For years, a giant, menacing, cigar-chomping undead luchadore lurked in Dave Wilkins' sketchbook.
And now, with a little help from his new partner in crime Kevin Munroe, that luchadore body slams his way into comic stores on April 21st.
The Dark Horse Comics series "El Zombo" is the tale of an unlikely friendship between a temperamental undead luchadore wrestler and an equally difficult 10-year-old girl from East L.A. Pro wrestling champ El Zombo gets a second lease on life after being unceremoniously murdered in a back alley for refusing to take a dive in the ring. Zombo is catapulted to the afterworld where he learns he's destined to go straight to hell. The wrestler is offered the opportunity to go to heaven if he accepts a guardian angel mission to return to Earth to protect a troubled little girl, Belisa Montoya, from a horrible event about to happen to her. He accepts, at first returning solely for revenge, but soon finds himself at a crossroads, forced to choose between his own vengeance and saving the life of this girl he now cares for.
This is the debut series for both artist Wilkins and co-creator and writer Munroe. The duo met when they were working together as creative staff for a video game company. When they discovered they had a common interest in comic books, they decided to have a meeting of the minds.
"Dave showed me a sketch for El Zombo and I knew that was cool, I told him that that was the one we needed to focus on," Munroe told CBR News. "We did an 8-page preview and showed it to Dark Horse, they were on board in 5 minutes."
For Wilkins, the idea came to him when he was first asked to watch his niece. At 6'4", 290 pounds, Wilkins felt a sense of trepidation looking over someone so small.
"I'm a big dude, and I'm afraid of babies, because they're so fragile," the Zombo-sized Wilkins says. "I thought it'd be hysterical for a giant dude to serve as a guardian angel for this little girl."
Munroe has a different interpretation of Zombo's origins, though he does think the character is largely based on Wilkins -- physically, at least. To our knowledge, Wilkins is not undead.
"Dave looks exactly like El Zombo, he's his own reference," Munroe says. "He flexes in the mirror, says 'That kicks ass!' and then he draws it in the comic. Me, on the other hand... I look more like Belisa."
Though Wilkins denies basing the character on his mirror image ("I have a much bigger gut," he says), he showed the character sketches to Munroe and the idea started to roll.
"I told Kevin, [Zombo's] a giant dude, and he's dead," Wilkins says. "Kevin asked me, 'Why's he dead?' and I said, 'Because I like zombies!'"
Needing a better reason than that, the two started fleshing out the murder of Zombo. Combining elements they both love -- pro wrestling, horror movies, cartoon style characters and Hollywood burnouts -- they quickly had the story they wanted.
"When Zombo hit Previews, a buddy of mine saw it and said, 'But I don't read comics,'" Wilkins recalls. "I told him, this isn't for hardcore comics fans -- we're not talking Ed Brubaker/'Sleeper' here, this is just fun. You're not going to see Zombo sucking on people's brains. It's more like a movie, like 'Spy Kids.'"
Movie? With both already working in the entertainment industry, they weren't surprised when talk of an "El Zombo" movie began before issue one was even on the stands.
"This is a 3-issue series, you can't do a movie based on 3 comics," Munroe says. "And besides that, this is my first comic... the whole idea of pitching a movie through a comic, that's not what I want. I hate it when you read a comic and it's just a movie pitch."
Both Wilkins and Munroe are professional wrestling fans and think the "sport" lends itself well to the comic book medium. The visual style of artist Wilkins and colorist Tony Washington does in fact have the feel of a non-motion cartoon.
"The cool thing about Dave and Tony's art is that it fits wrestling so well," Munroe says. "It's in-your-face, over-the-top Bruckheimer film, but in a comic. It's the perfect project for them."
For Munroe, penning a story about wrestlers isn't exactly new territory. Having worked in TV, film, animation and video games, he's had the opportunity to work with the WWE on a cartoon series that he hopes will be picked up by the WB network. In fact, Munroe has met Linda McMahon in person, and has taken a phone call from Vince McMahon.
He has not, however, been slammed through a table.
"I grew up in New Brunswick, Canada, and all we got was Atlantic Coast Wrestling," Munroe says. "There were only about 15 characters, the fans all sat in folding chairs... even the microphones were crappy. But then girls came along, and, well, then I had to watch wrestling in hiding."
The two do hope that "El Zombo" has an afterlife following this series as another comic series.
"At first it was just a 3-issue series. But in the middle of number 1, we realized that it's nice to be doing 3, but we'd really like to do more," Munroe says. "This story is the birth of a hero. He makes his way back, and now he has a larger quest."
"Comics are such a pure medium. And I'm really happy that our first book is through Dark Horse. I always thought that [writing comics] is what I wanted to do. And as long as someone is willing to pay me to do it, I think I'll always put them out."