DEAD MAN'S PARTY 4: Suydam talks "Marvel Zombies" Covers

In anticipation of October's release of "Marvel Zombies 2" #1, CBR News has for the past week taken an extended look at Marvel Comics' latest publishing sensation, the Marvel Zombies. Editor John Barber discussed the project's origins, writer Robert Kirkman shared insights into the stories, and artist Sean Phillips chatted about drawing the damned. In today's installment of DEAD MAN'S PARTY, we speak with a man who's been instrumental in turning "Marvel Zombies" into the phenomenon it is, cover artist Arthur Suydam.

It's ironic that Suydam's "Marvel Zombies" work has brought him so much attention and acclaim, considering how he felt about the undead when he was a child. "The only thing I could ever remember being afraid of was zombies," Arthur Suydam told CBR News. "We had these kids who'd come to school and I guess they had Sickle Cell Anemia.   They had yellow eyes. I used to have no problems getting into fights with anybody but when I came across those kids with the yellow eyes they reminded me of zombies and I'd be terrified [laughs]."

Suydam's childhood phobia of zombies stemmed from a source that has, over the years, made many people --both children and adults-- afraid of the brain hungry undead. "It was after I saw 'Night of the Living Dead' for the first time. It came on at eleven o'clock at night," Suydam explained. "I was at a friend's house and had to walk all the way home in the dark afterwards and I was pretty young at the time. I remember walking at first and then running home just so I could get there quicker. I also thought, 'These things are slow and if there are any around here I should go fast so they won't be able to catch me.' I just remember running home and then at every tree I would duck down just in case. [laughs] I did that all the way home and it was all thanks to George Romero."

It was Marvel's Talent Coordinator, Chris Allo, who recruited Suydam for "Marvel Zombies," and the artist was very pleased when he was offered the project. "When they first offered me the assignment and told me what it was about I thought it was a great concept and if it was done even just half way decent by everybody involved it should be a huge hit," Suydam said. "I thought it was the kind of thing comics have needed all along, which is to break out of the norm and do something really different and progressive with the mainstream characters because the comics audience is really interested in these mainstream characters.   Most of them have been reading comics about these characters for decades and they need something fresh.

"Comics audiences are much more mature now," continued Suydam. "It's no longer just seven and eight year olds; there are a lot of adults who read comics. So I think comics are now very much in competition with things like prose novels. Writing and concept designs have to be competitive now as well as the art."

Suydam may have saw the potential for "Marvel Zombies" to be a huge hit, but even he was surprised by how big the series became. "I thought it was going to be very successful but I was surprised when the book went back into print for a third time," Suydam confessed. "I think the book deserves to be in print forever and I think it will be based on its quality. Like with film, it's high concept plus the writer really came through with flying colors.

"I'm a comic book lover and someone who's been reading them his whole life and this book probably is one of my favorite comic books of all time to read," Suydam proclaimed. "'Marvel Zombies' just might be one the best mainstream comics I've ever read."

It was Marvel editorial who decided that Suydam's "Marvel Zombies" covers would be "zombified" parodies of classic Marvel covers, but when it comes down to deciding which covers to use, it's been a joint effort.   "A lot of the covers I just pick myself," Suydam said. "These are what I think are the best covers of all time and the best comics of all time. These are the covers I want to do and Marvel has been very accommodating about letting me pick a lot of these covers. Then some of them come from the editors inside Marvel. We compare lists and kick things around. There's an approval process but they're very good about letting the creative people be involved in the creative decision making process."

After it was decided that he would use classic Marvel covers as inspirations for his work on "Marvel Zombies," Suydam developed a process to "zombify" the various characters on each cover. "When the project first came down the pike I set up some ground rules," he explained. "I wanted to make sure every zombie has his own unique story, and each zombie character is different from the next. With that in mind, I kind of delve into my writer's bag before I become the artist. I start to write notes on what the back story for each character is. Then in accordance with the notes and story I come up with, I create each character.

"With Captain America, I decided, okay he's got these tiny little things on the side of his head. He's going to fall asleep one night and perhaps stay asleep for longer than he expects, like two weeks. He's going to wake up and there will be a bird's nest in his head that he's completely unaware exists. He hears this chirping in his ears all the time and he can't figure out where it's coming from.

