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A Conversation With Roger Ma, Sensei of Zombie Beatdowns

Roger Ma
Roger Ma is the author of the excellent, informative and entertaining Zombie Combat Manual: A Guide to Fighting the Living Dead. Because let’s face it, as Max Brooks himself stated, blades don’t need reloading. But in a full-on zombiethon, even blades wear out. So you might have to go to town with whatever’s handy. Roger and his Zombie Combat Club will keep the undead from handing you your ass. He was good enough to take time out of his schedule and chat with us. And away we go…

WIDGETT: So for the record: state your name and occupation, sir.

ROGER MA: Sure–Roger Ma, author of The Zombie Combat Manual.

W: And Roger, what do you do when you’re not preparing the world for the eventual rise of the undead?

RM: I’m in marketing by profession, so I’ve done a lot of writing but more kind of advertising and marketing copy, so this is kind of the first foray into…I guess it could be considered nonfiction, but it depends on who you speak to.

W: It depends on how it’s received.

RM: Yeah, exactly.

[ad#rightpost]W: And I noticed that you kind of anticipated that some people might take it more seriously than others. I enjoyed the disclaimer you put at the beginning of the book stating that it should only be used for combat with the undead and please don’t do anything else because you might get your ass arrested.

RM: Yeah, well, I had two brothers, so I know full well what a little bit of knowledge can do, so I tried to kind of, you know–

W: Cover your ass?

RM: Yes.

W: So you’re in marketing, and it seems like there should be some joke about how trying to sell things should prepare you for dealing with the mindless undead, but I can’t quite piece it together in my mind.

RM: (laughs) Right. Somebody asked me how working in marketing can help with the zombie apocalypse, and I said, “Well, you know, dealing with difficult art directors can kind of make you a little resilient to the oncoming zombie plague.”

W: So there you go–that’s where you look for your zombie savior, ladies, and gentlemen…in the marketing department. Now, I think I read somewhere that your first exposure to zombies was watching Dawn of the Dead at an early age…do I remember that correctly?

RM: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

W: Tell us about that trauma.

It's moments like this that turned Roger Ma into a published author later in life. Results on your own children may vary.

RM: Yeah…it’s funny, again, depending on how you look at it, it could be tragic or triumphant, that experience. Romero‘s Dawn of the Dead came out in ’78, and I was probably eight or nine years old, and I really distinctly remember seeing the advertising in the New York Post or whatever it may have been, the newspaper, and that black and white image of that zombie head…a very distinct movie poster and saying to my dad, “Let’s go see this movie!” He would take us to movies every weekend…that was the choice for that weekend. I dragged my little brother along, who is five years younger than me–

W: Oh, dear.

RM: You can imagine…he was sitting in my dad’s lap watching that movie. So that’s what kind of started it all off, and I’ve had dreams and nightmares of zombies and they’ve kind of stayed with me ever since.

W: So you’re responsible for your brother being introduced as well, and I guess the next question is, “When does he get out on parole?”

RM: Yeah, the impact on his psyche…the full extent has yet to be determined.

W: Actually, my little brother blames me for showing him Day of the Dead at an early age. And of course now it’s evolved into this thing where I sat him down and forced him to watch it, and I’m like, “Dude, you were just in the room; it’s not my fault you hung around.”

RM: Exactly.

W: Little brothers…they have to blame their lives on somebody, right?

RM: Right.

Zombie Combat Manual

W: So, you know, talking about Romero zombies and getting exposed at an early age, were you at that point thinking about you inevitable–I mean, it occurs to me that everybody who loves zombies has a Zombie Plan….it just comes with the territory. Did you start formulating a Zombie Plan at that point, or were you more interested in living in a mall at that age?

