If you wish to go to the current Fangoria site, you may click the top logo, "Home" or "News" links. Or click here.
V IS FOR VAMPIRE: AN ILLUSTRATED ALPHABET OF THE UNDEAD
(Harper Voyager) debuted in early June following the February release of Z IS
FOR ZOMBIE: AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO THE END OF THE WORLD. Both books are
humorous A-Z looks at the phenomenon of the undead and are written by Adam-Troy
Castro (pictured) and illustrated by Johnny Atomic.
Castro is the author of 20 books and close to 100 short
stories in the genres of science fiction, horror and fantasy. His works have
been nominated for six Nebula, two Hugo and two Stoker awards. Atomic is the
art director, lead illustrator and co-owner of League Entertainment. He is the
co-creator of the CHOOSE YOUR OWN DOOM interactive story series, which was
recently nominated for the World Fantasy Award.
FANGORIA: The zombie genre has gained a tremendous following
in recent years, making the zombie apocalypse a pervasive cultural meme that
has inspired zombie walks, a flood of media, a CDC preparedness guide and even
a zombie car commercial. What is it that makes zombies so appealing to us now?
CASTRO: I believe there’s a certain perception that the
world is breaking down, that the breakdown is accelerating, and that other
people are the problem. We all think that we could fix all the world’s problems
if all those grasping, unreasonable, patently other people would just go
away...and if the breakdown just went ahead and happened so that we could get
on with being in charge. (There are entire political and religious movements based
on this premise.) Zombie stories come from the tension between that perception
and the common-sense realization that the world falling to pieces is a very bad
idea, and that the allies you’re stuck with are almost certainly going to be
part of the problem, which is one reason why so few of the genre’s offerings
end on an optimistic note.
ATOMIC: I’ve always thought that they served a dark but
useful purpose for us as an emotional release valve. They allow us the idea of
actually, brutally killing what scares or threatens us, without any form of
moral or social repercussion. My wife, who hates violence, guns and morbid
conversation will play a zombie killing video game and laugh the whole time.
The living dead really let you blow off some steam.
FANG: In V IS FOR VAMPIRE you take some time to talk about
the historic Dracula, Vlad Tepes. In his life, he was a brutal killer. Do you
think that legend made him a vampire to explain his inhuman acts? Do you think
that modern people might explain 20th or 21st century villains in similar
CASTRO: Humanity is so capable of brutality that the
supernatural explanation actually makes it easier to process. As for 20th and
21st century villains—it’s already happened. It’s not hard to find stories,
Charles Beaumont’s “The Howling Man” among them, that posit Hitler as an
actual, otherworldly demon. There have also been stories that posited him as
alien, and so on. I suppose we’ll be seeing the supernatural Osama bin Laden
FANG: Many fans of the zombie subgenre explain their
interest in zombies because of what they represent. Some say zombies are
symbols of our fear of death while others say that zombies are representations
of general xenophobia. What do they symbolize in Z IS FOR ZOMBIE?”
CASTRO: They symbolize zombies. Sorry. The book, as I see
it, is about the trope, not the subtext. I’ll save the subtext for other
ATOMIC: Everything, all the above. The zombie really seems
to be a placeholder for any torment or frustration.
FANG: You also talk about the “rules” for vampires in V IS
FOR VAMPIRE and how those rules differ for different bloodsuckers. Are there
any hard rules that apply to all vampires?
CASTRO: When we have already been provided with one group of
vampires that sparkles in daylight and plays softball for fun [the TWILIGHT
vamps], and others who are essentially zombies with stinger tongues [the STRAIN
novels by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro], I think the concept of “hard
rules” has gone out the window. But that battle was lost more than a century
ago, when NOSFERATU introduced the concept of vamps being allergic to sunlight.
It’s the reason that every story now has to set up its rules. The same is true
of zombies, when some are fast and some are slow, some want to eat us in general
and some just want our brains, and, thanks to 28 DAYS LATER and so on, we can’t
even count on them being dead. In both cases, I frankly believe the variety is
a good thing. Too many hard rules and it’s no longer fiction, but ritual.
FANG: Some may see V IS FOR VAMPIRE as setting the record
straight for the TWILIGHT-type vampire fans. What was the inspiration behind Z
IS FOR ZOMBIE?
CASTRO: The direct inspiration was the ambition to provide a
format where my words could appear alongside Johnny Atomic’s spectacular art.
Literarily, I must cite the stories produced by Harlan Ellison that also used
the alphabet format as a springboard [HARLAN ELLISON’S CHOCOLATE ALPHABET].
ATOMIC: The inspiration for the art is Adam’s work, which is
the most poetic and evocative prose I’ve ever read. I have followed his work
for years, and I think that only recently has his genius really been brought
into the spotlight. Z IS FOR ZOMBIE is just one more in a long line of evolving
works that chill, thrill, challenge and, of course, entertain.
FANG: The very first vampire folklore described them as
nearly mindless ghouls who returned to their villages nightly to prey upon
family members. How, or perhaps why, do you think the vampire evolved into a
suave ladies’ man or enchanting seductress?
CASTRO: Bram Stoker knew what he was doing. That was
essentially it. He knew he was sublimating sexual images in the Victorian age.
When the stage production of DRACULA proved that acting like a vampire could
make a funny-looking middle-aged man like Bela Lugosi a sex symbol, the
handwriting was on the wall.
FANG: If you had to choose between facing a horde of zombies
or horde of vampires which would you prefer to battle?
CASTRO: Again, it depends on what rules we’re going by, and
what time of day. Sun-phobic vampires after sunrise...why not, as long as
there’s a dry cleaner handy? Slow zombies in rural America? Better than fast
zombies in a locked missile silo. I suspect that if we went with “fast”
anything, I’d be toast.
