The monster apocalypse has arrived, and it’s up to middle-schoolers to fend for themselves.
Max Brallier’s “Last Kids on Earth” series — billed as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” meets “The Walking Dead” — follows the sometimes perilous, always funny adventures of 13-year-old Jack and his best friends as they tussle with monsters, zombies and puberty.
“What got me so excited was to take a Godzilla-like creature and put it in a suburban town and let the kids do all the things that the adults usually do,” Brallier says of his initial inspiration for the series. He’ll be in Austin on Tuesday at BookPeople as part of his tour for the newest installment, “The Last Kids on Earth and the Midnight Blade” (Viking/Penguin, $13.99).
And the zombies?
“There’s something about them. It’s your next-door neighbor, or a celebrity, but this alternate weird creepy scary version of them. You could see anybody as a zombie,” Brallier says. “I’ve had a lot of fun in the ‘Last Kid’ series doing the giant monsters as the big scary bad guy and using zombies partially for laughs.”
The series melds text and heavy illustration in a format familiar to anyone who knows “Wimpy Kid” or “Dork Diaries.” Using that format intrigued Brallier, who liked the ability to use illustrations as visual punch lines. He worried, though, whether it would work with the story he wanted to tell.
“One of the most intimidating parts of this was that I couldn’t tell if it would work as a format for high-stakes adventure,” Brallier recalls. “I thought maybe the only reason it worked was with settings that were instantly recognizable, where you would see a school hallway with lockers and know exactly what it was. Could you do that in sort of a wasteland world?
“So I got really lucky when (illustrator) Douglas Holgate was assigned. He took it and he added something that was so much more than I was expecting. I love the format. I love the way it selfishly, for me as a writer, allows me to step back and not have to describe everything. Instead of giving all the details about this big epic landscape, I can just say, ‘Please, show me some of this,’ and Douglas steps in and it looks amazing.”
Readers agree. What started as a single book now numbers five volumes and a companion “survival guide.” The books have topped the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. The series launch was on the 2017-18 Texas Bluebonnet List. And “Last Kids” has inspired a Netflix animated series that began streaming this month. It’s anchored by a 66-minute special co-written by Brallier and “Phineas and Ferb” alum Scott Peterson that hews to the first book and will include subsequent shorter episodes written by a team with Brallier’s input.
“When I’m writing, it’s definitely a job — I’m not sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike and lighting a candle and having tea. I get up and get my job done so I can spend time with my family,” Brallier quips. “This was the least like a job I think I’ve ever felt. For hours to sit with these people and watch them use their imagination to one-up each other in the most wonderful way, with these characters I’d created — it was very, very eye-opening.”