The legendary horror director, responsible for three of the greatest zombie films ever made – Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead – attended Carnegie Mellon University in his hometown of Pittsburgh for art, but claims he “sort of faked his way in” and failed all his art classes. However, Romero’s first (and only) illustrated book for children, The Little World of Humongo Bongo, will soon be brought back from the dead. Originally published in French, the book’s English rights have been acquired by Peterborough horror/dark-fiction imprint ChiZine Publications (in a joint venture with the documentary series/multimedia imprint Untold Horror) for publication in fall 2017. The book follows the story of the titular character, a gentle giant living on the planet Tongo, who encounters a tiny race of people called the Minus who turn on him in a fit of greed as they colonize his small planet. Q&Q discussed the project with Romero over the phone from his home in Toronto.
How did you end up illustrating this children’s book?
George A. Romero: They said, “Well, go ahead and illustrate,” and I said, “Okay, but it won’t be good!” And it turned out to be good enough.
This is a children’s book, but it seems to also have a very serious message.
GR: I meant it to be a parable about over-population, greed, and all of the terrible values that we humans have. That’s all it was meant to illustrate.
Did you think back to any books you read as a kid while you wrote the story?
GR: As a youth, the first actual novel that I ever read was Something of Value. It’s about the Mau Mau Uprising in Africa. That’s the topic, but what it’s about is basically families that are torn apart. It’s almost an anti-apartheid thing.
Your work has always been coloured by your moral values and your ideas about society – Night of the Living Dead addressed race very progressively, and Dawn of the Dead focused on the rise of consumerist mall culture, as just two examples. Do you think you could ever make something that wasn’t influenced by your social values?
GR: I don’t think that I could ever ignore what is in my heart when I was writing anything. I don’t think that I could and if you held my feet to the fire I don’t think I would. My god, just look at what’s happening today with Donald Trump!
Perhaps it’s a good time for a zombie uprising?
GR: Now is the time!
What medium did you use for the illustrations?
GR: I used pen and ink, then overlays that you press onto the drawings that puts the dots and the gradations in. It’s called Zip-A-Tone. All I did was the basic illustrations in pen and ink, and the rest is Zip-A-Tone.
Did you enjoy the process?
GR: Yes. Did I take joy from it? No, I wouldn’t go that far! I basically felt it was an obligation. I never expected that I would be the illustrator.
Do you think kids will like this book?
GR: I have no idea. They may say, “What the fuck is this?” I don’t know. I hope they can understand it a little bit. I have no idea what’s going to happen with this. Let’s hope somebody gets it!
Q&Q: Perhaps kids will read it and the lesson will stick with them.
GR: That’s what happened for me with Something of Value. That was the one that made me get off the page, and think about what was being said on the page. I have tried all along to say something about what was happening in the world ever since. Even my silly zombie films.
This interview has been edited for clarity.