Denton & Keene Raise the Dead In "Pilot Season: Fleshdigger"

"Fleshdigger" is not your average zombie comic. For one thing, it's part of Top Cow Productions' annual Pilot Season competition which presents a slate of potential ongoing series as TV pilot-like one-shots and asks fans to vote which gets "picked up" after all the books are released. Secondly, this one's written by a pair of veteran storytellers: Shannon Eric Denton, who has worked in animation and comics for years and founded online comics portal Komikwerks, along with Brad Keene, screenwriter on movies including "The Gravedancers" and "The Grudge 3."

Denton and Keene hooked up after a mental jam session to create a story about an undead vigilante in the vein of '70s horror comics such as "Swamp Thing" and "Man-Thing," but also put a new spin on things. Aided by penciller Alex Sanchez, the pair have developed a concept they're confident can win the Pilot Season competition. CBR News spoke with Denton and Keene about the book's horror comic brethren, what event turned a normal guy into the Fleshdigger and exactly how the concept came to be.

CBR News: How did the idea for "Fleshdigger" first come about? Did you always envision it as a comic?

Shannon Eric Denton: "Fleshdigger" came about in that totally fun way that happens when you collaborate with friends on something. Originally it was basically just a desire of mine to work on a comic with Brad. We've collaborated on Hollywood stuff off and on for years and despite all of the Hollywood work we do to pay the bills, we're both big comics fans. So we both went over the kinds of books we'd like to create. I pitched Brad an entirely different idea, then he pitched me back a different idea, then I shot that idea down but stole the good parts and went back to him with what I wanted, and that went on for a bit 'til we had something we were both in love with. It was basically a whole lotta fun.

What can you tell us about the man who will become Fleshdigger and the woman who brings him back from the dead?

Brad Keene: Brett is someone who pays the ultimate price for intervening in the plight of a stranger. Any time you throw yourself into a dangerous situation to help someone you don't know, you're taking an incalculable risk, however noble. As fate would have it, the stranger turns out to be a woman with exceptional skills handed down from her ancestors. Like countless others in her bloodline, she's a secret practitioner of witchcraft. After Brett is murdered trying to defend her, she takes action, partly out of the desire to make amends for his sacrifice and partly to unleash something frightening to exact her revenge. What she ends up creating is Fleshdigger, a zombie vigilante.

The idea behind "Fleshdigger" -- a man brought back from the dead for vengeance -- has roots in old school horror comics. Were there any particular titles that influenced you?

Denton: Tons! I'll mention the visual influences and let Brad handle the story ones, but the "Swamp Thing" comic is a big one. Bernie Wrightson is a pal, but long before I ever met him he was a huge idol of mine creatively. That "Swamp Thing" issue with Batman is one of the biggest visual influences from my childhood. Two dark horror-heroes in one book! When I designed the look of Fleshdigger, I had Bernie's amazing storytelling in my mind along with Nestor Redondo, Jack Davis, Al Feldstein and basically every other guy who drew the awesome horror comics of my childhood along with modern guys like Kelley Jones. I wanted Fleshdigger to look like he'd walked out of all those Hammer Films I couldn't get enough of as a kid.

Keene: For me, I was raised on "The Incredible Hulk." It was the first material I wrote as a kid. The idea of a man with a second, monstrous persona that he can't control is fascinating. It's "Jekyll and Hyde," the classic duality. "Fleshdigger" draws on those influences by having the character revert to his more human incarnation at times. It's not as simple as man-becomes-zombie. He's not a lumbering menace. Fleshdigger has a purpose. He's fueled by hunger and revenge, but he's also driven by a desire to return to his non-rotting, human form, perhaps for good. Although this mysterious woman brings him back to life, she manipulates him. It's a compelling relationship.

Shannon, how did you and Brad first hook up, and how did artist Alex Sanchez end up getting involved in the project?

Denton: Brad and I met years ago on some film project or another, so that was easy. Alex came to us via Top Cow. Mi amico and cover artist Francesco Francavilla is a crazy-good Italian genius I had the pleasure of hiring when I edited at WildStorm, so throwing his name out as cover artist was a no-brainer. Super-editor -- and bitter Pilot Season rival -- Filip Sablik was kind enough to hire him so it all worked out quite well!

Was it difficult keeping the story focused as a one-shot while also setting it up for a potential ongoing?

Denton: Yes and no. While it was difficult in that we have so much we want to do with the character but only have limited real estate to do so, the plans we have for the character are as an ongoing book. We're really hoping the voting goes in our favor. We have big fleshy plans for Fleshdigger.

Keene: That's right. If you're going to have plans in life, make them big and fleshy. Writing a one-shot is fun, but there's a fine line between having a story tease a reader and having it frustrate a reader by introducing too many elements that can't get resolved in a single issue. We think "Fleshdigger" works as a one-shot while whetting the appetite for a larger story. The tale of zombie vengeance has just begun. So vote for flesh!

"Pilot Season: Fleshdigger" shambles to life on October 26th, vote for your favorites at topcow.com.

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