Exclusive: Joshua Ortega And Digger Mesch Talk The Other Dead
Stronger. Faster. Deader. That’s the tagline for IDW‘s zombie book coming out next month from Joshua Ortega, Digger Mesch, Qing Ping Mui, Blond, and Kevin Eastman called The Other Dead. Whether on land, on sea, or in the air, no one is safe when the animal kingdom gets turned into vicious flesh-eating zombies. The Other Dead is scheduled as a six-issue miseries that will spin a lot of things you thought you knew about zombies on its head. The infected animals are the major threat and stars of the show in this one, but the human cast features some unique characters themselves. There are plenty of wild new creations, but the actual President of the United States gets in on the action as well. I got the chance to speak with writers Joshua Ortega and Digger Mesch about the upcoming series and what’s in store for horror fans. The duo have some pretty big things coming up related to The Other Dead besides the new comics. Read on for all the details.
So how did The Other Dead come about? Where did the story idea come from and how did this motley crew assemble?
Ortega: The Other Dead began as a film treatment that Digger came up with back in 2009. At the time, it had both zombie humans and zombie animals. I really liked the zombie animal angle, so when Digger asked me to come onboard, we really took that high concept and ran with it. Kevin came on soon after as a Creative Consultant and to provide variant covers, and I brought Qing Ping Mui and Blond on for the art. I knew Qing from working on the Grim Ghost character for the Atlas relaunch a few years back, and I knew Blond from our days at Top Cow together. It’s a really solid team, and we’re fortunate to have so many talented folks working on one project.
The story is a twist on the whole zombie genre because it’s animals. Can you talk a little about how you go about making zombie animals and what differentiates them from their human zombie counterparts?
Ortega: The biggest difference from the traditional zombie is that they’re not slow…they’re incredibly fast and even more savage than a wild animal. And while many animals are naturally vegetarians, in The Other Dead, every animal turns into a vicious carnivore, hungry for human meat. Unlike other zombies, the animals zombies will eat other animals, but for reasons yet to be revealed, they prefer human flesh…
The zombie animals are pretty exciting, but you have to someone for them to terrorize. Can you talk about the human cast of characters?
Ortega: Yeah, the main cast includes Tommy Romero, a 10-year old cancer survivor who’s struggling with his faith and his belief in life; Azazael, his older brother who’s part of a Norwegian-like death metal band that practices animal sacrifices; Az’s girlfriend, Justina Abelinda, an exotic dancer who’s also a Puerto Rican bruja; Chet Wayne, an ex-Army Ranger with a racist streak; and the actual President himself, Barack Obama, who’s forced to take up arms when he’s trapped in the eye of the undead storm.
A few zombie animals have been revealed through preview images and solicits. Is there any animals we haven’t heard about you can tease us with? What is your particular favorite animal zombie you’ve gotten into the series?
Ortega: There will be a ton of zombie animals featured in the book, from squirrels to dogs to gators to more, but we’re going to keep a lot of them a surprise…part of the fun of each issue is seeing which zombified animals appear, and by the end of the series, readers won’t be disappointed with the menagerie on display. As far as my favorite, I think they’re all pretty fascinating…check with me at the end, and I may have one narrowed down!
Was all of the above part of you all drawing your line in the sand saying “we’re going to be different from other zombie stories out there?” Was there part of the planning stages where you went through zombie lore and said “we’ll use this, we won’t use this, this needs to change?
Ortega: Maybe a little of both…we definitely felt we were off to a good start with just the high concept of zombie animals–so little has been done there–but we also wanted to play with the conventions a bit too. For instance, human zombies never seem to fight each other, but the zombie animals do sometimes go after one another. There are some other major differences too, which will be revealed throughout the story…
Now President Obama is one of your main characters. You released quite the cover featuring the POTUS packing some serious heat. The first issue drops on 9/11 as well. That caused a stir on the web to put it mildly. Is there a little bit of a political edge to the story or were folks just jumping on the cover and trying to piece things together just from that?
