I was interviewed by my local newspaper about Zombies. Check out their article here.
If you live in Springfield, Missouri, I’ll be at the Library Center on October 26 at 7 pm to give a speech about zombies. Learn more here.
The modern zombie genre began in earnest with Richard Matheson’s novel I am Legend and George Romero’s film Night of the Living Dead. Both stories focus on hordes of shambling undead attacking the human survivors of the apocalypse, typically by besieging the shelter of the survivors. From these sources sprang an entire genre of zombie apocalyptic fiction. Romero’s trilogy of Dead films inspired literally thousands of zombie films and novels. The Zombie Movie Database website currently counts over 4600 films which contain zombies. However, the zombie genre also holds great sway in popular culture. Video games like the Resident Evil and Dead Rising series, Dead Island and Killing Floor are all extremely popular, selling millions of copies. Clearly the zombie holds great appeal to both the horror enthusiast and mainstream audiences.
Like the survivalist apocalypses, the zombie story makes the prevailing social institutions incompetent or malevolent, such as the sheriff mistaking Ben for a zombie in Night of the Living Dead or the military using nuclear weapons on a city overrun by zombies in Return of the Living Dead. Many times, the zombie apocalypse is brought on by the old order, either as a government or corporate experiment or accident. Furthermore, any help provided by the government is limited, suspect or worthless, such as plutocracy established in the film Land of the Dead. In any case, the social order quickly collapses and anarchy prevails in the typical zombie genre formula.
Introduction: I gave a presentation at the 2007 Popular Culture Association Conference about the link between the survivalist movement and the zombie genre. I’ve divided my presentation into two blog posts. In part 1, I focus on the survivalist movement while in the second part, I discuss its connection to popular zombie narratives. The second part will be posted Tuesday.
Civilization crumbles apart as the Other lay siege to its last bastions of safety. Millions die or are converted to the Other during the assault. Only small groups of isolated citizens survive the apocalypse safe from the Other. They collect stockpiles of weapons and supplies to build a better future, utilizing craft and military skills to maximize the effectiveness of their tools. Many times, the survivors are overcome by the Other, but die in a blaze of glory before succumbing to the horde. The post apocalyptic world is a new frontier where only the skilled and wise adapt and survive. This story formula is not unique to the zombie genre. Survivalists have been telling similar stories since the start of the Cold War. While zombie aficionados do not sincerely believe their tales of apocalypse will one day come true, both the survivalist and zombie mythos share several key motifs. In particular, the concept of bricolage is central to both genres, as the protagonists of these stories overcome the Other (in the form of the undead or various barbaric armies of the New World Order) through skilled tool use in a variety of fields. In this sense, these stories aim for the same goal, the reassertion of individuality over the savage multitudes of the world.
The last decade has seen a resurgence in the popularity of the zombie genre in American films but it’s now spread worldwide. In the last several years, many foreign films have taken the undead in a new direction. From Nazi zombies guarding treasure to New Zealand slackers making the best of a post-apocalyptic world, the appeal of shambling hordes of flesh eating undead monsters seems to be universal. These movies are only part of the burgeoning zombie movie canon but each is worth checking out.
1 and 2. [REC] (2008) and [REC] 2 (2009):
You might have seen Quarantine, the American remake of [REC] but the reason I recommend [REC] over Quarantine is the sequel. Without giving away too much, [REC] and [REC] 2 uses a blend of Catholic mysticism and science to suggest that a strain of rabies leads to demonic possession. In Quarantine, this angle is changed to an underground scientist working on rabies research. You don’t see much of this backstory in either version of the first movie but in the sequel it makes the difference.
The American film, Quarantine 2, is a predictable direct to DVD movie set in an airport terminal. [REC] 2 takes place immediately after the first movie and follows a SWAT team as they enter the zombie-filled apartment building. It’s claustrophobically intense – the zombies run into submachine gun fire and keep coming and the hallways are too small to run away. By the midpoint of the movie, [REC] 2 distinguishes itself from other zombie movies with several clever plot twists and developments. The finale is amazing, surpassing the night vision ending of the first movie. It’s a great zombie film that takes the undead in a new direction. Two more films are being planned.
