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DF Interview: Z Nation co-creator Craig Engler talks about the hit Syfy TV series, new comic book, more
By Byron Brewer
The horror/comedy television series Z Nation premiered Sept. 12, 2014, on the Syfy network. An immediate hit, the post-apocalyptic action series was created by Craig Engler and Karl Schaefer, and produced by The Asylum. It has been announced that a fourth season of the TV show will air on Syfy beginning this fall.
Not only is Engler creator of TV’s Z Nation, but he is co-writing, with Fred Van Lente, a comic book from Dynamite Entertainment occurring in the same “universe”.
DF wanted to know more about both, and the creator’s role in them, so we sat down with Craig Engler. Here is what he told us.
Dynamic Forces: Craig, tell us how you and co-creator/showrunner Karl Schaefer (Eerie, Indiana) first came up with the concept of Z Nation.
Craig Engler: The show is loosely based on a movie I wrote with a friend of mine called Zombie Apocalypse. The movie is about a group of people traveling across the country during the zombie apocalypse to get to the last safe haven in the U.S. I took that core premise and expanded it into a TV series format, adding the idea that they are not just looking for safety but for a cure for the zombie virus. When The Asylum (the studio that made the movie and makes the show) hired Karl as showrunner, he took that initial format and brought it to the next level, adding cool things like the Citizen Z character. These days the show is a team effort between all the writers in the writers’ room, led by Karl. It’s been a fun, crazy evolution from that initial 12 page format I wrote alone in a coffee shop to four seasons on TV and a comic book spin-off!
DF: Tell us a little about this world you and Karl have created.
Craig Engler: Unlike a lot of zombie movies and shows, Z Nation doesn’t start on day one of the Zpocalypse. We start two years into zombie mayhem and build from there, which really opens up the storytelling possibilities. The idea was not to tell the “survivor” story of the initial outbreak and instead fast forward to see a group of competent humans living and coping with the zombies a few years in. Then we change their world forever when we give them a chance to find the cure to the zombie plague and save humanity.
DF: As you say, the TV show is about to go into its fourth season. Without recapping the entire run, what do new viewers need to know to be caught up in the suspense and gritty drama as much as die-hard fans?
Craig Engler: In our show you can pretty much jump in at the start of any season and begin watching, since each season starts a new chapter in our story. I can’t say anything about the events of Season 4 yet, but we ended on a literal cliffhanger in Season 3 and Season 4 resolves that cliffhanger and then goes into a bit of a reset. So if you’re new to the show, you’ll meet everyone (who’s left!) and learn their mission and go from there.
DF: Obviously something is being done right for the show to be going into Season 4, and as a hit! If you compared the upcoming season with its previous seasons as creator, what are some of the elements you have kept and what are some of the things that have been left behind?
Craig Engler: Without giving any secrets away, I think Season 4 harkens back to our first season while also adding a new (and super cool!) mythology. We definitely want to up the teamwork and horror this season, which is what our show tends to do best. And, of course, there are all new outrageous adventures and crazy kinds of zombies coming.
DF: For the uninitiated (you know who you are), can you introduce us to just a few of the legion of characters on Z Nation, with a little capsule summary on what makes them special/interesting to you?
Craig Engler: With the caveat that I won’t reveal who survives the Season 3 cliffhanger, our core group is:
Roberta Warren – Our badass leader who is determined to save the world no matter what it takes.
Murphy – The only person who’s survived being bitten by a zombie and whose blood may hold the secret to a finding a cure. But…he’s an asshole.
10K – A young kid who was forced to kill his father during the outbreak and is now on a mission to kill 10,000 zombies.
Addison Carver – One of our toughest members and someone who’s been through more trauma than most people, but she’ll never give up.
And Citizen Z – For most of the series Citizen Z has been stuck alone at an NSA listening post in the North Pole guiding our team remotely when he’s able to get in contact with them (and having his own arctic zombie adventures).
DF: Are there story threads that have been laid in previous seasons that longtime viewers might want to look for as they return for Season 4?
Craig Engler: Definitely. We’ll resolve the cliffhanger from Season 3, explore some of the key mythology we’ve talked about but haven’t revealed yet (especially the mysterious “Zona” that’s come up in the show), and see how Murphy’s relationship with his fast-aging daughter, Lucy, progresses.
DF: Why should viewers tune into Z Nation when it returns to the Syfy network?
Craig Engler: It’s a fun show with a fast pace, great characters, lots of zombies and a wicked sense of humor. I won’t say it’s the opposite of The Walking Dead, but we’re definitely an action heavy series where the characters have a clear goal: saving the world. They’re not just trying to survive until the next day or the next week. Along the way they meet many interesting (and usually) deadly survivors, and also run into different kinds of mutant zombies.
DF: Finally, Craig, you are co-writing a comic focused on an unexplored part of the Z Nation Universe for Dynamite. What can you tell us about that?
Craig Engler: The comic is called Z Nation: Sea of Death and tells a story that predates the events of the show, when fan favorite character Charles Garnett sends a small military team on a Hail Mary mission to secure a supply of the food supplement Soylent Z. And predictably, things go badly wrong from the outset. In the comic we also introduce a new scenario for the zombie genre that no one else has explored yet (in any medium) that I think readers are really, really going to like. And we have even more zombie mayhem than the show has, since we’re not limited by a production budget. And of course, Fred Van Lente is the co-writer, and everything Fred does is awesome.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Craig Engler for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Z Nation returns for its fourth season this fall, and Z Nation #1 from Dynamite Entertainment hits stores today, April 12th!
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