Writer Max Brooks has, in just a few short years, become one of the hottest names in contemporary horror. As the author of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War and The Zombie Survival Guide, Brooks is, within his medium, as responsible for the current zombie renaissance as Danny Boyle, Robert Kirkman, and Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are within theirs. I caught up with the former Saturday Night Live writer earlier this month at WonderCon in San Francisco, at which he surprised everyone by announcing he'll write the comic book GI Joe: Hearts and Minds for IDW. But lest horror fans fear they won't see Brooks' zombies again soon, he told me why the long-awaited World War Z film may be moving closer to happening. Hit the jump for my complete chat with Brooks.
What are you working on right now?
Recorded Attacks just came out, so that's been doing great. Amazing. My next project, which comes out in May, is a comic book series for GI Joe. That was announced here. GI Joe: Hearts and Minds. And that's not like your typical GI Joe.
Can we expect something darker, edgier?
I don't know if it's darker. I can't compare to the other GI Joe series but I can tell you that it is certainly more human and that these people have very human problems and they deal with very human issues. It's certainly more three-dimensional I think. I don't know if it's more three-dimensional than the GI Joe series that are running now, but a lot more than the ones I grew up with. And it's not a linear story. It's more of a collection of interviews. It's more like a day in the life or an up-close-and-personal of a Joe or a Cobra.
Are there supernatural or horror elements in this or is it a straight war book?
It's similar to World War Z in that I took a very fantastic subject and I tried to make it as human and as real as possible. I've done the same thing with Hearts and Minds. I took a sort of fantastic, 1980s, pseudo-violent kind of series – harmless violent, no one ever dies – and made it much more realistic and much more accessible. I mean, I can tell you that we deal with issues like racism, we deal with science versus religion, we deal with medical ethics, medical malpractice, we deal with unemployment and the moral destruction of unemployment, destruction of the male ego… so these are the kinds of things that we do.
What can you tell us about the film adaptation of your zombie universe?
Paramount just renewed the option for World War Z, for half the time and twice the money, so that might signal interest. We still got our director, Marc Forster, who's raring to go. Were all waiting on Matt Carnahan's new draft, which should come in a month or so. Once that comes in then I think it probably will have to be tweaked and brought to the studio but we're sort of zeroing in on that moment where Paramount has to say yes or no.
Budget-wise, what will the scale of World War Z be?
That's a good question, because I think the size of the book, the scope of the book, makes it hard to produce, in that this thing's gotta be done right or it just can't be done. You can't do a cheap and dirty World War Z. It's a world war, and I think that makes studio executives nervous. I think it limits its options, so that's running against it.
What accounts for the longevity of the zombie renaissance that started in the last decade?
I think maybe it's because we live in such uncertain times and zombies are apocalyptic by nature. You think most books have a shelf life between milk and yogurt. I remember when Zombie Survival Guide came out in 2003, I thought, "If I'm lucky I'll get a nice six-month run and hopefully I'll sell all 17,000 of the first printing." It's been seven years, and we just crossed the million mark. And sales are increasing, not decreasing, so clearly the people's love of zombies is not ebbing.
Does it ever become intimidating, the success of this world you've created?
I don't think so, because I think there's so many other people trying to write zombie stuff now, so I think I'm just another dude with a zombie book. I have no perspective. I don't know how I'm perceived. And I can't. I just have to keep writing what I want to write.
What do you enjoy most about horror?
Social commentary for me is the most important. I think the original Dawn of the Dead is probably the best zombie film ever made and continues to be. Because it's such an amazing insight into the baby boomer generation. It's literally the death of the baby boomers; and I don't think anybody has come even remotely close to that kind of social commentary in zombie movies.
Do you have any recent favorite books or movies?
I don't have time. I wish I had time, in any genre, to read fiction. I would love to be able to just sit down with a novel and just lose myself. I mean I'm always doing research for something else, so it's always consuming my time. Between that and having a five-year-old son I don't get a lot of free time.
What's your greatest fear?
Being a bad dad. Biggest fear. At the end of my life, me knowing that I fucked that up, that's the worst thing. That's what keeps me up at night.
You want to be as good a dad as your own father was to you?
My dad comes over for dinner every night. So he's the world's best grandpa! So at least that.
You've praised the horror press for promoting your work. Why do you credit them in particular, since you've attracted such a huge mainstream audience?
Whenever my books come out there's always an expectation. And the first six months of any book I write is always [spent] trying to overcome that expectation. When Survival Guide first came out, everybody thought it was gonna be a jokey-joke one-off humor book because I'm Mel Brooks' son. And I worked for SNL and I won a frickin' Emmy for SNL. So that's really a double-whammy against me. I had to spend a long time trying to convince the horror genre that I wasn't laughing at them.
And you guys were instrumental. You guys, Fangoria… there were a lot of people that took a chance on me. Because I think there was this sense that Mel Brooks' SNL kid is writing a sort of one-off joke book that you sort of flip through and giggle and then leave on your coffee table. It was a long time to sort of convince people that if there's a joke, the joke is on me.
Why do you think horror fans worried you would laugh at them?
I think horror fans and sci-fi fans can be defensive at times. Like, "Who is this guy coming to make fun of me?" I had to convince them, "Dude, no, no, no. I'm one of you guys!" If there's a nerd in the room, it's me.