Exclusive Interview: Gears of War and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Unite For The Other Dead

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OtherDead1-ObamaCoverWith The Other Dead, Gears of War's Joshua Ortega and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle co-creator Kevin Eastman are coming together to bring you zombies like you've never seen them before--with four legs.

No shambling zombies here--after all, what fun would a cheetah or greyhound zombie be if they had to slow to a crawl?--and some of the critters you see trying to overtake the planet with their undead plague don't immediately strike terror into the hearts of man.

It is kind of neat seeing Eastman draw a zombie turtle, though. There's that.

The series sounds promising, though, and it's due in shops on September 11--which has, of course, given rise to the "Obama 9/11 variant" seen at right. The final order cutoff is this week, so if you want to get  a copy of this IDW miniseries, you'll have to act fast. To that end, we've lined up an interview with the series' writers--Ortega and Digger T. Mesch--to tease what to expect from the series and tell you why it's not "just another zombie book."

ComicBook.com: Alright, so obviously we've got an interesting group of creators here. How did you guys come together?

OD COVERbDigger: I knew of Joshua's Gears of War and Death Dealer work already, but Josh and I first met in Los Angeles when I first moved back to the USA. I had been in in Asia for a little bit more than a decade. It was like we had known each other all our lives, really.  As far as a working relationship we partnered on an art show called the 13th Sign: Masks Of God years ago and then went off to work on other projects until The Other Dead timing was right.  Kevin and I have been friends since the late 90's. I was introduced to Kevin to work on Heavy Metal 2000 the film and Julie Strain-related art with my first company, Art Asylum, and we've become better friends over the years. I'm very lucky to have these people as creative partners as well as friends. We all know what our strengths are and where we can take The Other Dead.

Ortega: As Digger said, after he and I worked together and became friends, he introduced me to Kevin and we immediately hit it off. They’re both great guys, and there’s something of a kindred spirit there between all of us. I knew Qing from the brief work we did together on the relaunch of the Grim Ghost some years back…I thought he was amazingly talented and a cool guy to boot, so when we were looking for the right artist for OD, Qing was my first choice and luckily, he was available and interested in working on a creator-owned project. He’s an incredibly talented artist, and I think this book will solidify him as one of the major artistic talents in the industry. I’d known Blond from our days at Top Cow together, and he’s been the perfect match for Qing’s pencils…these guys make one seriously formidable art team.

ComicBook.com: Needless to say, the 9/11 variant featuring the President packing heat is going to be one that generates a lot of interest. It's been a long while since POTUS moved units in a big way at the comic shop, but this one seems a special case. Is Obama actually part of the story or was it just the release date that gave you the idea?

Digger: The President has always been in this story since the beginning, in 2009. The "Mr. President" character in the original story was focused on Obama's re-election at the time but the way he was hurled "literally" into the story is a lot more believable now in the comic. The original film treatment I wrote was a very rough 90-pager, stream of consciousness horror-comedy riddled with typos. Josh reacted well to a lot of the raw concepts and then thankfully wanted to take it in his own direction. I'm not going to go a heavyweight creative like Josh and tell him anything except “Do whatever you want with this!" As far as Obama, I always got mixed reactions from the start to the President being in the story. "What if he doesn't get reelected? Will people think we're taking sides politically?” None of this mattered to me very much at the time…I thought it would be interesting to throw this American icon into this surreal world and see what he'd do. I initially saw the character as "The President" in Escape from New York. Josh and Kevin both thought the President actually being Obama was something we hadn't seen before and Josh brought massive substance to the character in a way that only he could. It's not comical or preachy...you really feel for these characters. I like to call it “The Ortega Effect.”

TOD-POSTER-FINALComicBook.com: And do we get to see Zombie Bo?

Digger: Haha! That’s brilliant! Ask Josh!

Ortega: As the zombie infection spreads, you just never know which animals might be affected…even a presidential pup like Bo won’t be safe.

