George A. Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead is a horror classic, and with Halloween little over a month away it's coming back to life -- as a comic book. The newly-launched publisher Double Take is spinning out multiple series based on the now-public domain black & white movie, beginning with two new series -- Rise and Z-Men -- which launched earlier this week.
These new series not only revisits the zombie pandemic from the first movie, but also the film's two protagonists Johnny and Barbara in a novel new spin. Newsarama spoke with the writer behind both of these series, Jeff McComsey, to learn more about this expansive of the original zombie drama.
Newsarama: Jeff, what's the world like in these spin-offs of The Night of the Living Dead movie?
Jeff McComsey: So the world that these two books start out in deals directly with the movie.
Rise deals with Johnny and Barbara, two of the characters from the original film, and their story starts out during directly after that. We follow Johnny in Rise and Johnny was one of the first characters to pop up on screen in the original film, but he gets kinda killed off like five minutes into it. So we don’t see him until the end of the film where he that pulls Barbara out of the house and tries to eat her. So our world varies or changes where he basically wakes up and we follow him while the events that were going on til the end where he pulls Barbara out, but where he change is that he is still alive and rescues her. The rest of their story will primarily deal with the aftermath of the events of the film.
Z-Men deals with the direct aftermath of the film with two secret service agents who are sent by Washington to directly investigate these sketchy rumors they’re hearing about ghouls down in Pennsylvania. So they show up literally the morning after the movie and start poking around and realize that there is serious crap going on.
Nrama: Aside from both books dealing with the aftermath of the movie in their own way, are these books connected on any other level?
McComsey: They have different scenarios and characters in it, but there are going to be some opportunities where we are going to use all of these characters. Z-Men and Rise are sort of going to overlap as they are in a shared universe and or more or less operating at the same time, but they are stand-alone stories currently.
Nrama: Can you tell us more about the characters in Z-Men? With Johnny and Barbara being the more established characters on Rise, who are these new characters that inhabit this story?
McComsey: So the main characters in Z-Men are agents Clancy and Stewart. They are two secret service agents who’ve screw up at some point in their career and have been sentenced to a career at the Treasury Department so this is a pretty crappy detail and they know it. They kind of accepted their fate and we have the events of what happened in Pennsylvania, and President Lydon B. Johnson wants direct information from someone that he can trusts to he asks the Secret Service director to find a couple of agents he can live without. So they basically give Clancy and Stewart a chance to kind of redeem themselves when they investigate what’s going on in Pennsylvania.
The other characters we follow are the President, the Secretary of Defense, and one of the National Security Council. Basically we get to see the decision-making process on how to deal with the information they’re getting about the situation. The metaphor we’re using was kind of Vietnam where, essentially, you had this situation on the ground that completely differs from more or less Washington being told their information that is just wrong. So we get to see this comedy of errors in their decision-making process. So you get the eyes in the field and then also the overall strategy from the top.
Nrama: Now you mentioned that there is some of the scenes are Vietnam metaphors, did you place any more social commentary in the script, maybe even as satire?
McComsey: Yes and no. I mean one of the things we’re doing with LBJ is that there were so many progressive social things he was trying to do and Vietnam kept coming to the forefront which made it so he could and couldn’t do certain things. So what we’re going to do with Z-Men is show that he was trying to carry on his policies and different characters from that era will pop up, but he keeps being distracted by what’s going on in Pennsylvania.
Nrama: Now are the zombies or ghouls here grounded in supernatural origins, or something scientific?
McComsey: We’re obviously going to play with the mystery a little bit, but the answer is a bit more science fiction, but definitely not a mystical element to it. While it is sort of grounded, which is fun for me! I like to write historical fiction and to put words in the President’s mouth and such, but we are going to be playing up the sci-fi elements for future issues.
Nrama: In the end of The Night of the Living Dead, several characters are still alive.
Nrama: Rise picks up immediately after the movie ends, so where will you be taking those characters?
McComsey: The Night of the Living Dead, at least how I interpreted it, is that the dead rise, or whatever, is more or less being taken care of. The end of the movie it seems like, while it’s not perfect, is that they have a strategy that seems to be working at least. When these stories pick up, we find out that it really wasn’t and in fact that things are getting ramped up and hellish. When Johnny and Barbara visit, they’re just there to visit their dad’s grave so when all of this stuff goes down, they just want to get out of town. They keep trying to leave the area, but keep getting pulled into different aspects of it. They’ll also end up in the next issue in a quarantined situation. So we find out not only are they quarantined, but they can’t leave now. Things are also deteriorating outside of the quarantine and they’re trying to come up with a way to get the hell out of town before it gets really bad.
Nrama: Rise and Z-Men were both previously released digitally akin to a motion comic or storyboard, so how will they be presented on a landscape, printed comic book page?
McComsey: Basically what we’re doing is designing the comic to be more cinematic, but I wouldn’t call it animated, but definitely more of a storyboard feel, if you will. So that’s what we’re working on here, so when the artwork all comes in it gets cropped and put into a traditional comic book layout. I had never worked that way before, you know what what I mean? So, it’s interesting from a writing point of view because when you’re writing a comic, you’re dealing with real estate, you know. You never want to have too many panels or make it go on for too long, when you have a big moment you have to dial back on the panels. I found with this, it’s a bit more freeing because I don’t have to worry about panel count and put in some of these great cinematic moments.
So that was cool and see how they cut some panels and put it in a comic and everything looks so seamless from the ones I’ve read so far. It was a lot of fun, honestly.
Nrama: Can you tell us about the artists you work with here?
McComsey: Sure, the layout artist for Rise and Z-Men are in-house artists that I actually get to sit down with and bounce story ideas on. I get to sit down with Julian Rowe and come up with some great stuff. I don’t know who did the finish on Rise, but I know it was all done in house. I have seen the art for both and I think it looks fantastic. One of things about The Night of the Living Dead is that it is in black and white but having it seen come to life in full color is super cool.
Nrama: We've talked about the spin-offs, but not why there are spin-offs. Why do you think The Night of the Living Dead is so culturally significant, and why is it such an ideal story to expand on like you and Double Take are doing?
McComsey: As somebody who does primarily independent projects, I love that fact that George Romero did so much with so little. It wasn’t really a huge budget and these things weren’t marqueed with any big actor by any stretch of the imagination, but the whole thing works really well. It’s incredibly smart with the storytelling devices he used, but still has glimpses of this larger world. Everything seems so small at first and you’re trapped in the house for the most part of it. But you hear and see news clips that give you the feeling this happened on a global scale. To me, that’s perfect for comics.