I’m excited to bring you today’s guest on my countdown to the release of my upcoming zombie novel, The Savage Dead, because Roger Ma is a total badass. I mean a real life badass. As in he could tie you into a pretzel before you knew how truly screwed you really were. What’s more, he’s turned his rather considerable real life fighting skills into one of the most valuable zombie books ever published, The Zombie Combat Manual. Roger Ma specializes in hand-to-hand combat against the undead. He is the author of The Zombie Combat Manual: A Guide to Fighting the Living Dead. His new book, The Vampire Combat Manual: A Guide to Fighting the Bloodthirsty Undead, focuses on surviving an attack from a hunting succubus. He is the founder of the Zombie Combat Club and the Vampire Combat Club, organizations that focus on battling the undead without the aid of a firearm. He was recently featured as a zombie expert on the History Channel documentary “Zombies: A Living History.” He currently trains in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
I first met Roger in Long Island back in 2011. We were on a zombie panel together (along with Jonathan Maberry, Scott Kenemore, and S.G. Browne) and it was probably the best zombie panel on which I’ve ever served. Just look at us!
(The panel, left to right: Joe McKinney, Jonathan Maberry, S.G. Browne, Roger Ma, Scott Kenemore.)
Check out what Roger has to say about zombies, and then go check out the Zombie Combat Club online. It’s a great site.
But first, meet Roger Ma, zombie ass kicker extraordinaire!
Joe McKinney: Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream. I’m glad you could swing by. You’re no stranger to zombie fiction. Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related writing? How do you approach the genre?
Roger Ma: Thanks for having me, Joe! When it comes to the genre, I’m very much a traditionalist, in the sense that I adhere very closely to the Romero canon – shambling, formerly human creatures that want to devour your flesh, not just your “brains.” When it came to writing about the living dead, I wanted to combine my love of the martial arts and hand-to-hand combat with zombies. Living in New York City, I was never much of a “gun guy.” And what do they tell you to do when you encounter a zombie? “Shoot them in the head.” So I thought, “Well, what if I don’t have a firearm? What if you run out of ammunition? What if I need to keep silent?” That’s how The Zombie Combat Manual was born.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
RM: It depends. As far as humanity winning, it depends on how quickly everyone, state, federal, and local governments, recognize the situation and address it immediately. If we do that, we’ve got a good chance. If we don’t, we don’t. As far as myself, it also depends. I’m in fairly good cardiovascular shape, specifically out of my fear of needing to trek miles on foot in order to escape a threat, undead or otherwise. However, I also live in one of the largest metropolitans in the world, so if this start here, it will be hell on earth trying to get out, literally.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever? (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here. I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)
RM: My favorite zombie media are the ones that introduced me into the genre. For movies, it was Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” My father took me to see it in the theaters when it was released. I was 8 years old. I haven’t been the same since. Ever since then, at least several times a year, I’ll dream that I’m in a mall that’s teeming with zombies. It’s a dream that I both love and loathe. For zombie books, again, the book that introduced me to the literary zombie genre was John Skipp’s short story anthology “Book of the Dead.” I remember seeing it in Forbidden Planet in Greenwich Village as a kid, and thought “people actually write stories about zombies, too?” In fact, chatting about it with you makes me want to pick it up and read it again.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
RM: Wow, just one? That’s really tough. If I were to pick just one, I would probably have to revert back to “Dawn.” The scene where the zombie is climbing over the crates to get at Stephen as he fills the helicopter with fuel, and the rotor blades slice off the top of the zombie’s head. I remember seeing that in the theater and going mental. What’s great about it also is that Stephen doesn’t have to do a thing – the undead leads itself to its own demise. Smart and energy efficient. That’s one of the points I try to stress in my book and when I talk to people about the best “zombie weapons.” The best weapons are those that require you to exert zero energy while still accomplishing the task at hand. Sure, you can crush a bunch of zombie skulls with a crowbar or impale their brains with a katana, but how long before your energy levels give out, and then what do you do? Wouldn’t it be better to have them walk off a building’s ledge trying to get at you? People sometimes forget about practicality and want to go in beast mode. That works until you gas out, which we all will do against an opponent that doesn’t tire.
JM: I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us. Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period. Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past. Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life. What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?
RM: The zombie genre is one of the most malleable when it comes to subtext, we all know that. It can represent consumerism and hive mentality, like in Romero’s work, and it can also represent one of many different fears. Fear of death, disease, aging, plague, anarchy, that’s pretty obvious. What’s not so obvious is what we represent in the undead scenario. It’s my belief that if there’s one thing that we as a society are feeling now more than ever, it’s a lack of control. I know that there are times when I myself feel like I’m barely able to process everything that’s going on around me, and that I’m holding things together by bare threads. There’s also this feeling that whatever we do, however well we study, plan, and prepare, we are at the mercy of powerful forces that have a grip over society, be it financial, governmental or cultural, and that its sheer luck that we continue to plod along unscathed. “There but the grace of God…” and all that.
The zombie enables us, to a certain extent, to take that control back. To be the hero. Very few other genres, particular in horror, enable you to do that. You’re not going to go toe-to-toe with an Ancient One, alien, or a spectre. You can with the zombie, and that is incredibly empowering. It’s like that old joke about the two guys who encounter a bear in the woods. You don’t need to be faster than the bear; you just need to be faster than the other guy.