Comics Interviews: An Interview With Jonathan Maberry
Jonathan Maberry is a multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator and writing teacher/lecturer. His novels includes GHOST ROAD BLUES (winner of the Stoker Award for Best First Novel in 2006), DEAD MAN’S SONG (2007), and PATIENT ZERO (St Martins Press 2009). Upcoming novels include THE DRAGON FACTORY (2010) and THE KING OF PLAGUES (2011) and THE WOLFMAN (2009, Universal Pictures). His nonfiction works include THE CRYPTOPEDIA (Citadel, 2007 –winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction); and ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (Winning of the Heinzman and Black Quill Awards and nominatedx for a Stoker Award; 2008). He writes THE BLACK PANTHER comic for Marvel, as well as a variety of projects involving Wolverine, Spider-Man, the Punisher and other heroes.
His full biography can be found by visiting his website: www.jonathanmaberry.com
Nicholas Yanes: It seems that in recent years the Zombie genre has been making a resurgence. Why do you think the concept of the Zombie is such a powerful image in popular culture?
Jonathan Maberry: It isn’t their charm (they don’t have any). It’s certainly not their romantic appeal (with the possible exceptions of Mindy Clarke and the cast of Zombie Strippers). And it’s not because they’re a metaphor for dying young, staying pretty and living forever –because that’s the sales pitch for the fang gang.
Zombies are hot because they are one of the most flexible storytelling models around, and we haven’t really scratched the surface. The reason is simple: the monster doesn’t intrude into the tale. They’re a force, a threat, something big and bad and present, which serves the purpose of placing the human characters in increasingly stressful situations. Writing about characters under stress is what makes the process of crafting a story exciting for both writer and reader. Who wants to read about a bunch of calm, well-balanced folks quietly interacting in an ideal society? Tossing zombies into that mix lifts it from ho-hum to horror in a heartbeat
Because zombies are a simplistic monster form we can introduce them quickly without having to spend a lot of storytelling time on the ‘why’ of how they came into being. After all, Romero himself never pinned it down beyond an oblique reference to radiation from a returning space probe. No hard, no complex magical back-story—we accept that something caused them to rise and the story starts in motion.
Yanes: The image of the vampire has been successfully re-imagined several times, yet the Zombie has remained fairly consistent. Zombie movies that attempt to be different (My boyfriend’s back) tend to never make a long term impact. Why do you think the zombie has resisted reinterpretations?
Maberry: Zombies are reinterpreted all the time. Romero gave us slow, dumb zombies for three films, then in Land of the Dead he gave us sympathetic and reasoning zombies. Dan O’Bannon made them fast, chatty and funny. 28 Days Later kept them alive. The new Dawn of the Dead made them dumb but fast, and scary. And the list goes on. There are plenty of new takes on the zombie model. In fiction there are even more reinterpretations. As I said…the model is flexible.
Yanes: One of the most horrifying aspects of a Zombie movie is just the visualization of a walking dead person. How do you attempt to capture the horrific images of the undead in text?
Maberry: It’s all about the reactions of the characters confronting them. Fear comes from threat and potential, and the relentless nature of this monster allows us to show the characters going through shock and denial into genuine fear.
Also, in fiction you have to be careful not make the zombies comical unless you’re writing comedy. If you’re writing horror –the zombies have to be scary. You can’t make that mistake. It works in film, but sure as hell not in fiction.
Yanes: Universities across the country are presenting more and more classes that look at popular culture. How do you think your books – in particular, Patient Zero – should be taught?
Maberry: Patient Zero doesn’t play to stereotypes and anyone who reads the book will get that. Joe Ledger is not a superman. Sure, he’s tough and resourceful, but you’d expect him to be –they don’t hire slackers to run Special Ops teams. But he’s also uncertain of his role, insecure, nervous, and deeply damaged. He has a split personality and tons of emotional baggage. Not exactly James Bond.
The villains are complex, their motives logical from their point of view.
And the ideology of the book differs from most thrillers in that this isn’t a slam against Islam or Arabs. As one character points out: “Terrorism is an ideology, not a nationality.” The book explores greed, corruption, religious fundamentalism and other extreme behavior and how that warps judgment and influence action.
A friend of mine who is a teacher said that she recommends the book to her students at Temple University because it is “a character driven thriller with heart and humor”, qualities she feels are lacking in many books of the same genre.
Yanes: You mentioned that you are currently working on a project with Fred Van Lente. I know Marvel tends to have confidentiality clauses attached to their projects, but is there any thing that you can share? Does it fall into a particular genre?
Maberry: Can’t talk about it yet, but it’s fair to say that it plays to my strengths. It’s also very funny and deeply weird. But you’d expect that from Van Lente and the others in the mix.
Yanes: You have written short stories, novels, Young Adult novels, nonfiction books, novelettes, comics and articles. Can you provide any insight on how the format affects the development of the story?
Maberry: The genre influences the size and structure of the book—thrillers are longer, for example—but really it’s the characters that determine the voice of the story. My supernatural thrillers –Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising—were told from a rotating point of view of a large cast, and the town itself was more or less a character, which nudged the story toward an omniscient point of view. Patient Zero, on the other hand, is mostly told in first person by the hero, Joe Ledger. He’s a lean thinker and a smartass, so that gave the book a leaner and funnier flavor.
Each of my short stories have been completely different from one another. “Doctor Nine” (from the Killers anthology, edited by Colin Harvey) had a strange fairy-tale flavor. “The Adventure of the Greenbrier Ghost” (Legends of the Mountain State 2, edited by Michael Knost) was a Sherlock Holmes story, so I went for a style like that of Arthur Conan Doyle. My favorite story, “Pegleg and Paddy Save the World” (History is Dead, edited by Kim Paffenroth) was flat out comedy and –for me—had the freshest voice I’ve used in shorts. It was also my first comedy piece.
It changes all the time. I’m working on two Young Adult books –a zombie coming of age novel that has a simplistic, Old West flavor; and a Steampunk adventure that is a mix of teen drama and fable.
Who knows what the voice of the next project will be.
Yanes: Finally, if you wanted your fans to add false information to a Wikipedia entry, what entry and what information would you want added or changed?
Maberry: I’d claim that I wrote Jaws, The Andromeda Strain, The Stand and To Kill a Mockingbird. After all…if it’s on Wikipedia it must be true.
For more information about Jonathan Maberry, feel free to check out the following websites:
- Nicholas Yanes is a comic book academic who has written two theses focused on graphic literature: “X-Men as a Reflection of Civil Rights in America” and “Graphic Imagery – Jewish American Comic Book Creators’ Depictions of Class, Race, and Patriotism.” Additionally, he was privileged enough to create and teach “American Comic Book History”; a junior level course in the American Studies Program at Florida State University. His first publication is the essay, “The Super Patriot: World War II Warriors and the Birth of Captain America,” and will be published in Captain America and the Struggle of the Superhero: Critical Essays. He is currently working on two projects: 1) Editing an essay that has been accepted for publication in an anthology – this essay looks at African Religion in mainstream American Comic Books, 2) Putting together a collection of essays that look at Obama in Popular Culture: http://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/32305