I recently got to speak with Jay Bonansinga, author of The Walking Dead novels, to discuss his work, life, and passions.
What about the Walking Dead franchise made you want to get involved?
In total full disclosure naked honesty, I didn’t know much about it at first. I found out about it from some people who knew some people who knew some people. They just told them that they needed someone for a Horror novel. I thought it would be a tie-in kind of job and seemed really fun, but it turned out to be an opportunity to actually write a series of original novels. When I first heard about the job, this was about two and a half years ago, the show hadn’t come out, I had read maybe one issue of the comic. I thought it was very cool, but that was about all I knew.
Walking Dead has been successful across many formats, from comic, to television, and even games. What do your books bring that is a special experience for the fans that you might not be able to have in the same way with other media?
I think the books are an opportunity for fans to go deeper into the psychology. With the others you can’t really get internal monologue, you can’t really get thought and feeling. It’s all visual. With a book you get to look at where these people came from and see their trauma, their childhood, their loves, their losses, their grief, who they are. You can find out more about settings too. Woodbury is a real place, you can go visit it. The book gives you a deeper texture of the town and what’s beyond the borders and the frames of the comic book. It also can provide a more vivid, visceral gross out. I’ve shocked Robert a few times! In prose gore has a strange kind of half life that lives in a different part of your brain.
How closely do you work with the people involved in the other projects when working on the books?
It’s pretty much just go to town! The three mediums are completely independent of one another. Albeit exploring many of the same character arcs, rules, and time lines. That’s one of the fascinating things about the whole Robert Kirkman empire. I get an outline from Robert and then we discuss it, it has basically the story arc, what he wants the novel to do, when and how people die, who survives, and locations. Sort of a road map. Then, he just leaves me alone. I never talk to people from the TV show, I never talk to people from the comic unless it’s to do something like coordinate a convention appearance or talking with the producer of the show just about logistics. But the craft, the writing, I only answer to Robert, I only work for him. He handles the story arc and I handle the prose. I don’t want to sound like a one man Robert fan club, but he’s really fantastic! He’s great about leaving me alone to do my thing and is totally upfront about not really doing the writing part for the books in his interviews.
What was the most interesting Walking Dead character to you’ve gotten to explore?
The obvious one would be the Governor. It was a surprise to work on. By that point I had read all the comics and fell in love with it, I became obsessed. When Rbert said we were going to learn about the Governor and where he came from and how he got to where he is I was mortified and excited in equal parts. But it was really cool! It was like being told you’re going to write about Darth Vader. But I think the most interesting character I think for the readers of the comic book is Lily of The Road to Woodbury, the second book. Because, without spoiling anything , she just pops up in the comic book from nowhere and does something huge and epochal to the story and you have no idea who she is and where she came from. No one really knew much about her at all so that was really fascinating to create her character. And I’ve said this before and I probably will probably should keep my mouth shut but, a lot of Lily is based on my fiancé Jilly. Her personality and mannerisms are in her, I just couldn’t help it.
What’s a description from one of the books that you are particularly proud of?
There’s a moment in Rise of the Governor, a twisted kind of love scene. Philip Wake the Governor is on a bridge in Georgia, and it’s raining, and there’s sparking and lightening overhead, and bellow through the glass are all these sort of errant zombies shambling around, and him and this woman make love in this glass breezeway. I’m really proud of the description in that, I can’t explain why.
You’re a filmmaker as well, you wrote and directed your films CITY OF MEN and STASH, how has that helped you in working on material that has been adapted?
It has helped me because I don’t see any difference in writing stories for the different mediums- The novel, or writing it as a screenplay, or as a teleplay. There’s obviously mechanical difference, but it’s the same tool kit that I use. It’s the art form of storytelling.
What’s your favorite horror movie?
The Shining, one of my favorite top 10 films of all time! I can’t wait to see the movie Room 236 actually. And another one of my favorites is Dawn of the Dead. I ended up working with Romero actually, in 1994. My first book, The Black Mariah, he signed on to direct and I got to co-write the screenplay adaptation with him. It was very cool. It might have played a role in me getting the Walking Dead gig, who knows. George is a hero of mine! And my third favorite horror film is Eraser Head, some people don’t consider it a horror film but it’s the closest thing to a nightmare I’ve ever seen.
What’s your favorite children’s book?
“From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”, super quirky and cool! It’s about two kids that get locked inside a museum, they have to sleep there and survive. It sounds simple and boring but it’s really actually a brilliant and amazing book. In fact, Wes Anderson even adapted it into his film Royal Tenenbaums, there is a little homage to that book in there. Check it out!
Do you have any tips for surviving a zombie apocalypse you can share?
My survival tip is get a nail gun and hook it up to a battery, either a dry batter or a cell. If you have that then you can kill them quickly with the nails and not make a lot of noise so it doesn’t draw more.
By Laura Gaddy