Did you ever hear the one about the samurai, ninja and zen monk?
No? Well hold on for a sec. We'll get to that.
There's no doubt that zombies are a popular story device these days, in both film and comic books, with the latter showcasing a diverse array of approaches to these mindless monsters. Announced recently at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Image Comics is offering another comic book for zombie fans in the form of "Zombee" (and no, that's not a spelling error), from writer Miles Gunter and artist Victor Santos. And that eclectic cast we mentioned earlier, they're the leads of "Zombee," which is set in feudal Japan and features a mix of comedy, action & horror. CBR News spoke with Gunter about the book and he revealed a bit more about the main characters.
"The first character we meet is Samurai Fumenaga (Fume for short)," Gunter told CBR News. "He's a Samurai in service to Intendant Gonzou, the reigning power in the prefecture where the story takes place. Fume is everything a Samurai should be: honor bound, dutiful and living only to serve his master. The Intendant takes advantage of Fume's loyalty, using him to do work beneath his station but Fume never protests. It's when Fume is sent on one of these menial errands that the zombee outbreak begins.
"There's Ishida the enigmatic ninja gangster. Ishida is part of a cutthroat ninja team notorious for their sadistic assassination techniques. Ishida is a master
killer with an arsenal of weapons up his sleeves at all times. Ishida also has psychic abilities, which are activated by alcohol consumption.
"Lastly there is Uzu the Zen monk. Uzu is a complete recluse living in a mountain temple where he has taken a vow of silence to become one with the mountain. He spends his days meditating, tending to his rock garden and occasionally biting the heads off of squirrels. His years of meditative practice have given rise to fighting abilities beyond normal humans."
With zombies being all the rage these days, Gunter is cognizant of their popularity and has set out as one of his goals to make sure "Zombee" is unlike any other zombie story. "I felt all the zombie fans out there would really enjoy seeing something other than another Romero style story that's set in the modern day," said the scribe. "But concept is nothing without execution, so I worked on the script for several years, trying to craft the most entertaining high energy story I could muster. The last thing I want is for someone to pick up the book and say, 'oh this is just like that scene in the 'Dawn of the Dead' remake.' That's especially the case with the violence. We've gone to a lot of care to make all the violence as fresh and exciting as possible. Zombie fans expect heinous splattergore fury. And this book is designed to overdose that particular pleasure center."
But why the resurgence? "I think the Evil Dead films, 'Dead Alive' and most recently 'Shaun of the Dead' go beyond just being good fun entertainment," contends the writer. "These movies put you into an ecstatic state. Watching them is a religious experience for a lot of people. I'll never forget seeing 'Army of Darkness' in the theatre on opening day and there's the scene in the pit where the deadite is doing all the insane acrobatic flips and it was unlike anything I'd ever seen. It was a joy like the woman of your dreams pulling up in a Ferrari Testarossa and having a check for ten millin her mouth made out to you. And that joy in 'Army of Darkness' is infectious. It energizes everyone in the theatre. And you never forget it. Many many people will be watching the Evil Dead films for the rest of their lives and continuing to have that experience. That said, I really wanted to make a book like that. That would create a similar kind of joy for the reader. Also it was important to give something back to guys like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson whose zombie movies have given me so many good times over the years."
While a big fan of zombie films ("I've been a diehard horror fan for most of my life," says the author, who also enjoys Italian giallo and J-horror), Gunter found his inspiration for "Zombee" while working on a different project. "I got the idea for 'Zombee' back in 2001 while doing research for my book 'Bastard Samurai.' I was studying Bushido and the Feudal period and one day the idea just clicked into place. I started developing it with the intention of following one character, but my friend, Image artist Neil Vokes, encouraged me to have several protagonists and make it more of a team up book. I wanted to have as much fun with the premise as I could -tossing out any kind of gravitas. Zombee is heavily inspired by the action storytelling and character design of Madhouse's Ninja Scroll film and the buddy action character interplay of movies written by Shane Black ('Lethal Weapon,' 'Last Boy Scout,' 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang')."
Joining Gunter on "Zombee" is artist Victor Santos, a collaborator who the scribe feels couldn't be more perfect for the book. "'Zombee' is a visual feast and Victor is the iron chef," says Gunter. "I have my good friend and collaborator Kelsey Shannon to thank for Victor's involvement. Victor is a Spanish comic artist who first contacted Kelsey as a fan of Kelsey's work on Bastard Samurai. They sparked a friendship and began exchanging artwork. I had been talking to another artist about 'Zombee' but they had to bow out for personal reasons. When that happened, Kelsey was the one who suggested Victor, so I sent him the script. Victor loved the material and instantly understood what I was going for. I knew from looking at his previous work that Victor had the weapons to pull off the high velocity action, insane 'everything is a toy' design work and the playful character interactions."
Looking at the preview art for "Zombee," you'll quickly notice that the book is in black & white, which isn't the standard for Image Comics (though their other big zombie title, "The Walking Dead" is in the same format). "It would have taken too long to do the book in color," admits Gunter. "Victor works primarily in the European comics industry and 'Zombee' was something he did in addition to his action series 'Young Ronins' with French publisher Soleil. I also wanted 'Zombee' to have the feel of an old B&W Kurosawa film (and 'Night of the Living Dead' of course). Ultimately I think we made the right choice."
If you're still not sold on the book, Gunter promises that if you pick up "Zombie," you'll have a good old time- without turning your brain on. "'Zombee' is equal parts humor, horror and full throttle action. There is no serious drama whatsoever. This isn't Kafka's The Castle. It's just a wild high energy ride from the first page to the last.
"'Zombee' is definitely not a one time outing for me. I've been writing horror screenplays for the last few years, trying to get a handle on the genre. I'm primarily trying to do horror in that medium because I think it's the best format for the genre. Mostly because of sound. Sound is a crucial part of a scary movie and it's the one things missing from comics. But doing horror in comics allows you to amp up the scale and do things that would be very expensive to do on film. So it's like you can make a horror film on paper with a heftier budget than horror films usually get."
Staff Writer Arune Singh contributed to this story.