People have been arguing for years whether zombies should walk or run and this September you can add flying, swimming, hopping and slithering to that debate as IDW Publishing unleashes zombie animal hordes in "The Other Dead."
Written by Joshua Ortega from a film treatment by Digger Mesch, "The Other Dead" is a six-issue miniseries examining what happens when a mysterious infection causes every single member of the animal kingdom to turn into blood-thirsty, ultra-strong zombies and attack an unsuspecting human populace. Interior artist Qing Ping Mui and cover artist Kevin Eastman, co-creator of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," round out "The Other Dead" creative team.
Ortega, who has written for both "Gears of War" comic books and video games, opened up to Comic Book Resources about "The Other Dead," revealing the origin of the unique project, his plans for the future of the fledgling franchise and announced Barack Obama as a primary cast member of the book -- and much more.
CBR News: What's the premise of "The Other Dead?"
Joshua Ortega: At the highest level, two words: Zombie. Animals. "The Other Dead" is the world's first zombie animal epic, exploring what happens when the animal kingdom is turned into a horde of flesh-eating monsters.
As far as the story goes, a monstrous hurricane -- even worse than Katrina -- is about to hit southern Louisiana just as the Vice President is killed during an outbreak of a mysterious infection that's turning all animals into ravenous, cold-blooded killers.
Into this mix is thrown our eclectic cast of characters: Tommy Romero, a 10-year old cancer survivor who's struggling with his faith and belief in life; Azrael, Tommy's older brother and a member of the Norwegian-like death metal band, Decapitated; Justina Abelinda Cortez, Az's girlfriend who's an exotic dancer and a Puerto Rican bruja/witch; Chet Wayne, a racist ex-Army Ranger who's been preparing for the apocalypse for years; and Barack Obama -- yes, the actual president of the United States -- who ends up in the eye of the storm, dealing not only with the hurricane but the zombie animal outbreak as well.
Do the animal zombies in "The Other Dead" run or walk?
Oh, these motherfuckers run, Karl -- and jump, pounce, fly, swim, glide, everything. These things are absolute fucking nightmares, way tougher to deal with than a human zombie. I mean, animals can be pretty damn scary on their own, but then zombify them? Like the tagline says: Stronger. Faster. Deader.
What are some of the zombie animals you're going to play with in this story?
We've got a great cast of zombie animals in the story, but I don't want to talk too much about which animals will actually appear in the story itself -- that's part of the fun of each issue, asking yourself, "Which zombie animals are gonna appear in this one?" It's almost like getting to the next level in a video game and seeing the new enemies, best when it's a complete surprise.
However, we will be featuring pin-ups in the back of the book (and some possible back/alternate covers), and we've got a huge roster of all-star artists who will be contributing zombie animal pieces to the book. So I'm happy to talk about some of those, though you'll have to wait a few months to actually see 'em!
We've got a Zombie Panda by Samwise Didier, lead artist for "Worlds of Warcraft" -- it's a wicked painted piece, very moody and scary. Shane White did an incredible Zombie Squirrel, he actually made it frightening and freaky in a "Tales From the Crypt" vein! A buddy of mine, Mike Shoykhet (who drew a story for me on the upcoming "Outlaw Territory"), came up with a sick Zombie Cheetah, really strong and dynamic image. And Liam Sharp has told me that he's going to do a Zombie Hummingbird -- that one, I can't wait to see! [Laughs] There's a ton more "Other Dead" art pieces coming this year, even a shocking Dave Dorman Obama cover. Trust me, folks are really gonna be talking about that one when we release the image!
Why should we be more afraid of zombie animals over zombie people?
In addition to all of an animal's inherent natural strengths over a human (speed, strength, fur/hide, teeth, claws, etc.), animal zombies aren't necessarily killed when you destroy their brains -- their animal instincts keep can keep 'em going sometimes, even after brain damage. That's a twist that we haven't seen before, and I think it's gonna make for an even scarier story as the humans learn that everything they thought they knew about zombies was wrong -- shit don't work like it do in the movies.
How long have you been developing "The Other Dead?"
We've actually been developing "The Other Dead" for over two years now, since early 2011. The original zombie animal idea came from a Digger T. Mesch film treatment. He pitched me the concept and I thought it was brilliant. Digger also showed it to Kevin Eastman around this time, and we both liked the concept so much that we joined up with him on it. Dig handed over a lot of the storytelling reigns to me at that point, and Kevin started working on artwork and concepts for the book.
Once I had the first script finished, it was time to find the perfect interior artist, and I was lucky to have just worked with the amazingly talented Qing Ping Mui on "The Grim Ghost" book for Atlas. We became friends and Qing showed me his other work, and I was absolutely floored. It reminded me of when I first saw Francis Manapul's pencils for "Necromancer" #1 -- in both cases, I was like, "Holy shit, this guy's about to be a star!" I asked him to do "The Other Dead," offered him part of the creator-owned deal -- we're big on artists' rights, so the entire core team gets royalties on this -- and the rest has been history in the making.
We also needed colors, and for that I turned to my buddy from the Top Cow days, the mysterious man known as Blond. He's been awesome to have on the book, and he really complements Qing's ultra-detailed artwork -- they're a great team. Blond is being credited on the covers and all materials too, just like Qing, Kevin, Digger, and me -- I mean, it's kinda crazy that most companies don't consider the colorist as part of the core team, right? How the hell do you have a color comic without a colorist!? So Blond's part of the team, from credits to royalties, just like the rest of us. I come from the Frazetta school on that one -- artists get paid and treated with respect. Period.
