" for IDW Publishing, as well as an original miniseries for a major publisher that he's not allowed to talk about yet.
"I have another horror novel on the market," Mariotte added. "'Cold Black Hearts,' the follow-up to 'River Runs Red' and its predecessor, 'Missing White Girl,' comes out from Penguin/Jove in May."
As for "Zombie Cop," Jeff Mariotte said, "Anyone who enjoys horror will find something to like in 'Zombie Cop' --there's horror and humor, tenderness and gore, all wrapped up between two covers."
"Zombie Cop" shambles on to stands January 28 from Shadowline and Image Comics.