See that? It’s a box of magic.
Twenty five years worth.
Well, a lifetime’s worth, if you wanna get technical.
My fascination with cheapjack horror films goes back to my childhood, and I brought a lot of it with me, into my adult life as a creative professional. Some people I know just don’t understand that. They don’t get how I can look at THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and not see anything but the low budget, the terrible dubbing, the out-to-lunch screenplay… and I always tell them, it ain’t about any of those obvious things. It’s about the MAGIC. (They usually don’t get THAT, either.) In many other ways, I am a hardass critic of film and literature. I throw books by really famous writers across the room. I call bullshit on pompous stuff like The Hero’s Journey. I also don’t listen to super successful screenwriters with a lot of money in the bank when they tell me all art must be written to a fixed pattern or you’re totally fucked. (That might explain why I am not as rich as they are, but I’d far rather be happy than “right.”) And by the way, I don’t believe or disbelieve any of these things because I am uncultured. It’s not because I think BRAIN DAMAGE is one of the greatest movies ever made. My love of trash cinema, in fact, may have led to a great deal of understanding about the world we live in and the realities we face as a human species.
Yeah, even a movie like Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE has that for me. The movie possesses a kind of genius. But it’s not obvious genius. You have to really get in there and SNIFF for it. But when it hits you, and you really go there…. well, there you are. And it’s a lot of fun.
I’ve been fascinated with the idea of adapting this film (and many other films like it) into a series of comic books since the mid-1980s, when I was still a teenager. I even started a version of it back then, using pens and markers on plain white typing paper. I only got a few pages deep before other obsessions took over, seeming like much better bets. But, hey, how much of your life can you really waste when you’re seventeen?
FLASHFORWARD TO 1998. I had just finished my second full-length graphic novel project, and my first comic adaptation of a popular horror film. That was Lucio Fulci’s THE BEYOND. To be mercifully charitable, the whole thing was filled with sophomore mistakes and it was all my fault. I was determined to repeat none of those mistakes for my next project, which was to be an adaptation of Fulci’s ZOMBIE. I did these things because I really wanted to, because they were childhood dreams, and so I took them very seriously. I wanted them to be right. (Even though I was not being paid.) I was not just the writer, but also the hands-on layout artist. I designed each page exactly as I wanted to see them and sent those designs to Mike Broom, who gleefully and expertly transformed them into incredible comic art. (Even though he was not being paid.) I took council with my masters as I created that one and learned from my mistakes. My biggest influence during that time was the great Steve Bissette, whose work on Alan Moore’s run of SWAMP THING I greatly admired, and who was kind enough to fill my ear with many words of instruction and wisdom. I was pretty good friends with Steve back then, having met him through Shawn Lewis, who was set to be the publisher of ZOMBIE. The words Steve filled my ear with were invaluable and the work I did on ZOMBIE was part of what transformed me from a somewhat talented rank amateur into a real professional creator of comic books.
Problem was, nobody wanted to publish the shit. So we just did it ourselves. In 1999, Shawn Lewis hired some biker guy with a printshop in his garage to crank out the first version of ZOMBIE. It was printed (badly) in black and white and only 700 copies went into the world, sold from a coupon in a flimsy xeroxed promotional mailer Shawn sent out through the postal service to people who bought horror merch and t-shirts from him. Seriously. That’s how low-budge the whole thing was. That’s how off-the-radar and not-on-the-internet we were. And, no, we didn’t make a dime off any of those books. We don’t even see a penny when one of them miraculously shows up on eBay these days for five hundred bucks. (But no, seriously, buy a copy if you can find it. IT DON’T EVEN HAVE ONE.) And so it all sort of came and went. We all moved on to other things. Various attempts were made to revive ZOMBIE: THE COMIC BOOK over the years, but nothing really ever materialized.
Until it came time to start Eibon Press.
FLASHFORWARD TO 2016: That was when Shawn and I took a look at ZOMBIE and decided to resurrect it, but this time in color, as a series… and with a SEQUEL. After a nutty mutant-hyphenate career filled with many adventures in film and print, including big novels at major imprints, crazy passion projects and even a slasher movie made with two of my all-time horror heroes… well, at first I balked. Why would I want to go back to Fulci Comics? I had my own stories to tell. But then I took a look at those old pages… and… well…..
The Klown Prince started screaming that I HAD TO DO THIS.
That’s the name of my muse. The Klown Prince of Darkness. He’s gotten me in all sorts of trouble in my life and in my career. But he’s also never steered me wrong as an artist. He insisted I do BOTTOMFEEDER. He’s behind every short story I ever wrote. (And those are MEAN MOTHERFUCKERS, kids.) He even said it was okay to write all those Lifetime movies… because why?
Because this is all ART, guys. If your soul is there, what the fuck does it matter? It seems to me (and to The Klown Prince) that no matter where you go… well, there you are. And so here I was, looking at ZOMBIE again and realizing I had to go back there… because it was unfinished.
