Talking Comics with Tim | Frank Marraffino

When Marvel wants to tell zombie tales, writer Frank Marraffino has been a go-to person in recent years, as exemplified first by last year's Marvel Zombies Supreme miniseries as well as the upcoming Marvel Zombies Destroy, a five-issue miniseries that launches this Wednesday, May 9. In this new email interview, Marraffino discusses writing the first two issues of the miniseries (in which Howard the Duck, Dum-Dum Dugan team up with a dozen heroes to fight Nazi Zombies) and details the health issues that prevented him from writing the remainder of the miniseries. I was pleased to learn Marraffino is feeling better and happy to discuss his work as well as the thrill of having industry veteran Peter David step into take over the project. Once you've read the interview, please be sure to check out CBR's recent four-page preview of the first issue.

Tim O'Shea: What is it about zombies and dark comedy that make them work so well together?

Frank Marraffino: Maybe the fact that the threat comes from something that is falling apart. That is a little funny. The menace is one to itself also!

O'Shea: Who do I have to thank for the great Ducky Dozen name?

Marraffino: Thank Howard. Seriously, this is Howard the Duck leading a men-on-a-mission team of motley outcasts against Nazi zombies. The Ducky Dozen name is one of those things that seemed so sweetly obvious, it had to be used. I thought it might be deemed too silly for print, but there it is on the cover!

O'Shea: In assembling the dozen, how did you decide who to use?

Marraffino: Howard was the original piece of this puzzle. My editor Jake Thomas came up with the fantastic idea of including Dum Dum Dugan to literally bounce off Howard. I really wanted Battlestar to be a part of the action as a nice contrast and compliment to both Howard and Dugan.

The rest of the dozen are all descendants of Marvel characters from the 1940’s. You might recognize their names from Marvel’s Golden Age Masterworks like the All Winners. But they’re not all human. They’re representative of the great possibilities that exist in a plurality like ours. From nowhere else could you collect such a quirky cast of characters – and certainly not in a land of Nazi zombie conformity where all are expected to give up their individuality and independent spirit.

O'Shea: In any zombie book, not everyone gets out of the plot alive (shocking I know). Without spoiling anything, when writing a character do you ever get bummed that you're not going to have them around to write anymore once they get killed?

Marraffino: Absolutely. The trick with any character is to imbue them with traits that make us care about them. And then it is a bummer when they kick the bucket. But better a bummer than be boring, right? We want to care about what happens to characters – good or bad. And let me tell you, the work Mirco has done with the characters really makes it easy to care. I would have loved to see the entire Ducky Dozen go on several more missions together, but this one is so perilous, that might be a little too hopeful!

O'Shea: Back to casting the characters for this adventure, you also wrote last year's Marvel Zombies Supreme miniseries, were there lessons learned in writing that adventure that helped shape your approach to which characters you used on this go-around?

Marraffino: Definitely! One thing that was very important for us on this book was to provide the type of gonzo storytelling that Marvel Zombies fans hunger for, while also placing the threat firmly to the Marvel universe. So with Howard and Dugan and Battlestar, hopefully your average Marvel reader can get behind their efforts. And the many crazy new characters who are featured speak to the un-hinged sensibilities of a Marvel Zombies book.

O'Shea: Were you a fan of Dum Dum Dugan before this series?

Marraffino: Oh, yeah. Dugan’s one of those characters who’s just great from his name and appearance alone. But you look at his history, and what he’s accomplished and run up against, and how can you not be a fan? As a soldier, and then a spy, and of course a super-spy with S.H.I.E.L.D., Dugan has been instrumental in fighting for freedom and even saving the world throughout Marvel’s history. And the guy was in charge of hunting Godzilla for a while. It’s hard to beat that on a resume!

O'Shea: What's the key to getting the right character voice for Howard the Duck?

Marraffino: B-flat? But really, there is a curious mix in Howard of irreverence and genuineness. On the surface he seems to thumb his beak at all of society’s conventions, but he has often worn his heart on his wing when he believes in a person or a cause. Howard is quick with an insult but even quicker to stand up for what he knows is right. And he’s made no bones about the fact that this is a worthy little world he’s settled on. He likes it here and all that would change if Nazi zombies have their way!