Ortega: In a way, I see The Other Dead as being something of an homage to the EC Comics of old…Tales From the Crypt, Shock Suspense Stories, and even Mad. So like those books, there are certainly some political undertones and overtones in the book…nothing too preachy or overbearing, but a little something in there for those who want to seek it out. First and foremost, it’s a survival horror book, and but there’s definitely some commentary in there bubbling about.
Now you have all worked on various projects separately. Just to name two, Mr. Ortega you’ve worked on Gears of War and Kevin Eastman created that little indie book about Ninja Turtles, what is fun about working on something that is entirely yours and entirely new? What’s are some challenges that come along with that?
Ortega: The fun is that you have an entirely new playground all to yourselves. You’re creating the ground rules, defining the boundaries (or eliminating them in some cases), and you’re really able to branch out and tell the exact story you want to tell without much restriction. The challenge is in finding the new audience for the book since it’s never been seen before…you hope that Gears and TMNT fans will check it out, but you have to make sure the book can stand on its own, regardless of the creator’s backgrounds.
Back in May, I remember reading that you were already looking to expand The Other Dead as a transmedia franchise. There may have been a video game in the works and there could be some movie/TV talk. Can you talk about that? Any movement on those fronts as of late?
Digger: It’s all about spreading the disease. (laughs) What we have right now is almost too good to be true, and seems so obvious of a winner to us all, that we’re going full throttle as opposed to a wait and see approach. We’re already getting offers from companies I didn’t think would be possible this early in the game. Video games are really Joshua’s world and the fact that he has Gears of War under his belt along with a lot of other killer properties has been BIG for us in the game universe. I can’t talk about the game, but I can say we’re talking to 2 major toy companies and that we’re rolling out altogether different visions of the brand. Transmedia doesn’t just mean we’re going to roll out as much product as we can. The evolution of transmedia to us is very much about uniting all creative and marketing platforms. I’ve done a lot of this over the years with Art Asylum and now Agent 88. We launched a 6-week Agent 88 art exhibit/outdoor premiere/book launch in Beverly Hills with live music and the show evolved every week. It was never the same. We’re going to do the same thing with The Other Dead…whatever is cool and exciting, we’re going to do, anything goes.
What do hope readers get out of the story? What would be your pitch to them if for some odd reason they were on the fence about picking this up in September?
Digger: The Other Dead isn’t like anything else out there. If you love zombies, action, savage beasts, and are ready for something completely new, you need to come with us on this ride! Josh and I were just talking the other day on the phone about the book’s origins…my original treatment was beyond over the top, almost “Evil Dead meets Jumanji.” Many of the initial OD characters and relationships have remained, but Josh gave it more of a serious tone and Qing and Blond have cooked up a very visceral style, so it was kind of like building a skyscraper in the heart of a spatial anomaly. I was so pleased when I read the proof of the first issue…it was like reading it for the first time. I think The Other Dead really has a chance to be a game-changer on so many different levels, and I think the early adopters will be happy they were there from the beginning.
You all still have a lot coming up with The Other Dead, but are there other projects you’re working on together or individually that we should be on the lookout for?
Digger: We have a kung fu horror-western called Sundown Seven that we’re looking to launch in 2014, and Josh also has an amazing film script that I want to direct called Skin. Outside of those projects and The Other Dead, I just launched a pilot for Agent 88 on Chill.com on 8/8 (www.chill.com/agent88), and I’m also working on a documentary titled 35 Days of Kevin Eastman that will coincide with the new TMNT movie. Pretty full plate for 2013, and even more to come. Bank on it.
Our thanks to Ortega and Mesch for talking with us. The Other Dead comes out September 11th, and final order cut-offs are coming up. I’m telling you, you’re going to want to check this one out. Be sure to get in on the action at the start. It sounds like we’re going to see some new and creative stuff when it comes to zombies in this series. The premise really grabbed my interest. This is one that really stands out in the plethora of zombie books out there right now. If your interest got piqued with this chat, you can check out the official site for The Other Dead by clicking here. A few pieces of art and some of the series’ covers are scattered about, but below you can click around to see the final poster, the first issue’s covers, the much discussed Obama variant cover, and a sneak peek at the second issue’s cover. Will you be checking this one out?