In the late '60s, President Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Tennessee, with his killer arrested some months later. Combat soldiers fought in Vietnam and stateside flower power blossomed into something militant in retaliation against the unpopular war.
This all happened in 1968 - the very same year that zombies overtook the world, according to the creators of "'68."
The dead are rising in "'68," an all-new a href="http://imagecomics.com" target="_blank">Image Comics four-issue miniseries from creators Mark Kidwell, Nat Jones and Jay Fotos, with the first issue launching this fall. "'68" spins out of a one-shot issue that the creators released through Image in 2007, a story that saw a small team of United States Army soldiers claimed by an unexpected zombie outbreak.
"The first one-shot dealt with the self-contained story of U.S. Army Lieutenant Tommy Blake and his five man fire team as they're inserted deep in enemy territory to investigate the mysterious silence of a deep cover listening post," Kidwell told CBR of the previous one-shot's premise. "Making their way through the jungle, Blake and his men discover a strange, quiet lack of enemy presence, and the tension mounts until they stumble across a Vietcong guerilla trapped in a Punji stake trap. Attempting to kill the enemy quietly with a bowie knife, the team soon finds that the thing won't die. After an understandably frantic, mutual barrage of M-16 fire, the thing still staggers up from the ground. Finally, a brutal and decisive 'Alabama headshot' from team member Eddie 'Dixie Dawg' Mann puts the zombie down once and for all, changing all the rules and sending our troops on a journey into a deeper heart of darkness - the realm of the living dead. From there, we follow the team to the horrors of the listening post, a VC occupied village teeming with the newly risen, cannibalistic ghouls and their final fates among the exploding napalm bombs of a massive air strike. It's an action-packed, fast-paced, gore-spattered speed ride of military horror."
Those that missed out on the "'68" one-shot can read the story in the "Horror Book Volume 1" collection, but Kidwell and his colleagues said that the upcoming "'68" miniseries is accessible even without prior knowledge of the first story. In the miniseries, the Vietnam conflict remains a central focus, but the lens will zoom out to focus on other areas of the globe afflicted by the zombie plague as well.
"You're going to be introduced to more than soldiers in the new ''68,'" said Kidwell. "While there's still plenty of military action centering on Vietnam U.S. Firebase Aries, the plot will expand to give readers access to the grisly rise of the dead on the home front, too. You'll meet hippies, riot cops, CIA agents, snipers, military MASH surgeons, a Chinese-American named Kuen Yam and even an actress on an anti-war junket deep in the forbidden jungles of Cambodia. It's a much larger cast and the story has a wider scope. Readers will go underground, where the Cong bury their dead in the dripping clay walls to hide casualty counts from their enemies. They'll be front and center at an anti-war protest rally when the first shots are fired and the victims of those shots rise up, undead and hungry. They'll peer out the open side door of a Huey helicopter, over the shoulder of the door gunner and watch a writhing, twitching sea of the walking dead on the jungle floor below. You'll watch Saigon burn."
Even with the expanded scope, Kidwell said that the zombies themselves will remain at the forefront of the story. "That's the story we're telling and being rabid zombie fans ourselves, we plan to ensure that all followers of the endless saga of the living dead are not disappointed," he said. "We're taking the opportunity of the longer format to spread the disease, though. We'll be showing you glimpses of the dead plague on other points of the globe, bringing the notion of 'it's everywhere' to full focus."
Adding to the expanded world of the "'68" miniseries is a backup feature from acclaimed illustrator Tim Vigil. "The short pieces Tim is doing will help us expand the world of ''68' beyond the plot thread of the main miniseries," said Kidwell. "These pieces are glimpses into other areas of Vietnam and the world as the dead rise. We'll get to focus on other characters, seen briefly in moments of struggle, disbelief and even madness. Tim has worked in the genre of violent horror for decades. His depiction of monsters, zombies, ghouls and more are second to none and when it comes to amazing artwork and red, wet storytelling, he's in a class all his own. Jay pitched the idea to Tim and he was in. We're all very happy to have him adding to the ''68' world."
Ever since the release of the "'68" one-shot, Kidwell, Jones and Fotos have hoped to return to the idea of zombies lurking about in the 1960s. "From conception, the idea of the continuation of ''68' was always there," said Fotos. "Knowing we would eventually come back and expand on it, we all kept storing up new ideas for the zombie uprising in the middle of the Vietnam War. Come on, it's a 'no-brainer!' For years, fans of the book have been urging us to expand on it, fueling the fire and now, we are! We had other projects on our plates for a while, but now is the time to come back full force."
A major portion of Kidwell, Fotos and Jones' enthusiasm for ''68' comes from their love of the horror genre, zombies in particular. "The freshness of our depiction [of zombies] in ''68' comes from the core of the war setting," said Kidwell. "In other zombie stories, the dead are usually seen rising in rural areas, major cities and shopping malls. They come from funeral homes, morgues or the occasional traffic accident or murder scene. It's everyday civilian life that's affected. In ''68,' the zombies are everywhere! They litter battlefields, bombed out cities, burnt hooches, underground tunnel systems and stacks of body bags. The risen ghouls are burnt, mutilated and hideously wounded, wearing red badges of war as well as the grim, skull-like visage of the undead. These are shambling monsters of our own creation. We killed them or they killed us. Now, something beyond our understanding has pulled them from the muck and set them on us, like an endless horde of ravenous, diseased hounds."
Given the horrific war setting and the specific time period, the three creators have worked tirelessly to replicate the 1960s as authentically as possible. "Doing the research for ''68' has been extremely educational," said Jones. "We all knew pieces of the Vietnam War story but when you dive in you find so much amazing history that isn't in the textbooks. There's definitely a lot of 'the truth is stranger than fiction' here. We were all shooting emails back and forth as we researched. It was great to have everyone equally excited about the book."
Extensive research is a crucial component to the success of "'68," particularly given the creators' ambitious ideas for the series. "I feel that ''68' could go on indefinitely," said Kidwell. "There are so very many stories to tell, both focusing on the Vietnam conflict and expanding to encompass the world. I'd like to see it go to England. What happened to the Beatles when the dead rose? I'd like to see Nixon's reaction. I'd like to see Steve McQueen bash a zombie in the head with Jimi Hendrix's guitar. I'd like to see these ideas and a million more on the comic book page, the small screen beyond my Xbox controller and the big, chunky screen of my local Cineplex."
"You're going to notice a ton of references from that era," Fotos agreed. "As Mark said, hitting all of the mediums for us just makes this story rich and plausible. It's not just another zombie comic - these are real historical events happening, bookending a dark horror story."
For the "'68" creators, the mood of the time period and the horrors of the Vietnam War are deadly enough on their own. "There was a worldwide pall of darkness hanging over the conflict, growing larger and darker as the occupation continued," said Kidwell. "It changed the mood of our nation, soured us on the entire concept of war and caused us to look at ourselves and wonder for the first time if we were still the good guys. Back home, free love, dope, anti-establishment rock and roll and racial tension were turning flower power pacifists into militants."
But with the introduction of zombies into the mix, Kidwell sees an even deadlier picture emerging. "You toss millions of hungry, vicious dead things on that powder keg and the world comes apart in a matter of days," he teased.
The "'68" miniseries from creators Mark Kidwell, Nat Jones and Jay Fotos is scheduled to hit comic book stores in the fall of 2010. For more info, visit the comic's website.