One name, more than any other, is synonymous with “Zombie Movie:” George A. Romero. In 1968, with a tiny crew and some leftovers from a butcher shop, the writer/director created our modern perception of the undead with Night of the Living Dead, whose mixture of overwhelming terror and dark satire opened the door for a new kind of horror.
Over the decades, Romero has returned to his rotting muses many a time with such films as the original Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and more recent efforts such as Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead. His work has also influenced countless comic books, with not only Night of the Living Dead adaptations, but the Creepshowgraphic novel based on his 1982 collaboration with Stephen King, and Toe Tags, an original miniseries for DC Comics a few years back.
Now, Romero is poised to tell his biggest zombie story yet with Empire of the Dead, a just-announced 15-issue miniseries from Marvel Comics, with art by Alex Maleev (Daredevil). The series, which launches in January with an extra-sized first issue as part of a five-issue “Act One,” depicts a New York City overwhelmed by the dead, where Manhattan has been quarantined off… and worse, the zombies appear to be developing some intelligence. As revealed at New York Comic Con, they'll also have rivals for control of this new world (and for the flesh they need to survive), as Romero tackles a world with both Vampires and Zombies for the first time.
While he's not talking much more about that, saving the rest of the reveal for the comic book itself, we were able to ask Romero some quick questions about his return to comics, and why the world can’t get enough of the dead.
Newsarama: George, give us the details on Empire of the Dead.
George A. Romero:It’s my way of taking my zombies and my rules and changing things up a little bit.
Kind of a departure for me, but even so, my zombies still won't run!
Nrama: How did this project come about, and why did you want to do it in comic book form?
Romero: It was planned as a comic book from the beginning. I love comic books, always have, I grew up reading them. Empirehas a whole bunch of characters and storylines, and telling it as a comic book lets me push my imagination as far as it will go.
Nrama: How is this different from such past comic projects as Creepshowand Toe Tags?
Romero: Creepshowwasn’t my comic book, and the movie was based on Steve King’s screenplay, so I can’t take credit. Toe Tagsand Empire, well, they have one thing in common, me. And some zombies, of course. But you know, whenever I start writing something new, I think of it as being different from whatever I did before.
Toe Tagswas a project I liked a lot, but Empire’s set in a different world and it’s got a different personality.
Nrama: What's your collaboration with Alex Maleev like, and what do you feel his style brings to this project?
Romero: Alex and I are just getting to know each other. He's smart. Thoughtful. When I make a movie, I have dozens of collaborators. You sit down to lunch on the set and everyone's there, filling up the tables, talking about the film. When I have lunch with Alex, it's just one guy, one talented guy, sitting across from me. It's going to be great to see how he brings the words to life.
Nrama: So: Zombies, Ghouls, Infecteds, Walkers, Virals, Boneys, Sportos, Gearheads, Wasteoids, call them what you will, are perhaps the biggest thing in popular culture right now. Why do you feel those recurrent themes – the loss of identity, devolution into savagery, the decay of society, etc., are things people latch onto so thoroughly? People almost seem to take comfort in the world-ending in fiction.
Romero: It's funny, I used to be the only guy working on this kind of stuff, off on my own, flying a little bit under the radar, doing my own thing. Now the living dead are all over the place. I don't think it's because of cultural influences, or psychological influences. I think it's because of video games. The more popular they become, the more popular the living dead seem to become. People just like shooting them in the head, I guess.
Nrama: In Empire, the information you've given indicates that you're in some ways exploring material similar to the end of the original I Am Legend novel, the concept of society being reborn in a new way. What was appealing about that to you?
Romero: Talk about someone whose work has endured! I’ve always said that Richard Matheson influenced me when I was working on Night of the Living Dead, and I've thanked him for that a bunch of times. I don’t think of Empireas beingparticularly futuristic or post-apocalyptic. It’s set in New York, and things havecertainly changed, but the story is more about how people are dealing with thecards they’ve been dealt than a rebirth of society. You’ll see what I mean whenyou read the first episode.
Enter Romero’s Empire of the Dead from Marvel Comics this January.