Sideshow Chats with Author Jonathan MayberryWednesday, August 5, 2009
Mention the phrase ‘Patient Zero’ to anyone with a pop culture sensibility and they don’t talk swine flu…they immediately think: zombies. And bloody right, too. Sideshow recently got the chance to chat with author Jonathan Maberry about his catalogue of horror literature and recent dive into comic writing, plus his passion for collecting! Here’s what Mr. Maberry had to say…
SIDESHOW COLLECTIBLES: We make a zombie statue called Patient Zero, you’ve written a book of the same name. Does it also deal with zombies?
JONATHAN MABERRY: Absolutely. PATIENT ZERO (St. Martins Griffin, 2009) is the first of a new series of techno-thrillers. It introduces Joe Ledger, a former Baltimore police detective who gets recruited by an ultra secret government organization to help stop a group of terrorists who have a plague that can turn ordinary people into flesh-eating zombies.
There’s a lot of intense zombie action in the story, and the zombies are somewhere between the slow shufflers of the George A. Romero flicks and the faster predator zoms of Zack Snyder’s re-imagining of Day of the Dead.
SIDESHOW: Is that your only zombie story?
MABERRY: God no! Lately I’ve pretty much become ‘the zombie guy’. The whole thing started while researching a nonfiction book called ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (Citadel Press, 2008) for which I interviewed over 250 experts in law enforcement, forensic investigation, medical science, epidemiology, the military and others on how the real world might deal with events such as seen in classic zombie novels. That went on to win the Heinzman Science Award and the Black Quill Reader’s Choice Award, and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award; and it became an international best-seller.
While writing that I got the idea for a novel in which a prion disease is used as the basis of a zombie pathogen. That became PATIENT ZERO. While writing that I was asked to write a short story for an anthology, HISTORY IS DEAD, edited by Kim Paffenroth for Permuted Press, so I banged out “Pegleg and Paddy Save the World”, a zombie comedy about moonshiners in the days leading up to the Chicago Fire. With the success of ZOMBIE CSU and PATIENT ZERO, I was asked to contribute a novella to another anthology, THE NEW DEAD, which is being edited by Christopher Golden for a 2010 release from St. Martins Press. That story, “Family Business” was set fourteen years after the zombie apocalypse and introduced teenager Benny Imura and his zombie hunter brother, Tom. I liked the story so much that I decided to revise and expand that into a novel, and actually wound up selling a pair of novels, ROT & RUIN and DUST & DECAY, which will be published as Young Adult books by Simon & Schuster, to be released in 2010 and 2011.
And most recently Marvel Comics tapped me to join the team of writers for MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN, a five-part comic book event to be published this fall. The rest of the team includes David Wellington (MONSTER ISLAND), Seth Grahame-Smith (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES) and Fred Van Lente (Marvel Zombies 3, 4). My installment deals with zombified versions of Spider-Man and Wolverine.
So…yeah…I’m the zombie guy. And I love it.
SIDESHOW : We gotta ask: do you collect anything – figures, books, movies, anything?
MABERRY: My writing desk is surrounded by action figures and statues. They’ve become my audience and my muses. They’re also constant reminders that writing the kind of stuff I write is supposed to be fun. I’ve collect two types of figures: zombies and Marvel super heroes. My Shaun of the Dead figure with the cricket bat is the centerpiece of my collection. I’ll be getting the ‘Ed’ figure to go with it. I also have ‘Bub’ from the Day of the Dead collection, and I just ordered the ‘Dead Ornament’. My Christmas tree is getting increasingly strange.
Lately I’ve been collecting figures or busts of characters who appear in the comics I’m writing for Marvel. I have a great Wolverine bust, and figures of the Punisher, Spider-Man, and a superb Marvel Legendary Scale Bust of Doctor Doom. I’m hoping that Sideshow makes a Black Panther figure or bust sometime soon, since I’ll be writing the book for the foreseeable future.
Sideshow’s figures always knock me out. The attention to detail really appeals to me, and there’s an obvious respect for the subject matter.
SIDESHOW : How and why did you get started with that collection?
MABERRY: I bought the Shaun of the Dead figure at the Monster Mania convention in Cherry Hill, NJ while doing a book signing for The Cryptopedia (with fellow Bram Stoker winner David F. Kramer). I saw it and absolutely fell in love with it and had to have it because that’s when I was writing my first zombie novel, PATIENT ZERO. That figure kept me company while writing the book.
When I went online to look up the manufacturer I was blown away to find out that Sideshow made a figure called…Patient Zero. What a sign from above. Well…maybe not above, considering the subject matter. I’ve been grabbing a lot of Sideshow stuff ever since. I just found out that you’re distributing a figure for THE WOLFMAN from the new version of the film starring Benecio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving. I wrote the novel based on the script, so I absolutely have to have that one on my desk. It’s currently sold out, but as soon as they restock it I’m grabbing one. That’ll be on the table with me at every book signing for THE WOLFMAN.
SIDESHOW : What is it about zombies that appeals to so many people?
MABERRY: They are the perfect fill-in-the-blank monster, they can stand for whatever you’re afraid of. They lack their own personalities, so they become walking symbols of whatever scares us; and since they are relentless and unreasoning, that fear remains constant…and constantly intense.