How did Kevin Eastman get involved?
Kevin and Digger have been friends for years, and Kevin and I became friends in 2011. I think it was just a perfect fit for Kevin, and since we're all good friends, everything has really evolved quite naturally. And we all agreed that being able to say "From the creators of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Gears of War" wouldn't hurt the book's chances in the slightest!
What's your partnership with co-creator Digger Mesch like?
Fucking madness, man... madness, I tell you! [Laughs]
No seriously though, working with Digger is like having a right-hand man at all times. I'm a pretty high-energy, get-it-done, independent hustling type of guy, and Digger's exactly the same way. Put the two of us on one team and you've got a fucking reactor's worth of energy behind a project.
We realized quickly it would be a good idea to harness all that energy for "The Other Dead" and some of our other projects, so we've joined up to create a brand new entertainment company, Tommee's Fund. "The Other Dead" is the first property we're bringing to the world, but you'll be hearing about a lot more soon...
Is "The Other Dead" your first creator-owned project? What are your hopes for the future of the property?
This is actually the second creator-owned project that I've worked on... its kind of like returning to my roots, really, since my first novel "((Frequencies))" was originally self-published and I still own all of the rights to it to this day.
As far as our hopes for the future of "The Other Dead" franchise, we're absolutely thinking big-time all the way on this one, and we all have been since day one. What Macklemore has done with "The Heist" in the iTunes/music space, we're looking to do the same thing with "The Other Dead" in the entertainment/pop culture space: hit the top of the charts, get the damned thing everywhere, and keep complete creative and financial control over the property.
"The Other Dead" is not just a comic, it's a true transmedia franchise. The first video game is already in development, we're in early talks about the television show and the film, and we'll be releasing all types of "Other Dead"/Zombie Animal tie-ins as the year rolls on: Zombie Animal statues, action figures, trading cards, plush toys, and hell, maybe even some Zombie Animal candy while we're at it. You get the picture -- we're not looking for a single hit with this one, we want to knock the friggin' lights out, "Natural"-style.
So you have a video game that's already in development?
Unfortunately, can't go into any detail on that one at this stage, but will have more info on it later in the year as development progresses!
What's it like to switch from working on characters you don't own, like on "Gears of War," to ones you do?
The beautiful thing about creator-owned work is not only the exponentially larger financial rewards, but also the complete creative control you have over your work and your universe and characters. You can do whatever you want artistically, and be as ambitious and groundbreaking as you can -- it's a great feeling, artistic liberation. Credit to Robert Kirkman for really pushing all of us to do this... it's the new 21st century model for creators.
On the "Gears" note, credit goes to Epic Games for really allowing me to do my thing, though. The characters I created like Jace Stratton, Michael Barrick and Alex Brand were really mine to create and develop (along with artist Liam Sharp). They even asked me to write the first DLC, "Raam's Shadow," which featured many of the characters we created in the comic book. So, short of the royalties angle, working with Epic was a bit like doing creator-owned work with other collaborators -- they were a great company to work with.
How do you approach writing a comic book differently than writing a videogame like "Gears of War 2?"
You definitely have more flexibility with a comic than a game, in that the artist is drawing what you envision in the script, and you don't have the technological restraints of a video game (both in terms of what can be done with art assets, and also how levels/design can change up to the last minute). Also, with a game you need to make sure the story isn't getting in the way of the gameplay, whereas with a comic, the story is literally everything (though it shouldn't get in the way of the art, of course -- they should work together).
What other projects do you have coming up?
Oh boy, I've got a lot of 'em!
First up will be the third volume of "Outlaw Territory" from Image Comics, the final installment in their critically acclaimed Western anthology. I worked with Trevor Goring and Mike Shoykhet on this story, finishing the story of "Sundown" that Trevor and I started in "Outlaw Territory" Volume 1. That'll be out this summer.
"The Other Dead" comes out in September from IDW, then I'll be releasing the Omega version of my first novel "((Frequencies))" around October or November. This will be the first time it's available digitally, and I'm going to be doing some interesting and potentially innovative stuff with the Kindle on this one...
I'm also working on a children's book/graphic novel hybrid called "The Land of Sweet" with Spanish artist German Torres. It's best described as "Candyland" meets "Lord of the Rings" with a sprinkling of "The Wizard of Oz." There's also "11," a very realistic take on superpowers and how they affect, change -- and potentially destroy -- the world. It was developed with "Halo" scribe Eric Nylund, and I'm working on that one with Pop Mhan -- I think folks are really going to be excited to see the work Pop's doing on this one.
I also finished work on a new game from Zynga that'll be out this summer (not announced yet, soon!), and I just became the CCO of a new Silicon Valley social media/entertainment startup, Thrival. That one could potentially be huge, and I'm really excited to start spreading the word on it when it's time.
Digger has "Agent 88" debuting this year, a Kickstarted film series about the world's deadliest assassin who just happens to be an 88-year old British lady with Alzheimer's Disease. It's hilarious, a cross between "Kill Bill," "Crank" and "Mr. Magoo." Kevin has "Lost Angeles," a post-apocalyptic story set in the L.A. that's co-created with Simon Bisley, and of course, "TMNT" is in full gear with Nickelodeon, IDW and Michael Bay!
It's looking to be a bigger, faster, stronger year for all us!
"The Other Dead" #1 hits shelves this September from IDW Publishing.