Benjamin Percy has shown he has a dark side with work on Wolverine, X-Force, and Green Arrow, but what if he was untethered and had his own creator-owned space to do it?
He is, with artist Ramon Rosanas, in the upcoming Year Zero limited series from AWS Studios debuting May 20.
In this five-issue series, Percy delves into zombie horror and shows that it’s not just about America or Americans – but about the entire world.
Newsarama: Many zombie apocalypse stories is U.S.-centric, but not Year Zero. Ben, was this part of what inspired you to write this story? If so, why did you choose the locations of focus that you did?
Benjamin Percy: I’ve been a super fan of zombies ever since I first plugged Night of the Living Dead into the VCR in third grade. The fearful warning of the line “They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” became an ear worm I’ve never been able to shake. And once of the things George Romero did brilliantly was reinvent the genre (and its metaphoric intent) with every film.
Look at what we’re facing right now. A global crisis. Pandemic. This isn’t a problem for one country. It’s a problem for all. Because you can travel across the world in hours, so can a virus.
The Walking Dead has been done and done well. We wanted to take a different approach: we’re looking at the macro, not the micro. Tokyo. Mexico City. Kabul. An American suburb. A polar research station. Stylistically, I was interested in form serving function: the world has shattered, and so has the narrative.
Newsarama: Can you give us a snapshot of what the world looks like as we’re heading into #1? There are hints that a “mystery plague” has been baffling scientists for a little while before we get started. How long has the plague been with humanity in Year Zero?
Percy: One of the other cool elements to the series is this: we’re weaving in some element of alt history to each issue. So every chapter has an artifact. A page from Da Vinci’s notebook. A Chinese scroll. A Medieval tapestry. Etc. Each gives us insight into how the virus has been with us throughout human history.
Newsarama: What kind of zombies exist within the world of Year Zero? Are they the George Romero kind, or is there something more to these monsters?
Percy: The zombies will, on the one hand, be familiarly rotten hissers and shamblers, but every story will defamiliarize them and make them horrifying in a unique way. I’m playing with different elements of fear: isolation, contagion, claustrophobia, ticking clocks, doubt, loss of self and purpose, etc. I think monsters manifest themselves best when they represent some broken element of the character.
Newsarama: Year Zero focuses on five different storylines, with five different protagonists having different lives in different places. Can you talk us through how you keep the story cohesive when its main characters are so far apart?
Percy: Each point of view character – in these variant environments – is uniquely suited for survival. A Yakuza hitman. A street urchin. A military translator. A prepper. A scientist. They couldn’t seem like a more disparate, far-flung cast, but we’ve united them through a theme of faith (faith in love, faith in religion, faith in humanity, faith in self, faith in science), and so this shattered vision of the world unites through universal truths.
Newsarama: Speaking of your processes, what’s your collaboration with artist Ramon Rosanas like? What does Ramon bring to this collaboration that elevates the book?
Percy: Ramon has a clean line, balanced composition – and his cinematic layouts pull you in instantly and sweep you away. He meticulously researches and captures every environment he’s drawing, so that the reader feels anchored in Kabul, in Tokyo, in whatever location we’re rendering.
Newsarama: What about working with AWA? What made you want to work with them to tell this story?
Percy: I had worked with Axel Alonso at Marvel, and when he called me up and talked to me about launching the company and the kind of stories he wanted to tell, I was in. You’re going to see the dark magic he brought to curating his list and elevating his creators as during his Vertigo days.
Newsarama: Alright, let’s talk horror. Comics don’t have some elements that films do to create horror, such as audio tracks. What’s the key to working good horror into a comic?
Percy: There are many moves you can make – such as steadily deepening mysteries, playing with reversals, misdirection, shadows, dread -but the key to making people afraid is making people care. If they connect with the character – and empathize with them – then any physical and psychological harm that might come to them will extend to the reader.
Newsarama: Were you thinking of any horror comics as you were writing Year Zero?
Percy: I grew up obsessed with the EC Comics and maintained a steady diet of Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and the Haunt of Fear. They’re my gold standard and north star when it comes to horror and comics. The creators always seemed to be having so much fun even as they delivered dread.
Newsarama: This comic is, as of now, a five-issue miniseries, but do you have plans to expand this world beyond that? What’s the future of the world you’ve created?
Percy: Stay tuned, creeps. I can’t make an official announcement here, but of course there are years of storytelling in this premise.
Newsarama: And finally, how would you, Benjamin Percy, survive Year Zero? Let’s assume you knew it was coming…
Percy: That’s the thing, right? You have to see it coming. Because if you’re the kind of person who’s sitting in a restaurant and looks up to see someone staggering out of the bathroom with blood bearding their face and your first response is, “Gee whiz, I sure hope that man is okay,” you’re already dead.
I mean, the ideal location is an empty Costco, since it’s heavily fortified and there are limited points of entry and the only windows are barred skylights. You could eat granola bars and drink whiskey and jump on a trampoline and wear track suits and watch Game of Thrones until the end of days.
Otherwise you go north. Because, you know, zombies freeze.