ComicBook.com: Have you guys read Simon Pegg's treatise against fast zombies? http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/nov/04/television-simon-pegg-dead-set

Digger: I have now. Simon is brilliant and one of my creative heroes since Spaced. I hear him loud and clear here, but I'm open for change, always. I loved the Zack Synder remake of Dawn of Dead. It's a different kind of scary. Is it less suspenseful to have an army of zombies burst into a sprint at the screen? It depends on what the build up is to get there in the first place, right ? The Other Dead is like no other zombie property out there to date. Humans are not affected by the virus, just animals. None of the existing rules for human zombies apply here, this is a whole new vision for how the virus affects its host. They become stronger and faster than normal even when they reach a state of decay…they just don't slow down unless you start taking out limbs. The very first pages of the book establish that this isn't the world you've seen over and over again...this is a new undead frontier.

Ortega: Agreed, and I think Pegg’s piece is ultimately about human zombies, not animal ones. The dynamics really change when you’re talking about the animal kingdom as opposed to humanity.

Certainly it's a bit different with animals, but he raises some good points about the dramatic and narrative ways that fast zombies don't work as well on film. Do you think that holds for comics or since it's a static-image medium do you think the rules are a bit different?

The Other Dead Issue#1 CoverbDigger: I think a slow Zombie Rhinoceros is pretty lame. (laughs) Your odds of being eaten alive in the Other Dead world are about 100 times greater than any of the other dead projects to date. All of which I love for different reasons by the way, which is why when Josh, Kevin and I got together on this we established from day one to establish that The Other Dead needed to be it's own animal. No pun intended. To answer your question about the medium having different rules, I think that even though comics are definitely a different creative medium, the intention is still to entertain the reader on the same level that a film can, which is bring the reader on a journey with tension. Everyone on this team is from a different decade and I think that really has helped us create something unique that's going to appeal to a multi-tiered demographic.

Ortega: That is an interesting point about zombies and comics vs. film. Undoubtedly, there are some differences there, and certainly, motion in comics and motion in film are handled differently. Because we haven’t really seen many zombie animals before, I think readers will instinctively know that they’re fast, simply because they’re animals…when you see a human zombie in a comic, you definitely think “plodding,” but since zombie animals are a relatively novel idea, I think people are going to go with their preconceived notions of animals rather than zombies. Faster, stronger, that whole thing…

ComicBook.com: I'm almost surprised it took someone this long to do this. I mean, when other zombie stories go out of their way to make sure animals "aren't affected," it seems like it was just begging to be done in reverse, no?

Digger: Yes–I know, exactly! It seemed so obvious to us and we couldn’t understand why no one was doing it. Joshua was the one who unlocked the animal zombie box with Other Dead. My original story was more of a free for all where everything was affected ...more Evil Dead than Walking Dead, and very heavy on the animal side with only an occasional human infection until the very end. This is the beauty of working with creative powerhouses that you respect, because Josh immediately came back and dialed in that what was truly special about it was the zombie animal angle. In that moment, I think we both knew the overall direction for the project. We first created this in 2009, and since then, we’ve found out about a few other projects out with similar concepts. Last Resort by Jimmy Palmiotti and also Shadowline’s Rebel Blood, which I still need to read–they both look great–we're all friends as well, so I think we all know that there's a universal creative consciousness. We're all influenced by similar things and coming up with ideas at the same time that might resemble each other. The big difference with The Other Dead is that we're branding and marketing it right out of the gate as a Zombie Animal™ property. I'm not saying it won’t go other places later, but for right now...that’s what it's all about, zombie animals like you've never seen them before.

The Other Dead Issue#2 Cover(1)ComicBook.com: Will you guys get into what this does to the food chain? I mean, aside from just hte creepy idea of flying bird zombies and such, you've got the fact that presumably nobody can eat meat now, right?

