WWC Interview: ‘World War Z’ Writer Max Brooks
To some, it may seem unusual to find Max Brooks, the author of the very popular novels The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z at a convention devoted mostly to comic books. But really, it isn’t that hard to understand. Both of Brooks’ books deal with zombies, a very popular creature among comics and pop culture fans.
Recently, Brooks’ novel World War Z was optioned by Paramount Pictures for actor Brad Pitt’s company Plan B to produce. He’s also hard at work writing the graphic novel adaptation of the historical zombie attacks featured in The Zombie Survival Guide — which is being packaged by Avatar Press.
I sat down with Brooks on Saturday to talk about zombies, his love of history, his latest project and why translating his work into a graphic novel was one of the hardest things he’s ever done.
COMICMIX: So Max, you’re a writer of two successful novels. What are you doing at a comic book convention?
MAX BROOKS: I have my first comic book, a graphic novel based on the reported attacks in the Zombie Survival Guide, that I’m doing with Avatar. That’s what I’m doing here at this convention.
CMix: How did you hook up with Avatar Press?
MB: i was stalked by William Christensen, who heads Avatar Press. He cornered me at another show and said he really wanted to work with me and i said "i would really love to work with you, too. Who are you?" But then we talked and he gave me some samples of artists and i really liked what i saw and thought we could work together.
I ended up going with this one artist because i liked his work the most and i thought it looked the most realistic, which was important for me.
CMix: Why was the art being realistic important?
MB: Well, for me the problem is we’re doing something historical and most people don’t know anything about history. I figured zombies are already surreal enough and i didn’t want people to get confused about where they are or what’s going on. Plus, as these are all short vignettes, there isn’t really time to get used to your settings so you really have to explain everything in the first panel.
You know, ancient Rome, boom. Neolithic Africa, boom. There’s just not enough time for people to say "Where are we, what’s happening?" So that’s why we needed an artist whose almost photographic in his realism — which i’ve always found was the hardest thing to do.
CMix: Both of your books deal with zombies. This new graphic novel deals with zombies. What’s the fascination with zombies?
MB: They absolutely scare the crap out of me. First of all because they don’t think. You can’t negotiate with them. There’s no middle ground. You can’t give them your friend in exchange. You can’t surrender.
Its the kill-or-be-killed element that’s scary and then multiply that by billions. Its like being attacked by walking AIDS. That’s what scares me.
CMix: So, you’re doing a graphic novel. Are you a fan of comics and graphic novels?
MB: No. I think theyre for losers and children . . . (laughs) No, of course, I’ve I’ve always been a huge fan of comics because when i was growing up i was very, very dyslexic. I still am, actually. Reading was very hard for me as a kid.
I remember the first time i sat down and read a comic all the way through. I think this is the first time telling this story. It was Rom, Spaceknight Annual. i read it cover-to-cover and I remember thinking "Wow, Ii actually finished something." From that point on i’ve been into comics.
CMiX: You mentioned Rom, what other comics do you remember reading as a kid?
MB: Secret Wars and a lot of graphic novels. A Sailor’s Story by Sam Glanzman. When I read that I was really blown away. I had an uncle that was in World War Two and i had always heard his stories and reading that story really helped me see what he had been talking about all those years.
From there I read things like Maus, the Malcolm X biography in garphic novel form. And one called Pyongyang by a french writer named Guy Delisle. Yes, I’ll cut him some slack even though he’s french because It was an amazing look at what it was like to be a cartoonist in North Korea. It was a real window to a world I had never experienced and once i read that i really thought it was something i wanted to get into. Fortunately, i was able to.
CMix: Ok, that was the past. What are you reading these days?
MB: i just finished Ocean and I’m also reading Charlie’s War now. Which is a World War One comic. I find that fascinating. I also just finished one of Warren Ellis’s books called Blackgass — which i thought was interesting.
CMix: Was it difficult to take stories from you book and adapt them for a graphic novel?
MB: i’ve never written that much description before. i had no idea what a script was like. I guess I could have left it up to the artist, but I knew exactly how I wanted it to look.
So, I was unprepared for the sheer amount of description. What angle was it from? Where does the lighting come from? How are they dressed? Was it a close up? Was it far away? Where are the shadows?
There was just so much more intricate detail, much more than a book. Because in a book you can leave it up to the imagination and describe as much as you want or as little as you want. But this graphic novel, yeah, i would come home literally every night exhausted.
CMix: What can you tell me about the World War Z film?
MB: You probably know more about it than I do. It was optioned by Paramount for Brad Pitt’s company Plan B and they have a screenwriter working on it now.
It’s actually a great story because when they were deciding who to get to write the script they talked about several names and the one that really stood out for me was J. Michael Straczynski. He was the one I knew and I thought he would be great.
i mean, he’s the creator of Babylon Five, come on! Are you fucking kidding me? He’s amazing and one of my inspirations. So, he came on board and is writing the script.
CMix: There was never any talk of you writing the script for the film?
MB: No. I’m relatively known now in the literary world but this movie, if it ever gets made, is going to have to be a big movie. A big movie means a big budget so that means you have to hire a big screenwriter — and I’m not a big screenwriter. I’m pretty well respected in the book world, but that means absolutely nothing in Hollywood.
CMix: What are you working on now?
MB: Well, basically this graphic novel. This is my main thing. Its really scary to impress the comic book crowd. Like i said, I’m pretty respected in the book world now but in the comic world i need to prove myself all over again. Its like starting from scratch.
CMix: No truth to the rumors of a sequel to World War Z?
MB: If there is, it won’t be now. I’m really concentrating on getting the graphic novel right. Its my main focus. First i have to do it and i have to do it well. I can’t phone it in.
CMix: If this one does well, will there be more to follow?
MB: I hope so. That would be great.
CMix: Last question Max. When’s the graphic novel coming out?
MB: It should be out in October.
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