RM: Yeah, I think the mall solution sounded good to me for a long time. And being exposed to that movie, you kind of base your survival tactics around what they didn’t do right in that movie, right? It’s like, “Oh, why did they let those bikers in?” That kind of thing. As I got older, I think your strategy evolves, right? So you think, “Well, maybe the mall’s not the best place…maybe I can hole up in an apartment complex, but I need to be able to traverse rooftops to get to a food source like a supermarket, so I’d better find a place to live close by that has a supermarket or a bodega…” So all of these things. I think that’s the one thing that I know I as a fan and people I speak to who are fans have…that’s the thread, that in our everyday lives, something will occur to us that will make us think about the survivability of the situation during the zombie apocalypse. We could be in the mall, we could be out on a hike, we could be grocery shopping, and something will sort of click that switch on for us.

W: Right. And it occurred to me as I was reading the book that perhaps that’s why it’s so pervasive and has been around…I mean, because let’s face it, the genre really didn’t exist until Night of the Living Dead–George Romero basically created it–and here we are four plus decades later, and you’ve written a book about melee weaponry when dealing with zombies and I wrote a children’s book on the subject. So it’s a crazy genre…but do you think the appeal of it has something to do with the fact that when you compare it to other apocalyptic scenarios–you know, the first that comes to mind is nuclear annihilation and 95% of what you do has no effect on whether you live or die in that scenario, and you have all those other scenarios, but when it comes to zombies, it’s like you said…you kind of naturally think, “You know, I could probably survive this. If I made the right choices and did the right things and wasn’t stupid like those people in the movies, I could survive this.” Do you think that has something to do with why it’s so popular–it’s a…”survivable” apocalypse?

RM: Absolutely, and you kind of hit it on the head. And I’ve been thinking a lot about this, obviously, most recently for all the interviews that I’ve been doing, and something occurred to me that I hadn’t thought about before. I think before I thought that, yes, the kind of natural inclination toward zombies is the fact that everybody has an idea of what they might do when, you know, things go upside down, right? When things go terribly wrong and society breaks down, something like that, people have an idea of, “Here’s how I’d go about keeping myself alive.” With zombies, the other thing I think is so interesting about them is that they’re one of the few creatures or monsters that have this dual facet of attraction. One, they have this attractiveness in terms of their fear factor: they’re very scary; they could be really a potential threat, but they also have this element of heroism to it. People can conceivably, an ordinary Joe could think about how they’d emerge victorious in this situation. Whereas other types of genres, like whatever it may be: vampires, werewolves, things like that, you don’t have that that heroic element, like “Hey, you know what? I could end up on top of this situation. ” Zombies kind of give you that kind of capability.

W: Right. And I think part of the other thing about the horror aspect of zombies is that they’re so inexorable. They’re literally the “creeping horror,” and you mention this–you put this in black and white especially in one of my favorite fictional bits from the book about the ultramarathoner. It’s that eventually, they will get you. You can run all you want, or you can hide all you want, or whatever–but they’re incredibly patient. They don’t have to run. They’re gonna get you. And that for me is part of the horror of it is the inescapeableness or seemingly inescapeableness–if that is such a word–of them.

Dawn of the Dead in yarn
No picture illustrates zombie humor quite like yarn zombies.

RM: That’s one thing I wanted to address with that particular story. Because I think we’ve seen a lot of zombie humor lately; there’s always this element of humor that goes with zombie, even in Dawn of the Dead: the bikers were throwing pies and the whole thing. And I think that’s what’s so fun about it, because there’s that initial element of “Oh, this is a joke. I can handle this.” But then, you know, things get out of hand. And you know what? You’re actually not able to handle it. And everybody talks about “Oh, I’m just going to run away from them. Oh, I’m going to walk away….big deal.” But yeah, you’re walking for six hours and you want to sit down, but guess what? Somebody else isn’t stopping. So I think that’s the kind of creeping horror that you pointed out was exactly what I was trying to convey with that particular story.

W: And the other thing I liked about that particular story, and we can talk about the more fictional aspects of the book here in a minute, is that it’s an aspect of a response that you don’t really see, which is it’s always in Zombie Survival or in your book or all these books, it’s always confronting the zombies…how do you confront the zombies? And finally here’s a guy who says “Screw that…I’m running!” And I was like, “Well, that’s a novel concept.”

RM: (laughs) Right.

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