My reaction to George Romero's death this past Sunday has been subdued. I didn't immediately jump on Facebook or Twitter to state my feelings. I hope that hasn't given me the appearance of not caring. I guess I've just been having difficulty putting words to my feelings and thoughts.
First of all, there's the usual basket of caveats which attend celebrity death: I didn't know the man personally, his work naturally lives on, it's difficult to sort the artist as a person away from his art. But without delving into that rather shallow well of sewage which haters sometimes make us do when we lose a beloved celebrity, it's important for us as fans and creators in the zombie genre to acknowledge the man who literally, nearly single-handedly, created that genre.
There are few people we can say that about. Neither King nor Lovecraft nor even Poe invented the horror genre. Arthur Conan Doyle didn't invent the mystery. But George Romero invented the zombie, in its modern form, practically out of whole cloth.
As authors we often dream of leaving an impact on the world. We dream of success, sales, awards, name recognition. In our wilder dreams we imagine being a titan like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or, yes, even Stephanie Meyer or E.L. James. We may also even hope to do something new and memorable. But it's very rare to imagine that we might create a genre ourselves. J.R.R. Tolkien did it, perhaps. Jules Verne maybe did it. And George Romero did it.
The idea of the dead rising is as old as man itself. But the zombie, the modern flesh-eating conception of it, is George Romero's. His and his alone. I owe him a debt. So does Max Brooks, John Skipp, Mark Tufo, Lucio Fulci, Peter Jackson, Robert Kirkman, George R.R. Martin, Brian Keene, and everybody who's ever included a flesh-munching corpse in his book or movie. That alone would be a contribution worth celebrating. But George gave us more.
George gave us an eye for satire. He gave us a political conscience. He gave us independent filmmaking as it exists today. He gave us terror and delight in equal portions. Following in the footsteps of Herschell G. Lewis, he helped to bring us explicit gore in film. He also gave us "Bruiser," which, the less said about, the better. (But I like to think that's the kind of joke George would've appreciated - I would've left it out of this tribute if I didn't.)
George gave the world a lot, and, unfortunately, benefited from it very little financially. It irked him, obviously, and I can only imagine how much it must irk to create something like the zombie and to midwife gore in cinema, and see so little return on it. So, perhaps it's especially incumbent upon us to celebrate the man, to remember him, to venerate him. He gave us a lot and got screwed a lot. That seems to be the way of it.
And at the end of the day (and dawn and night) he gave us a monster. He gave us a monster that we can project all of our modern-day fears onto. He gave us a monster that will not go silent to the grave, literally or metaphorically. I suspect a hundred or five hundred years from now the zombie will be seen as the definitive monster of our era, the same way we now look at the vampire as the definitive monster of medieval Eastern Europe or Frankenstein as the definitive monster of the 19th century.
So George will...well, he won't live on. But he'll certainly have a life after death.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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