Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, executing a wide-ranging body of work for Marvel, Dark Horse, and more. He is currently doing loads of stuff with IDW, from the frenetically-paced, terrifyingly good ‘V-Wars’, to the angst-loaded, twist-laden ‘Rot & Ruin’. A fan would be breathless following the work of this writer, just as we were when he granted us the following interview, in which he promised lots of rot, ruin, and paranoia, among other things.
By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu @KareemReal
Comic-Book 101: It’s been reported that Simon & Schuster will release your ‘Rot & Ruin: Broken Lands’. How are you going to push the reset button on the series?
Jonathan Maberry: In the first Rot & Ruin series I focused on a core set of characters who lived in Central California and in Nevada. However in the short story collection, ‘Bits & Pieces’ I touched on the experience of people in other parts of the country. And throughout all the books I alluded to troubles coming out of the eastern U.S., including new mutations. That’s my starting point for ‘Broken Lands’. We’ll follow a new set of characters in southern Texas, in and around San Antonio, who are facing extreme mutations of zombies as well as other kinds of biological disasters, including the spread of diseases that have proliferated because there’s no government and medical infrastructure left.
Comic-Book 101: We’ve learned that in ‘Broken Lands’ and its sequel ‘Lost Roads’, you’ll introduce a new cast of characters. Which main ones should we look forward to, and why?
Maberry: The main character is a teenage girl, Gabriella ‘Gutsy’ Gomez, who has a talent for fixing things and finding useful hacks for everyday problems. She is an extraordinarily practical girl who is good with tools and relies as much on common-sense problem solving as she does on being able to fight. Her friends are refugees from all over North America, and Gutsy is doing her best to keep them safe. We may also encounter some characters from the first series, but who they are and how they interact with Gutsy is something I won’t spoil now.
Comic-Book 101: Since for the new book you’ll put a new spin on the walking dead by exploring bizarre mutations, new human threats, and a nightmare landscape, just how much over-the-top zombie madness should fans expect?
Maberry: One of the core elements of what I write, for teens and adults, is science fiction with a hard bias toward science. Even my zombies are built around as much real-world science as the nature of the creature will allow. In the past I’ve used variations on spongiform encephalitis, the green jewel wasp and other parasites, and more. For ‘Broken Lands’, I’ll be exploring natural biological parasitic mutation as well as forced mutation caused by toxic spills (as chemical plants and storage facilities break down in post-apocalyptic America), and mutations of diseases like rabies, pertussis and others. The cause of this plague, as described in the Rot & Ruin series is an old Cold War bioweapon that was repurposed by a rogue scientist. That will play into it, too. What Gutsy will encounter are various levels of zombie intelligence, and people who haven’t died but who are acting like zombies. It’ll be a very paranoid book.
Comic-Book 101: You’ve done some excellent Rot & Ruin comic-books with IDW, as well as fantastic V-Wars issues too. What’s new from you, in collaboration with the publisher?
Maberry: I’ve had a lot of fun working with IDW on a number of projects, including three X-Files anthologies and the Rot & Ruin: Warrior Smart comics, but my biggest project with them is the multi-platform V-Wars. The central theme there is melting polar ice releases an ancient virus that triggers a dormant gene in about 1% of the population. That gene codes for vampirism, but it’s a genetic anomaly and not supernatural. In folklore there are hundreds of different kinds of vampires (and I’ve written five nonfiction books on that subject), so in V-Wars we have all sorts of variations, including some hybrids. Not all vampires are evil; not all humans are good.
So there is a culture class, various kinds of ethnic and ideological wars, and lots of bloodshed. V-Wars started out as a four-volume shared-world anthology series in which I would write a framing story and bring in other writers to do stories set in that world. Then I did three story arcs in comic book form, which have been collected into two graphic novels (V-Wars: Crimson Queen and V-Wars: All Of Us Monsters). Last year IDW released a tabletop board game, V-Wars: A Game Of Blood And Betrayal. Right now we’re working together to develop a TV series based on V-Wars.
Comic-Book 101: Speaking of TV, we’ve heard whispers of a Rot & Ruin movie. How true is this?
