A book to help zombie kids find their next meal? That’s what a brain is for. And why you should buy this awesome children’s book for your little ghouls? That’s what this review is for.
Also, check out how to WIN an autographed copy of the book at the end of this article!
ZRS interviews A Brain is for Eating’s creative team…
We were won over by A Brain is for Eating, a book “for zombie children that teaches the little walking undead how to find their next meal” (from their website at www.abrainisforeating.com)! We not only reviewed their book but spoke with the creative team – writers Dan and Amelia Jacobs, and illustrator Scott Brundage. How does one write a book for the little zombie in us all? Let’s find out…
ZRS: Let’s start at the beginning. Where did the idea for the book begin? Was it a group notion, or did one of you first develop the concept and bring it to the rest of the team?
Dan and Amelia: We were on a bike and train trip across Europe when A Brain is for Eating happened. We’re not precisely sure where the idea came from. We had recently spent several hours on a train in Austria and Northern Italy amidst a sea of unruly schoolchildren – we think that may have had something to do with it – and landed in Rome for several weeks, poking around catacombs and eating obscene amounts of gelato and other tasty things. Somewhere in there, we were taking an afternoon stroll and the title popped into Dan’s head. We sat down on a hill and wrote the whole thing in one go.
Was there any trepidation about blending the children’s book style with the zombie genre? Some of the edgy humor really embraces it completely, with no holds barred.
Dan and Amelia: There was certainly no trepidation on our part; that was the central tension that struck us as funny in the first place. Dan’s a southern boy and grew up in a household where manners are very important, so a sort of Emily Post-style structure seemed only natural. Amelia had also been working as a reading interventionist for the past several years, so was thoroughly steeped in children’s literature. The illustrations were trickier to navigate in this regard. We had very specific images in mind when we wrote the book – simple black and white drawings. But as we began working with Scott and his much more realized versions of our heroes, it took a good deal of playing around to negotiate the line between gore and suggestion…
Scott:I think there was some awareness that the target audience wasn’t necessarily kids; well, definitely not every kid. We made a conscious decision that we’d only show right before or right after the attack. We had an illustration at the very beginning with some zombies in the act of eating a bedridden hospital patient. Even with the actual violence obscured, it just seemed too on the nose, even for adults. Best to leave the gruesome details to the imagination, and lovingly render almost everything else.
Were any or all of you already fans of the genre prior to working on the book?
Dan and Amelia: We have to admit, not really. Dan has worked in the film industry for many years and is a big movie buff, so of course he had seen a handful of classic zombie films, but we are both pretty big babies when it comes to the genre as a whole. The book has opened up a whole new world!
Scott: I was definitely a fan. Maybe not of every cheesy movie, but any comic with a rotting character was right up my alley.
How long was the book in production and how did the process actually work? Was the manuscript written first with illustrations developed afterward, or was there more of a give-and-take approach?
Dan and Amelia: We sketched out pages soon after we wrote the manuscript, which would have been August 2011. When we came home to Chattanooga that winter, we were chatting about the book one night with our longtime friend David Littlejohn, who had just started Humanaut, the local creative agency behind projects like the Felt app and Soda Stream Superbowl commercials. He thought the book was awesome and offered to help get it published. David put us in touch with Scott, an artist friend from New York. We launched a month-long Kickstarter campaign for initial funds and began working with Scott over Skype and email. We still have yet to meet face to face!
Scott: I was given about a month to develop and create the look and sample images for the Kickstarter campaign. I really wanted the project to be funded, but thought it a long shot considering how twisted the content was. Seems like I had way too little faith in the undead fan base!
We had a bit of discussion about the overall feel of the book and what each spread could or should be. I was grateful to have a bit of autonomy, and even more grateful to see that the ideas they had were actually really good. I think I was given about four or five months to do the remaining fifteen illustrations once we were funded. My fiancée tells me I was the happiest she’s ever seen me while working. I had opportunities to experiment so much with the open-ended idea of the illustrator being a zombie himself, so things like spatter and sloppy drawing was all fair game, and super fun!
Dan and Amelia: After the drawings were finished, it took several more months for the Humanaut team to source printers, create the typeface, tweak the layout, etc. All in all, from writing in Rome to sending out our first copies, it was roughly a two-year process.
Humanaut’s interest was really what spurred the whole Brains “birthing process,” and after some initial discussion, we collectively (and perhaps naively) opted for full creative control over attempting the traditional publication route. We had no idea how many decisions went into the process, but Kickstarter and our creative collaborators afforded us a rigorous learning curve. All said and done, we’re certainly pleased with the outcome, and hope it can still get into as many hands as possible!
Were there any bemused reactions from other quarters – colleagues, family, friends – about the nature of the book?
Dan and Amelia: Oh, certainly. The family members that have genetically imbued us with our particular sense of humor think it’s hilarious – thanks, Mom! – but we have, of course, met with all sorts of reactions. Even our friends who let us borrow their kids to play the young zombie readers in our Kickstarter video have tucked the book away until their little zombies are a bit older.
Scott: My fiancée teaches second grade, loves the book, but will never show any of her students. I’ve brought the book to New York Comic Con and MoCCAfest artist alleys. It is an amazing mixed bag of reaction. The title alone will get a laugh and positive reaction. I’ve heard equal responses of “THIS IS AMAZING” and “THIS IS AMAZING, I’D NEVER SHOW MY KIDS,” but any zombie lover snatches it up regardless.
