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“Alternate history” tales are almost always fascinating. When talented authors utilize a time period to explore fresh concepts and create parallels to today, it can often be a unique and thought-provoking journey—and it’s also always fun to see the undead terrorize our ancestors. With that in mind, the brother-and-sister team of Zane Grant and actress Brea Grant (whose credits include HALLOWEEN II and MIDNIGHT MOVIE) created WE WILL BURY YOU, a four-issue miniseries from IDW Publishing now out in a trade paperback collection.
Illustrated by Kyle Strahm, WE WILL BURY YOU is a tale of two women, Mirah and Fanya, in 1927 New York fending off monstrous men, even more horrific ghouls and a world that demonizes their love. As the official synopsis tells it: “1927: The first talkie ended the silent film era, the first man completed a solo transatlantic flight, and… a zombie virus decimated the human race. Two unlikely heroines use their unorthodox skills to survive as a zombie infection spreads through the streets of New York and beyond.” The siblings Grant spoke to Fango about the series, its subtext and, yes, being another zombie tale amidst the many.
FANGORIA: The period nature of the comic sets it apart from other zombie-centric tales, so what was it that drew you to the Roaring Twenties? Was the parallel of today’s economic downturn and strong push and need for change—most notably the women’s suffrage movement—an aspect?
ZANE GRANT: We definitely wanted to carry the Romero torch and utilize zombies as a metaphor for social problems. The pressure of society falling apart escalates the tensions that are already there. Initially, we mapped out all the geopolitics of what would have happened in 1927 if there was a zombie plague. The U.S. government collapses rather quickly because of its lack of communication and technology and military limitations. The Fascists use the excuse of the zombie threat to rise to power in most of Europe, and the Spanish Civil War is sped up, with the anarchists and Communists taking over half the country and the Fascists controlling the other half. We even had the Fascists drop zombies from hot-air balloons into anarchist-controlled Barcelona as a means of biological warfare. Sadly, that scene didn’t make it into the book, but some day we’ll get to unpack all that. In these four issues, we see what happens in the world of a sex worker and her thief girlfriend as the plague spreads in 1920s New York, so it made sense to address the undead as a force opposed to the sexual revolution and women’s autonomy.
BREA GRANT: It just felt timely as well. We started writing this about two years ago, when we were all realizing that the economy wasn’t going to recover in the United States anytime soon and how that was affecting the rest of the world. So even though we’re obviously including zombies in the collapse of the [1920s] world, we also thought the comic had a lot of parallels with today.
FANG: The art is incredibly striking. Considering the book’s overall feminist leanings, did you two present Kyle Strahm with the concept of having many of the men, particularly those who were oppressive/violent/sleazy/etc., resemble monstrous beings even before the outbreak, or was that something he brought to the table?
BREA: That was all Kyle. When we were looking at artists, his art stood out because of the grotesque nature of his creatures and people, and the beauty of a lot of his women.
ZANE: Kyle has a clear urge to draw two things: monsters and monstrous people. Of course, he draws other things quite well, but if you look at his portfolio you’ll see what I mean. We certainly wrote sleazy descriptions, but like Brea said, he brought the grotesque.
FANG: It has been a while since a zombie project was worth dissecting. Were the issues there first, and gravitated toward being represented through a zombie outbreak, or vice versa?
ZANE: At its base, I believe our favorite horror draws upon social problems. Genre writers take something horrific in society and exaggerate its violence and grotesqueness to play upon our fears. A lot of horror draws upon alienation, like DRILLER KILLER or HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. Many giallo films play upon police ineptness or corruption; MANIAC COP does that too. Obviously there are a lot of differences between DEEP RED and MANIAC COP, or WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? and MANIAC COP 2, but they all play upon that failure of the state to protect against maniacs. When Brea and I don’t draw upon our dissatisfaction with the order of the day, we write romantic comedies. WE WILL BURY YOU was a mashup of watching DAWN OF THE DEAD and reading early John Dos Passos a few years ago, and thinking about how those social landscapes would meet.
FANG: Since the book is an alternate take on history, set in a very real place, how much research went into its design and storytelling? Or did you just see 1927 New York as a fictional playground?
BREA: We did a lot of research on New York around that era. I have to admit that we pushed some of the dates a little to fit our story, but we wanted it to be of the era. Taxi dance halls [where men could pay women for a dance] were common, so we thought that would be a great place for our main character to work. It’s not something you talk a lot about in history class, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t prevalent. There’s a great book called CONEY ISLAND: LOST AND FOUND by Charles Denson that we used a lot for the Coney Island section. I got a little obsessed with the incubator babies in Dreamland. This doctor put premature babies on display in incubators as a tourist attraction, and because it was so popular, he could get more money than the average hospital. So a tourist attraction on Coney Island had more advanced technology for premature infants than a regular New York hospital. So, of course, we had to bloody those babies up and make them zombies. Obviously.
FANG: It seems the association between Kruschev and the title is a given—as is Fanya’s Eastern European descent). Are you two particularly interested in this, or do you have ancestral backgrounds that draw you to a character like Fanya?
ZANE: We had the whole zombie 20th century mapped out, and at some point Kruschev was a character, so that’s where the title came from. Fanya Kaplan was the name of the woman who tried to assassinate Lenin, so that’s where we took her name. I don’t think we are of East European descent. We’re both just interested in history.
BREA: I don’t think we are either, but our dad would get really mad at us if he knew that we didn’t really know the answer to that question.
FANG: It seems the story advocates rallying the fringes of society to stand up, make their voices heard and help shape the world into something better. Can you discuss that, and also, did you miss art being something of a “call to arms”?
BREA: That is definitely what we wanted out of the story. We had this idea to focus on characters who wouldn’t have money or power or traditional means of surviving, but had developed street skills—like Fanya’s thievery or Mirah’s ability to move in and out of crazy situations—and see how they would survive in a story like this. We wanted the zombies to be the people who just fell in line when the world fell to pieces. I think horror has the ability to be so much more than cheap scares. It’s one of the few places in media where you can give a story so much more political or social depth without coming across as preachy or too on-the-nose. I miss that in a lot of horror these days.
FANG: One of the characters sports an eyepatch, and given their role in our genre, I have to ask… What is it about eyepatches that are just so badass?
ZANE: It is truly a fashion that transcends time. My eyes don’t work that well, so I imagine I will lose an eye someday. Hedge your bets, ladies.
FANG: How has the response been to the book, especially considering zombie comics are so prevalent?
BREA: We’ve gotten a lot of that: “Oh, another zombie book…” Or people are surprised that I write. A lot of reviews start with something along the lines of, “Can you believe actresses aren’t dumb?” But overall, anyone who read it really liked it, and saw that it was a different kind of zombie story. The zombies aren’t the center of WE WILL BURY YOU. It’s about a loving relationship and the struggle of two women who have no one else to turn to.
FANG: The end leaves you wanting very many “further adventures of”; are there plans for more WE WILL BURY YOU, and if not, what can we expect from the two of you?
ZANE: We are doing a SuicideGirls spy comic with IDW that will come out in the spring. I believe David Hahn is doing the interiors on that, with Cameron Stewart on the covers. We are also pitching a few other horror-comics projects, like a punxploitation slasher with Eric J. We wrote a graphic novel last month about graffiti kids who learn magic, and I’m working on a comic called DETECTIVE WARLOCK, WARLOCK DETECTIVE, a horror screenplay and a few other things.
BREA: What Zane said. And sometimes I act in movies or appear on your television screen.
You can order a copy of WE WILL BURY YOU right here.
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