See I was still not a very good writer when I first made ZOMBIE. Because of Steve Bissette’s masterful teachings way back in 1999, I was able to design each page like a pro, but the words were still not there. With the experience I’d gained in the years since, I was able to make it all work, for the very first time, with a sense of style that still had one foot in the gutter and the other in the grave. Director Don Coscarelli once told The Austin Chronicle that I had a “real macho writing style.” I guess that’s the trash art in me. The part that doesn’t take any of it too seriously. Because if you DO take it too seriously… well, it all sounds like you’re writing a Metallica song. That’s what I left behind. That’s why my work WORKS now.
It all started with ZOMBIE, which I consider my first real success as a writer, along with the short stories I wrote after that which eventually became THE RIOT ACT. That was when I found my voice, for better or for worse. Anything else before that was pretty much schoolwork.
THE EIBON PRESS RELEASE OF ZOMBIE saw me back in the editor’s chair, but with a vastly superior arsenal of tools at my disposal. I had not only become a better writer, but also a graphic designer of some experience, having come through the gauntlet of SHOCK FESTIVAL. (That is a long story I will not tell here, but HERE are some pretty pictures.) Back in the 90s, I had used X-Acto knives and Liquid Paper on beer stained drawing easels to get all this done. Now every swinging dick had Photoshop and Illustrator and Indesign at his grubby little fingertips. On BOTTOMFEEDER and ZOMBIE, I taught myself how to do comics all over again, and the first tangible result was ZOMBIE #1, which we released in June of 2016, to sell-out success. (See cute little picture above.)
It had some problems, still, but it’s still pretty good, and it was well-received my most fans for exactly what it was: A robust and sincere adaptation of a film we all loved, done for all the right reasons. BECAUSE WE WANTED TO DO IT. That’s passion you can see on every page. I promise.
FLASHFORWARD TO 2022. Eibon Press was on the rocks, but we’d had a good run. We’d managed to publish not only the original story cycle of ZOMBIE as a four-part mini-series, but also a batshit crazy sequel, which was four additional issues of mayhem and blood unlike anything I would have imagined myself writing in 1987. I was damn proud of all eight chapters of that thing, and FUCKING DAMN PROUD of everything else we managed to do at Eibon. The whole thing had been a two-man DIY operation and we’d made some great work. One of the things that made us truly unique from any other publisher was our packaging model. We put all our comics in these amazing jacket sleeves, that were just like record LPs. We packed the sleeves with extras, like trading cards and other collectibles. (Sometimes even CDs and vinyl soundtracks!) Shawn and I came up with that concept and I designed the sleeve personally, by cannibalizing a bunch of old record jackets I had lying around and creating our first prototype. That sleeve was on every comic anyone ever bought from us for six years, shrink-wrapped and stickered by Shawn himself. That is a LOT of work. But if it’s what you love… DO IT. RIGHT?
Well, long story short, Vinegar Syndrome believed in us and picked up the ball, taking over the company but keeping me on as creative director…. and so guess what? It was time to revisit ZOMBIE one last time.
In approaching the first four issues of ZOMBIE, which are the complete adaptation of the film proper, which we first created in 1999, the idea was to rebrand everything with all new design, all new logos, and even all new covers. I’d never been totally happy with our ZOMBIE 1-4 covers in the old days of Eibon and felt we could do much better. That was the first thing we tackled. I commissioned not just four new front covers, one for each book, but also four all-new original paintings for the redesigned Eibon sleeves that these books would be tucked into. AND I wanted all-new extras as well. There would be trading cards, a bookmark, a collector’s print and a newsletter, all with NEW ART! For EACH ISSUE! Plus I wanted a compete redesign of the book interior “indicia” and “back matter” and I wanted all new story content as well, which would move parallel to the main action of the sequential pages.
This manifested as THE JOURNAL OF BEVERLY BYRNE, a spooky short story in four parts, presented as a series of journal entries, which now appear at the end of each issue as official canon. I developed this with newcomer writer T.D. Fitzharris and we designed her story to flow visually as well as in the prose. I had done similar back chapters for the ZOMBIE sequel, and I wanted to do the same here. It’s an inspired bit of blood-soaked lunacy, which will also tie into a future sequel!
Obviously, this meant a LOT of extra work in presenting ZOMBIE again. It wasn’t just piping over the pages from the old editions. This was a whole new ballgame. And at Vinegar Syndrome, they were developing a new way to manufacture and distribute our product. This took damn-near half-a-year of intense R&D and trial and error… but the end result was something very special.
As you can see, we’ve been working damn hard.
The BOX SET concept for single issues is not new, but we’ve done it in a way never seen before, with an outer shell that’s actually a two part interlocking collector’s case, housing the Eibon-Sleeved issues within. When you see it on a shelf, it basically looks like this:
That’s Mike Broom’s original zombie poster painting, done in 1998, with his signature right there above old Wormeye’s shoulder. Crack that baby open, though, and check it out….
