Artist Dusty Higgins has a knack for getting involved with projects with titles that make you scream, “Hey, why didn’t I think of that?” Over the last couple years, he’s worked with Van Jensen on the Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer series of graphic novels, the third of which is due next year from SLG Publishing. It of course pits the little wooden boy against monsters whose weaknesses include wooden stakes through the heart.
Now he’s teamed with writer Ron Wolfe for Knights of the Living Dead, a story that brings zombies to Camelot. The first issue is now available for free from SLG Publishing’s website, where you can also buy the second issue for 99 cents.
Wolfe says not to let the title fool you – the book is no spoof.
“I love the title, but don't let it mislead you. The book is no spoof on zombies. It's as dark as anything I've ever written,” Wolfe told Robot 6. His previous work includes Death’s Door and Old Fears, both horror novels co-written with John Wooley, as well as Hellraiser comics for Marvel. “That said, the premise allows for some playing around. But I really think, if I just happened to pick it up, this thing would trouble me for some time.”
Wolfe originally wrote it as a prose short story that he showed to Higgins, who was still at work on Pinocchio's earlier adventures.
“I remember not being able to put the story down, and after I finished it, I just walked over and said, ‘Can I draw this as a graphic novel?’ Ron was kind enough to let me,” Higgins said. “I’m a big creature geek, but zombies are easily the top of the list. I liked zombies before they were cool! Just saying, if Pinocchio Zombie Slayer made sense, it would’ve been Pinocchio Zombie Slayer.”
From there, Wolfe and Higgins worked to expand the premise into what ultimately became three different stories.
“The first story based on Ron’s original prose came out to a little over 50 pages, which is set when Guinevere has been judged to burn at the stake for infidelity, but you know, with zombies, or ‘the walking starvation’ as Ron calls it, which I think is a really cool way to say zombies,” Higgins said. “To sell it as a graphic novel, we wanted something more in the 100+ page range. Ron had written such a complete and strong story, I was afraid it would have ruined the essence of the story to try to drag it out. I talked Ron into the idea of writing several stories within the Arthurian legend that didn’t necessarily follow the same characters and plots. I’m a big fan of the method of storytelling in Northlanders, and thought this would be the perfect way to continue telling Arthurian zombie legends without ruining the first story.”
Wolfe said the second and third story are set in the aftermath of the zombie plague.
“The last one, called ‘The Deep, Deep Shallows,’ is something of a reaction on my part to sparkly vampires and zombies that behave by the rules,” Wolfe said. “We all know what to do in case of a zombie attack, but what if worse things are waiting? What if we don't know how to respond? What if the worst of all turn out to be beautiful things in the sunlight?”
With zombies popping up everywhere in pop culture nowadays, Wolfe said he tried to ignore them beyond his own story.
“Once I started writing about brain-crunchers, I shut off reading about them, trying not to think of them in any terms outside my own story,” he said. “Basically, when it comes to zombies, I'm a Romero man. George Romero told me decisively for a newspaper interview that zombies lurch and shamble, they don't run, and I believe him. Dusty illustrated the interview with a wonderfully green caricature of Romero as a zombie himself, complete with those big glasses he wears. Even so, this zombie-Romero looked every bit the director, the man in charge. He appeared to have lost nothing to zombification, and might even have gained. And now that I think of it, the idea of the confident, capable zombie might have lingered in my head, and eventually worked its way into Knights of the Living Dead. You'll see what I mean.”
Higgins, meanwhile, said his inspiration came from comics. “I’ve seen a lot of zombie comics, but haven’t seen anyone draw a zombie better than Tony Moore. That’s what I want my zombies to look like... except, you know, medieval.”
Zombies, of course, are just one element of the story. Readers can also expect to see King Arthur, Lancelot and the Lady of the Lake, in addition to Guinevere, who is at the center of the first story.
“I had a hard time settling on the look of the knights in the book, whether they should be historically accurate or not,” Higgins said. “The thing about it is, Arthurian knights wore kind of boring armor. Plate wasn’t invented then, and even chain mail wasn’t that prevalent. Still, artists throughout history have drawn Arthurian knights with varying degrees of armor and chain mail, and let’s face it, the story has zombies in it, how historical do you need to be? I ended up going with plate, since it allowed me to create very individualized armor that made it easier to differentiate between each knight.”
Higgins and Wolfe both heavily researched the project, and Wolfe credits Higgins in drawing everything from the gruesome to “images of delicacy.”
“Fans of his Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer books will see a resemblance, but his drawing shifts through several other styles in this book, from gruesome and splattery to images of delicacy and, I would say, elegance,” Wolfe said. “I'm a newspaper cartoonist also, and Dusty assigned me a couple pages to draw where the story calls for the appearance of a children's picture book, just so I could jump in a little. But I couldn't have drawn anything close to this — couldn't have asked for a better illustrator. He pulls a lot of surprises.”