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Let’s be honest: There’s only ever been one name in the zombie game. No disrespect to Misters Fulci, Boyle, or Wright, but from day one the genre has been defined by Romero. The work of George A. Romero, the late great director of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, has defined the genre for decades, with no signs of that changing any time soon. Later films like Day, Land, Diary, and Survival of the Dead fleshed out his vision of a world overrun by zombies and, more importantly, what that world would bring out in humans. With the director’s passing in 2017, that story would seem to have come to a close — until now.
The legacy of the Dead will be carried on by the director’s son, George C. Romero, in an upcoming comic published by Heavy Metal simply titled The Rise. Romero, an accomplished writer and filmmaker who also hosts the hit podcast Indie Brigade, describes the project as explicitly “not a prequel.” Rather, he exclusively tells SYFY WIRE, it’s a story taking place at the genesis of the zombie apocalypse seen in Night of the Living Dead, entirely self-contained with its own themes, ideas, and arcs to explore.
It’s a project simultaneously incredibly spur of the moment and also roughly a decade in the making. Romero says he was asked, “for years,” if he’d ever make a zombie movie, to which he always responded, “No.”
But roughly a decade ago, he says the question was put to him differently: Someone asked him, “Okay, but if you were to tell a zombie story, what would it be?” That’s all it took to get the wheels turning, and pretty soon he’d drafted a script for The Rise.
The project almost came to fruition a number of times but never in circumstances under which Romero felt comfortable taking the story from page to screen; the indie spirit his father championed remains firmly instilled in his work ethic, and he wasn’t comfortable creating his vision in a situation that would require compromise — it didn’t sit well with him. Therefore, The Rise remained unproduced, waiting for the right collaborative partner, one who showed up just recently.
Romero connected with Heavy Metal CEO Matt Medney during a recent digital “convention” held over live streams. The two quickly hit it off and were discussing potential projects within hours.
“When I saw the The Rise poster in the background of his video. I was like, 'What is that?' He told me, and I was like ‘Send this to me immediately,'" Medney reveals. Within a matter of days, the plan was in place: The Rise will be produced as a graphic novel by Heavy Metal, with chapters being serialized over the course of several issues of the magazine before being collected in a single edition.
“It was that fluid, it was that organic,” Medney says. “It really is just two legacy brands figuring out how to gel.” While the project is still largely in the preliminary stages (the publisher is still assembling a full creative team), Medney says readers can expect it to take a similar shape to Brendan Columbus’s Savage Circus, which the company is also currently working on putting out.
It is, to Medney and Romero, a match made in heaven.
“Matt has come on the Indie Brigade podcast and both of our respective fanbases are so engaged it’s not even funny,” Romero notes. He also can’t help but notice the shared DNA of the two. “In the ‘80s,” he says, “if you had a copy of Heavy Metal and you had a VHS of Night of the Living Dead, that was like your street cred.”
Both his father’s work and the storytelling presented in Heavy Metal over the years share a history of work that defies censorship and pushes boundaries. “When my father released Night, there were people in the United States government saying that filmmakers like him... they’re dangerous,” Romero adds. “It’s why I started my whole tagline: 'Films used to be dangerous.'" It’s a moniker he sees as applying to Heavy Metal as well. “There’s a reason kids used to hide that magazine from their parents,” he notes. “It wasn’t just because they would get in trouble. It was because their parents were scared of the fact that this whole new generation of independent thought was being formed.”
This is the guiding ethic of the partnership between Heavy Metal and Romero: a purity of vision and the pursuit of bringing danger back to comics, film, and beyond. The Rise is, appropriately, just the beginning. To Romero, “This is two legacy brands with the same love, respect, and passion for these stories moving forward together.”