Interview: Matt Mogk, Author, ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Zombies’

 

Matt Mogk, head of the Zombie Research Society, is one of the world’s foremost experts on zombies. The author of the zombie educational book for young people, That’s Not Your Mommy Anymore!, and now the authoritative tome Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Zombies, Mogk is a household name for every serious student of undead studies. Today, Mogk shares some tips on zombie survival and his opinion on whether the zombie apocalypse could really happen after all.

Everything Zombies
How does one exactly become the head of the Zombie Research Society?

I’ve always been obsessed with zombies. I got a Master’s degree from NYU Film School and did my thesis on zombies. But I realized along the way that I’ve never been as scared watching any zombie movie as I thought I would be in a real zombie outbreak. If a zombie were to actually show up at my front door, what would it look like? What would it smell like? How would it hunt me? How would its brain work? Those basic questions were the starting point for Zombie Research Society.

What does zombie fandom look like? Are there more people into zombies than one might think? Does interest in zombies cross social and professional boundaries?

There are a lot more people into zombies than must people realize. On October 25, 2011 the Wall Street Journal estimated that zombie books, video games, movies and merchandise are worth $5.7 billion to the economy, adding that the actual figure if probably much higher.

One of the things that make zombies unique to other popular monsters is that zombie fans come from all walks of life, from a ten year old boy in Perth, Australia to a University professor in Portland, Oregon.

Without insulting the fine work you guys do at the ZRS, I have to ask if you’ve met any True Believers. Anyone really think the zombies are coming?

Hate to say it, but I’m one of the true believers. I’m not living in a bunker under my house waiting for a global zombie plague to strike at any moment, but I do think something like a zombie sickness is possible. There are too many strange diseases mutating in ways we don’t understand.

The type of person I have met that always surprises me are those who can’t wait for a catastrophic zombie outbreak to actually happen. They’re looking forward to it, which makes no sense to me. What they fail to understand is that real zombie survival isn’t like a video game, and it’ll be anything but fun.

Why are so many people interested in zombies these days, anyway?

I think there are a handful of reasons why zombies are so hot right now, but I’ll point to three:

1) We live in uncertain times. We’re faced with economic peril, climate change, terrorism, and the constant threat of natural and manmade disasters. Zombies are synonymous with the end of the world. One zombie leads to ten zombies leads to ten million zombies. The events we see play out in the news every day look a little like a zombie outbreak.

2) We live in the age of microbiology. The average person walking down the street may not be able to tell you who their Congressman is, but they have a better understanding of infectious diseases than the leading scientists eighty years ago. Zombieism is a blood borne illness, so any blood or fluid contact and you’re toast. It makes sense from a common sense perspective.

3) Zombies are the only club that accepts everyone. They don’t care what you look like. They don’t care how old you are. They don’t care what you ate last night or if you’re cheating on your partner. They don’t care if you just got fired or just got a promotion. Zombies want you just as much as they want the next guy. And you see that played out in the rise of grass roots events like zombie walks across the planet.

What was it like writing the book? How much research went into it?

The book was a fun of fun to write; hard work, but a lot of fun. It helps to be really passionate about the subject matter. And how much research went it? A ton. It is the culmination of all the research I’d done over six or seven years, so a ton of research went into it. The actual writing time was only about nine months, but I never would have been able to finish if I hadn’t laid the groundwork through my involvement with ZRS.

Did you learn anything that you didn’t know?

I learned that we are all completely screwed when the dead rise. Most of the people I interviewed for the book were real experts in fields not directly related to zombies. So if I wanted to know what the government response would be I talked to executives at Homeland Security, and read books by former National Security Council members. All the evidence suggests that we’re woefully unprepared for much more common disasters. So when zombies come it’s game over.

Is there much cross-over between the things one would do to prepare for zombies versus preparing for a natural disaster, pandemic or other emergency situation?

There is so much cross-over that there is almost no difference in the steps you need to take to prepare for a zombie pandemic and the steps you need to take to prepare for any other large-scale catastrophe. I live in Los Angeles, and any expert will tell you that we’re overdue for a major earthquake. That never inspired me to get an earthquake preparedness kit, but I do have a zombie preparedness kit and it works great for earthquakes!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention come out with a disaster preparedness bulletin on their blog every year in May. They usually get about 1,000 hits, so nobody really looks at it. This year their post focused on how to survive a zombie outbreak and the site got 26 million hits and crashed the government’s servers. Funny thing is, it was the same information they publish every year, just with a zombie hook.

You have twenty four hours before the zombies arrive in your city. What do you do?

The #1 factor in any locations zombie survivability is population density. People make zombies. No matter what else is in the mix, without people there can be no walking dead trying to hunt and eat other people. So if I had advance warning the first thing I would do is make sure I am putting some distance between myself and pretty much anybody else.

But a close second in terms of survival considerations is the availability of water. Humans need a constant supply of clean drinking water to stay alive. And because Los Angeles is basically a desert, I’d be very concerned about securing enough water for the long haul.