Zombies, Are They Comics' New Monkey?

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What do Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics, IDW, Humanoids, Viper Comics and MV Creations have in common? Zombies! Today, the undead permeate pop culture as the bad guys or, in a few cases, the romantically entwined lead characters of comic books, movies, and comic book adaptations of movies. A fair number of current and soon-to-be comics and movies feature the living dead in them.

Image’s “THE WALKING DEAD” by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore (Currently in Stores)

Viper Comics’ “DEAD@17” by Josh Howard (Currently in Stores)

Humanoids Publishing’s zombie serial “FRAGILE” by Stefano Raffaele (Starting in the Metal Hurlant Anthology issue #7, Still Available in Stores)

Humanoids Publishing’s other zombie serial “THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE THE WORLD” by Jerry Frissen and Guy Davis (Starting in the Metal Hurlant Anthology issue #8, Still Available in Stores)

Dark Horse’s “LONE” by Stuart Moore and Jerome Opeña (Currently in Stores)

Dark Horse’s “THE GOON” by Eric Powell (Currently in Stores)

IDW’s “REMAINS” by Steve Niles and Kieron Dwyer (To Be Released in Spring 2004)

IDW’s “DAWN OF THE DEAD” by Steve Niles and Chee (To Be Released This Year)

MV Creations “Rob Zombie’s SPOOKSHOW INTERNATIONAL” (Currently in Stores)

Plus movies like 20th Century Fox’s recent “28 DAYS LATER” (technically they were not zombies but they were not far off) and the upcoming “DAWN OF THE DEAD”-remake from Universal Pictures, all contain the living dead.

The undead are in vogue! Almost every comic company has a zombie comic book, which begs the question:

Will zombies replace monkeys as comics' best gimmick?

For this article I contacted several zombie enthusiasts to find out two things, why zombies and why now? What came back from these creators is an amazing range of belief as to what zombies are all about and why they are so popular in comics today.

Zombies are different types of characters to different creators. Each comic tailors the undead to fit their tale. Nevertheless one is forced to ask, why zombies in the first place?

“They're dead, they walk, and they want to eat you. And they're incapable of reason,” THE WALKING DEAD’s artist, Tony Moore summarizes his views of why zombies are cool in his and writer Robert Kirkman’s comic from Image. He feels that, “the threat of the undead will hopefully always stay fresh, keeping the heat on everyone.”

Eric Powell has a simple use for his dead automatons, “As far as THE GOON, the zombies are really just punching bags. The Zombie Priest uses them as cannon fodder. I'm not going for the pretentious statements of social understanding with this book.”

Josh Howard sees the undead as an excellent backdrop to his teenage story of discovery, “[DEAD@17 is] hot chicks fightin’ zombies.” Josh, the sole creator of DEAD@17, continues, “The great thing about zombies is that there is a virtually limitless supply of them. And you don’t have to worry about your hero feeling remorse for killing them because they’re already dead. It’s great to have villains that essentially exist just for you to hack them up.”

Josh was not alone in the belief that the undead are little more than cheap bad guys. “Zombies are the perfect henchmen,” said LONE’s writer Stuart Moore, “Remember those big dumb guys on the [60’s] Batman TV show who’d be working for Catwoman, and they’d have big shirts labeled TABBY or MANX? Well, zombies barely think at all, and they don’t have names. You don’t even need the shirts!”

Yet, not every creator sees the undead as the bad guys or throwaway toughs. Stefano Raffaele’s FRAGILE features a very different view of the undead, “Zombies are the main characters in the story, and they are the good guys, too.” FRAGILE chronicles a unique tale “about the love between two zombies, Alan and Lynn, who search to understand what happened to the world,” Stefano explains. “[Alan and Lynn’s] bodies are rapidly decomposing, and they have a limited amount of time to discover how the world became what it is now. In the process, they discover that love has no physical barriers.”

Stefano says he went against the grain on zombie stories, “I thought it would be really interesting to tell a story from the zombies’ perspective…in a way that makes a couple of zombies the good guys.”

Humanoids editor Paul Benjamin was instrumental in bringing Stefano Raffaele’s FRAGILE to America from Europe and serializing it in Humanoids Publishing’s monthly anthology, METAL HURLANT. “We always strive to find the stories that haven’t been told,” remarked Paul, “These stories may use a well-known genre, but both of our series approach zombies in new and innovative ways.”

The other serial that Paul Benjamin is referring to is Jerry Frissen and Guy Davis’ THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE THE WORLD. Series writer Jerry offered this brief pitch to encapsulate why his series is distinctive, “Los Angeles, 2064. The world has changed. The dead are rising from their graves. Corpses walk upon the earth. Unable to deal with the increasing numbers of the living-dead, the government decrees that the living must dwell with the dead. Peacefully.”

