Fred Van Lente is not new to the world of Zombies, having worked on the Marvel Zombies series and the Mocking Dead comic for Dynamite. Now he jumps into a whole new Zombie universe, Z Nation, with the series co-creator Craig Engler and artist Edu Menna. I chatted with Fred about the new project and what exactly is Soylent Z.
DAN WICKLINE: Z Nation: Sea of Death is a prequel series to the Z Nation television series on Syfy and produced by Asylum. For those not familiar with the TV series, how does it differ from other zombie series out there and how is Sea of Death connected to the TV show?
FRED VAN LENTE: Z-Nation is a lot more irreverent, it takes itself less seriously, which I appreciate, that's more my style anyway. But they still invest a lot in characters you care about and stories that matter, and the comics series will be following in that spirit in spades.
DW: How did you get involved in the project? Were you a fan of the series before getting a chance to write the prequel?
FVL: I've done a lot of zombie stuff over the years, most notably taking over Marvel Zombies for a while there from "Mr. Zombie," Robert Kirkman. And Max Dunbar and I had a lot of fun parodying the whole genre with The Mocking Dead at Dynamite. I've actually known Craig Engler, the show's co-creator, for a while now — he is related by marriage, believe it or not, to my Action Philosophers and Comic Book History of Comics compadre Ryan Dunlavey — so when it came time to do comics we seemed like a natural pairing. And I became a big fan of the show soon enough, believe me.
DW: It's too early to tell if it's a McGuffin or not, but they story follow a unit going after a supply of Soylent Z. Besides the similarity to Soylent Green, what is Soylent Z? Is this something that's part of the TV series or a creation for the prequel?
FVL: This is a creation for the comics, yeah. The show is set during "Black Summer" which is when things go from Bad to Apocalyptic for the world of Z-Nation, when a global famine really reduces the ability of survivors to fight the zombie plague, and puts governments that were already teetering on the brink of collapse over the edge. Z-Nation fan-favorite Garnett sends a National Guard unit to Galveston, Texas, to recover a cache of the food substitute Soylent-Z, which could feed Fort Benning, Georgia, for months. Unfortunately, once they arrive at the port they realize they are in competition with another group of survivors for these provisions — the floating fortress Empress of the Seas a cruise ship that has been transformed into the personal fiefdom of its tyrannical captain. The stage is set for a battle royale for survival that plays out over the next five issues .
DW: You're collaborating on the series with the show's co-creator Craig Engler. How does the scripting process go? Is it a sit-down and plot it out together process or do you pass it back and forth, each adding as you go along?
FVL: More of the former — I get the impression a lot of this is how the writers' room goes, where Craig and I talked about the broad plot of the series and I do a draft of each issue's script, which Craig revises from there. It seems to be working, as I am very pleased with how the comic is coming out so far!
FVL: That was definitely Craig. He's always looking out to do things in the comic that would be budget-prohibitive in the TV show, so look for a lot of different animal zombies, which are much easier to do in the comic than on the screen … and by animal zombies I mean really, really BIG animal zombies… a whale of a zombie even… (laughs maniacally)
DW: Edu Menna is doing the art for the series, what about his work made him the right artist for the job? Do you write with your artist's strengths and weaknesses in mind or is your script focused on the story more than whose drawing it?
FVL: Edu is doing a great job taking some of my and Craig's more outlandish concepts and making them feel real to the reader. We do not skimp on the gore department in the least!
DW: Taking a step away from it being a prequel for the television series, how would you pitch the comic series on its own to someone whose never head of Z Nation at all?
FVL: Zombies going amok on a cruise ship filled with heavily-armed starving humans? Um, yes please!