Creator2Creator: An Interview with Brenton Lengel, Writer of SNOW WHITE: ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE
"Snow White: Zombie Apocalypse" is a concept that's pretty telegraphic – and immediately captivating. SO captivating, in fact, Jarred Luján recently sat down with the comic's writer and creator, Brenton Lengel to talk about this wild new series.
JARRED LUJÁN: All right, first and foremost, tell us about yourself! Who are you? What do you do? What did you contribute on this project?
BRENTON LENGEL: My name is Brenton Lengel and I'm the writer/creator of Snow White Zombie Apocalypse. I'm also currently managing the Kickstarter for SWZA Issue #2 by Luana Vecchio of Image Comics. I'm providing many of the premiums, including professional mentorship services and a guided trip through the Icelandic wilderness – which I'm really hoping someone buys because when I'm not creating art, I love guiding international adventure trips.
You can also get some really great premiums from my collaborators Hyeondo Park, Bryan Silverbax and until recently Carla Cohen (who's stuff just sold out) including postcards, posters, and variant covers….so if you can, please give to the Kickstarter, we're a week in and more than 76% funded and we could really use the support to make goal.
"When you have people who are opposed to each other on a fundamental level that neither are even entirely aware of and then drop a love triangle, magic, and zombies on top of that? Sparks fly."
JL: I noticed that much of your previous work is in theatre. What led to your transition to comics? Do you bring any of your experience and learnings from theatre to the page?
BL: I've always wanted to work in comics. In fact, my love for comics actually predates my love for theatre, as one of the biggest artistic influences on my life was Bill Watterson and I grew up reading Wendy & Richard Pini's Elfquest. I was drawing my own comics strips as early as elementary school and actually self-published my first comic book (a gag book called "Ninja Roommate") while studying Theatre in college. I also did a number of political cartoons for my university's newspaper and throughout the early 2000s, I ran weekly webcomic called "The Life Quixotic" on the now-defunct "Anti-Pants Comics" for over a year. So the transition was a natural one that has always been part of the plan. One of my idols is Neil Gaiman and I really see his career trajectory as a model for what I'd like my own to look like. I have A.D.D. and a number of diverse interests, so a body of work that spans multiple mediums and genres like his is exactly the kind of thing that really appeals to me. But to your question, working in theatre for ten years has had a huge influence on how I approach writing and especially writing characters. The humor in SWZA relies heavily on dramatic irony – because this stuff is deathly serious to the characters, but often funny to the audience, and a lot of the interpersonal drama comes from inborn personality conflicts between the characters. Like Snow White and Rapunzel see the world so differently that even if they weren't essentially fighting over the same man, they'd piss each other off just by existing. When you have people who are opposed to each other on a fundamental level that neither are even entirely aware of and then drop a love triangle, magic, and zombies on top of that? Sparks fly and I definitely learned how to do that by reading and performing Arthur Miller and Shakespeare.
"I don't think it's any coincidence that the main existential threat our characters have to deal with is a quasi-infinite horde of somewhat mindless beings that want to devour you, strip you of your individuality and incorporate you into themselves. I think that's a fantastical realization of a common anxiety many people feel upon first moving to the big city."
JL: Snow White: Zombie Apocalypse is such a bizarre twist on classic fairy tales, but it works out in this comedic and action-packed way. So, what inspired this augmentation of the fairy tale genre? Why do this story this way?
BL: The original play was actually written for a 24-Hour "Fairytale Smackdown" new play competition in NYC, but I'd had the idea that I wanted to do a "Kung Fu Play" since college, and when my director Leta Tremblay suggested adding a fight scene before the inaugural Estrogenius production, everything just sorta fell into place. I thought slow zombies would be boring on stage, and I have a pretty extensive martial arts background so it just seemed a natural fit.
Also, my wife (then girlfriend) is the biggest fairy tale fan ever and we had just moved in together in Manhattan. Since we were coming from the midwest and had plenty of 20-something relationship angst to deal with, lightning kinda struck and the result spilled out onto the page, then the stage, and now these panels.
Like, I don't think it's any coincidence that the main existential threat our characters have to deal with is a quasi-infinite horde of somewhat mindless beings that want to devour you, strip you of your individuality and incorporate you into themselves. I think that's a fantastical realization of a common anxiety many people feel upon first moving to the big city and thematically that's one of the major things SWZA plays with.
JL: You mentioned that SWZA was actually produced as a play as well. What inspired you to transform that into a comic book? What changed from one medium to the other?
BL: Honestly, I felt like comics were kinda the perfect medium for SWZA, because there were SO many things I wanted to do in the original play that I just couldn't because of physical or financial limitations. A good example would be the "Turducken Zombie" moment, where Grandma explodes out of the Big Bad Wolf's stomach and now you have Rapunzel fighting two zombies in one body. I'd had that idea from the beginning but just couldn't realize it on stage and I was really excited to see it in the comic book. Another example might be the Undead Giant in SWZA #2 – he had been a part of the story from the beginning, but it's super hard to put a giant on stage, so the idea got scrapped in the initial State of Play production for Fringe NYC.