Jerry went on to say, “[Zombies are] everywhere. Society decrees that the word “zombie” is not politically correct; people call them “life impaired”. They’re like the living: some of them are winners, some of them are losers. Some life impaired are making a good living, others don’t. I even have a zombie chairman of a company, but a majority are like bums on the streets. They aren’t especially mean, except some of them who are really bad... The living use them for a lot of different things: scientific experiments, minimum wage work, sexual fantasies, etc. The main characters of THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE THE WORLD are some kind of “zombie hunters”. For a small amount of money, they can take care of a resurrected grandfather who smells too bad to keep him at home. Or they can find you a beautiful actress from last century.”

“When you look at all the zombie books that are coming out recently,” adds THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE THE WORLD’s artist, Guy Davis, “you notice that they're all pretty different in tone and content to one another, there's not really much crossover feel to them.”

Despite the fact that some creators see them as great leads, many stories take a more classic look at the undead. Tony Moore, who along with Robert Kirkman has built a success in the zombie epic THE WALKING DEAD, elaborated on why they use a more George Romero-esque vision of the undead, “Personally, I find them more gruesome, and honestly, scarier, because their premise is so much simpler. They have one drive, which is to eat flesh, and anything they may have once been is gone.”

THE GOON's Eric Powell has a strong rationale for why he likes zombies over the other undead, “I like drawing them. That's reason #1.”

But the undead are rotting human bodies and comics are entertainment, so is anything about them too nauseous to draw?

“Frankly, there is nothing I won't draw,” starts out THE WALKING DEAD’s Tony Moore. “I've actually done a sizeable amount of research, looking at a lot of pictures of corpses, studying the various stages of decomposition and so on. So, I mix it up. Some are more rotten then others, but they're all covered and filled with bugs. Maggots are possibly the grossest thing about dead stuff, barring the smell. It's my goal for someone to open the book and simply vomit. I don't think a drawing can be that powerful, at least maybe not one of mine, but that's what I have in mind when I touch pen to paper. No holds barred, as far as I’m concerned.”

Humanoids’ Paul Benjamin said, “Stefano’s [FRAGILE] art style is more realistic, while Guy’s [THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE THE WORLD] is more comedic. They both get pretty gross, but I think Stefano’s zombies are more disgusting because they have the feel of being people just like you or me, except that they are dragging their guts on the ground… Then again, Stefano also has a very beautiful leading lady. She’s missing an eye and an arm, but she’s still quite lovely, which is even more creepy in some ways than a splatterfest could ever be.”

Stefano Raffaele agreed, “The story is drawn in a realistic way, and to me it was a great challenge showing the main characters with bodies missing parts, which is without any doubts a strong image, and a “dangerous” path to walk in, for an artist, and at the same time showing them in a poetic way, not vulgar or irritating.”

While Guy Davis offered, “I guess my main appeal art wise is that I just have a lot more fun drawing the zombies rotting flesh, hollow eyes and peeled back lips.”

Guy’s partner in crime, writer Jerry Frissen, added, “Guy Davis is a genius and I’m sure he will find new ways to draw rotten life impaired. Let’s go as far as possible!”

However, some artists take a more cartoony approach to their undead. DEAD@17’s Josh Howard is one. “I don’t think mine look too gross though... I pulled back a little.”

Eric Powell was another who went for a less serious style with his corpses in THE GOON, “I tend to draw them a little on the Jack Davis cartoony side.”

Despite the differences, all of these creators from different companies hit on the zombie idea at the same time. How did it happen? And how much do they draw from one another and other versions of the living dead?

“I think for the most part we're doing our own thing... ripping off Romero in some way or another. Some of us more than others,” suggested Eric Powell.

THE WALKING DEAD's Tony Moore brought forth this idea, “I think it's the “we are them and they are us” thing that everyone finds so scary... A threat that's right beside us and we may not be able to see it until it's too late. Lord knows we've had some of that recently. And it's a well-studied phenomenon that horror does its best in times of social unrest, because it's a cheap thrill and easy escapism. I guess everyone just realized it was the right thing to do.”

And Tony sees good work in other creator’s zombies, “As for who does them best, Romero, obviously, though Peter Jackson also rocks my house. Also, I think Eric Powell does some fun zombie work with THE GOON.”

“I’m enjoying THE WALKING DEAD, which is a fun, solid, civilization-is-dead story,” LONE’s Stuart Moore added.