O'Shea: From your perspective as the writer of this series, getting to see your ideas turned into art--is there a scene drawn by Mirco Pierfederici that has grown to be your favorite? Also, what did you most enjoy about the collaborative process on this project?

Marraffino: Mirco has been doing stunning work in all regards. If you’re familiar with his lush characters from Ruse or Dark Wolverine, I think you’ll be blown away by the gritty detailed line art he’s doing here. It’s really incredible. But even more amazing is his storytelling. In both the facial expressions and panel progressions, Mirco is laying out everything for optimized understanding and enjoyment. And his action sequences are so full of dynamic heft! I would call them cinematic, but that would do a disservice to all the thought and effort Mirco is putting into how best to use this medium. He’s literally doing things that can only be done in comics!

But my favorite page of his is the introduction of the Ducky Dozen. Mirco so completely nailed the characters! And for me, the group image of all the wild and weird characters together is really what the book is about - about divergent beings coming together to do good work and effect change. It’s what we as a people can do so well if we don’t limit ourselves to small thinking. There is a world of possibilities on that page, just as it is in the Marvel universe, and in the entire world. I’ll forever be grateful for Mirco for providing that one image alone!

O'Shea: Jake Thomas is your editor on this project, I'm curious to know what kind of impact did he have on the story from your perspective?

Marraffino: Jake’s impact cannot be understated. Not only did he make this book happen, but he improved it at every step. Bringing in Dugan gave the book a gravitas that it wouldn’t otherwise have. Jake helped shape and streamline the exact setting and scope of the tale, and he made sure that certain story elements and plot points be exploited for all their worth. Jake is also always pushing to make everything better. A better line of dialogue. A clearer explanation. More heart. Deeper resonance. A sillier pun. It’s hard to argue with that way of thinking. And it’s inspiring to work in that environment.

O'Shea: I would be negligent if I did not ask, but health issues prevented you from writing issues 3-5 of the mini (Peter David is writing those). First off, are you feeling better? And while, of course, you would have loved to have written the whole miniseries, how much of a compliment was it that they tapped popular industry veteran writer Peter David to fill your writing shoes?

Marraffino: Yeah, I got hit with a super-infection that lasted for at least 3 months, and maybe even 2 more before I knew about it. Coming off of my day job doing eight 100-hour work-weeks at Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular, I thought for the longest time that I was just dog tired. As the man in the padded room said: I’m much better now! But for a while there what I needed was time. The book, on the other hand, was on mission and needed to keep going!

It’s really a compliment to the entire team that Peter David was willing to sign on for this campaign. He’s a gamer – up for any challenge. And he came up with amazing stuff! He really opened up the series and created an outstanding conclusion. Also with his knowledge and experience, he was able to include perspective and insights that I don’t possess. So the book is much better for having him on it!

But you know the really cool thing? One of the themes of this book is that our way of life and our system of doing things is better, and even more powerful that what Nazi zombies, or any prejudiced elitist homogenized society can offer. Like the Ducky Dozen, we are stronger as the sum of our parts. We celebrate the ideas of others and that leads to unbelievable innovation. And we pick each other up when we fall.

And so in this way, having Peter David come in and pick up the standard, and leading the team to victory, is very much in keeping with one of the more powerful undercurrents of the series. My secret hope is that more readers will now check out this series because Peter David’s name is attached to it. That would be a win for all of us.

O'Shea: After having to answer my questions, any final thoughts or questions you want to share/ask the Robot 6 readers of this interview?

Marraffino: I know it’s easy from the outside to be cynical about the sausage-making process that seems to go into comic books. But I can say without a doubt that everyone involved in this book is really trying to make great comics. Garry Henderson has gone above-and-beyond offering up a moodiness and depth in his colors that brings the undead even more to life. VC’s Clayton Cowles has given us some killer fonts for different characters and tirelessly re-worked balloon placement to provide an effortless reading experience. And Jake and Irene Lee are even making sure that the re-cap pages are awesome! It’s exciting to be a part of that aggressive positive creativity. The collaboration involved is part of what makes comics so cool!

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