We’ll get to the zombies shortly. First, the tale of a photography session. I took my digital camera to a hospital and snapped pictures of buildings being demolished. Just to create atmospheric snaps I could use for story ideas. Maybe I’d sew a narrative from random photos of boarded-up structures.
Taking pictures in hospital grounds, I neared the very end of my digital shooting session. That’s always the way of it if someone comes along to tell you that you can’t take photos. I’m at the end of the business, my overt raid is finished, and the damage is done.
Strangers hailed me. I was collared by a couple who thought that I was a menace to society. Perhaps the man brought the woman along so that I wouldn’t beat him up. They worked in a part of the complex that was still inhabited.
Cue my death at the hands of mad scientists. Er, no.
Risk-assessment people. They asked me what I was doing there. Assessing my risk to them and their special project. We ran through various comedic stages of non-identifying tomfoolery. I am not obliged, by law, to carry identity papers of any kind. Given who I am, I feel it is wise to.
Except. For the first time in over a decade, I wasn’t carrying a scrap of identification. Panic set in. I didn’t lie about who I was. Reaching for my passport, I felt like a prize plum. Not there. Nothing was there. I had a whole load of zero evidence to show who I was. Was I on a covert mission so covert even I hadn’t been fully-briefed?!
WTF, RLL. Left the brain behind, too.
Had I arrived by car? The interrogation was no subtler than that. (Why, so you can eyeball the CCTV footage and cross-ref with a number plate to see if I am who I just claimed to be? If I’d wanted to lie to you, I’d have been John Brown.)
No, I came in on foot. (Verifiable by CCTV. With no car to tie me to an identity, I’d have been John Smith had I wanted to lie to you.)
What was the purpose of my visit? The truth behind my need to take pictures of buildings. I had no reason to lie. Could have fibbed. I am a writer, and making stuff up is part of my job. But why annoy these people, who are deeply concerned…
By that stage we’d already gone through the WHO ARE YOU? phase. I had to retort by asking who they were, as I could see no identification. The old nametag was quickly fished out by the official. Playing it rather sharp, I thought.
A lie I could have uttered…
“Well, here I am with my new digital camera. Which I am just testing.”
Eyelids wouldn’t have been batted, at that. Instead, I told the truth. The advantage of telling the truth is that it is damned difficult to dislodge. As a boulder, it’s a world-class rock upon which to build the foundation of any conversation.
Maybe I should have come clean and admitted to my international superspy status. Or concocted some flummery relating to the study of rare birds. Instead of manufacturing falsehoods, I stuck to the straight and narrow path.
“I’m writing a comic book about zombies.”
The look on the woman’s face was priceless. Of all the answers I could have given, that one wasn’t on her list. My answer wasn’t even in the same universe as her question. Still, I’m a polite sort of anarchist. I always take these people seriously and avoid causing undue hassle if I can get away with it.
My answer was straight-faced. I was taking snaps for use as reference photos. The artist would then populate dilapidated buildings with the ranks of the living dead. That woman’s expression! As though she’d been hit in the face with a wet fish from out of nowhere. I didn’t even have pockets big enough for a small wet fish, never mind the jumbo-sized tuna that materialised between us.
Some people are quite cagey. A heightened state of alert, concerning strangers who pop up out of nowhere to take photos of things, leads to this sort of encounter. If challenged, be polite. Answer truthfully. Even if dealing with matters of the living dead.
True story. If you give a bizarre answer that involves revealing you are a writer, the world finds room to accept you. It was funny, the look on her face. All I had to do was say…I’m testing the camera. I preferred the truth. It cost me, a little. For I had my cover blown. They’d discovered I was a scribbler. That discovery carries attendant perils.
Anyway. Sooner or later I knew I’d get around to a story about the Zombie Apocalypse. This persistent idea of collapse. Everything goes. The onslaught is blood-flecked and fly-bloated. Civilisation is raised up, dashed, bile-spattered, dragged to the raging inferno, and bleached beyond recognition. The last scrap of hope floats along by an abandoned railway, as one particle in a snowstorm of iron ash.
Where did the idea spring from? Possibly from The War of the Worlds. H.G. Wells gave us a story of cycling, alien invasion, and relentless misery. The relentless misery may be linked to the cycling, in that tale.
Strip out the aliens and replace them with our dead selves, and the story is no less grim. The dead rise, and desire only to convert the living to the ever-swelling ranks. One army serves as food for the other. Heroes, villains, and anti-heroes battle across the landscape, looking for shelter against the raging necro-storm.
It is all too easy to paint your own version of events atop the apocalyptic tale. Oh, this one’s about Communism. A metaphor standing in for disease. Consumerist society, reduced to the level of a shopping mall addict. It’s all about us. Versus any particular them we care to write about. A specific war. War in general. Sometimes, the story featuring a Zombie Apocalypse is even about zombies.
