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Feature Tue May 04 2010
Editor by day, epic zombie storyteller by night, Chicago native Michael Moreci is set to release his debut graphic novel Quarantined through Insomnia Publications (also available through Amazon and some comic book stores) in Fall 2010. Using the zombie medium, Quarantined is a distinctly American tale of paranoia and political allegory, told through mindless creatures gone awry.
Name: Michael Moreci
Education: UIC (BA in Creative Writing), Northwestern University (MA in Creative Writing)
Awards: Nominated for 2010 Spinetingler (Best Short Story on the Web)
Location: Lincoln Square
Hometown: Clearing, Chicago
Favorite place in Chicago: The Green Mill. No other location captures the character of Chicago's criminal and freewheeling history quite the way Green Mill does, in addition to having great music and fantastic architecture/design.
Self-portrait (art by Andrew Scordellis)
How did you get into making comics?
I always liked comics growing up, and through grade school and high school I was writing and illustrating my own stuff. I had a strip that I did that my friend and I sold at school. I don't remember what it was called, but it was about a boy and his pet dinosaur. They were just like two panel shorts: the boy would throw a stick, and the dinosaur would come back with a tree.
You started to get into comics again after college?
Yeah. What really brought me back into it was Y: The Last Man, Preacher, 100 Bullets. Lots of Vertigo, moving off the path of superhero stuff.
But all throughout this I had the idea for Quarantined, and wanted to do it, but kept putting it off. But as soon as I finished my thesis, I was like I want to do this now. I started publishing in UK presses doing shorts, I kind wanted to cut my teeth before I put a full book out, learn the industry a little bit.
Let's talk about your graphic novel, Quarantined. It's got zombies, but what's it about?
It's been described as a zombie book, but it's more of a political book with zombies in it. Basically, there's a town in the Upper Peninsula area of Michigan, and there's an outbreak -- a biological outbreak in the water -- and it turns people who drink it into zombies, essentially 28 Days Later types. The military shuts down the borders and there are people still trapped inside who are survivors, who hadn't drank the water for whatever reason. It's more political and less zombie, even though I love the zombie genre -- I don't mean to pay any disrespect to that. I'd say it's more like DMZ than Walking Dead.
Part of the thinking behind it was the idea of political dichotomy -- we're trapped in this whole red state blue state country, the separation of people and the problems we're facing. I think if something really horrible were to happen, this unexpected catastrophe, would people be able to band together to overcome? I thought about that and I really don't know. Even issues of culture, race, gender, sexual orientation -- there's so much strife and animosity between people. It's kind of like what Quarantined's getting at with the characters. If they can band together and go above their own paranoia, their distress, and come together in a sense of community and deal with these things. It's also about survivalism, the basis of most zombie genre stories. But I try not to be too heavy-handed with that.
Quarantined cover (art by Keith Burns)
Zombies do make a good catalyst for political issues.
Definitely -- I think some of the best zombie stories are the best because they're really good allegories. Dawn of the Dead was an allegory for Louis the XIV's France, with this wealth trapped within the mall, and all these poor, shuffling masses outside. And 28 Days Later was obviously political.
I also just like zombies.
What else has influenced Quarantined?
I think what's gone into it is a lot of my own fears about society, the tenuous hold we have. It seems like we're always inching closer to things falling apart. Something can just happen. We're such a divided country, we've kind of lost the ability to compromise...to yield to any different opinions.
My love of that genre and form of storytelling has also gone into it. Influences are all over the map: I learned a lot about how to handle characters through Lost or DMZ, and a lot of plot from John Carpenter. These people are paranoid, and they just fall apart.
Quarantined splash page (art by Monty Borror)
How did Quarantined's plot take shape?
Four or five years ago, I started to really think about it, and it took shape around what I wanted to do: there's a town, and borders are closed, and there's zombies.
DONE. Sorry, go on.
There are certain things I knew I wanted to do going in. Why did this happen? I wanted to kind of break away from just "Zombies. They're here. That's it." I want to have a story that has zombie elements, but also make a device of how this happened, and why it happened. That's what really got me thinking in political terms. Michigan's Upper Peninsula was an obvious choice, because it's so isolated already, especially in the winter. After I had that conceived, I had to figure out the answers. It's easy to be like, "There's zombies, and it's awesome." Ideas are a lot easier than developing ideas.
How do you have a full-time, 9-5 day job, and still have time to make comics?
One of the biggest things I would share with anyone is that you have to approach it as a job, and you have to be willing to make sacrifices. I'm not saying this from a standpoint of expertise, but I've given up a lot to get where I'm at. I've had to just work incredibly hard -- that's the only thing that's going to get you to where you want to be. That includes networking and people and putting yourself in the right place: sitting at home doing nothing is never going to be the right place or the right time. You have to take a lot of rejection and indifference. You have to look at comics as an industry, which it is, and it's an overcrowded industry. Getting your voice heard above the cacophony is really, really difficult.
The reason I do it is because I love it. When I get pages from my artists, there's unparalleled joy seeing my work transformed into art.