George A. Romero brings the dead back to life once again this Wednesday with his all-new comic book series, “Empire of the Dead”, from Marvel Comics. Romero is often referred to as the godfather of the modern zombie genre, which all began in 1968 with his classic, Night of the Living Dead. Since then the 73-year-old writer/director has spawned off five film sequels. “Empire of the Dead” marks the beginning of the seventh installment of the series, and this time, there’s a twist. The zombies will be joined by vampires in New York City.
Romero took the time to chat about his new comic book, working in different mediums, and hints at a possible film version of “Empire”. Look for “Empire of the Dead” #1 in shops on Wednesday January 20, 2014.
Bloody-disgusting: You’ve had so much success with your Living Dead series in film. Why make the jump to comics?
George A. Romero: A while back, Steve King wrote a screenplay I loved called “Creepshow” which I ended up directing as a film. Great cast, by the way. Anyhow, it was a celebration of the comics we grew up reading as kids. So I’ve always been a fan, and I’d been working on a story that I wanted to do as a comic book even before Marvel called to see if we could do something together. And it was that story that became “Empire”.
BD: Do you find there is more freedom in comics to tell the story you want without budgetary restraints and studio intervention?
GAR: There are different kinds of rules. In a comic book, it’s true that I don’t have to worry about about how many extras we can hire, or whether it’s going to rain on a night when we have to shoot a big action sequence, or whether a huge storm is going to destroy our entire set. Which actually happened to me, on “Knightriders”. So, in “Empire”, you’re right, I’m only limited by what I can think up. But if a normal screenplay for a film is a hundred pages, the script for “Empire” is three times that. It’s a much bigger story, more characters, more plot twists and, yes, more living dead, and it all gets structured to fit into the format of fifteen comic books, so many panels per page, so many pages per issue.
BD: How is your writing process different when writing for comics versus writing for film?
GAR: Really not all that different. You’ve got to have a good story, either way. You’ve got to have characters people are interested in, love them, hate them, or fear them. The biggest difference is writing in smaller chunks, with climaxes and cliffhangers in all the right places. But you always need to keep the whole sweep of the story in mind, how everything fits together, and that’s no different than writing a movie script.
BD: In an interview with Newsarama you mentioned that you are taking your zombies and your rules and changing things up a bit. Can you elaborate on this? What can we expect to change and what will remain the same?
GAR: I’m not sure I’m supposed to be talking too much about that! But I can tell you this: the zombies are getting smarter. Their memories of who they used to be are coming back to them. That makes them either easier to get along with or a lot more dangerous, depending on how you look it. And they aren’t the only kind of living dead in “Empire”. That’s one of the things that made me want to write this story. Two kinds of dead people, both interested in the same food source. Us.
BD: Is there any chance we’ll see Empire of the Dead on the screen?
GAR: Yes, that would be great.
BD: You’ve been working with the undead for longer than anyone out there. First, why do you think so many people love the undead right now? Second, How are you able to keep the sub-genre fresh, both for yourself and audiences?
GAR: I don’t know why zombies have become so popular. I think maybe the surge started with video games; the living dead are fun to chase. Of course, my guys are slow enough that they’re pretty easy targets. Unless they get to you first! As far as keeping things fresh, I have to go with ideas that interest me and hope they interest the fans, too. Seeing the living dead evolve interests me. Vampires having to deal with zombies interests me. Doing a story on such a large scale interests me. I think of “Empire” as being a little bit different, a departure for me, and that interests me most of all.