"There's a natural east-meets-west balance when you're using these things to adapt from a traditionally Germanic cannon like The Brothers Grimm..."
JL: One of the things I noticed is that SWZA seems to have some real manga/anime-inspired moments, mainly with some of the funnier character reactions, but in some of the action scenes as well. I don’t want to ask you to speak for artist Hyeondo Park here, but can you talk at all about finding that balance between your anime/manga influences and more of a western comic styling?
BL: A lot of that was Hyeondo, but also – I'm a huge anime fan so I think quite a bit probably came across in the writing as well. I grew up on Saturday Anime and I learned a ton about humor from watching DBZ abridged. I think some of the DNA in this story can be found in Vampire Hunter D and the Street Fighter franchise. I also think the emphasis on martial arts also added an Eastern flair to the script as did the fact that our Snow White is Chinese. There's a natural east-meets-west balance when you're using these things to adapt from a traditionally Germanic cannon like The Brothers Grimm and I think it all came together wonderfully. Going forward, I'd be really interested in doing a more heavily manga-inspired chapter, to tell you the truth, so if you know any artists who like to draw in that style, send them my way!
JL: What zombie films, comics, or other media influenced your approach to this? What research resonated most with you?
BL: 28 Days Later is directly referenced, as is the original Dawn of the Dead. I was one of the first people reading The Walking Dead as Robert Kirkman is from my old college town (I actually met him and he was good enough to sign all my early issues and trades) and he's largely the reason I wanted to do a Zombie story in the first place… but beyond that, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was definitely influential as is ElfQuest and Lord of the Rings. I'm a big fan of six-person jokes and I really like to do my research, so there are a ton of references peppered throughout the series — including several that I don't think anyone will get but me.
As for research, I really enjoyed pouring over old obscure fairy tales. They're so old and weird and such a wellspring for creativity! Also, it was super fun giving the seven dwarves names from Norse Mythology.
JL: When it comes to SWZA, who do you feel is the audience that would enjoy this the most?
BL: If you're into The Witcher, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and the work of Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon, Robert Kirkman, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan—you're gonna love Snow White Zombie Apocalypse.
And, if you're into ALL of those things? SWZA's totally gonna rip your face off.
JL: So far, what’s been your favorite experience while working on the book?
BL: At the risk of sounding a little boring — sitting down and actually doing the writing. It is SO MUCH FUN to plan this thing out panel-for-panel in my head, and then see Hyeondo, Jio and/or Luana bring it all to life.
"The second issue will be chock full of everything readers loved about SWZA #1: Blood, Sex, Kung-Fu and Gender Politics — BUT it will ALSO contain several new characters and really open up the world."
JL: With you currently Kickstarting issue #2, what can readers expect from the next chapter of this story?
BL: The second issue will be chock full of everything readers loved about SWZA #1: Blood, Sex, Kung-Fu and Gender Politics — BUT it will ALSO contain several new characters and really open up the world.
SWZA #1 was really a very contained and intimate story revolving around our three heroes and a handful of pretty formidable zombies. Issue #2 will introduce The Woodsman who is an expert in Kyokushin Karate and capable of going toe-to-toe with the physical powerhouse that is Rapunzel, and we're going to be introducing new threats like Wolf-Zombie Gretel, an Undead Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk and Prince Charming's own zombified father, The Blood-Covered King.
Readers are also going to enjoy new art by Luana Vecchio, who is absolutely phenomenal and I'm so glad that she's the one following Hyeondo's tour-de-force that was issue #1. Because we're dealing with fairy tales, which often have multiple authors and retellings, one of the aesthetic aspects of the series that I'm really excited to introduce is that we'll be changing artists every 44 pages or so. Each chapter is going to be drawn by a different person to introduce a very dream-like fairytale feel, and we're selecting our artists based on who we think would really excel at telling this particular chapter.
JL: Do you have any comics-related plans post-SWZA?
BL: I do. There's a webseries I wrote called NPCs about the lives of Non-Player Characters in Roleplaying Games that I'm looking to adapt, and also my writing partner Rogue of the Cruxshadows and I are working on a fantasy novel called Afterall. It's a fantasy adventure set in the afterlife that begins when the main character dies and once the book is out we're both very interested in adapting it into a graphic novel, so keep an eye out for that.
JL: Brenton, thanks so much for stopping in to chat Snow White: Zombie Apocalypse with us. Where can folks find you out in the convention world and online?
BL: To find me online go to www.BrentonLengel.com or just search my name, (I'm literally the only one in the world). I'm very active on Facebook and just now getting into Twitter. You can also follow Snow White Zombie on Facebook and on Twitter @SnowWhiteBones. As far as cons, I'm at Dragoncon every year with The Cruxshadows so you can find me at their booth come September.