Christmas is still quite a ways away and, for most of us, the last thing we’re thinking of is powdery snow, warm coco, and a jolly fat man squeezing himself down the chimney to deliver cheer. For the Andreas Rønning and the creative team of Z for Zombie, though, it’s always Christmas. I first came across an ad for the ambitious graphic novel a few days before New Year’s Eve and, while the title itself didn’t immediately grab my attention, the artwork slapped me across the face and demanded that I follow the link. I don’t normally listen to social media and their pushy, targeted marketing but it just looked too cool to pass up. What followed was an introduction into an apocalyptic world populated by zombies, a struggling human race, robots, and one kick ass zombie Santa Claus. My inner fanboy started screaming. There are varying degrees of nerd in me ranging from schlocky B horror connoisseur to comic collecting dweeb-o-saurus and this looked like just the thing to satisfy all my nerdish cravings.
I reached out to Andreas Rønning, the creator of Z for Zombie in true fanboy fashion and was introduced to a man of many talents. An artist, filmmaker, director, screenwriter, and the creative mind behind the apocalyptic Z for Zombie, he stays busy. Between producing commercials in his native Norway to pitching major motion pictures in Los Angeles. He was able to take some time this week to talk about his work and why you’re going to love his ambitious graphic novel.
Dan - Tell me a bit about you for the readers. What else might they recognize you or your work from?
AR - I’m a writer and director based in Norway, but I am making frequent trips to Los Angeles because of work. I make commercials and music videos in Norway and the writing has sort of been a hobby that has taken over more and more. Together with my brother Joachim we recently sold the pitch Origin to Paramount Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer, so we’re developing that into a screenplay.
Dan - From what I’ve seen on social media and the website, this story is not only ambitious but truly epic in scope. From the coming of age of two very different –and distant- friends set against the zombie apocalypse, a zombie Santa Claus, and even a robot or two you’re covering a lot of ground in genre fiction. How long were you developing the idea of Z for Zombie before putting pen to paper?
AR - I spend a lot of time creating a beat sheet. This is the entire story mapped out in one-sentence bullet points – usually between 40 to 60 beats, making up the structure of a feature film. In this case it started out with the Hero/Villain dynamic. Our hero doesn’t want to be a hero and our Villain desperately does. So I spent a few months thinking about that and the story grew from there. Then I came up with the realistic take on how zombies might come to be and the ball really started rolling. I feel a lot of zombie movies avoid the inherent seriousness of logistics that comes with a zombie outbreak. Like in The Walking Dead you start with it just having happened and they kind of close their eyes to the implications. Don’t get me wrong, I love TWD, so it’s not something wrong with that – I’m just saying where my interests lie. Anyway. What was your question? Sorry, I’m rambling… Oh yeah, pen to paper – it is immediate, but it is like ironing a shirt. You make circular movements and it gets better as the creases disappear.
Dan - The first question everyone is going to ask when they see this is “Zombie Santa?!” What made you think to bring together Christmas and the undead like this?
AR - I love Gremlins and I love the backdrop of the holidays: joy, sadness, gratefulness, giving, receiving, and all that, without having to once to talk about it. People project a lot more into it than is in the story. So that was the basic thought. It came long after I started writing.
Dan - And I’m assuming that your Kris Kringle won’t be spreading holiday cheer through the world. What sort of mythology and folklore about Saint Nick are you exploring in Z for Zombie that people might not have seen before?
AR - Our Santa Claus is based on the real person , Saint Nicholas of Myra. And resurrecting him seemed fun to me. The fairytale of this character , bringing him back to life (or living dead) was appealing as kids are fed a lie of his existence. There’s also something fun about his saint status and dragging that through some filth, which seemed like a great juxtaposition to me.
Dan - Other than the Christmas mythology, what do you feel is going to separate this story from other zombie/apocalypse stories that are on the market right now?
AR - I tend not to like just zombies running amok. There needs to be something more, something that makes the amok-running scary. The core of ZfZ is a drama – not unlike Shaun of the Dead was a Romantic Comedy – you can remove everything undead from Z for Zombie and you still have a great story of drama. Another example is Beverly Hills Cop. That is generally looked upon as a pure comedy, but at its core there’s a real crime drama at play. At the beginning of that story Axel Foley’s friend gets executed, and then Axel goes on a journey to find his killer. The comedy is secondary. I like that a lot – that discipline and that respect for the craft.
Dan - What can you share about the overall plot of the story (without giving too much away) that readers haven’t already seen on social media or your website?
AR - Ah! Spoiler alert!
