Max Brooks: Welcome to “THE EXTINCTION PARADE,” Part One
Author Max Brooks can’t keep his hands off dead things. After crafting the best-selling books THE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE and WORLD WAR Z (the blockbuster movie version of the latter now on disc), Brooks once again turns to the living dead with THE EXTINCTION PARADE, a 12-part comic-book series from Avatar Press. But there’s a big difference in this latest ghoulish romp: Brooks pits his zombies against vampires! In this exclusive interview, Brooks, who’s attending New York Comic Con this weekend, talks about the creation of THE EXTINCTION PARADE. In part two next week, the son of Mel delivers a postmortem on WORLD WAR Z.
FANGORIA: So what exactly inspired THE EXTINCTION PARADE?
MAX BROOKS: Well, I had done so much in terms of how humans react to zombies. For me, it’s never about the zombies. For me, it’s about how we react to them. So I’ve put so much thought into how humans might react, but what about another species?; species that would be more vulnerable than humans? I automatically went to vampires, because I grew up when everybody was worshipping them and wanting to be like them, but whenever I saw vampires, all I saw was aristocracy; people who, literally, did not have a day job. And I thought, with vampires being at the top of the food chain comes with some serious disadvantages. Most human accomplishments, as a species, come from being in the middle of the food chain, because 9/10ths of our evolution has been spent literally running for our lives. We had to compensate. We had to learn how to organize, how to adapt and how to think. We had to learn so many survival skills that have translated into human civilization. But vampires would never do that. Vampires have never had that fear, and plus being immortal, they figured they had all the time in the world.
So I thought, “What if they were confronted by a threat that wasn’t a direct threat, something they were just ignoring?” They would realize, pretty late in the game, that, “Oh, my God, it’s depleting our one food source. What are we going to live on?”
FANG: It’s funny that you mention that the zombies would be a threat to the vampires since the zombies won’t eat the vampires. The zombies are eating their food source, but the vampires are partying like it’s 1999.
BROOKS: Exactly. That’s a really good saying. They’re partying like it’s 1899 because, at least in my story, vampires feel more and more suffocated by the rise of human civilization. There’s technology that’s connecting everybody, there’s literally an infrastructure that’s lighting up their night, and then, the most dangerous thing was the rise of the middle class because suddenly, it’s like, “Wow, we just can’t kill anybody we want?” I picture when the zombies rise, initially, vampires love it, because they’re thinking, “Wow, this is Mardi Gras! We don’t have to worry about the cops showing up anymore! We can kill anybody we want, when we want? This is awesome.” But vampires are so short-sighted that they don’t even realize, “Oh, wait, the humans aren’t going to clean up this mess. There actually might not be a humanity after this.”
FANG: Did it seem natural to pit vampires against zombies? Did you ever worry that it might be hokey?
BROOKS: Well, for me, vampires are very personal. They always say, “Write what you know.” And obviously, I came from a pretty privileged background, and I hung out with a lot of privileged kids. In our teens and 20s, these kids thought they had the world at their fingertips. They never had to work or get a job. They never had to get coffee or answer the phone. They never had to do, “The shit jobs everyone else has to do,” not realizing that those are the jobs that build character. Those are the “paying your dues” jobs, making you comfortable with struggle. Now I see these kids who are now middle-aged, and suddenly, adversity comes knocking. Everybody knows you ain’t gonna skate through life unscathed; sooner or later, bad shit is going to happen, and if you don’t have any experience dealing with adversity in your 20s, you’re going to be in real trouble when that adversity comes knockin’ in your 40s. And I thought, “Wow, there’s a whole species that is the perfect metaphor for that, which is vampires. They’ve never actually had to deal with a literal extinction level crisis. And to have no experience preparing for it? What are they going to do?”
FANG: Are there any new wrinkles that you give your vampires or zombies as a species?
BROOKS: When I started writing about zombies, there was so little about them that I had a lot more freedom. Whereas with vampires, it’s easily one of the most saturated monsters. So the question with zombies and vampires isn’t what to make up, but to pick and choose because there are so many different kinds of vampires out there. So I went with the 1970s Dracula, because that was my introduction, as a kid, to vampires. I stuck with that and said, “OK, a lot of vampires don’t eat other animals, because then there would be no story. They have one food source, which is human. They have to be immortal; that’s another one. They have to have death by sunlight; that’s another one.” I look at the vampires in TWILIGHT, and they’re barely vampires. They sparkle in the daylight? They have no vulnerabilities, and they have jobs! Did the Dad Vampire go to vampire medical school? For me, they had to be aristocracy, and the 1970s Dracula perfectly personifies that.
FANG: I like the Far East setting for this story. Why did you pick that?
