Entering a room totally packed for Max Brooks at Denver Comic Con, it was clear that Max Brooks was getting love not just from the comics community but also the literary world. He joked that he just learned that World War Z Part II will be coming, called “The War For More Money”. It is true that in 2017, there will be further adventures of a character “I didn’t create”, he said. He’s in Denver, Brooks said, because of William Christensen, the head of Avatar Press. Brooks described him as the last shoemaker in a world of shoe factories, and said that most comics are being made to lead to films, but Christensen is not one of those publishers.
Brooks said that when writers have ideas for comics that they love but other people won’t touch them because they might not be a huge success, they can come to William Christensen. He told the story of Christensen approaching him about turning a short story he wrote many years ago, called Extinction Parade into comics. He wrote it during a time when vampires were not popular, and these certainly aren’t “sparkly ones”. The more he read about vampires made him think of them as the top of the food chain. He asked himself what would happen when vampires began to lose their food source. At first they loved the chaos which allowed them to kill people again, as they did in the middle ages. Then they lose a little of their glamour. They decide to “take a hand in their destiny” and decide to wage war, then realize they have no idea how to make war. That’s the point the current series has reached. His question is “will they have time to do it?” They had the gifts of Mother Nature and Father Time, both bad parents. They’ve never had a “ticking clock” before, and that is the Extinction Parade. Can they “grow up”? Can they adapt before it’s too late.
Brooks described his artist Raul Caceres as a Spaniard who lives on a “topless beach” and doesn’t understand why he can’t show nudity in his books. William Christensen told the artist it was Max Brooks’ rules after trying to explain American Puritanism to him. The artist has taken revenge in an upcoming issue where he draws some sex toys and a sex manual entitles “Max Brooks’ Rules”.
Moving on to discuss another of his projects, Harlem Hellfighters, Brooks reminded us that it’s coming up on the 100 years anniversary of World War I. He amused the audience through doing a French accent after previously speaking as a Spaniard, which he admitted was basically Inigo Montoya. He pointed out that we were out fighting for democracy and rights when at home those rights weren’t granted in the USA. From women who couldn’t vote to Native Americans and African Americans. In WWI, there was a group of African American soldiers who the US Govt. had actually set up to fail so that returning home they wouldn’t campaign for greater rights. Going overseas, they were made to dig ditches rather than fight, and finally the “ultimate insult” was that they were given to the French army. The entire unit ended up winning an award from the French government, but they never received recognition in America. The American government actually sent a list of instructions to the French of how to “treat them” to prevent them getting “spoiled” by receiving equal treatment.
Brooks took a meeting with Levar Burton in the 90’s, who had read several Harlem Hellfire scripts and Burton told him Brooks had come “closest to the truth”. Brooks, given the chance to do another zombie book, preferred to do a graphic novel that wouldn’t receive as much attention about this significant series of events. Brooks made the graphic novel with Caanan White at Avatar Press, and shortly before it came out, Will Smith’s company bought the movie rights. Hollywood Executives, realizing Will Smith was making money on these films said, “Black people! We gotta find some!”, Brooks joked. He hopes that when Hollywood finally make this film, the characters will still be African American, given the liberties they take with scripts, Brook said.
Brooks has recently been promising that if teachers adopt Harlem Hellfighters as a text, he will agree to skype into their classroom and answer questions.
Asked what his research process is like, Brooks said, it’s write what you know, not necessarily what you’ve lived. The first author to really catch his attention as a teen, Tom Clancy, was not a military man, but was obsessively interested in the subject. Written research takes him a long time, as a dyslexic. He listens to audio books at the same time as underlining notes in the written copy, and then he has a book full of notes to use. Especially for crafting a graphic novel where you have to “see” everything, research is key.
An audience member pointed out that Brooks discusses pandemics in his works that actually take place in other countries, something that’s underrepresented in comics. Brooks spoke candidly about how “isolationist” Americans are and how unaware we can be about the rest of the world. He said he gets accused of being an American imperialist, but the truth is Americans don’t care about other countries. But these days, the world is “small” and no problem can be ignored anymore. He called for us to solve our “global problems” as a “globe”, to applause.
A fan mentioned that Brooks is called the Studs Terkel of novelists, and he agreed that like Terkel, he likes the common man’s voice. People telling their own stories is a major way of really learning what things like World War I and II were like.Terkel was a “huge” influence on Brooks.
Brooks said he would be open to creating more historical graphic novels to celebrate accomplishments that people may not know about. He used the example of the Chocktaw Native Americans who were actually code breakers during WWI that people don’t know about. He wants cultural groups to know and feel “I was there” during these wars. We need to “all make a contribution and acknowledge those of others”, he said.
Max Brooks will be signing at the Avatar booth during Denver Comic Con.
Avatar Press is the parent company to Bleeding Cool.