This October, Evil Ink Comics and BOOM! Studios are giving zombie fans a new series to sink their teeth into. “Key of Z,” created by Claudio Sanchez and co-written by Chondra Echert with art by “The Amory Wars” artist Aaron Kuder, takes a new look at zombies in a post-apocalyptic New York City through the eyes of Ewing, a security guard to an up-and-coming politician before the zombie outbreak. Now, with his entire family dead, Ewing finds himself struggling for survival in a New York ruled by three safety “Houses” — Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and Madison Square Garden — and finds himself caught in a turf war for control of the entire city as he wields an incredible artifact that gives him a surprising power.
Behind the zombie epic is “The Amory Wars” and “Kill Audio” creator Claudio Sanchez. Sanchez, both a comic book creator and musician best known as lead singer of the rock group Coheed and Cambria, took some time out to help Comic Book Resources take a bigger bite from the flesh of “Key of Z” and spoke a bit on Ewing, the mysterious artifact he possesses, the creation behind the three safety “Houses,” how music plays into the central theme of the book and what sets Evil Ink’s third comic series apart from the rest of the shambling undead.
CBR News: Claudio, tell us about “Key of Z.” What’s the general concept, and where does it begin?
Claudio Sanchez: “Key of Z” is a revenge story that takes place in the boroughs of New York City, in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Our hero, Ewing, experiences a devastating blow when his wife and son are killed. The series is about his journey for revenge, and ultimately, to find peace within a city that’s lost its moral compass.
The solicit mentions three safety “Houses” in New York City — how do they help shape the story and the world after the zombie outbreak?
The “Houses” refer to the major structures in the city, where groups of people flock to start new lives. These Houses — which happen to be Madison Square Garden, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium — offer protection to all the displaced residents, but the price is being branded a member of each different society. Each structure becomes its own sort of gang. One huge element of “Key of Z” is that it’s set in New York, so it was important that we include one of the biggest parts of our culture: sports. New York treats its sports teams like family, especially when it comes to baseball.
The hero of the story is a man named Ewing, who lost his family in the outbreak. Who exactly is he before the attack, and what is his motivation during the book?
As many New Yorkers are, Ewing was a transplant to the city from Texas and has managed to take many typically “southern” ideals with him, despite working as a security guard for a promising politician. Ewing is conscientious and honest, with an old-fashioned extraversion that makes it extra hard for him to cope with what’s become of humanity — both dead and alive — after the outbreak. When his family is lost, Ewing is suddenly alone in this cold new world. His primary motivation becomes avenging their deaths, but somewhere inside, he’s also driven by his lack of interest in life without companionship and his need to regain some control over his life.
Information about the series mentions a gift from Ewing’s son that will give humanity hope for the future. How does this gift attract attention in the post-apocalyptic world?
Through the story, New York is being pulled in different directions by gangs with opposing visions for the future of the city. The power of the item, which happens to be an old harmonica, is discovered by Ewing completely on accident. One of his biggest struggles will be to keep its value from attracting unwanted attention.
What other survivors, if any, can readers expect to see in the book other than Ewing? What role do they play in this new world?
Some key players are the leaders of the Houses — Charles Atwater, Yankee Lavoe and Jackson Met — each of them with big opinions and goals when it comes to attempting to restructure some semblance of order. Another big character is Eddie Alvarez, a 20-something struggling with identity issues, who finds an interesting mentor in Ewing.
What kind of zombies are these? There are so many out there now, which zombies from popular culture did you draw from to help shape your world?
I like to think of them as Romero zombies. It’s very easy to underestimate these zombies because they’re not very fast, but before you know it, you’re consumed by dozens of them. Literally. I grew up with “Night,” “Dawn” and “Day [of the Dead].” If I was going to ever do a zombie story, mine were going to pay homage to his.
What kinds of challenges will Ewing face?
He’ll have to gain entry to opposing Houses, learn to navigate a city crawling with undead, steal weapons and keep tabs on a nervous new friend. Then there’s a lot of zombie slaying…
This is not the first comic you’ve done. How did your experience from “The Amory Wars” and “Kill Audio” help inform your creation of “Key of Z”?
Well, I definitely did not want to be a character in this one. (Laughs) With “Key of Z” being Evil Ink’s third title, I’ve gotten into the flow of working with a group and telling a story a bit more concisely. One big thing I’ve learned is how important it is to have a solid team. As with “Kill Audio,” “Key of Z” is co-written with Chondra Echert. We both respect each other’s strengths as writers and allow them to serve the book in the best way possible. The same with Aaron Kuder, who’s doing interiors. He’s a hands-on artist who always has opinions on how to move the visual aspect forward, and I want his voice heard when working on a book to again allow people to put their strengths to work for the title.
“The Amory Wars” was a science-fiction story based on Coheed and Cambria’s songs and lyrics. Considering the musical shout-out in the title, did your music play any role in the creation of “Key of Z”?
Not Coheed music, but yes, music in general. I think music is something that appeals to human beings on a cellular level. We all, to some degree, are influenced by it, even if we don’t know it. That idea comes into play in a major way in this series.
You mentioned working with Aaron Kuder, who handled pencils on “The Amory Wars.” How has your creative process together changed since beginning your collaboration?
Aaron came onto “The Amory Wars” series by way of Chris Burnham who took a dream gig working on “Batman [Incorporated]” and suggested the person he thought could best pick up where he left off, artistically. Aaron did a great job of making that transition smooth. His work there was awesome. With this series, however, he can make it entirely his own, in terms of art. He’s been involved in the design and process so much more than with “TAW.”
The undead are at a crux of popularity at the moment with zombies helping to lead the charge. How does “Key of Z” stand out from the pack of other zombie-related projects, especially when it comes to comics?
This question is always a little tricky because for the most part, zombie stories are never really about zombies. They are about survival and humans adapting to this new world situation. Zombies create a really interesting element because the line between their humanity and their animalistic responses is blurred, so it’s up to the writer how much we can relate or not relate to them. “Key of Z” stands out because it asks the question as to whether zombies can be manipulated to one man’s advantage.