EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Kidwell, Fotos, And Jones Talk About Their Smash-Hit, ’68!

What is there for me to say about ’68? The day Issue #1 hit the shelves I had to drive to three different comic shops before I found one that hadn’t sold out, and that pretty much speaks for itself. What do creators Mark Kidwell, Jay Fotos, and Nat Jones have to say about this four-issue series being released by Image? Well Pvt. Snowball, keep reading to get the intel on this comic and all of the lovely gore that comes with it…

Johnny_Trouble: “Mark, Jay, and Nat thanks for the interview, and most of all thanks for bringing us an ass-kicking comic that not only gives us a taste of a war long past but you guys have thrown the undead into the mix, creating something amazing in a genre that has been bombarded with worthless stories that lack any substance or entertainment value.

The first issue of this series came out on April 20th, however the world of ’68 was originally introduced in 2006 as part of Image’s Horror Book Vol. 1. Could we get a basic synopsis about that story and how it relates to the series?”

Mark Kidwell: “The original one-shot centers on two of the characters you see in the opening sequence of issue #1 of the new series, Lieutenant Tommy Blake and Bronto Jackson. As indicated in the new issue, the two are part of a five-man fire team tasked with investigating a deep-cover jungle listening post near the Cambodian border that has gone mysteriously silent. The 2006 story shows you what happens during that mission. It’s really dark and full of zombie action and gore, a perfect compliment to the ongoing story, but not entirely necessary to have read prior to jumping right in with what we’re doing now. Oh, and it will let you in on Lt. Blake’s habit of scratching numbers into his pistol bullets.

Johnny_Trouble: “Mark, what inspired you to combine the Vietnam War and zombies?”

Mark Kidwell: “Initial inspiration came from the realization that “Zombies” as we know them in cinema and fiction now, were born in 1968 with the release of Russo and Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”. If you take that birth date as gospel and ask yourself, “What else was going on in 1968?” and “If the dead were walking in rural Pennsylvania, what about the rest of the world?” The obvious answer is “Vietnam”. From there, it was easy to imagine the level of horror and carnage reached overnight in war torn battlefields full of corpses as the dead started to rise. You also have the inherent drama of the decade to work with, adding the undead virus to the cauldron of political unrest, free love, drugs and militant violence. Shaken liberally, all of this adds up to a pretty volatile dramatic mix.

Johnny_Trouble: “This comic has some heavier concepts in it than most zombie stories do, for example the racism faced by Yam, a Chinese-American, who deals with racist slurs that come from his own sergeant. What were some of the major focal points you wanted to address when it came to writing ’68? Because it seems to have more behind it than just soldiers trying to survive a zombie outbreak.”

Mark Kidwell: “I think all zombie fans realize pretty quickly that zombie films and fiction are really more about the surviving humans than the armies of rotting dead. The dead provide the horror and most of the action, but the real drama and story comes from responses and interactions on the part of people. My intent on focusing on Yam was to show how the slang and attitudes toward the enemy in the field darken even further when leveled at “one of our own”. It increases the readers’ awareness of how words can hurt as much as bullets and how impressions can be colored under a constant cloud of abuse. In Yam’s case, he’s caught up in a war where he feels he has no “side”. The enemy wants to kill him because he’s an American and his fellow soldiers follow their Sergeant’s lead, deriding him and making him feel like he’s one of the “them” just because he looks Asian. He’s a man without a country. At least until the rotting dead blur the lines between friend and foe.

Artwork From Kidwell, Fotos, And Jones’ ” ‘ 68 “

Johnny_Trouble: “One thing that I really appreciated is that you guys have stuck to the facts of the Vietnam War even when presenting a comic about zombies. While firebase Aries may be fictitious, the references to the Tet Offensive, the jargon of the era, right down to the weapons the characters use are all on par with the history. With this in mind, how much research went into creating the story, and why did you guys choose to focus so much on the facts?”

Mark Kidwell: “We all did tons of research for ’68, knowing from the jump that we wanted a realistic, plausible environment for our undead apocalypse. When you’re utilizing the Vietnam era, you have a wealth of oddities and strangeness at your disposal and some of the stuff we found was wilder than anything we could have made up. It also helps to have that strict adherence to realism established before introducing the supernatural elements in a story like this. It gives you the ability to compare and contrast the two vastly different types of horror and leave it up to the reader to decide which is worse.

Johnny_Trouble: “Nat and Jay, you guys have done some amazing work, the standard and variant covers are especially striking, why did you guys decide to choose the iconic images that you did for the variant covers?”

Jay Fotos: “Like you stated earlier you really appreciated that we stuck to the facts of that era. It only made sense to use imagery that fit that period. There are many images that fit that mold and we have ideas to last us for a long while.

Nat Jones: “We spent a lot of time going over images from the Vietnam Era and deciding which ones really hit the heart of what we were trying to accomplish with the variant covers. I really think the images we chose will speak to readers in a lot of different ways and hopefully draw them into the setting as well as show the scope of the ’68 story.