ATOMIC: It’s funny, after working on Z and V back-to-back, I
feel like I’ve actually been doing battle with the undead, so it’s no longer
speculation! The zombies were definitely the hardest. Take away the smell and
walk and fear and you’re basically drawing “dirty” people, over and over again.
Try to make that seem fresh after the tenth one... The vampires offered greater
range of behavior, so that part seemed to go smoother and occasionally yielded
more creative results. As for real monsters? Bring ’em all on! I’m game for
FANG: Where Max Brooks’ ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE is a guide to
physical survival, Z IS FOR ZOMBIE is more about psychological preparation and
coping with the inevitable. Aside from sheer entertainment, what would you like
readers to take away from Z IS FOR ZOMBIE?
CASTRO: The sense that being trapped in a war against
ambulatory corpses isn’t the bad part; losing all reason to keep on fighting is
the bad part. That, at a certain point, post-apocalypse, survival is nothing
more than a reflex. The worst zombie stories (or post-Holocaust stories in
general) make the end of the world look like a great shooting gallery for those
fortunate enough to have access to ammunition and leather goods; somehow,
starving, freezing, dying of thirst, expiring of agony from an abscessed tooth
and life reduced to matters of subsistence when all the books and movies and
music and other benefits of civilization are gone, rarely comes up. It wouldn’t
be liberating, people. Life would suck.
ATOMIC: My end of this was to make the reader feel that this
could really be them. Each image was hand drawn from photo reference to ensure
that the nuance of expression was totally believable. My hope is that between
the engaging text and the immersive art, people feel like they have sort of
visited the apocalypse.
FANG: Do you agree with the position that if a person is
ready for zombies, he or she is ready for catastrophe?
CASTRO: In the short term. I suspect that the number of
direct zombie casualties in any extended outbreak would be dwarfed by the
number of people who died from other reasons: friendly fire, opportunistic
infections, lack of medicine, the breakdown of society, etc.
ATOMIC: Of course. I would definitely count the zombie
apocalypse as a catastrophe!
FANG: Adam, you once told an interviewer that George A.
Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is one of the few films that actually scared
you. What was it about that movie that affected you?
CASTRO: Well, it helped that I was about ten years old at
the time and that the movie featured a kind of horror nobody had ever seen
before. It wasn’t comfort food, like the ’50s alien-invasion and rubber-suited
dinosaur flicks that I loved at the time—many of which featured tough military
heroes and their friends the white-coated scientists who could be trusted to
come up with a last-reel solution. It was as far from comfort food as could be
imagined, in that—among other reasons—the protagonists of NOTLD were raggedy
everyday people who weren’t in control of their destinies, and never quite
understood what was happening to them.
I knew right away that the standard contract filmmakers of
this kind made with their audiences, that somehow all the right people would
live and that everything would turn out to be all right, had been ripped to
shreds before George filmed frame one. It may be hard to believe in the age of
SAW and HOSTEL, but the revelation that a horror movie could be genuinely
disturbing was like a bolt of lightning to those of us who thought we knew that
all horrors had an off switch. It was, narratively, a revolution.
FANG: Why did you choose the alphabet theme of the chapters
in Z IS FOR ZOMBIE, assuming it wasn’t in an effort to teach preschoolers the
CASTRO: Oh, I dearly, dearly hope that pre-schoolers aren’t being
shown this book, or its companion VAMPIRE volume. It was just a device for
coming up with great ideas for Johnny’s illustrations, and for my own
FANG: What is your personal zombie survival plan?
CASTRO: Cold weather. Let ‘em freeze solid and then get an
ice-sculptor. Of course, I live in Florida, so the first issue is getting a
ATOMIC: Feed on my neighbors while they are still fresh,
because everybody else is going to be getting killed fighting over canned beans
at the supermarket...
FANG: When the power unexpectedly goes out in the Castro
home, what is it that you fear may be lurking in the dark?
CASTRO: Again, I live in Florida. Palmetto bugs.
FANG: Can readers anticipate seeing a W IS FOR WEREWOLF or D
IS FOR DEMON?”
CASTRO: We’re game if sales permit!
ATOMIC: I can’t pretend to know what goes on in the mind of
a madman like Castro, but I personally hope it’s giant monsters of some kind.
Big giant Godzilla or CLOVERFIELD type stuff.
FANG: The images in both Z IS FOR ZOMBIE and V IS FOR
VAMPIRE can look both hand drawn and graphic, sometimes photographic. Can you
tell me about your technique?
ATOMIC: All the images were hand drawn using photography as
a reference, especially for facial expressions. It also allowed me to put
“likeness” images in for friends and family. After the sketch part was done,
the pieces were taken into Photoshop and painted digitally using very high-end
custom brushes that can simulate almost any texture to a photo-real level. There
is, however, one photograph that was simply “painted over” for the sake of the
deadline. I’ll let fans figure out which one.
FANG: What about the models for your images? Some of the
illustrations have people in them who look pretty familiar.
ATOMIC: Using the methods I described, I snuck in the
likenesses of my daughters, wife, several friends and even Adam himself.
Contrary to all speculation, there’s no image of me in the book.
FANG: The images in both books are very creative. Some could
even be described as vignettes. Which came first, the text or the
ATOMIC: Text, definitely text. Adam wrote the various
entries and even provided a couple of sentences of description for me to start
from. The whole process was very much shepherded by Adam. Occasionally I
deviated from the script and he was good enough to let me run with it, but the
drive and focus is Adam’s awesome writing.
Both V IS FOR VAMPIRE and Z IS FOR ZOMBIE are currently
available in bookstores and on-line.
JOIN OUR COMMUNITY AND BE THE FIRST TO KNOW ABOUT NEWS, CONTESTS, EVENTS AND MORE!
All contents © 2011 Fangoria Entertainment