Jessie Garza, President of Viper Comics and Publisher of DEAD@17, offers his reason as to why everyone has hit upon zombies at this moment, “Maybe it’s true what they say, “the Government secretly implanted everyone of us with a single microchip with hopes of controlling the world”, maybe they were testing it out... ”

“Both of our series take inspiration from the great zombie stories of the past, but they give a fresh perspective to the genre,” thought Humanoids’ editor Paul Benjamin. “They’re not just stories of, “Oh no, we’re trapped and have to fight dead people!

“I don’t have the pretension to think my work is better than anybody else’s except maybe that DAWN OF THE DEAD remake,” THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE THE WORLD’s Jerry Frissen brought up. “Of course, there’s a chance that it could be good, but remaking that movie is like taking SEX PISTOLS’ NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, rewriting the lyrics and hiring Britney Spears to sing it. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD is a masterpiece and I doubt that somebody could have balls big enough to go as far as Romero did. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD and Fulci’s ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS were the first two movies I saw in the theatre when I began to go to the movies with my friends. I was probably traumatized because I’ve had zombies in the back of my mind since those days. From my point of view, they’re the ultimate horror, crawling everywhere. They’re slow but they’re going to get you anyway. Also, the use of zombies in some movies or books was the opportunity to give interesting social commentary.”

“I [have loved] zombies since I was a child, and I love Romero’s movies,” reminisced FRAGILE’s Stefano Raffaele. “In FRAGILE I wanted to put some evident tributes to the main horror works that I loved when I was younger, both literary works, like a couple of short stories that I liked so much, and visual works, like movies. I wanted to honor some of [those] myths [by] inserting… echoes of the works that brought me to write and draw.”

As the creators worked through zombies in current pop culture, the movie 28 DAYS LATER came up. Stefano Raffaele was unabashed in his praise. “I really loved 28 DAYS LATER. A big surprise.”

“The zombies in 28 DAYS LATER aren't zombies, but savage crazies,” observed Tony Moore, “however it seems the “fast zombie” craze has hit, which I'm not a fan of. Walking corpses should not be faster than live people. It's just not right.”

Tony’s view contrasted with DEAD@17’s Josh Howard’s, “I really like the aggressive nature of the zombies in 28 DAYS LATER.”

“I really enjoyed 28 DAYS LATER,” Humanoids’ Jerry Frissen offered. “Even if it borrows a lot from Romero’s LIVING DEAD trilogy and THE CRAZIES, it was intelligent and well done; it will probably be a new reference.”

LONE’s Dark Horse editor, Dave Land saw a little more in the movie. “I liked 28 DAYS LATER but I'd [also] argue that those aren't actual zombies. They're zombie-like, but they're not traditional reanimated corpses. I think that all zombies are created equal -- that's what makes them great. They're universal. They're not complicated. They have a familiarity that takes an audience gently into their arms and says, “Don't worry, there are zombies here. You're home...

So, what is worse, zombies in comics or Marvel Zombies?

“No contest, definitely Marvel Zombies!” offered Humanoids’ editor, Paul Benjamin. “There are so many great books out there from so many great publishers, there’s just no excuse for picking up every book with an X on it simply because it has an X and ignoring truly innovative new stories. I read a lot of Marvel books, but I read a lot of other books as well. Marvel Zombies, I beseech you in the name of the Dread Dormammu, support diversity in American comics before the industry ends up as dead as the villains killed off by Scourge!”

THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE THE WORLD’s Jerry Frissen agreed, “Nobody beats the Marvel Zombies!”

“Marvel Zombies... they never die.” DEAD@17’s Josh Howard agreed.

Eric Powell rang in with his thoughts on this great debate, “I don't know about zombies, but you can definitely be bored to death by 90% of what Marvel is putting out today.”

Stuart Moore gave a small defense of the comic reading variety of zombie, “I used to edit the Marvel Knights line, so I owe a lot to Marvel Zombies. My zombies are worse because they actually kill people…though their table manners are comparable.”

And finally, are ZOMBIES comics new MONKEY?!

“Maybe,” Tony Moore held out the possibility that his zombies in THE WALKING DEAD are cooler than monkeys, “Who knows? They ARE pretty awesome.”

Jerry Frissen, an obvious pro-monkey moderate, simply contributed, “I hope not.”

Josh Howard stood on the opposite side of the fence, “I hope.”

“I missed out on monkeys,” said LONE’s Stuart Moore, “so I sure hope so. Like to make me some cash on them zombies.”

Eric Powell dreads the day this happens. “I hope not. I really hate that bandwagon shit. If that starts, I don't think you'll be seeing anymore zombies in the pages of THE GOON."

Paul Benjamin quipped, “If it does, you can bet that eventually someone will do a zombie monkey and then we’ll be right back where we started.”