The INSIDE CASE slides out and you can see my collage design on one side, made up of my favorite scenes from the graphic novel… and Pat Carbajal’s incredible “last supper” painting, commissioned just for this release. Yep, that’s Olga Karlatos being mutilated by her zombie pals, in a scene you never even got to see in the movie. How cool are we?
The sheer volume of extra materials created to accompany this new and definitive release are kind of mind-boggling, really. We’ve been at this for MONTHS, guys. But here’s a look at a tiny cross-section of some of it:
There’s new pages, new paintings, black and white art prints, The Journal of Beverly Byrne (lower right), all the new covers… and yeah that’s even SAGE STALLONE up there. I asked PAT CARBAJAL to immortalize him for a memorial tribute you can read in issue #3. We all knew and loved Sage. He was an inspiration to us and to this comic series. His tribute is right alongside a Chas Balun memorial also. We are sad these guys left us. But we live on and dedicate our work to them.
One of the things I’m most proud of in these new releases are the TRADING CARDS. In the past, the cards were a bit un-special, to be honest. They usually only had art from the comics. These are ALL NEW PIECES done for us by the amazingly talented Puis Calzada. You get two trading cards with specially-commissioned original art in every issue from now on. (Check ’em out ABOVE, guys; those are the fronts and backs of each card.) And it ain’t just the monsters, kids. Puis is just as good at fine portraitures of the human stars also…
The new Eibon sleeves were a challenge and a lot of hard work. I felt what we did with the original run of ZOMBIE 1-4 was passable, but we could go much further and really create something horrific and special. Working with PAT CARBAJAL is always a dream, and he delivered the goods in spades. Here’s a look at his work on the sleeve of #3, which is pretty spectacular:
Again, the idea was to keep what really worked before and also make it completely new. Pat managed to top even himself with the sleeve cover for #4:
And by the way, I’d like to point out that every spec of graphic design on these books is STILL done my me personally. This requires long hours and very little sleep. This requires many months of going blind at a computer. It requires being 100 percent committed to realizing a life dream. (To be honest, at this pace, we’ll be taking on some extra help soon, because with all the new stuff we’re doing, it’s just too much work for one man; so any designers out there? Hit me up!)
I feel, in this way, I am so much more fortunate than some. If we are lucky in this life we get maybe one shot at a crazy project like this. It comes and goes. You cash the check. It sells or it doesn’t. But if the thing you believed in was really worthy… if there was real MAGIC there…. something you actually felt in your soul… well, you might just get a chance to really get it right. You might even get TWO chances. I think I got at least three or four on ZOMBIE. It’s a project that has been with me for more than half my life, like an old friend. An old magic. Voodoo, man. I think I’m damn lucky, actually.
And here’s the thing.
It doesn’t stop here, kids.
Next up on the runway, after months of intense work, are the all new BOX SET RELEASES of our nutty comics based on William Lustig’s MANIAC. That’s actually going to be two big sets: One for the original film adaptation and another for the sequel: MANIAC 2 ROADKILL. The sequel is especially precious to me because not many people got to read it when it was first published… and we went under before the final issue could be seen by anyone. The irony is that MANIAC 2 ROADKILL’s final issue might just be the pinnacle of my life’s work in comics. It’s really the best work we ever did, Shawn and Pat and I, and I’m so grateful that you’ll finally get to read it. It’s also sick and twisted and spectacular.
Because of course it is.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering…. yeah, MANIAC will be in an interlocking collector’s box, with all new Eibon sleeves, and stuffed with even MORE amazing extras, like a full 60 page making-of book (which goes behind both MANIAC and MANIAC 2) and I was even able to to a “director’s cut” of the first series, adding many new story pages, with all-new art by Pat Carbajal, who is the best partner I’ve ever had in comics. Here’s a look at the sleeve from #1. It’s all new, just for you:
And there’s prints and trading cards and extras galore:
And this will go on, kids.
After MANIAC, there’s more Fulci Comics re-releases on the horizon, all in these lavish sets…. plus a box of BOTTOMFEEDER, and WASTELAND 1989, our cherished original projects.
And so much more. Our director of publishing at VSP is doubling down on some INSANE merch concepts for our licensed film properties that will blow your mind, even as I write this. I’m doing more original comics work than ever in my career, books that are all mine creatively and editorially. It’s gonna flood your heart and soul with so much awesome, you’ll need plastic surgery to remove the goddamn smile from your face. (Apologies to John Hughes.) That is, if you’re INTO this sort of thing.
Shit, I’m getting tired just talking about it, kids.
This has been SO much work.
But it’s a full-circle.
A dream, realized.
A box of magic.
Now please go and buy one. My rent is due.