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Ethan Sacks' KISS Zombies Rocks Out the Undead Apocalypse

The veteran, iconic rock band KISS has had a connection to comics going back nearly as far as the group itself. Marvel Comics Super Special #1 introduced the quartet to comic readers in 1977. The band members' painted faces and stage costumes readily lent themselves to the comic book treatment.

In those four decades, KISS has been featured periodically in various comic series from different publishers. In the meantime, another phenomenon has planted itself deep within pop culture: zombies. Comics featuring the dead returned to life such as Deadworld and The Walking Dead have been entertaining readers for a generation.

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Now, the living rock legends cross paths with the undead in Dynamite Entertainment's KISS Zombies, an upcoming series written by Ethan Sacks and drawn by Rodney Buchemi. In the series, a future zombie apocalypse has all but destroyed humanity. Music has been outlawed because as everyone knows, zombies are attracted to sound. But a group of teens knows the world's most legendary rock band can save the day, and set out to find the whereabouts of the hottest band in the world, KISS.

Sacks spoke with CBR about the series, his love of the band, and how that admiration and his other influences impacted the series.

CBR: So, Ethan -- KISS and zombies. That's a mash-up that's never been done before. What gave you the idea?

Sacks: I wish I could take credit, but the premise was hand-delivered to me by my editor, Kevin Ketner. He had been looking for a project for me at Dynamite and suggested that one. Little did he know that I'm a huge KISS fan and a huge zombie nerd.

There have been all sorts of KISS comics over the years -- not many since that first Marvel Comics Super Special have gained much attention. How will KISS Zombies grab readers?

Many of those KISS comics are under-appreciated, and I am not shying away from the legacy, but this series is not going to treat the band as supernatural warriors like most past iterations did. These are very human guys thrust into a horrible situation and they can be eaten by the undead just as easily as the people who are looking up to them. This is a gritty horror book more than a fantasy series.

It's also accessible for newbies -- you don't have to know every lyric from every song on Destroyer to follow the story -- even if I was playing the album as a soundtrack while I was writing.

Yeah, some comics in the past have leaned pretty heavily on the lyric references. Are you deliberately avoiding alluding to any of the band's lesser known songs/albums for the sake of the less initiated, such as those who might be more zombie fans than KISS fans?

There are some nods -- the title of every issue is connected to a song and the band does jam once in a while. The references are mostly 101 as I'm not shaming anyone and want to be accessible, but once in awhile, I’ll shoehorn something obscure in there for fun.

Have any of those past comics inspired this one?

There's a little bit of a tip of the cap to Amy Chu's run on KISS with the idea of the band's legend lingering far into the future even after they're gone. But for the most part, I tried to spin a new direction for the mythos. Also, I was a former film editor during my journalism days, so I think the cinematic influences are more tangible. I've said it before, but I envisioned Land of the Dead meets Seven Samurai meets Footloose.

Are the KISS characters going to be portrayed as legendary, almost mythical figures, then? Or are they slated to be a more tangible part of the story?

Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter are most definitely the central characters of this story. They have been out of the loop for a long time and in their absence, the world has gone to hell. And when they come back, they may be viewed as mythical figures by some people who expect them to save the day, but they aren't universally welcomed. These zombies are attracted to sound, and not everybody wants to put their trust in the world's loudest band. Rock and roll is outlawed for a reason! (See? The Footloose connection!)

When you talk about cinematic influences, KISS has had some cinematic projects of their own, albeit none that were very good. Can readers expect any nods to, say, the Detroit Rock City film, or even KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park?

While I appreciate its place in history, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park will be left buried in that park. We're avoiding the camp! As for Detroit Rock City there is definitely a thematic connection.

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You're a KISS fan, and you've written about them before. How did you first discover them?

I've been a fan of the band since the late 1970's when I discovered them as a four-year-old, around the same time I fell in love with Star Wars. At first it was the look, but I had an older cousin, Sam, who has since passed away, who introduced me to their music.

I had seen them live, and when I became a reporter at the New York Daily News, I pitched and got to write several stories, including one I'm very proud of for the band's 40th anniversary in which I was able to interview Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.

Also, on Halloween a few years ago, my wife and I dressed up as one half of KISS. We were supposed to be three-quarters of KISS, but my daughter at the last minute decided she wanted to be Tinker Bell instead of Catman. Sigh. Parenting is a work in progress.

Let's talk about the comic's setting. You're no stranger to dystopian wastelands, coming from Old Man Hawkeye -- did you bring anything from that title to this one?

Aside from both being places you wouldn't want to live, these two wastelands are very different. What I loved about that version of Hawkeye was that he was past his prime, buckling under a lifetime of survivor's guilt and struggling as a shell of what he once was. In KISS Zombies, our heroes are in their prime -- it's just the rest of the world that isn't. And in some ways, they're not sure they want to fight to save a world that previously let them down. In some ways, this post-apocalyptic setting feels darker, but less cynical. KISS stands in contrast as a light in that darkness.

What about artist Rodney Buchemi? How did you hook up with him, and what are your thoughts on his work?

Kevin put the band together, so to speak. But I had been a big fan of Rodney's work for years. When I was told he was aboard, I did some searching and found a drawing he did of a Viking zombie that made me instantly know that he was going to slay this one (so to speak). And let me tell you, he is slaying it. Wait until you see the page 2-3 splash in issue #1 -- it will blow your mind.

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You mention how the world has let KISS down. KISS has been maligned over the decades, and by extension so have their fans -- sometimes even shamed for their admiration of the band. Is the oppressive background of KISS Zombies kind of an acknowledgment of that attempt to marginalize those who enjoy KISS?

Hah, you are the first person to make that connection. Yes! Without divulging too much of the backstory of how the zombies first appeared, the powers that be consider KISS a threat as the embodiment of rock and roll and all the subversiveness for which the music stands. But of course, their attempts to silence the music and the musicians backfire.

As well it should, because in real life, KISS has had the last laugh - not just because of their stellar success in the '70s, but also because they're still at it today. Is there any kind of intended symbolism reflecting that in KISS Zombies? Such as, are the zombies analogous to today's entertainment -- which many consider mindless and disposable, compared to enduring bands like KISS?

Look closely and you may spot a wink or two, but it's more a shot against those critics who looked down at KISS. You'll know the scene when you read it.

Personally, I don’t look down at other people's taste in pop culture. For example, I'm also a fan of the band Tool, and when their new album knocked Taylor Swift off the top of the Billboard chart, I was not among those metal fans doing a victory dance. I respect pop fans and their right to enjoy their music, even if I don’t enjoy it myself.

KISS has always had a message for its fans -- live life to the fullest, and never compromise. Does KISS Zombies send that same message, and if so, how?

This version of KISS may not have powers, but they are pretty badass. They do live life to the fullest and never compromise. And they are willing to fight to preserve that way of life. Think of them as rock and roll samurai fighting for that cause.

Ah, there's the Seven Samurai reference.

One last question, Ethan -- can readers expect to see a zombie-fied version of KISS?

Hah, that would be telling! But in the meantime, there are some great zombie-fied variant covers!

Sacks and Buchemi's KISS Zombies #1, colored by Dijo Lima and lettered by Troy Peteri, goes on sale November 6.

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