Maberry: The Rot & Ruin project had been moving forward nicely, but the screenwriter/producer got the gig to be showrunner (head writer) for the hit TV series Scorpion, so he’s unable to do it and the rights have reverted to me. Another producer is reading it now, but it’s more likely ‘Broken Lands’ will be the film version.
Comic-Book 101: While some say zombies as a horror sub-genre are overdone, your Rot & Ruin disproves that notion. How do you approach working in that world which you’ve created, to keep things fresh?
Maberry: No genre is ever overdone if writers keep bringing new twists and new insights to them. Zombies were starting to cool off when The Walking Dead was optioned for TV. Everyone said the genre was too weak to support it, but it became (and remains) the #1 scripted show on cable. It began to cool again and then The Santa Clarita Diet hit big on Netflix. And Mike Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts became a critical hit. And we’re getting a movie version of The Forest Of Hands And Teeth, based on Carrie Ryan’s teen novel. No, the zombies themselves are dead, but the genre is evergreen.
Comic-Book 101: You have a number of well-received books. How many of them are in development for TV and/or movie screens?
Maberry: I have my teen space travel novel, Mars One, in development; and several of my other projects are in development, including my Joe Ledger thrillers and my upcoming standalone suspense novel, Glimpse. And there are other projects getting close to option, including my Monk Addison short stories and my Pine Deep Trilogy.
Comic-Book 101: You’ve also done tons of work for Marvel, including an excellent crack at the Black Panther. Why haven’t you been doing more work for the publisher?
Maberry: I love writing for Marvel –and Dark Horse and IDW—but right now I’m insanely busy writing four novels per year. And I don’t write short novels! However, I’m likely to do more work for several comics companies in the near future. I may even do a fourth series of my Marvel Universe Vs post-apocalyptic storyline. Stay tuned.
Comic-Book 101: Is there a Marvel character you’ve not tackled, that you’d love to write?
Maberry: I’d love to do old-school, sci-fi driven Fantastic Four. I’d love to bring back Wyatt Wingfoot and do some adventures with the Native American folklore. And I’d love to write a Shang Chi story.
Comic-Book 101: What horror sub-genre would you say is your favorite to write, and why?
Maberry: I’m actually fickle in that I’m in love with whatever topic or character I’m currently writing about. Zombies, because they don’t have their own personalities, allow for a deeper exploration of the human beings caught up in those stories. Vampires are fun, but only when playing with variations other than the sanitized and romanticized Hollywood versions. If I had to pick one monster I haven’t really explored that I’d like to write about, it would be a lake monster or swamp monster. Lots of fun I could have with that. Oh, and I’d kill to write a Godzilla story.
Comic-Book 101: Novels or comic-books, which are your favorite to write?
Maberry: I’m a novelist at heart. I love the big, sprawling canvas on which I can paint very complex, deeply nuanced stories with ensemble casts. But I grew up as a comics kid, and specifically a Marvel kid, so my fanboy heart belongs to the comics world. Now and forever.
Comic-Book 101: How do you get yourself in the right mind-set to write?
Maberry: Not to be a smartass, but I wake up ready to write. I’m not a prima donna and I don’t need to wait for the Muse to whisper in my ear. I write eight hours a day, every working day. It’s my job, and I am a high-output writer. This will be the third consecutive year that I’ll have written a million and a quarter words for publication.
Comic-Book 101: What, would you say, are the basics of comic-book writing, the 101 of it, if you will?
Maberry: Ha! It helps to make mistakes because you get very good advice from editors, artists and letterers. When I started, since I was a novelist first, my scripts tended to have waaaaay too much dialogue. The word balloons crowded out the art. I was advised to focus more on using art direction to tell as much of the story as possible and trust that the artist would do his job. That was a learning curve, but it’s helped my comics become more successful. My friend Joe Hill told me about going through the same process, Ditto for Greg Rucka. We learn and, if we want to be good at this and turn out the best possible comics, we take good advice and apply it.
Abdulkareem Baba Aminu is an award-winning journalist and writer based in Nigeria. He has reviewed comics, novels, movies and music for a variety of platforms and is currently the Editor of the Saturday edition of the Daily Trust, one of the most influential newspapers in his country. You can follow him on Twitter: @KareemReal