What was the initial response when it was first released and how has the feedback been since then?
Dan and Amelia: The launch of the book generated some great Internet love, especially in Germany, interestingly. We had a fun and bashful little appearance on Good Morning, Sacramento and a local radio station here in Chattanooga. Your review, though, is far and away our favorite! [ATB-Aww, thanks!]
What are your favorite zombie stories (movies, TV, comics, anything at all)?
All: Dan loves Cemetery Man and the original Dawn of the Dead, and Amelia and Scott love Shaun of the Dead. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies deserves an honorable mention from Amelia, and we all like The Walking Dead of course. Amelia’s also digging the pseudo-zombie characters in the French show Les Revenants.
Do you have a zombie apocalypse survival plan?
Scott: Every time I try to imagine surviving longer than a day, I realize I’m likely delusional since I live in Brooklyn with millions of people around. If the zombie hordes started up, I’d enjoy a nice standoff followed by a less nice dismemberment.
Dan and Amelia: We live on a mini-farm with chickens, rabbits, fruit trees, a veggie garden, and a dog-and-three-cat alarm system. In the past, we’ve considered hiding away on a little island on Lake Nickajack if our homestead doesn’t hold, but now that we have such a good guidebook, we think assimilation is a much better way to go.
Why do you think we live in such a zombie pop culture renaissance at the moment?
Dan and Amelia: A slate-cleaning apocalypse is a fairly calming image in a world with many real but often abstract fears. Zombies give us a tangible “other” to rally against, but an “other” that simultaneously serves as a mirror, a graphic depiction of our own downfall. One of the things we find most interesting about zombie lore is the common triumph of the zombie, even if it appears to be negative. What if, we ask in the book, after the uncomfortable debacle of brain-eating is all over, we can actually celebrate this triumph or at least embrace it as a natural mutation of human existence in a post-apocalyptic world? It could be a lot more fun!
“A Brain is for Eating”
by Dan and Amelia Jacobs, illustrated by Scott Brundage
This is Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg’s book review (written in the same number of lines and same meter as the book itself):
A Brain is for Eating is a book not to fear.
In the world of kids’ lit, it’s a work without peer.
We all know that zombies are pop culture stars.
They’re wherever we look, even stickers on cars!
This isn’t the first tome that you might have read
In a children’s book style that employs the undead.
There’s even a cute one where the principle joke
Is that Mommy has turned; it’s by our own Matt Mogk!
But A Brain is for Eating is one you can’t skip
From the title alone, it foretells quite a trip!
Its conceit is so simple and so clever too.
It’s for eager young zombies to know what to do.
They’re little and hungry and need to be taught
How to hunt for their prey and how not to get caught.
It tells them of packages containing a brain
That they must consume whether snow, shine, or rain.
It also informs them of dangers like guns
That can end their undeadness and stop all their fun.
But just ‘cause the tone is playful and light
Don’t think it skimps on the entrails and fright.
While the book is so charming and childlike in mood
It slips in a baby joke, twisted and rude!
There’s so much to admire – oh, where do I start –
From the razor-sharp wit to the blood-spattered art!
It’s so gleeful and joyous while it cheers for the dead
I could never presume now to aim for the head.
In fact I predict by the time the book ends
You’ll be rooting for zombies to turn all of your friends!
With a “food pyramid” full of brains and much more
Every growing new zombie learns the value of gore.
A Brain is for Eating will warm all your hearts.
Good thing for the zombies, they’re such tasty parts!
Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg is well known to some
For expounding on zombies that shamble or run
Now he knows that last rhyme wasn’t quite so precise
But he’s run out of energy, it has to suffice.
DAN JACOBS is a writer and filmmaker. His wife AMELIA JACOBS, is an educator and artist. They raise chickens with their dog, Bernini on their homestead in Georgia.
SCOTT BRUNDAGE has a special eye for making monsters beautiful. His work regularly appears in Wall Street Journal and Scientific American, and he recently won a prestigious Silver Award in Spectrum Fantastic Art 18. Scott lives, works, and paints zombie children in Brooklyn, NY.
DR. ARNOLD T. BLUMBERG is the “Doctor of the Dead” – a publisher (www.atbpublishing.com), author, book designer, educator, pop culture historian, and internationally recognized zombie expert. He co-authored Zombiemania (2006), one of the first exhaustive guides to zombie cinema (a revised, expanded edition is on the way); his University of Baltimore course “Zombies in Popular Media” has garnered worldwide press coverage since its launch in 2010; he has contributed chapters to Triumph of the Walking Dead, Braaaiiinnnsss!: From Academics to Zombies, and The Undead and Theology (which was nominated for a Stoker award); his lecture “Zombies: Monsters with Meaning” has been presented at symposia and conventions; he appears in the EPiX documentary Doc of the Dead as well as on TV, radio, and online; and he has two ongoing podcasts – Doctor of the Dead (www.doctorofthedead.com) and The G2V Podcast: The Pop Culture Audio Magazine(www.g2vpodcast.com). Find him on Twitter @DoctoroftheDead. And don’t even get started on his work in Doctor Who…
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