Where were you in “’68”? Part Two

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Originally published at Fangoria.com on May 1, 2011

Continuing our conversation with the creators of Image Comics’ Vietnam-era zombie story ’68, begun here.

FANGORIA: The story begins with Yam, a foreign-looking solider, writing to his parents about his war stories. The other soldiers tease and ostracize him because he looks slightly like their enemy. How did you know this character was perfect as the central protagonist? Was it difficult to present a character without veering toward the stereotypical?

MARK KIDWELL: To properly portray the attitudes, prejudices and reality of the Vietnam War period, you have to get down in the muck of racial tension, prejudices and societal division that permeated people’s thinking at the time. We have to use a lot of words describing America’s enemies in that conflict that we, as different-thinking people today don’t share. This was something we knew we had to do to hit on all cylinders and portray the world of ’68 accurately, but we all sort of cringed at some of it. My idea with creating Yam was to give birth to the perfect foil for all of that, and show the readers the effect that words like, “Gook” and “Zipperhead” would have on someone by aiming it directly at “one of ours.” It’s all too easy to accept the fact that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were enemies that used vicious, barbaric tactics in the field and were often deserving of the enmity and derision leveled on them. But when you turn that blistering hatred on someone within your own ranks or among the poor multitudes of those you’re there to protect, based simply on the color of his skin or the structure of his face, it takes on a whole darker aspect. Words can wound just like bullets, but sometimes the victim of all those attacks gets stronger through the adversity. And that’s how heroes are born.

NAT JONES: It wasn’t difficult at all. Mark really establishes individuality when he creates his characters, which makes it easy for me and Jay Fotos to stay away from stereotypes.

FANG: Tell me more about the distinctive look of the zombies in ’68. Were the character designs in the script or from the artist’s perspective? Jay, the colors amazingly punch up the zombie design, especially toward the cliffhanger. How did you know which colors to use to enliven this aspect?

KIDWELL: I remember having some heavily detailed description stuff in the first script for the original one-shot. In fact, Nat commented to me once, “This isn’t a comic script! It’s a friggin’ screenplay. This was done intentionally to ensure that the time period was captured in the looks of the zombies, and everything stayed factual. But that was before I knew I was writing the piece for Nat to illustrate. Now, I don’t have to do all of that, because Nat knows his business when it comes to horror and the undead. I just tell him what the zombie/zombies are doing in the panel, and he makes sure they’re doing it in the most hideous way possible.

JONES: Mark’s scripts are so well-crafted that they play out like a movie in my head. I knew exactly what these bad boys had to look like as soon as I read the script.

FOTOS: As mentioned before, we’re dealing with a very organic setting. So we started with keeping all of our zombies “dead blue” in tone to fit that. You’ll see it evolve when we start mixing it up a bit to show different variations and stages of “deadness.”

FANG: What was the collaborative process like between artist, writer and colorist? How did you three stay true to your own and each other’s vision?

KIDWELL: ’68 sort of has a strange life of its own. We all got together once we knew we were gonna kick-start this big rotting machine again and just started talking Vietnam and zombies. We do that constantly; initiating these heated brainstorming sessions where everyone throws ideas into the mix. The story is born from those meetings and I take my ideas, Nat’s and Jay’s and mesh all the great ones together, firm up a plot, design characters that best suit the myriad situations and keep the tempo driving toward drama and action. There’s a base set of rules we all agree on, but within that framework together you can move mountains.

JONES: This is why I hate coming after Mark during interviews, the man says it all!

FOTOS: The collaboration is really good and is a key element and in our eyes, it just makes a better product. Nat and I can go back and forth all night trying different things with the art. It’s fun and keeps us progressing.

FANG: What can readers expect from the next issues of ’68?

KIDWELL: The unexpected! Twists and turns, characters coming in and going out (violently), and a thorough exploration of the rise of the hungry dead in the Age of Aquarius. The storyline will weave in, out and all around the Vietnam conflict, moving the “camera” from Southeast Asia to the home shores of the USA and to all points on the globe. Sky’s the limit as long as you remember one thing: It’s February 13, 1968, and all the clocks have stopped. It’s the end of the world as we know it and it’s 1968 forever.

You’ll meet an anti-war activist actress on a propaganda junket in Cambodia; a deep cover CIA agent with a whole hidden agenda linked to his presence “in-country”; a junkie militant wannabe with a gun and a hate-on for “the man”; riot cops, hippies, politicians and before it’s all said and done, you’ll have a ringside seat as Saigon burns.

JONES: Once again, Mark summed it up perfectly. All I can say is, you’re in for a hell of a ride.

JAY FOTOS: We are also in talks on expanding way past where we’re at now. We already have a few ’68 one shots scheduled to hit after the first series: ’68: HARDSHIP, ’68: JUNGLE JIM and ’68: HALLOWED GROUND. These one-shots are all directly tied into the ’68 world and following those, we’ll start up a new series that pretty much carries on where the first story arc left off. 

FANG: What are you working on now?

KIDWELL: I just put the finishing touches on the full-length novelization of my splatterpunk horror comic series BUMP. It’s being formatted right now as both a printed trade paperback and a digital e-book. I’m working on another novel or two and a couple of original screenplays. As far as comics go, I’m putting everything I’ve got into writing and editing ’68.

JONES: On top of ’68, I am also working on the relaunch of Atlas Comic’s WULF alongside Steve Niles, as well as a lot of other projects in development. I am also currently heading up an illustration and sequential art program at Guru Digital Arts College.

FOTOS: ’68 is a full time gig, but on top of that I also work on other comic series like LOCKE & KEY with Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez [Due to be a live action series this summer on Fox TV.] I’m also working on GODZILLA: GANGSTERS and GOLIATHS with CHEW’s creator John Layman and Alberto Ponticelli, and also 30 DAYS OF NIGHT: NIGHT AGAIN with Joe Lansdale and Sam Keith, amongst other things.

FANG: Where can fans find info or more about your work?

KIDWELL: I’m a recluse and don’t have a website, so the best way to keep up with me is to friend me on Facebook. I check that closely.

JONES: You can also find me here, on Facebook and on Twitter @natjonesart. 

FOTOS: I have a website that needs some major updates, but nowadays I just push everyone over to our official website for ’68. From there you can catch us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date on all things.