Digger: Yes, we tackle it on a big level. The obvious global implications of a biological disaster like this is huge…there’s essentially no end to the stories that can be told. If the Other Dead infection goes global, it spells trouble for meat eaters, big time. I'm sure the numbers are up for debate, but I think it's safe to say roughly 2 to 7 % of the world is vegetarian. Outside of abject poverty, this choice is made for health, diet or religion. What if you had no choice?  What if you had no idea what would happen if you consumed the flesh of an infected animal? Eat the meat at your own risk and see what happens is all I can say here.

Ortega: It’s a great question, and actually one that not a lot of people have asked about. It’s definitely one more of the unique angles we have to explore with the zombie animal angle…when humans are turned into zombies, it doesn’t directly affect your food source. When animals do, it starts to have a ripple effect on the whole food chain for humans…I can’t go into too much detail yet about what we have planned, but let me just say the implications for zombie animals in the food chain is an absolutely nightmarish proposition…and we’ll be exploring it.

ComicBook.com: Now, what's the smallest animal you've got featured in this story?...the largest?

Digger: Everything from zombie squirrels to zombie elephants. The feeling I have is that it's not so much knowing what animal will be affected next as much as it is finding out how they get infected and what carnage they create after the fact.

Ortega: Agreed, though I think part of the fun of the book for readers will be seeing which animals are infected…which ones will be scariest, creepiest, or even the most darkly hilarious. What will each type of zombie animal look like? That’s another great angle to zombie animals, the sheer diversity of the animal kingdom…zombie humans are always just variations on one species. Zombie animals are variations on hundreds, if not thousands, of species. Definitely makes for some amazing artistic possibilities!

ComicBook.com: It's interesting because while there are a lot MORE animals than there are people in the world, zombie animals don't immediately make me think "Well, there goes the power grid." Is this still a post-apocalyptic-type book?

Digger: It's funny, I never saw it as post-apocalyptic in the sense that The Walking Dead is. However, this first 6-issue series is the dawn of the zombie animal kingdom and if it isn't contained fast, mankind is going to have a serious issue maintaining themselves as the dominant species on Mother Earth. The action gets started pretty fast and I don't want to spoil anything, but think about it: Every house pet turns against us, animals that are normally docile are now insatiable raging carnivores and every domesticated animal that’s being used as a resource needs to be exterminated at all costs. The effect on our planet would be f---ing enormous! How many times a week do you hear an activist on a tirade about even 1 animal injustice being perpetrated in the world like hunting sharks only for their fins to make soup and the serious ramifications on our ecosystem as a result of overhunting? The potential effect on the world here is massive, but we're going to show you the apocalypse in real time.

ComicBook.com: Just so you know, I think just about everyone is going to be watching to see if Kevin has a take on zombie turtles...

Digger: There will be zombie turtles! That's actually the Eastman cover for issue 1. All 6 covers from Kevin will connect to form a zombie animal watering hole. It's EASTMAN…it's awesome!

Ortega: The Kevin covers are super sweet, and worth mentioning that they’re the Subscription Variant covers, not the main covers…retailers or readers have to specifically order them to see ‘em on the shelves, so definitely make a request for them if you’re having trouble finding them! Like Dig said, all 6 form one entire Eastman masterpiece, and you’ll be pretty amazed when you see them all together!

ComicBook.com: Alright, here's a question that a buddy of mine uses to cheat sometimes. What's something you can tell me, that nobody's asked yet?

Ortega: I’ll go with “What’s your favorite zombie animal?” While I can’t say I have a favorite yet, I definitely have a certain affinity for the zombie manatee right now…

Digger: How about, “What's your main role on The Other Dead?” While the book itself is being driven by Josh and our amazing art team of Qing Ping Mui and Blond, my main role creatively is to go where no zombie animal property has gone before. We're already taking meetings with game and toy companies and more, and everyone’s really loving it. Some people, after seeing the book, which is so graphic and unapologetic (the way it should be) are like...toys? Really?  Sure, why not! Our zombie library of art is expanding daily with a vengeance right now and while we obviously want to build a massive 3-film epic, we’re also creating other art styles under The Other Dead banner that will work for the a variety of audiences. It's Zombie Animal Planet or bust!