Festering hordes of shambling undead monsters may not seem like a good subject for music but zombies have inspired many great songs. While thousands of songs have been written about the undead, most are about death, the afterlife and revenge. Zombies, on the other hand, have inspired love ballads, protest songs and pop hits. It seems that musicians have found the shambling hordes to be quite adaptable as subject matter.
This is not meant to be an inclusive list but inspiration for your own zombie themed playlist for your upcoming Halloween parties and zombie walks.
1. Re: Your Brains by Jonathan Coulton:
Jonathan Coulton is best known for two songs: Still Alive and this one. Re: Your Brains is about a zombie named Bob singing to a human survivor named Tom trapped in mall, asking him to open the doors so he can eat the human’s brains. The zombie is extremely articulate for the undead and makes a convincing argument for Tom to just let the undead in:
I don’t want to nitpick, Tom, but is this really your plan?
Spend your whole life locked inside a mall?
Maybe that’s OK for now but someday you’ll be out of food and guns
And you’ll have to make the call
I’m not surprised to see you haven’t thought it through enough
You never had the head for all that bigger picture stuff
But Tom, that’s what I do, and I plan on eating you slowly
The song has become a major hit in geek circles. It was included in the game Left 4 Dead 2 as an Easter egg. Cycle through the songs on a jukebox in the game and it will eventually land on Re: Your Brains.
Because Coulton released it with a Creative Commons license, anyone can make a derivative work based on it as long as they credit him and don’t make money off of it. This has led to multiple music videos and fan works across the Internet. I even used it as the song for an episode of my podcast Role Playing Public Radio. If you ever want to create a zombie themed Youtube video, Re: Your Brains is the perfect go to choice for music.
It took from the fall of 2009 to February 2011 to write, edit, design and get the artwork for the book. During this time, I was also going to school, working on a book for Arc Dream Inc. called Road Trip and podcasting. However, I think I could have finished Zombies of the World in less time had I planned better.
The book sprang organically from the material I used for the web series, so I didn’t spend much time determining exactly how many images I would need or how many words I would need to write for each section. At first, I focused on writing the main text and assigning art for the artists. My idea was to finish the main text and send it off to get edited. While it was being edited, I could work on the layout. At least that was the original plan. Once the bulk of the rough draft was written, I sent it off.
The initial layout took only a short while, since I had help from several friends in creating a base template for the book. It was then a matter of pasting in the text and images. However, I often found that I needed to lengthen or shorten the text to fit the page better. This resulted in writing new text within Indesign. I also found I needed more art to vary the layout of the book. Since the book was full color, I wanted to take advantage and fill it with great artwork. Too much text would be a waste. So the book went through several major revisions as I added new material, revised it, adjusted the layout and then repeated the process. This led to several holes in the production cycle as I would have to assign artwork later on once I knew I needed it and would then have to wait for it.
What I learned: Planning a major project like a book takes a lot of time up front but it saves time and frustration in the backend. It’s imperative to know what you will need from other people so you can get them working as soon as possible. It will also take longer than you originally plan. Delays and setbacks are common. It’s important to keep moving ahead though. You can’t finish a project if you don’t keep working at it. Keeping the energy to continue over the long term is the hardest part. It’s so easy to give up and try again later.
Of course, I did manage to wrap everything up and send the book off to the printer. I got the printed books in late June and the final result was worth the wait, I think. Of course, marketing and distribution are entirely different skill sets that I’m still learning but I’m proud to have pulled it off.
This concludes the behind the scenes blog posts. If you want to learn more, feel free to email me or comment about what you liked or didn’t like. I’d love to hear if these posts were informative or not.