Our villain, Karl, is a genius. He is the fire starter. He discovers and invents the zombie gene and exploits that. That is also what holds the key to immortality. Because if you think about it: being a zombie means living dead . You can’t die twice. It’s an immortality gene gone awry. To become the real hero he finally needs to find the cure and make the immortality gene work without the side effect of being a Zombie.
So that’s a bit of a spoiler without spoiling anything.
Dan - And what about the zombies? Is there anything in the zombie/apocalypse/horror that is going to set this story apart from others in the genre?
AR - Our characters really have something to lose. To me this story does not rely on the zombies only for scare and gore. It’s the emotional core that really makes the Zombies terrifying. I mean there are a lot of fun things in this that I haven’t seen before, and the splatter from 70s and 80s zombie movies still casts long shadows over us – we have that… but I feel it’s fresh and I feel that you also get to feel how a Zombie actually feels.
Dan - I love the artistic style and layout that I’ve seen in the samples on your website. What artists and comics/graphic novels helped inspire the look of Z for Zombie?
AR -Will Eisner was a huge influence (A Contract With God) as well as the newer masterpiece Blacksad and 100 Bullets. Marvel and DC from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but specifically the Batman of the early 90s – the darker ones. And a shelf full of titles I love.
Dan - And what about your own style? What are readers going to see that is uniquely you in this graphic novel?
AR - We’ve focused on making this a good read. I really think this flows well. You’ll read the almost 300 pages in no time. This goes back to when I was a kid. I don’t particularly like when a graphic novel turns into a book with loads of text. I like the story to be shown, not told, so that’s what we’ve done. Another thing is the details. I had a lot of fun inserting fun nuggets to be found on re-reads. I remember reading MAD when I was younger and always finding these small stories in between the real stripes. I tried to infuse ZfZ with that as well.
Then there’s the most important part: emotion. Hopefully the emotion can make you submerge yourself into this. We do skip across the surface of emotions, but we also go deep as well.
Dan - Your Kickstarter campaign mentions that this was a script that you pitched to BOOM! and other studios but was rejected due to the epic scale and cost. Are you still hoping to get Z for Zombie on film?
AR - I gave them a test copy of the almost finished thing – and they liked it a lot.
I’m very much hoping that ZfZ will have a long life. My first focus is to just to get it into the world. Whatever comes after that, I’ll take it.
Dan - And speaking of the Kickstarter, there’s still a few weeks left to contribute to the campaign, right?
AR - YES! Crack your skull open and pledge to your bleeding heart’s delight… for another 20 days. It ends on April 17th, so I’m feeling the pressure of completing. One of the things we’re doing to achieve this is that we’re having a booth at WonderCon in Anaheim this year. I’ll bring a few test copies for people to see, but the goal for that weekend is to create buzz and attention for our Kickstarter.
Dan - For the folks who are reading this article before they start exploring the amazing world you’re establishing with Z for Zombie, what are you hoping to bring to life with the funding you’re looking for?
AR - With the completion of this Kickstarter we’re going to have the money to print 2000 copies, make a digital edition, complete all the Rewards, and birth this project into being. Every little bit helps, so everything matters. I hope people fall in love with this as much as I have and that they’ll find a compelling story at the core and be very entertained throughout.
If you haven’t already heard about this project or seen some of the amazing images and pages that have already been released from Z for Zombie, you need to check out the website (Z for Zombie) or on the Instagram account. Consider this, for a moment. On average, a comic book is composed of twenty-two pages of story and another ten of ads and superfluous junk. A five issue story arch compiled into a single volume for a graphic novel comes in just over a hundred pages not including any variant covers, sketches, and notes from the authors that get lumped in as filler. Z for Zombie is a fully formed, cohesive graphic novel of over 300 pages with 3,000 images in what the sight calls “maybe the world’s most ambitious graphic novel ever attempted.” The story looks very promising and the artwork itself is dark and atmospheric with these shocking bursts of color that only add to the ambiance of the world you’re entering. You can read the first 22 pages (or issue #1 if you like) for free as a sample on the website.
There’s still a few weeks left to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign to help fund the 20,000 copy first edition run and the rewards the crew at Z for Zombie are offering are nothing short of awesome. If you’re at WonderCon this weekend, swing by the booth, say hello to Andreas and the ZfZ crew, and be sure to tag them and us (@zfzombie & @52weeksofhorror) in your favorite pics. Not sure where the booth is? Just look for the zombified Saint Nick stalking the convention hall. He’ll show you the way.
Dan Lee is a horror fiend and freelance writer with a special place in his heart for monster movies and demonic possession stories