Could I pen a tale featuring the undead horde? Would I wish to? Another zombie story? I haven’t actually penned an entire tale in a long time. Oh, I scribble notes. Hell, I’ll still scribble notes in pencil if a pencil is nearer than a pen.
But I haven’t penned, or typewriterised, in aeons. Instead, I keyboardify. I set up notes for my zombie…story. Not a novel. Just a story. That was important to me. It could have been anything – featuring zombies. This was just another zombie story.
Had I delved into radio, the story would have been just another zombie radio show. I considered writing a script in that vein. Tough medium, radio. One I like. Cheating? Short-cut? Ditching the visual. Ah, but you get to play with the sound of silence.
The plan was not radio-based, however. I resolved to concoct a tale that was almost entirely visual. This apocalyptic zombie fable would be just another zombie comic. You still get to play with silence, in the world of comics. Though the reader, looking at picture frames minus speech, will rattle through your craftily-manufactured saga far more quickly than you’d care to hear.
Story description in the service of the artist. That’s what a comic book script is. All that writing, going through the mincer, being converted into pictures. Rendering descriptive passages seen and unseen at a glance. The author surrenders the authorial voice of descriptive text to the concept of cool art, becoming even more invisible as an author.
On the topic of cover I can’t speak for other writers, nor would I wish to. This scribbler cleaves to the notion that it’s uncool to blow a writer’s cover. Never invite an author to a dinner-party and expect that author to be the life and soul. The author prefers to sit at the table and absorb everything instead.
Preparation. Décor. Guests. Language, body- and otherwise. Anecdotes. Accents. The wallpaper. Possibly the meal. No, the author isn’t there to entertain. Or to explain where ideas come from. Talking shop at dinner is unseemly. (Unless it’s an all-author event, in which case…say on.)
In tricky situations it is best to deflect, demur, obfuscate, calumnify, occlude, and change the effing subject. If they know that you are there to absorb the particles in their veins, you won’t be able to. It’s like eating food that’s watching.
I’m a carnivorous vegetarian – meaning, I eat meat that’s a far cry from its living state. Just don’t tell me where it came from or how it was transformed into dinner. If you spill, I’ll have to eat nothing but grass. Don’t tell me how that made it to table either.
Yes, I’m skirting around the topic of the zombie. How cannibalistic does the zombie have to be? What are the rules? Speed appears to be a factor. Slow zombies are easy to avoid – in good light, on level terrain. You could take out a whole field full of the poor bastards. With enough ammo.
Ammo matters. Remember, folks. Short, controlled, bursts only if you really must. Stick with single shot. Rely on peripheral vision. Just in case there are any sneaky fudgers down in the long grass off to the side of the main action.
Fast zombies…are we really going to have the discussion concerning ankle-strength in revivified corpses? It’s a losing game, that chat. We get into difficulty over zombie mobility in the first place. Nature of death, and undeath. Uncoagulated blood. Decomposition and the utility of ball-and-socket joints. Perception.
Slow zombies versus fast ones. Cannibalistic zombies versus angry zombies who just flail at you. Smart zombies. With guns. Zombie heroes. Disease-based corpses. Occult-driven undead. Crowds of the bloody, or bloodless, things.
I felt like fading into the background, and letting pictures tell my story. Be the author at that dinner-party as a guest, announced only as a guest or friend of a friend. Not revealed as an author. Let the pictures do the talking. It wasn’t to be.
So I became the narrator, in text. Throwing images at the audience. Wondering what sort of choices I’d make in stitching body-parts into a tale. Fast zombies or slow? Slow. Heavy on the numbers? Not exactly. I plumped for the idea that zombies are EVERYWHERE – but, to the characters in my tale, everything is rendered at a more personal level. You can only run from a crowd of slavering ghouls so many times before that’s all there is to the plot.
Gunplay and lots of it? No. It’ll be the old kitchen drawer to the head ploy, in my Zombie Apocalypse. And though I’d like to see humour appear throughout, I won’t plan on playing the whole thing for laughs.
My influences, regarding this undead epic, are literary over cinematic. Will that make a difference to the casual reader? No. You should know by now that SOURCES OF INSPIRATION ARE MEANINGLESS™.
Is my zombie tale an old story, resurrected from the vaults? Reanimated, and sent shuffling into the daylight? Well, I don’t deny that the work represents unfinished business. But it isn’t unfinished business predating my audience. It’s, gasp, relatively new.
So do I write the zombie-fest or not? With slow zombies. The only fast zombies in my world are the ones who go skydiving.
NEXT BLOG: INTRODUCING THE UNBLOGGABLE.