BROOKS: Couple of reasons. I needed a country that had gone through rapid industrial growth. In Western Europe, the United States and Japan, that growth took over 100 years, whereas in some places, like Malaysia, that took 34 years. To a vampire, that’s a blink of an eye. It’s like they woke up one night and suddenly it’s, “Oh, my God, we’re living in a first world country.” So I needed that change to be rapid to illustrate sort of how static vampires are and how change is really not a friend to them. I liked the East because I wanted to deal with their servant class, which is what you see in issue #3 (pictured, left). In #3, you find out a lot of humans in the East still have a sense of tradition. So therefore, they’re “Renfields,” as I call them, and they’re an inherited class. With vampires in the East, if you’re a Renfield, you won’t have to train your replacement. Your replacement will be your son. There’s a sense of caste, and I wanted that to be illustrated.
FANG: Could you talk about your two lead vampire characters, Laila and her sister?
BROOKS: Her name is Min, but I don’t think we actually say her name until a much later issue. They live in Malaysia but they’re both of ethnic Chinese and European descent, and the relationship with the sisters is really going to be fleshed out in later issues. But Min is the older sister, and Laila is the fun-lover. Min is the caretaker; you’ll see in a later issue that she follows Laila into vampirism so that she can take care of her sister. That’s always how they’ve been. I wanted them to be turned in their 20s for very specific reasons. Vampire lore is always been about beauty. They always want to be vampires when they are cool, sexy and beautiful. For me, that notion of beauty comes with a very heavy price because when you get turned in your early 20s or late teens, you’re beautiful and you haven’t started to age yet. But the price you pay, though, is that you have no life experience. And that is one more crucial vulnerability to my vampires, which is, even in their human lives, they never really had to deal with massive adversity. It’s like if you were turned into a vampire when you were 40, your hair may be gray and your tits might be sagging, but you would have been around the block a couple of times and you’d know that bad shit can happen. To me, these girls remind me of my freshman year of college where everybody seemed invincible. But if you can take that mindset of invincibility and freeze it in time by making them immortal, boy would they be psychologically ill-equipped for when bad stuff comes knocking at the door.
FANG: Are you going to do anything different with your zombies as your series moves along? Are we going to see a particular zombie nemesis or character that becomes a foil to the sisters?
BROOKS: No, and that’s very important. For me, the zombies have to stay static, and that was the only time where I part with Romero. Because, let’s just say Romero is a better storyteller than me, and therefore, his zombies sort of evolve in order to keep the story going. For me, what would make it so fascinating is not the zombies, it’s our reaction. It’s like the AIDS virus has still been the same AIDS virus that we’ve been dealing with since the 1980s, but it’s been about how we’ve reacted to it as a society over the last 30 years, now going on 40 years, which is so interesting. The way that we react to AIDS now is totally different to when you and I were kids. That’s what’s fascinating: It’s not the evolution of the bug, it’s the evolution of the reaction.
FANG: What else is coming up in this month’s issue #3?
BROOKS: This one deals with Caretakers, and that was one of Bram Stoker’s most genius moves: the notion of having a Renfield. The truth is you cannot have vampires without having Renfields. You cannot have the aristocracy without having the servant class. If the aristocrats ran to Russia or wherever, they don’t have a job, so somebody needs to take care of them. That’s really what we’re going to explore in issue #3: the notion that these vampires can only exist because there’s a whole servant class of humans that are cleaning up their mess after them, and that’s sort of what we get into.
FANG: Tell us about your artist, Raulo Caceres, and do you have input into the artwork?
BROOKS: As far as artists go, Raulo Caceres is a genius. I was pitched him by [editor] William Christiansen over at Avatar, and he showed me some of his work, including a Warren Ellis comic book called CRECY, and I just loved the detail. Raulo is so amazing. I can’t draw stick figures. So even though I’m very involved and I write in the script exactly what I want, the truth is, at the end of the day, I’m just a backseat driver. Comic books are a visual art form, so I would say the lion’s share of the credit and the accolades go to Raulo, because it doesn’t matter how good I could write; if it was a crappy artist, it’d be a crappy comic book.
FANG: What brought you to the independent Avatar rather than a Marvel or DC?
BROOKS: The truth is Avatar Press is really the voice of the resistance. Their business model is, “Get creative guys and let them be creative.” The problem with Marvel and some of the big guys is they have very established franchises, and there’s also a huge chain of command, which sort of limits how creative you can be. Also, when you’re that big, you get afraid of hate mail or protests and moms groups. It’s the same thing with even IDW. I worked with IDW for G.I. JOE. They did their best to let me be creative, but at the end of the day, they’re working for Hasbro, which is a toy company. So there was lots and lots of stuff I wanted to do that Hasbro wouldn’t let me. As a matter of fact, my whole idea for G.I. JOE was that it be realistic. I mean, we’re at war now! We’re in two wars, so why don’t we use G.I. Joe with what’s really happening? That was the exact opposite of what Hasbro wanted! “We don’t want to get letters from moms groups that say this is too real.” And I said, “I thought that was the whole point of G.I. JOE?” So the great thing about Avatar is that it’s all Bill Christiansen. He said, “Look, if you have a passion for something, let’s do it.”
FANG: Do you see a movie version of THE EXTINCTION PARADE down the line? Has there been any early interest?
BROOKS: Yeah. I can’t say who, but there definitely has been some interest. But we’ll see what happens. Right now, I’m focused on writing the best comic book I can write.
TO BE CONTINUED