Imagine yourself a young adult in the late 60s. War is raging in the small Asian country of Vietnam, and you’re next in line for serving on the front lines.
And oh yeah, there’s zombies.
In real life you’d be the last one going back to a war-torn Vietnam filling up with zombies, but in the comics world the readers have been clamoring for the creators of the 2006 one-shot ’68 to do that very thing. And now they’re doing.
Starting April 29th, writer Mark Kidwell and artists Nat Jones and Jay Fotos are gearing up for another tour of duty in the zombified jungles of Vietnam in a four-issue series bearing the same name as the prior one-shot, ’68. In this new series, the trio are fleshing out this rugged terrain and looking for why it happened, where it’s happening and what its like living through it. To do that, they’re looking not only in this small corner of Asia but to the outside world looking for culprits. And to get the big picture, they’re brought in a comics mercenary to help with that: horror veteran Tim Vigil will be doing 4 page shorts in each issue of the all-new ’68 series.
It’s been four years since the original ’68 one-shot, but now that these guys are back together they’re not wasting time on expanding the mythos of their Cold War era zombie epic – in addition to this four-issue series starting in April, they’re also working on two one-shots set for later this year. As we count down the days to re-entry into the late ‘60s Vietnam and the zombies that plague the region, we talk to series writer Mark Kidwell and artist Jay Fotos.
Newsarama: Eagle-eyed readers might remember a previous one-shot called ’68 from you – so what brought you back for another tour of duty, and as a 4-issue series no less?
Mark Kidwell: Since the original ’68 one-shot was published, the interest from readers hasn’t diminished. At conventions, this is the book the fans comment on and ask about, requesting more of the Vietnam/zombie storyline. As creators, we’ve all been very passionate about continuing the book and expanding on its concept too, so now’s the time for everyone to get what they want…more ’68.
Jay Fotos: The first one-shot was published in 2006 through Image Comics, and it did well. Over the years, like Mark mentioned, the fans kept asking for more. We always talked about continuing it and now five years later we’re back with all the original creators!
Nrama: Do people need to have read the original one-shot to get what’s going on in the new ’68 series?
Kidwell: It’s not mandatory to read the first one-shot if you want to pick up and enjoy the new ’68 series. We touch on a few of the things from the first book, but you won’t be a “fish out of water” if you start with the new issue #1. The new series is self-contained in that it presents a new story with a definite beginning, middle and end. This being said, picking up the original comic, the reprinted version of the original in our Horror Book Volume 1 trade paperback collection published by Image Comics or via digital download for your iphone/ipad applications through iverse comics, www.iversecomics.com will add to the flavor of the new series and give readers that want to collect it all some satisfaction. Plus, the original is a great read and horror/zombie/comics fans will enjoy it. You can also catch preview pages of the One Shot on our official ’68 website, www.68zombie.com.
Nrama: And now that you’re back, set it up for us – what’s the new ’68 series about?
Kidwell: Opening at the same time as the original one-shot (Friday, February 13th, 1968), the new series zooms the “camera” out, spreading the story’s focus and allowing us to see more of the world as the dead come back to life. First, we’re in Vietnam, focusing on a Chinese-American soldier who, due to his size and similarity to the enemy, gets drafted as a Tunnel Rat. Readers will crawl with him into a tunnel complex turned tomb with nothing but a flashlight and a .45. We have a deep cover CIA agent posing as a news crew director as he accompanies a Hollywood starlet on her anti-war propaganda junket to Cambodia. He has a secret ulterior motive for being there and we’ll reveal the true nature of his situation throughout the series. In addition, the story will introduce the soldiers of U.S. firebase Aries as hordes of the living dead converge on the tiny camp, turning it into a modern day Alamo, travel to California of 1968 for a Vietnam war protest rally turned massacre and put you front and center as Saigon burns.
There’s a lot going on in the series and all these stories will intertwine and converge, telling a larger overall tale. We want to keep the focus on characters and conflict while offering a much broader view of the overwhelming effect of the zombie plague. Underlying all of this is the concept that once this horrific situation gets going, time stops and the calendars freeze. It’s 1968 forever, not just in Vietnam, but everywhere. It’s sort of like re-writing history and the first mini-series lays the groundwork for endless story possibilities to come.
Nrama: I know its hard for humans to survive in a zombie story, but are there any characters carrying over from the previous one-shot? Or any historical characters making an appearance?
Kidwell You’ll get glimpses of a few of the characters from the original book in the new series and references to historically accurate people and events of the times. Also, through Nat and Jay’s series of amazing alternate covers, you’re gonna see snapshots of the late 1960’s through the dark lens of a world caught in a nightmare. We’ve done our homework in an effort to present an accurate, believable world for the story so we could show the real 1968 before reaching in and tearing it apart.
Nrama: Zombies during the Vietnam war – that seems to be shape of it. Is it just zombies on one side, or is everybody getting bitten?