LONE’s editor Dave Land went one step further. “Monkey-Zombies will unseat monkeys as comic’s best gimmick. But they'll soon be unseated by Pirate Monkey-Zombies sometime around 2005.”

And to reassure zombie fans that zombies have a long future in comics, Jessie Garza, President of Viper Comics, offered this teaser, “In April 2004 a 2nd series [by Josh Howard] will be released called DEAD@17: BLOOD OF SAINTS.”

So, expect more zombies!

Or, as Humanoids preaches, expect more of your zombies!

Here are some websites and additional information on the comics and creators that took time out of their schedule to participate in this article. These story synopsizes are in the creator’s own words. I read and enjoy all of these books and would highly recommend them to anyone who likes the living dead and a good story.

Image’s “THE WALKING DEAD” by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore (Currently in Stores)

The Walking Dead is by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, published by Image comics. It is an ongoing series, slated to run as long as it can. The story kicks off as Rick Grimes, a police officer from a small town in Kentucky, wakes up from a coma after being shot in the line of duty. Much to his surprise, the world is totally different now, completely overrun by the undead, and he begins his search for his family and some semblance of a life amidst all this confusion.

Here's the solicitation copy:

How many hours are in a day when you don't spend half of them watching television? When is that last time any of us REALLY worked to get something that we wanted? How long has it been since any of us really NEEDED something that we WANTED? The world we knew is gone. The world of commerce and frivolous necessity has been replaced by a world of survival and responsibility. An epidemic of apocalyptic proportions has swept the globe, causing the dead to rise and feed on the living. In a matter of months society has crumbled, no government, no grocery stores, no mail delivery, no cable TV. In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally begin living.

For more information try: http://www.ImageComics.com/ or http://www.FunkoTron.com/

Viper Comics’ “DEAD@17” by Josh Howard (Currently in Stores)

Dead@17, by Josh Howard [is] planned as a 4-issue mini-series, with a second mini to follow. It is about two girls, Nara and Hazy, who become entangled in a strange supernatural conspiracy in their hometown. One of them is mysteriously murdered, and the other one tries to investigate and look into the death of her friend. All this leads her to find secrets, and before you know it there are zombies all over.

For more information try: http://www.ViperComics.com/

Humanoids Publishing’s zombie serial “FRAGILE” by Stefano Raffaele (Starting in the Metal Hurlant Anthology issue #7, Still Available in Stores)

FRAGILE by Stefano Raffaele with colors by Dave Stewart and Charlie Kirchoff: There are 3 books which are being serialized in METAL HURLANT over the next year. This is a tale of zombie romance that finally sees the world from a zombie’s perspective. We expect this series to change the zombie genre the way INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE changed the vampire genre.

For more information try: http://www.HumanoidsPublishing.com/ or http://www.MetalHurlant.com/

Humanoids Publishing’s other zombie serial “THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE THE WORLD” by Jerry Frissen and Guy Davis (Starting in the Metal Hurlant Anthology issue #8, Still Available in Stores)

THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE THE WORLD by Jerry Frissen and Guy Davis with colors by Charlie Kirchoff: This series is an ongoing series of short stories for METAL HURLANT. Every story will stand on its own, all set in the same world. This is a comedic series in which the dead have risen as zombies and are looking for their place in society. Dead grandparents move back in with their kids, dead punk rockers hang out and cause trouble and dead CEO’s forge new business deals.

For more information try: http://www.HumanoidsPublishing.com/ or http://www.MetalHurlant.com/

Dark Horse’s “LONE” by Stuart Moore and Jerome Opeña (Currently in Stores)

LONE, by Stuart Moore and Jerome Opena, copyright and published by Dark Horse. Open-ended; the first run goes for six issues. Issue #4 will be in stores February 25th. Quick description: After the Great War, the American West became the Western Wasteland -- a world of radioactive mutants, lone wolves, flesh-eating zombies, and just plain outlaws. The greatest legend of this New West was Lone -- an incredibly tough, quick-shooting gun-for-hire. Now he's retired; but when a brother and sister come ask him to help retake their town from an army of zombies, Lone takes the case for mysterious reasons of his own.

For more information try: http://www.RocketComics.net/, or sign up for Stuart's mailing list with exclusive preview art at: stuartcomics@mindspring.com

Dark Horse’s “THE GOON” by Eric Powell (Currently in Stores)

It's called The Goon, I'm the sole guy working on it, and it's published by Dark Horse.

For more information try: http://www.DarkHorse.com/ or http://www.TheGoon.com/

And thanks to all!

For more information about the author of this article (and occasional comic book writer), Egg Embry please visit http://www.KamenComic.com/

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