"With Cyclops, because of his vision, I decided to take his head off and have him carry it around with him everywhere he goes. So he can point his head behind him and shoot behind him. It actually kind of turns into an advantage for him."

Creating each "Marvel Zombies" cover is a multi-step endeavor for Suydam. "I start off with very rough thumbnails; whenever my editors need a sketch from me I often do that," Sudydam explained. "I try to get it done with one sketch. I don't like to submit multiples. I like to submit the idea I think is best and sell them on it instead of putting everybody at risk by submitting multiple ideas and giving the idea that's not the best a chance to be selected. So I try to make the process easy for everybody right from the beginning by putting my best foot and my best ideas forward.

"Once I have the rough sketch in hand I proceed to basically break down the entire picture by doing rough sketches for all the characters and rough sketches for the background. I do this all on overlays and move things around until I get them where I want them. When I get them where I want them, I just lock them down and tape them together. Then I create a very, very tight pencil which sometimes I ink and sometimes I don't. From there, I work on what my color scheme is going to be and create an exact, tight under painting for my painting. Then I transfer that to my painted surface and paint the final painting."

The amount of time it takes Suydam to finish a "Marvel Zombies" cover varies from piece to piece. "It depends on how many characters are on the cover; the more characters, the longer it takes," he explained. "On the long side they can take maybe from two to three weeks; on the short side, maybe four to five days.   It takes me about three to four days to handle the pencils and the preliminaries. Then, maybe two or three days to do the painting when it's just a simple picture with just maybe one or two characters.   The painting I'm working on right now has a lot of characters in it so I'm kind of grumbling as I go.

"The Spider-Man wedding cover was one of the most difficult and so was the Secret Wars picture," Suydam said. "Also anything that has flames in it tends to be difficult because flames are tricky to paint right and they're incredibly time consuming as well.

"I did the Galactus picture for I believe it was the third edition of the hardcover and it was based on an old Kirby cover. I decided to put the entire picture in flames. I was painting for a week and it felt like at the end of the week I was at the same point when I started painting on day one because I was just working on flames."

Some of Suydam's "Marvel Zombies" covers have proven to be more difficult than others, but the artist is pleased with every one. "I appreciate them all," he said. "They're all hard. There was not an easy one in the lot. The ones that were the most difficult, after they're finished, are in some ways the ones that I appreciate the most probably because they came out okay and I feel all the work and time invested was worth the effort."

Suydam believes his artistic background makes him the right man to depict the flesh hungry, rotting undead. In addition to his "Marvel Zombies" work Suydam, has also provided covers for Dynamite Entertainment's zombie series "Raise the Dead" and the box art for the Nintendo DS zombie shooter, "Touch the Dead." "I spent a lot of time with anatomical studies," Suydam stated. "I did a lot of cadaver work. I would be in a huge refrigerator with corpses hanging from hooks and laying on tables with the smell of formaldehyde in the air. You'd go in for about forty five minutes and then you'd have to come out and take about an hour break so you didn't get formaldehyde poisoning.

"Because of that, I think this is a genre I'm very appropriate for. I think I have the skills and the training for it and I came into comics by working on a horror book. So it's a genre that I'm intimately familiar with. All of these things go into making us a very good match."

Suydam has greatly enjoyed working on all the "Marvel Zombies"-related projects and he's immensely grateful for all the support people have shown for the various titles. "I'd like to thank the fans and I'd especially like to thank all the stores for their support," he said. "I think this project was expected to be a dud right from the beginning. Even after two or three issues came out, there were still a lot of naysayers that doubted the series would be any good. Basically, it's been one of those magical word of mouth cases that really made this particular project a success. So I definitely want to thank the people who took the time to track this thing down, give it a read, and decided whether they liked it or not.

"I'm working on 'Marvel Zombies 2' right now, although I look at is as 'Marvel Zombies 3' because of the 'Dead Days' one-shot, and I hope people continue to enjoy and support the work that Sean [Phillips], Robert [Kirkman] and I are doing on this particular project."


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