Panel Name: Avatar’s Max Brooks
Topic: Creator of World War Z spills his guts about his feelings on the movie, but focuses his time talking about Avatar Press and the new graphic novels he is coming out with (Harlem Hellfighters, Extinction Parade).
Featured Guest: Max Brooks
Having met Max Brooks at last year’s DCC while getting my copy of World War Z signed, I knew going into this panel that at the very least, he was going to be interesting. I was in for quite a surprise. What I expected to be a pretty basic Q&A with some information about upcoming projects turned out to be a comedy routine that would span the length of his career. We start off with a bit of background but then get right into the good stuff, his feelings on the outcome of the WWZ movie. I hadn’t ever really given it any thought, but he has taken the most basic approach to how he has dealt with it. It is also the same approach he has to teach his children, and according to him, if you make a decision you have to live with the consequences. Having gone to see the movie himself, he was really pleased with the title but more so relieved because they hadn’t butchered his book, they completely ignored it. I wasn’t aware but perhaps the crowd already was, WWZ 2 is in the works and Brooks isn’t involved in any way.
According to Brooks, he was here due to one man: William Christensen of Avatar Press, a man who gives no shits as to whether your book is going to be a major seller. Instead, he is more interested in the expression of an idea and the quality of the product he puts out. Things like high-end paper stock and such are more important to him than to other publishers. Brooks described him as a shoemaker in a world of shoe factories, which, based on everything we heard, is exactly right. It’s nice to know that someone is out there who still cares about the subtleties of making a quality product. Brooks went to Christensen with an idea for a story called Extinction Parade. It’s a story about vampires in a world where there food chain is being taken from them due a zombie apocalypse and the silver-spoon (or whatever type of rich spoon a vampire would be fed from) vampires have to learn to come together as a species to solve this crisis. It’s about learning some hard truths as a species at the top of the food chain and I’m sure has plenty of metaphors that apply to us in today’s society.
He goes on to talk about another of his projects; a project that was released last year actually, called Harlem Hellfighters. Since this is the 100th anniversary of World War I, he talked about a unit that was able to survive all odds when everything was stacked against them. It was at this point in the panel that everyone realized that Brooks really missed out on his true calling, voice work. The man does some pretty good impressions; good enough that I wonder what it would be like to get this guy drunk and strike up a historical conversation.
The Harlem Hellfighters were an all-black squadron in WWI that, as Brooks describes it, were going out to fight for the freedom that they didn’t have for themselves and when they came back from the war, they were going to want that freedom for themselves. So the government set them up to fail at every opportunity. They weren’t even given guns so they had to forge documents in order to arm the squad. They were trying to hold the squad back so much that they even attempted to try and keep them from the war by sending them across seas to dig ditches. Then when that wasn’t sufficient, they were sent away to what was considered the ultimate insult (even by today’s standards); they were given to the French Army.
It was with the French army that this squad really began to shine, even going so far as to win the most prestigious award the French army has. This caused the American government to send a set of instructions for how the French army was supposed to treat them, which as anyone can imagine, was as terribly as possible. Brooks mentioned that it took a hundred years, but a member of the unit (Sgt. Henry Johnson, AKA “Black Death”) is finally being recognized for the Medal of Honor. Also as a teacher, if you adopt Harlem Hellfighters as a historical text for your classroom, he will get on Skype and answer any of your student’s questions.
The brief Q&A consisted of questions such as his research process, which consists of massive amounts of research. He goes very in depth with his research which he says has to go into even more detail when you have to see things such as graphic novels. I never gave it much thought as to how a black male, in the 1910, in Harlem would wear their hair. It is very specific, but he really takes the time to get the little details to match. He even mentions the idea of a laser weapon that was planned for WWZ that never panned out because it ultimately didn’t make much sense to use over a basic .22 rifle.
There were a few other questions asked including mine – which let me know that I am in fact the spitting image of American Sniper, Chris Kyle – and that there are many more WWZ short stories that haven’t made their way to the public. I hope I planted the seed that an ultimate edition of WWZ is something he should get working on.
After the panel, I went up to the Avatar booth to get a book signed. I ended up getting both volumes of Extinction Parade, Harlem Hellfighters and a spare copy of the Zombie Survival Guide. I only wanted the Zombie Survival Guide signed but he didn’t give me a choice; “You paid for all for all of them, so I will sign all of them.” He is the most gracious of the celebrities that attend the con, he is more than happy to sign everything and take pictures. All of it for free. His inscriptions are all personal as all the other people in front of me had something unique written in their book. Hands down, this guy made my weekend at the con worth it. If you ever get the chance to meet him, I highly suggest you do so, and if you haven’t read any of his books, you need to get on that, too.