For writers, zombies allow for a broader or deeper kind of storytelling. Far more so than vampires. Before the vampires were humanized and romanticized, they were the Big Bad, and the story was all about their presence and the threat of what they could do to the humans in the tale. Stress and turmoil warps personality, and that’s what most storytelling is about: real people reacting to a situation outside of their normal experience. Once we humanized vampires, a large portion of the story was given over to developing and exploring them -which meant less of the story was devoted to the humans in crisis.
You don’t have that with zombies. Except in a handful of zombie tales, the walking dead do not possess intellect or personality and therefore all the writer has to do is establish that they are the threat. Once that’s done, the story focuses on the humans who are caught up in that threat, and from a storytelling perspective that’s a pretty deep fishing hole.
Think about it -Night of the Living Dead would have been an entirely different, and probably far less memorable or influential, a film if the zombies were chatty.
SIDESHOW : How did you get hooked on horror?
MABERRY: By age ten I’d seen double my share of vampire and werewolf flicks. I’d seen every giant bug flick they’d show during the Saturday double-features at the Midway Theater in my hometown of Philadelphia. This was the late Sixties, so I got two monster flicks, two cartoons, and at least a half dozen movie trailers for thirty-five cents. I’d always sneak into the front row of the balcony and hunker down with my Hire’s root beer and my big box of Day ‘n’ Nights and watch revivals of old Karloff and Lugosi films, or dig into a tub of popcorn while Christopher Lee put the bite on bosomy rural gals (and I was still young enough to be more entranced by the monsters than the maidens). Or I’d stay up past my bedtime to watch both parts of Double-Chiller Theater -grooving along with the Brain That Wouldn’t Die, Monster of Piedras Blancas, and The Tingler. I went a little Psycho, hunted with the Witchfinder General, learned Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, tucked into the Blood Feast, visited the Haunted Palace and settled down to patiently Wait Until Dark.
But you see, I was kind of a weird little kid, and none of these films actually scared me. In a weird sort of way I was safe with them. The monsters and the monster hunters were friends of mine; we’d play together in the dark. All that changed when I saw The Night of the Living Dead. That was the first movie that truly and thoroughly scared the bejesus out of me. In Night of the Living Dead all recently deceased people were rising from grave or mortuary slab to attack the living. All of them. Not to drink blood, not to tear out the occasional throat. Oh no… these things were eating the living… and rather graphically, too.
I remember very clearly sitting in my balcony seat watching that movie and becoming suddenly very aware of how big and dark that balcony was. How far from the lights of the lobby it was. How remote it was. It was like a hand reached into my brain and turned the dial on my imagination up. All the way up.
If all the dead rose then what could I do? What could anyone do? How do you outrun hundreds of thousands of walking corpses? Where can you flee where death has never been? How can you outlast something that doesn’t need to go back to its grave at sunrise or won’t change back into a normal guy at dawn? I sat in the dark and thought about how overwhelming a rising of the dead would be, and I got really, really scared. It’s no surprise that when I became an author I’d start writing this sort of thing, ’cause I want to scare the hell out of the next generation.
SIDESHOW : What other scary books have you written?
MABERRY: I’ve done both fiction and nonfiction in the genre. The nonfiction deals with the myths and legends of the supernatural. The first book was VAMPIRE UNIVERSE (Citadel Press, 2006), which was a look at monster legends around the world and throughout history. The following year Citadel released THE CRYPTOPEDIA, a dictionary of the supernatural and paranormal, co-authored by David F. Kramer. It won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Nonfiction of 2007. Last was when ZOMBIE CSU came out, and that just went into second printing. This year’s book, THEY BITE: Endless Cravings of Supernatural Predators, hit stores at the end of August, and that deals with monsters in myth, pop culture, literature and film. That includes interviews with folks like John Carpenter, Peter Straub, Jack Ketchum and others. The last of that series will be next year’s VAMPIRE HUNTERS AND OTHER ENEMIES OF EVIL, which includes interviews with Mike Mignola (HELLBOY), Amber Benson (Tara from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), Ramsey Campbell, Joe Lansdale, Ray Garton and a host of others.
My fiction debut was GHOST ROAD BLUES (Pinnacle Books, 2006), the first of the Pine Deep Trilogy of
vampire novels set in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for Novel of the Year (but narrowly lost to some guy named Stephen King). It was followed by DEAD MAN’S SONG (2007) and BAD MOON RISING (2008).
I have three novels coming out in 2010: THE WOLFMAN (Tor, February) and THE DRAGON FACTORY (St. Martin’s Griffin, March) and ROT & RUIN (Simon & Schuster, Fall). Plus I’m doing a bunch of stuff for Marvel. I already did a Punisher one-shot (PUNISHER: NAKED KILL) and a Wolverine short (GHOSTS), and am the new regular writer for BLACK PANTHER (beginning with issue #7). And I have a pretty scary and intense Punisher limited series coming out later this year.
Thanks for chatting with us, Jonathan! Keep an eye out for Mr. Maberry’s upcoming novels and comics [jonathanmaberry.com]. And as we all know, the virus that started with Patient Zero is far from neutralized… Be Ready!
Jonathan Maberry author photo by Sarah Jo West.
Jonathan Maberry photo with Patient Zero Premium Format Figure by Don Lafferty.