Netflix’s post-apocalyptic teen hit Daybreak has been delighting audiences since it debuted earlier this month. Very loosely adapted from Brian Ralph’s intriguing POV zombie comic of the same name, the bombastic Deadpool-esque, pop-culture-reference-heavy horror-comedy is worlds away from the six-panel grid survival comic that Ralph created. So when we sat down with Aron Eli Coleite, we were very interested in that transition from the page to the screen. It turns out it was a long road that began years before with his Daybreak co-creator Brad Payton.
Payton was the one who discovered the comic from indie publisher Drawn & Quarterly, secured the rights, and wrote a screenplay for what he then envisioned as a feature film. “That version was far closer in line to the book and had much more in common with it. I would say it didn’t have all the humor that we put in, though it was much more in line with Shaun of the Dead or Warm Bodies than 28 Days Later,” Coleite explained. “What it did have was a character breaking the fourth wall at its core, in a Ferris Bueller-type fashion.”
That would become a defining part of Daybreak. Josh Wheeler is the snarky, fourth-wall-breaking hero whom we spend most of the ten-episode series with. He’s on a seemingly conventional mission to “save the girl” in the unconventional landscape of Glendale, an apocalyptic high school. Though Josh’s journey is strange, the way that Coleite and Payton ended up working together on Daybreak is actually stranger.
“I was set up on a meeting with Brad and we were actually supposed to talk about adapting a different comic book altogether. What happened was, my agent at the time sent me Daybreak just to give me a writing sample. So I got to the meeting and said, ‘Look, I have to be honest, I don’t want to talk about this comic book that we were supposed to talk about and I know that’s not kosher, but I really I don’t want to. I don’t think that there’s anything there—not to be rude about that comic book—but I read your movie and I want to talk about that.”
The rest, as they say, is history. The pair teamed up to reimagine the film in the face of a spate of—at the time—recent zom-coms, which studios were reluctant to bet on. “They actually got a large round of notes on the original script, mainly because it had so much in common with other zombie films, like Warm Bodies, which had just come out and didn’t do that well; Zombieland you know, which did well enough; Shaun of the Dead,” Coleite told us. “Horror-comedy is a niche I adore but it’s a sub-genre within a sub-genre and we’d had all these people giving us these examples of similar stuff that they had felt hadn’t done very well.”
Despite that, there was something about the main character that really spoke to Coleite. “I think it’s cool as a concept but it says something more about the character Josh. This is a kid who is actually quite optimistic about the apocalypse and the end of the world. There’s something in that that I found kind of really refreshing. Because you know, we’ve all seen The Walking Dead, which is amazing and bleak and depressing. And Hunger Games, which is brilliant but is understandably bleak.”
He continued, “But I remember feeling when I was in high school and junior high, that if the world ended, I think I’d be okay. It could even be a good thing because I could have the opportunity to totally reinvent myself. I could be anything I wanted to be. I wouldn’t have all the constraints that peg me down as the nerd and outsider that I am.”
Coleite cut his teeth as a producer on Lost, has written and produced episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, and even wrote some issues of Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men. It was an experience that gave him huge respect for the comic creators he looks up to. “I would say writing comic books is some of the hardest writing you can do. I mean, that’s why I have so much love for the comic book writers that I adore. It is in my opinion, far harder than writing a screenplay, because if you’re doing your job well then the writer in collaboration with the artist is working as director and cinematographer all at the same time. In television, we need to have one cliffhanger an episode. In comics, it’s one a page, and 22 cliffhangers each issue is a lot!”
You can get the original Daybreak comic from your local bookshop and you can watch the series on Netflix right now!