Max Brooks, writer of World War Z, which graced the silver screen with none other than Brad Pitt, meets Horror Asylum in central London to talk about “Extinction Parade: War” a comic book series based on Brooks’ 2011 short story. He mentions that he was inspired by the 1981 UK dystopian horror classic “Threads” and is clearly a fan of UK horror: when Horror Asylum mentions recent TV series “I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse” he sounds interested.
Illustrated by Raulo Caceres, the graphic novel features the adventures of two sister vampires, one named as Laila, living in Kualla Lumpur in a world overrun by the undead. I’ts more complex than World War Zed with its more straightforward humans-versus-zeds theme, as it now looks at vampires having to adjust when they run out of living humans.
The siblings are "cleansing whole kilometres" of zombies and eating the living survivors. This is despite the fact that the survivors are "increasingly malnourished victims" and offering less food value every day, so they need a food solution and soon.
They meet their friend Adilah, now known as “Skull Dancer”, who suggests killing zombies as "more about control than power". Brooks’ short story describes the Skull Dancers, who destroy the undead by jumping from skull to skull from above, as “carrying themselves high above the flailing arms of the subdead, leaping and crushing as if on a sea of eggshells. It was graceful and deadly”.
Inspired by this new way of tackling the enemy, the sisters begin to invent new ways of slaughtering, starting by wrapping corrugated iron around their fists to despatch the undead more effectively. They progress to using knives and swords, then guns and successfully raid a museum for firearms.
Eventually, they find a band of wannabe military vampires lead by their friend Nguyen (who Brooks describes in terms of Stoker as “the Renfield character”) who plan to "guide our superhuman army to victory" and fight the "stinking degenerates".
However, under the bravado, the sisters realise these self-styled Rambos, with their enthusiasm for flamboyant military gear plus “flags and badges and shiny new toys” and obsessive concern for designing the perfect epaulets, are "just playing dress up". There’s a hilarious touch in the alpha-males’ efforts to recreate themselves as invincible warriors as their pseudo-military organisation starts to fall apart, as one heroic type inquires over the squabbling: "Does this mean I still have to work on the epaulets?".
Leaving them to their in-fighting, the siblings decide to strike out on their own again and leave the wannabe army to it, leading to the final book "Extinction Parade 3: Endangered".
Raulo Caceres’ illustrations are striking, with one scene pictured from a worm’s eye view from inside a zombie's rotting skull, framed by broken teeth. Another sees the siblings reflected in the war goggles of a soldier they've just killed, and another from under water, looking up at the two before they are surrounded by undead walking underwater, as seen in Romero's “Land of the Dead”.
Caceres also uses red and black neatly to show the danger the vampires facing, and the exposition is swiftly handled at the novel’s beginning, showing the siblings' privileged background. They are showered with expensive gifts by their rich parents, with promises that they would always be cared for no matter what happened: "because you can't take care of yourselves."
He follows this with an abrupt jump cut to the desperately-evil world the girls are living in now, without any parental care surrounded by the undead. Brooks mentions to Horror Asylum that this was part of his philosophy behind his story – we all have to survive, learn and adapt.
Brooks mentions that he wanted his story to reflect his themes of learning in the face of adversity, as in learning how to skull dance from Adilah, and how the first step is feeling small or powerless, instead of “apex predators” as vampires are commonly shown as. He adds that his book is it’s not about vampiric slaughter but about relationships, as when the younger vampire is looked after by her elder sibling like a parent, and growing up and fending for yourself rather than relying on others.