CCI: Kidwell Enters Frazetta's Dark Kingdom

The success of Image's "Death Dealer" mini-series, based on the famous painting by Frank Frazetta, lead the publisher to announce at this year's San Diego Comic Convention that further Frazetta-inspired projects, spearheaded by the 'Death Dealer" team, are on the horizon. Horror comics creator Mark Kidwell will be stretching into the realm of fantasy on one of those projects. Kidwell spoke with CBR news about "Frank Frazetta's Dark Kingdom."

Kidwell began by speaking about how he became involved in the expanding Frazetta Universe.

"Basically, it was by invitation," Kidwell said. "Nat, Jay and I had worked together on the Vietnam/Zombie book '68' from Image and Jay and I have worked together on several projects, so they knew my scripting work and asked me to look over the Frazetta catalog and choose a couple of paintings I thought might lend themselves to a good one-shot story. I'm always more than happy to work with these guys and was instantly excited about the chance to work on one of the Frazetta pieces."

Once on board the team, it came time to select a piece on which to base his one-shot.

"That's a funny story," said Kidwell. "Since most of the stuff I've had published is predominantly in the horror genre, the guys asked me to focus on one of the horror paintings. I spent an evening scanning the Internet for galleries of Frazetta's work and looked at everything. There were, of course, dozens of pieces that rocked, but the horror stuff just didn't affect me like the fantasy paintings. I'm a lifelong junkie for Robert E. Howard's work and the sword and sorcery genre in general, and the 'Dark Kingdom' painting has long been one of my all time favorite depictions of barbaric fiction. I just kept coming back to that one. I couldn't shake it. Over the next week or so, the story started forming in my head and fleshed itself out so fully, I had to sit down and write it. When I got in touch with Jay to tell him which painting I'd decided to do, I sent him a finished panel-to-panel breakdown script. He was a little freaked out and E-mailed me back, saying simply, 'You're nuts.' He and Nat read the script, liked it, made some changes, I tweaked the script and Voila! 'Dark Kingdom.'"

"The 'Dark Kingdom' in the story has a double meaning," Kidwell explained. "Physically, it's the part of the Frazetta painting that you don't see. The warrior in the piece is pensively entering a cave opening, leaving the world of light and sun behind. What he faces in the wet shadows of that cavern is the tangible aspect of the 'Dark Kingdom' story.

"Secondly, due to the situations surrounding the character in the script, the 'Dark Kingdom' also applies to the internal motivations driving the warrior to enter the dangerous darkness before him. Elements of the story set him on an inescapable path toward something deadly and force him to overcome his own personal fears. So, the 'Dark Kingdom' resides in his mind as much as his physical environment."

The tale of the "Dark Kingdom" is centered on a legendary sea-raider, reminiscent of a Viking. And known for remarkable abilities in combat and savagery.

"His name is Morden," said Kidwell, "but he's known on the high seas as 'Red Morden, the Crimson Reaver.' He's a member of a clan of pirates who prey on merchant ships in an untamed region of the northern seas. His prime motivation is plunder and wanderlust, both satisfied by his wild, seafaring nature."

The one-shot also has a rich supporting cast. "Other characters include Morden's wife, Brynna," added Kidwell, "a gentle woman who is looked up to in their home village as healer, teacher and seer. She's also an artist and has some limited, latent psychic abilities." The rest of Morden's Viking crew and a shepherd who narrates the tale round out the cast.

Kidwell spoke of the themes of the story and what readers can expect.

"The story is one of human loss and the lengths one will go to for vengeance and acceptance. All this is wrapped up in an overall tale of high adventure that moves fast and doesn't skimp on action. There's plenty of barbaric combat and daring-do, but it's laced with a lot of heart and characterization as well. Oh, yeah, and there are monsters…"

While standing on its own, Kidwell's one-shot is firmly set in the emerging Frazetta Universe.

"'Dark Kingdom' shares the same world with the 'Death Dealer' books and there will be some references to geographical elements that work within the framework of what Josh has set up in the first series. He has been very cool about sharing his vision of the fantasy world in which the two stories are set. I wanted to make sure everything I did blended seamlessly with his current and future plans for the Frazetta universe. Some of the other Frazetta books will take place in separate worlds, but mine is locked into the 'Death Dealer' canon."

"When you're a lifelong fan of fantasy art and pulp fiction, it often feels like Frazetta has always been there and you've been a fan since birth," said Kidwell when asked to trace back to the time he first discovered Frazetta's work. "I guess the first stuff I saw were the Conan book covers. I credit Mr. Frazetta with leading me to the actual stories behind those amazing pieces of art. Without his paintings to draw me to them, I might never have discovered characters like Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane and all the other Howard properties. Other than that, probably the 'Death Dealer' and 'Dark Kingdom' paintings on the old Molly Hatchet album covers. I remember just staring at those things when I was a kid and thinking, "How the hell does he do that?"

"It makes me cry, deep in the night, knowing that I'll never be anywhere near that good," Kidwell joked on the subject of the effect Frazetta's work has had on him. "Seriously, the Frazetta stuff inspires generations. It has and continues to bring thousands of new fans to the dark fantasy genre, year after year. It's timeless and iconic and makes me, like I'm sure it does everyone, want to be part of the worlds it depicts."

While Kidwell has "Dark Kingdom" firmly worked out and is scheduled for a 2008 release, there's still much work to be done.

"Nat and Jay have an artist in mind for the 'Dark Kingdom' project, but nothing has been firmed up yet. Once everything is in place, they'll be shouting it to the rooftops. Not naming names, I'll just say that the guy they have in mind is another one of my biggest influences art-wise, and a legend in his own right. I'm hoping it works out, 'cause the book will be simply amazing to look at."

Check out all the stories coming out of Comic-Con International 2007 about the expanded line of Frazetta comics:

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