While his dad is known for comedy and his mom was known for her serious dramatic acting, Max Brooks is becoming a guy known for war stories.
Brooks, the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, wrote the book “World War Z,” which was turned into a blockbuster Brad Pitt film, a G.I. Joe comic book miniseries and now “The Harlem Hellfighters,” a graphic novel based on the true story about the 369th Infantry Regiment in World War I, illustrated in stark black and white by artist Canaan White.
What makes the regiment unique is that it was an African American unit that impressively never lost any ground during combat. And, sadly, the story has become lost in history.
“I think they’re sort of hidden within the deeper mystery that is the First World War,” says Brooks, who will be signing copies of the book at Barnes & Noble Upper East Side tonight. “The First World War was just so overshadowed by the Second World War. … I think that’s the reason they’ve been lost to history NOW. I think that up to the 1960s-70s, the reason they were buried is because they were black. I think had they been white, we would have known about them.”
Brooks, 41, first heard about this story when he was 11. The story stuck with him, and he eventually turned it into a screenplay in the late ’90s.
“The funny thing was, when I was pitching this around, I was always slapped with the exact same rejection, which is ‘too expensive,’ because it’s a war movie,” Brooks says. “A graphic novel is a great way to tell a very visual story without having to worry about the budget. … [Also], it’s a visual story. I didn’t want the reader to forget, at any moment, what color these guys were.”
Ironically, before the book even came out, it was optioned by Sony Pictures and Will Smith.
“Nobody’s more surprised than me,” Brooks reveals. “This story has been so rejected by so many people for so long, I’m still trying to digest the positive reaction that it’s getting.”