By Cliff Biggers
For three seasons now, Warren, Murphy and their ragtag band of survivors have fought against zombies and humans alike as they try to save the world in Syfy and Asylum’s Z Nation, an offbeat series that blends horror and humor to create a show unlike any other zombie tale on television. Now series co-creator Craig Engler is joining forces with Fred Van Lente and Edu Menna to take readers into the past a year prior to the events of Z Nation season one in an all new story of the Zpocalypse.
“Syfy and Asylum’s Z Nation has had fans in the Dynamite office since the very first episode, back in 2014,” Dynamite publisher Nick Barrucci said. “It has a great premise that distinguishes itself from most zombie shows and movies. We are all really excited about this book and how it expands on the world of the series, showing us things that have only been hinted at before.”
The tale is set during Black Summer, an apocalyptic time in the world of Z Nation as a worldwide drought and famine paves the way for mass death and the rise of the zombie hordes. Charles Garnett (a core member of the team in Z Nation’s first season) is charged with the responsibility of supervising a mission to recover a potentially untouched supply of the food substitute Soylent Z from Galveston, Texas. But when the team gets there, they’ll face a threat unlike any they ever anticipated…
“Z Nation is my kind of zombie story—full of equal parts gore and fun, with lots of great characters, too,” series co-writer Fred Van Lente said. “I am thrilled to be exploring the mythology of some of the fan-favorite heroes on the show and capturing the early days of the Zpocalypse. And to do it with my friend and co-creator Craig Engler is an extra special treat.”
“The TV show starts when we’re already several years into the Zpocalypse and fans have always asked us to show them what happened in the intervening years,” Engler said. “So this is a way to give them more of the Z Nation backstory they want without just trying to duplicate the show in paper form. Plus, there are some new zombie types, settings and effects we physically can’t do on a TV budget that we’ll be able to really blow out in the comic, so in some ways it will be the craziness of Z Nation they love on steroids.”
How did Dynamite convince television show co-creator Craig Engler to join the comic book creative team? “I’ve known Craig for years, so the contact part was easy,” Dynamite Senior Editor Joseph Rybandt said. “But the deal came together like anything else: we licensed the project and then had a creative discussion about how best to proceed. The relationship with Craig allowed us to skip a couple of steps, but he volunteered to corral the production elements that would keep us in line with the core of the show and also suggested Fred to write it with him, as they are friends. If only they could all be this easy!”
Van Lente and Engler are no strangers to series that blend horror and humor. “ When we did Marvel Zombies that blend was what I most responded to—and then we already had a whole other take on the zombie ‘parody’ in The Mocking Dead here at Dynamite. It’s a fine line, to get that perfect balance of uneasy laughter and screams, but it’s a line I’ve grown accustomed to walking.”
And speaking of walking… it’s impossible to talk about zombie comics and television shows without mentioning the 800 pound zombie gorilla in the room. How does Z Nation differ from The Walking Dead? “Z Nation explores a much bigger tableau than The Walking Dead,” Engler explained. “Our showrunner and co-creator Karl Schaefer has established a broad world where we see the many different approaches various survivor communities have taken, where there are dozens of different kinds of zombies, and where we go beyond the shores of the U.S. A comic gives us the perfect opportunity to explore more of this Zpocalypse beyond what we’re able to put on the TV screen, and it lets us do it with what’s essentially an unlimited budget for cast and effects.”
“I think the show sets itself apart from the other zombie stuff out there,” Rybandt added. “As long as we follow that tone in the comics, we’re riding the same line—and with the production end of the show involved with producing the comics, we have that angle covered.
The comic is set during the deadly period that preceded the events of Z Nation’s first episode. “Black Summer is literally the worst time period in the apocalypse,” Engler said. “It’s when we see the deconstruction of our society, our government and normal human interactions. It’s the summer when everything goes bad and almost everybody dies.”
Was this backstory developed as a part of the television series, or is this something created especially for the comic? “While we allude to some events in the show and see the return of a fan favorite character, the majority of the story was created exclusively for the comic” Engler said. “It’s a kick-ass Z Nation adventure that fans of the show will love, but also one that people who’ve never seen the show can enjoy. And it’s set in the time known as Black Summer, which has been referenced in the mythology of the show but never seen before.
“We pitched the idea of a Z Nation comic to Dynamite and then honed in on a specific storyline after we were lucky enough to bring Fred on board. The Asylum, Syfy, and Dynamite were all part of the process, so we had a lot of great minds working on this.”
Will any of the TV series regulars play a role in the comic? “The story kicks off with our old friend and fan favorite Charles Garnett (played by Tom Everett Scott in the show), who is the catalyst for the story we tell. Beyond that we’ll have to see who else we might add down the road as we go along.”
“Because the story of the comic takes place before the events of the show, we’re mostly playing off ideas and references in the show. However, there’s been some discussion of how a character or characters from the comic might make their way into the TV series. We’ll see if we can make that happen. And if the comic continues, we’ll have opportunities to dovetail back into the TV storyline as time passes and we catch up to the timeline of the show.”
Van Lente explained the division of labor between the two writers. “Craig and I met to discuss the story, in combination with the folks at the studio and the network, something that fit within the world with Z Nation that maybe couldn’t be done that easily in the TV show… or could be done a bit easier with the unlimited ‘budget’ of a comic.
“So I work out the scripts, then Craig comes in with his comments because he knows the world of Z Nation like no other… and knows all about the episodes that haven’t aired yet! So I think the pairing of us is coming up with something that complements the show nicely. Z Nation fans are really going to love what we’ve come up with, I hope.”
While the comic is inspired by events from the television series, it almost inspired its very own television project. “For a hot second we were developing a TV miniseries roughly based on the comic for Syfy, but ultimately they decided not to pursue it,” Engler said. “So that would have been a big deal. Beyond that we’ve talked about ways to expand the Z Nation mythology in other media if the opportunity seems right
Z Nation #1, featuring cover art by Denis Medri and Lucio Parrillo as well as a photo cover, is scheduled for April 11th release. The book will also be offered in a Blank Authentix Cover Edition; in addition, Dynamite will offer a 1-for-10 Denis Medri virgin art incentive cover; a 1-for-20 Lucio Parrillo virgin incentive cover, and a 1-for-30 photo virgin incentive cover; check with the folks at your friendly neighborhood comic shop for information regarding incentive cover price and availability.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.