Kidwell: Zombies in the Vietnam war was pretty much the overall concept of the original one-shot. With the new story, we’re aiming at the time period more so than just the war. The conflict in Southeast Asia in still the main focus and you’ll see plenty of that, but what we really want to get across is that this stuff is happening worldwide and no one is safe as the hungry dead change the rules of existence overnight. As you can imagine, this will result in zombie Viet Cong, NVA, US grunts and officers, villagers, farmers, cops, hippies, politicians, and rock stars…again, nobody is safe.
Nrama: Zombies are pretty much anarchy, but can one of the sides try to use the outbreak to their advantage?
Kidwell: There’s a hint of that buried in our CIA agent’s true reason for being “in-country”. Someone out there in the jungle has a plan to swing the war in a certain direction and with the gruesome new addition of the undead to the realm of physical reality, his plan goes in a whole new, darker direction. It’s all pretty much “Top-Secret” right now, but as the series continues in new story arcs, all of this will be revealed.
Fotos: You’ll see in Tim Vilgil’s shorts, especially in issue #1 titled “Mouth of Babes” on how to use the outbreak to a advantage for sure!
Nrama: Tell us more about this work Tim’s doing for the book.
Kidwell: Each issue presents a full, twenty-two page story in ’68 series continuity and as a backup feature, Tim is providing short, four page, savage zombie tales to close each book. These stories help to “flesh” out the world and move the “camera” around, allowing us startling little glimpses of the undead uprising around the world. These are fast, mean, punch-to-the-gut horror pieces similar to the old EC horror tales and Tim is rockin’ ‘em.
Fotos: To further elaborate on the concept of bringing in Tim for these “punch-to-the-gut” stories is not only to swing the camera around a little but also ad to the chaos of what is going on. We are right in the middle of one of the most brutal hand-to-hand combat wars ever. We are bringing the perspective from every angle, like what Mark mentioned, Viet Cong, NVA, US grunts and officers, villagers, farmers, cops, hippies, politicians, and rock stars…it’s utter chaos on all fronts!
Tim Vigil: All of this is fun stuff! I haven’t been able to draw any war stories before, so this gives me a chance to do some research on uniforms and Viet landscapes. The small stories by Kidwell give me what I like to do…draw blood and lots of it!
Nrama: Who else is chipping in on the series?
Kidwell: Since the world of ’68 is so broad, it gives us the opportunity to create an ongoing series of books, mini-series and story arcs. With this kind of flexibility, and a concept that any comic creator who loves the zombie sub-genre would drool over, we’ve been able to corral some major horror talent to work on expanded projects. Right now, horror artist supreme Jeff Zornow is working on a deluxe one-shot book titled ’68 Hardship for us. It’s a look into the American heartland as a Vietnam vet, fresh from his second tour in the war, returns home to a world he no longer understands and no longer understands him. It’s a gritty, gory book with a lot of reality and heart at its core.
Jeff Zornow: ’68 Hardship has a great, grim atmosphere to it. Zombies in a backwoods farm, you can't beat that. Fans of my work can pretty much guess as to what to expect when Kidwell and I team up with zombies. And for the un-initiated, this book's visuals will rip out your eyes and disembowel you! This will be a gory gift for any Horror or Zombie fan!
Kidwell: Then, I just completed a new script and handed it off to powerhouse illustrators Jerry Beck and Josh Medors for a book called ’68 Hallowed Ground. It’s a split-book, with each artist illustrating a twelve page, connected story that centers on a small country church. The stories move along in the same time stream, with each separate tale showing us events as they unravel from the viewpoint of a sniper in the bell tower and a handful of embattled survivors in the sanctuary.
Jerry Beck: Well, Jay Fotos and I have collaborated on things, here and there, for around 10 years now, so when Jay threw this opportunity at me it was a no-brainer. I hadn't delved into comic book work much as of late, but a zombie tale always gets my attention. Furthermore, a story that I could actually customize in terms of its general direction made this even more interesting! I'm very busy these days and I don't think I'd have done it if they'd asked me to do it entirely on my own, so having Josh Medors on board was a great thing. In the blink of an eye, Kidwell came up with a bad-ass script that allowed for two simultaneous stories to be told, ultimately tying into each other. Everyone involved in these books are very dedicated and talented, so I'm amp'd to be a part of the '68 crew.
Kidwell: As the ’68 world builds and broadens, we’ll have more announcements involving new, talented art teams. The sky’s the limit with this series and we have big, long-range plans.
Fotos: To continue was natural, too many great ideas were pouring out and more keep coming! ’68 will be around for a while and we hope the fans join us for the ride.
Nrama: And finally guys, I have to ask about the concept -- what made you bring zombies to Vietnam in the first place?
Kidwell: It’s a no-brainer, really. The original Night of the Living Dead was shot in 1968, forever giving us an exact timeline to the rise of the cannibalistic undead. If the zombies started doing their “zombie” thing in rural Pennsylvania at that time, what was going on in the rest of the world? VIETNAM. What would that have been like, with the battlefields, jungles and rice paddies littered with un-buried war casualties and the body count continuing to rise every hour? Would there be a limit to the numbers of the risen dead? Would the situation be out of control in the first hours? Would anybody get out alive? These were questions nobody had ever answered before, so we decided to find answers for ourselves. Read ’68 and you’ll get ‘em answered too.