“Those old stories are so weird and almost always have an undercurrent of sex and violence!” we talk fairytales and the undead with Snow White Zombie Apocalypse’s Brenton Lengel
The world of zombie comics is a tough one to stand out in, however last year’s Snow White Zombie Apocalypse managed to stride the genre like a colossus thanks to it’s smart mix of classic fairytales, undead gruesomeness and a jet black sense of humour. With the new issue currently funding on Kickstarter we caught up with writer Brenton Lengel to find about more about the inspiration for this genre mash-up, it’s origins as a play, and also why the world of fairytales is so perfect for a tale of undead!
Snow White Zombie Apocalypse is a mix of fairy story and undead horror, can you tell us where the idea for this originally came from?
Brenton Lengel: It was part of a 24-hour play competition I entered in 2009. The script that eventually became #SWZA issue #1 was actually written in a single evening, then selected, rehearsed and performed the following day. So, the fairytale elements were essentially a writing prompt. For instance, one of the props we could choose to use was an apple…but the use of zombies was something I’d wanted to write a play about for a while. I’d been really influenced by The Walking Dead, having attended college in Robert Kirkman’s home town and had for a while thought about writing “Zombie Shakespeare”…however, I ultimately decided that it would be too difficult to write in iambic pentameter so I worked essentially the same premise into SWZA and as luck would have it, lightening struck.
Those fairy stories are pretty brutal when you read the originals, did this help you to make the world of SWZA more gritty and less Disney-fied?
BL: OH YEAH. That’s one of the reason zombies lend themselves to this so easily. My wife is a huge fairytale buff and those old stories are so weird and almost always have at least an undercurrent of sex and violence running through them. Like the original Little Red Riding Hood might’ve even started off as a bawdy tavern tale, and the themes of Beauty and the Beast can easily be read as preparing girls psychologically for a marriage to an older man. This more “adult” undercurrent crossed with childhood wonder puts these type of stories into a very twisted and fun kind of “twilight” and it’s very easy to make the sparks fly when pulling from them. There’s just something really magical about the journey from childhood to adulthood, from comfort to adventure and that causes me to really feel the aesthetic of this world and makes it really fun to write within it.
Zombie comics is a pretty busy field, what do you think you bring to the genre with SWZA?
BL: I mean, if nothing else I think the fact that the zombies fight back and function a bit more like vampires on a “sire” system is pretty new. Plenty of zombie stories have people turning into zombies from a bite but I can’t think of any where the bite makes someone literally morph into something akin to a copy of that particular zombie and if you’re looking for my contribution to zombie lore, that’s it. Really the zombie plague in SWZA can be seen not as one disease, but several strains of similar diseases ravaging the population. Since the plague is magical in nature it doesn’t have to follow the traditional quasi-scientific ways that most horror films approach how these creatures are handled.
There is quite a lot of dark humour in there as well, was that important for you to bring the laughs as well as the frights? (You also seem to revel in making fun digs at conventions – such as prince charming’s love for kissing corpses!)
BL: Humor has been a goal of mine from the beginning. As scary as zombies are they’re also inherently ridiculous and that’s something that I as a writer try to never forget. I never want to get too serious and gloomy because that’s less fun, and it’s also not true to life. It is extremely important to realize the absurdity of the human condition and so I use dramatic irony to get laughs. Plus, scary stuff is scarier if you’ve just been laughing and funny stuff is funnier if only a moment ago you were terrified so horror and comedy pair very naturally and that’s the needle I always try to thread with SWZA.
The book was originally a play, how did that work and what have you had to adapt to turn it into a comic? Was it always a play first?
BL: I didn’t actually have to adapt it very much at all. The play (the short version) has been published and if you read the script it’s almost identical to the comic. The main thing I had to do was think more visually and even that was easier than it otherwise would have been as I have ALSO written a one-hour TV pilot – which was created when I was a student at Jacob Kruger Studios under the tutelage of George Strayton, one of the writers on Xena and Hercules. So first it was a play, then it was a teleplay, and now it’s a comic book. Film and comics deal in a very similar language, and because I started with a comics background and then learned playwriting and screenwriting all three blended seamlessly to give you what’s on the page now.
You’ve got some pretty interesting Kickstarter rewards can you tell us a bit about them?
BL: So happy you asked about the kickstarter! (Which just broke $7500). We have some amazing premiums. At the entry levels of support there’s both issues of the comic itself, along with some exclusive variant covers, all of which are limited edition and signed by me. There’s also some super cool postcards and posters, that would look great on your wall or mantel…but at the highest levels you can actually commission me to write something for you, or give you coverage on a script of your own. There are also cameos in SWZA itself either as a zombie or even as a recurring character in the series, so if you’ve ever wanted to be in a comic book, this is the kickstarter for you. However, the cherry on top of all of it is me guiding you and two of your friends along the Laugavegur Trail in the Icelandic wilderness. I’m actually an AT 2000-Miler and a New York State Certified Wilderness Guide and I have lead three previous professional trips along this legendary route. It’s a week-long lifechanging experience and it’s currently listed for $1500 off (because I really wanna go) so if any fantasy fans out there are interested in walking through the closest thing you can get to Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, I’d be happy to make that happen.
And finally, are there any fairytale characters you would have loved to include but haven’t been able to yet?
BL: Too many to name, but as the series continues we’re going to be including so many more. There’s Nix the black fairy who inspired Disney’s Maleficent as well as more obscure figures like The Brave Little Taylor and even super weird stuff like Hrólfr Kraki and his Twelve Berserkr Bodyguards. As long as people keep wanting to read SWZA and I can keep artists like Hyeondo, Luana and Bryan drawing, we can all keep discovering the crazy, magical world that is Snow White Zombie Apocalypse together.