Zaambi Brain Buffet: Morgans talk "Zombie Tales"

Back in 1989, "Wanted" screenwriter and "Salem: Queen of Thorns" co-creator Chris Morgan and his brother Terry wrote a novella called "Zaambi," chronicling the life and times of a samurai named Toshiro, who trains from childhood to bravely defend his people from the hordes of undead that have completely overrun Japan. "It's 'Seven Samurai' meets 'Night of the Living Dead,'" said Terry Morgan.

Almost 20 years later, the Morgan brothers have adapted their zombie story to comic book form with artwork by Gabriel Hardman, Minck Oosterveer and Jason Ho, and it appears this week in BOOM! Studios' "Zombie Tales" #4.

CBR news caught up with Chris and Terry Morgan to pick the writers' gooey brains.

CBR: What can you say about the plot of this issue?  Is it completely standalone, or does it tie in with any of the other stories in the "Zombie Tales" anthology?

Chris Morgan: The story is standalone, filling a complete issue. But it shares a love for zombies that is the hallmark of all the "Zombie Tales."

Terry Morgan: Our take came from our admiration of Akira Kurosawa and George Romero films. Basically, it's "Seven Samurai" meets "Night of the Living Dead."

Tell us about your lead, Toshiro.

CM: He starts as a boy on the verge of manhood, coming of age in a world overrun by the living dead.

TM:The story follows him as he grows older and, as his father did, becomes a samurai to defend his village against the zombie hordes. It was important for us that he be three-dimensional as a character and not just a cliche. Despite the horror going on around him, what's most important to Toshiro is being a person his father would respect: a samurai following the code of Bushido.

CM: That's the thing. He's not superhuman. Toshiro strives to remain honorable against an enemy to whom honor means nothing. He's affected by the fact that his world is very close to ending, his family and friends are dying, but he gets up every morning to fight anyway, refusing to give in to despair. Hopefully that's what makes the struggle interesting to readers, more than the standard zombie brain buffet.

TM:Not that there's anything wrong with a tasty brain buffet.

Where did the term "zaambi" come from?  

TM:I made it up. It felt right for the story. Sometimes the feel of a title informs the whole tale and this was one of those cases. It worked as a tool in creating this world.

CM: And it grounded it, I think. When the characters talk about "zaambi," to me, they seem different than the usual shamblers and give the whole piece a vaguely Asian feel.

What was your collaboration like?

CM: Great! Terry's the best! (Ask me when he's out of the room.)

TM:Chris is an engaging presence. Via e-mail.

CM: Honestly, we had an easy time of it. We got all our punching and yelling done in '89.

TM:And as a writer, having Mark Waid -- a writer I've read and respected for years -- as our editor was an honor. He was very supportive through the whole process.

The different chapters of Toshiro's life are illustrated by different artists, Gabriel Hardman, Minck Oosterveer and Jason Ho. Can you talk a bit about what each artist brought to the project?

CM: Well, to be honest, at first I was concerned. I've been close to this story for many years. When we first discussed adapting it into a comic, I envisioned the art in a very specific style. Heavy traditional Japanese influence. Woodblock prints and brush calligraphy, etc. It's a specialized style and a lot to ask of an artist, much less three. I thought, "How can it possibly live up to what I imagined?" But when I saw the first pencils, I was blown away. It was better than the vision in my head. I'm incredibly pleased.

TM:Ditto. In the script we asked for very specific things. For example, we asked for one panel to be in the style of a particular Hokusai print. I was never sure what the outcome of this somewhat challenging request would be, but Jason ran with it and delivered us a true piece of art.

CM: Gabriel exemplified the woodblock style that we were looking for and, on top of that, has a cinematic action style that simply kicks ass.

TM:I was extremely impressed with Gabriel's talent for character depiction -- each expression conveys vivid and subtle emotions.

CM: And I loved Minck's epic style, from his lush forest vistas to his gritty battle sequences. I felt like I was watching "Yojimbo."

TM:One panel in particular reminded me of an old EC horror comic, with the intensity of the character's murderous expression radiating madness off the page. We were very lucky to get these incredible artists.

CM: And have you seen the cover with the undead samurai?!

TM:It's fucking awesome.

What other projects are on your horizon?

CM: Well, in terms of comics, Kevin Walsh and I are still working on "Salem: Queen of Thorns." Issue #3 will be in stores soon. And then on the feature side, "Fast and Furious" just wrapped, coming soon to theaters near you in June '09. Oh, yeah, and I'm doing a little independent flick called "Gears of War!"

Being me sucks.

TM:I've got some comics ideas I'm going to be pitching. How about zombies versus Vikings? Zombies versus Renaissance painters? Zombies versus zombies? Hello?


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