Johnny_Trouble: “The zombies and the gore look amazing and stand out in a war torn world filled with brown and olive drab. What factored into the decisions on how the zombies should look regarding their skin tone and physical appearance?”

Jay Fotos: “In the original ’68 one shot we kept all of our zombies “dead blue”, but in the new series I think we’ll mix it up a little with a variety of undead colors. Yeah, the blood and gore is a nice contrast to all the OD green for sure! We love it!

Nat Jones: “For me the look of the zombies really comes as a culmination of everything I have always loved in zombie films and zombie art. I think we all knew going in what the undead in ’68 had to look like, that’s the great thing about working with guys that love horror as much as we all do.

Johnny_Trouble: “Jay, the last time I interviewed you and Mark it was over your work on “Tyrannosaurus Rex”, what was the biggest difference in how you approached the color for T-Rex versus the color for ’68?”

Jay Fotos: “With T-Rex we were dealing with animals that don’t exist anymore other than their bones, so there was that freedom to do what works within the environment we created for the story. With ’68, even though it’s a fictional story as well, we are bringing in real elements of history, places, and props and staying true to the reference to add believability to our story.

Johnny_Trouble: “What would you guys say is your favorite part of working on this series so far?”

Jay Fotos: “For me it’s working with guys that are into it as much as me. Collaborating on ideas is always a motivating factor for me. ’68 is not an assembly line, passing it down to the next guy kind of thing. We are always asking opinions, helping each other out and swapping ideas. We all have a stake in ’68. It’s our baby and we’re all striving to make it the best product it can be.

Mark Kidwell: “Yeah, the collaboration thing for sure. I love working with these guys. Always have. We’re “like-minded” when it comes to horror, so ’68 just has a natural flow in its creation. I also love getting the opportunity to do intelligent horror fiction in a broad-scope world where we can mix character design, depth, plot and splatterpunk gore into one series that has no foreseeable limits.

Nat Jones: “Same here. Having the opportunity to work alongside guys with as much talent as Mark and Jay on a book that reflects everything we all love in horror and comics is amazing. There is a lot of love in ’68… nasty, rotting, flesh eating love.

Interior Pages Taken From Issue #2 Of ” ’68 ” (On Sale May 25th)

Johnny_Trouble: “The afterword of Issue #1 says you guys will have T-Shirts and variety of merchandise for the comic available at conventions; will fans be able to purchase merch online as well? (Ps. I would love to get my hands on one of those ’68 grenades, or any grenades for that matter…)”

Nat Jones: “Yes, we have just launched our store on 68zombie.com with t-shirts and prints already available. You can expect a ton of cool new ’68 stuff to be added to the store as we move forward so be sure to check it out!

Mark Kidwell: “Jay is the godfather of those grenades. He came up with ‘em. Now I want to see fans who flew in for a con smuggle those babies through security. They’re not real, but on an x-ray…

Johnny_Trouble: “In addition to three more issues of ’68, what else will we be seeing from you guys down the road?”

Mark Kidwell: “If all goes as planned, tons more ’68! We’ve already got three one-shot books in production (’68 HARDSHIP, ’68 “HALLOWED GROUND” and ’68 “JUNGLE JIM) and two of those will follow the first mini-series story arc immediately. After that, we’re planning another multi-parter that will pick up where the first four issues leave off. In that way, ’68 is an ongoing series, told in “chunks” or separate story arcs that fit together in continuity. The one-shots spread the story, moving the “camera” around so we can show a global view as the dead change the world.

Also, for fans of my “BUMP” comic series…I just published a full-length novel version of the story. It’s a whole new look at BUMP, with a lot more room to build the characters, horror and gore. There’s a lot that will be familiar, but there’s a ton of new stuff, even new characters. It’s BUMP deluxe and it’s available in a printed version right now at: this link.

Nat Jones: “Definitely more ’68, we have many, many more stories to tell!

Mark, Jay and I also have quite a few other concepts stewing in our minds that we’d like to explore inside and outside of the world of comics. You can expect a lot more serious horror from us in the future.

Johnny_Trouble: “Where should fans go besides 68zombie.com to keep up with news about you guys as a team and your work as individuals?”

Jay Fotos: “Check us out on FaceBook and on Twitter. Our Facebook page is kept up to speed on a daily basis, and that ties right into our Twitter as well. 68zombie.com is our home base that we will continue to build upon as we move down the line and get more comics/merchandise out.

Mark Kidwell: “Facebook for me. I’m too lazy to put together a website.

Nat Jones: You can find me on Facebook and Twitter, and on my website.”

The second printing of issue #1 of ” ’68 ” is available NOW, and Issue #2 hits shelves May 25th, and I still want one of those damn ’68 grenades. Go forth, kick ass, and check it out. This is Johnny_Trouble, signing out.

Ps. I wore an army helmet while writing the questions for this interview… then again I have also done that while writing a few interviews that had nothing to do with war at all.