NYCC 2012 Interview: Fred Van Lente Brings Zombies To Dynamite

Writer Fred Van Lente is no stranger to zombies. He’s been writing the adventures of superpowered brain-eaters for years at Marvel, and now he’s coming at things from a decidedly different perspective. In 2013, he’ll be launching a new zombie series for Dynamite that focuses on the other side of a zombie apocalypse the pencil pushers who’s job it is to maintain order, and quell the outbreak before it spreads. For more, we chatted with Van Lente, and also, found out how we’re all going to Broadway:

MTV Geek: Dude! MORE zombies? This is a question.

Fred Van Lente: Damn it, Alex, I’m not sure if this zombie thing is gonna catch on, and if we don’t do more comics about it might just not make it!

Geek: Seriously though, the basic idea seems like a lot of fun… I imagine this is a way to flex the other side of your zombie muscles?

Van Lente: Yeah, it’s my way both to send up the genre, having done it for so many years at Marvel Zombies, while at the same time having a different take on it. Like Archer & Armstrong, which takes the piss out of “secret history” stories, this project both makes fun of a genre while at the same time is very much a part of that genre which it is making fun of… I think I should stop this sentence now…

Geek: What can you tell us about the main characters in the series?

Van Lente: This is a worldwide apocalypse, so we follow people from all walks of life all around the world, but we’re focusing on a group of Defense Intelligence Agency analysts recruited right after 9/11 to figure out real-life solutions to fictional problems from movies and TV and the like. (There is some evidence the government actually did this after 9/11, by the way. Your tax dollars at work.) This program, codenamed “Tinseltown,” was shut down by Congress for being, in the words of one senator, “Completely useless.”

But when what appears to be a bonafide zombie outbreak begins in Pittsburgh, Tinseltown is reactivated, and the lead analyst realizes that what’s happening in real life is mimicking almost exactly a long-lost grade-Z drive-in zombie flick called Bloodbath of the Brain-Eaters. He sets off to find the last known print of this movie while society collapses all around him.

Will this gang of Internet know-it-alls save the world? Or will I as a professional comics writer have them die hilariously grotesque deaths? I can’t wait to find out.

Geek: What about the zombies? Slow? Fast? Doesn’t matter because they’re on a comic book page and can’t technically move, so you can avoid that question?

Van Lente: I did a panel once with Max Brooks of World War Z fame and John Russo, screenwriter for Night of the Living Dead and they asked us which we preferred. Both of them said slow (they’re purists) but I got to say, because of Marvel Zombies, “my zombies can fly.”

But to answer the question you actually asked… Here our DIA agents-slash-geeks are trying to figure out what the zombies actually are, so I don’t want to give too much away. But they do seem pretty darn fast — and they are more interested in biting the brain stem, where the spine meets the skull, than the actual brain. I’ll let that stew in your grey matter for a while.

Geek: I think I know the answer from the preview art, but this isn’t going to be all bureaucracy and people sitting behind desks, right?

Van Lente: Oh, no. The gore — and the jokes — will fly fast and furious.

Though, you know, there could be a stage version of this where they never leave Fort Bolling (DIA HQ, don’t you know, in DC). Alex, let’s talk after the interview — we can put it up in the PIT!

Geek: We’ll make literally dollars! Okay, when you’re working out a “real world” scenario like this, how much research goes into it, to make sure it’s accurate? How much is just making it up, and hoping no one from the government calls you on it?

Van Lente: I did my undergraduate thesis on real-life reactions to epidemics (specifically around the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s), and the job I held the longest before I stumbled into this whole Writing Comics gig was for the United Nations. So I know a bit about how the government responds to unexpected outbreaks and I’ve seen how an enormous lumbering bureaucracy works on the inside — even if they have the best intentions, petty politics always come into play.

A lot of this book is going to be about a tragicomedy of errors — we often see the initial moments of the zombie plague, and then the apocalypse that follows. But we don’t often see the Rube Goldberg series of screw-ups that get us from Point A to Point B. A lot of the satire comes less from the zombies themselves than from the total human failure in trying to deal with it.

Geek: My wife and I have a pretty solid “when the zombie apocalypse hits” plan… Tackling this book, I imagine you have a plan of your own? Any hints or teases, so I know where to find you when the food runs out?

Van Lente: Zombies are usually slow, dumb, and they can’t hurt you unless they get really close. There’s a reason in their first appearance (1968’s Night of the Living Dead) a drunken posse of rednecks was able to singlehandedly wipe them out. If there’s an outbreak … don’t leave the house! Hunker down. It’s that simple. In real life, the whole thing should blow over in a matter of weeks.

Unless… Well, you’ll have to read my book for the extenuating circumstances… (laughs evilly)

Geek: Any final thoughts? Things you can’t wait for fans to see with this book?

Van Lente: It’s fun to merge real-life government procedural stuff with my love of old 1960s B&W horror classics, like Carnival of Souls and the original NotLD, the William Castle and Roger Corman films, that kind of stuff. And our geek DIA analysts are people the readers will really care about, and worry about whether or not they get eaten. It’s a comedy, it’s a satire, but with real heart at its core. I think people will dig it.

Fred Van Lente’s Untitled Zombie Project (which is not the title of the comic) will attack comic book shops in 2013 from Dynamite!