The masterminds behind Boom! Studios' new Key of Z talk to The Outhouse about their new zombie series!
As frontman for rock band Coheed & Cambria, Claudio Sanchez writes and sings about narratively complex and experimental science fiction concepts that would look right at home in the comics medium. So when he announced that he would be adapting The Amory Wars, a sprawling storyline spread out over five full-length albums of material, to comics, it came as no surprise. However, along with wife/co-writer Chondra Echert, Sanchez has stuck around in comics, creating new ideas and new stories for their company Evil Ink, which publishes through Boom! Studios. Sanchez and Echert chatted with The Outhouse in their booth at New York Comic-Con about their writing and about their newest project, Key of Z, a comic book about a zombie apocalypse in New York City.
The Outhouse (OH): So why comics?
Claudio Sanchez (CS): Growing up, it was certainly something I wanted to be a part of. At first I wanted to be an artist, but in terms of sequential art, it just didn't really work out for me. Then, when I created Coheed, I realized that I kind of had a hard time confessing myself in the lyrics and I thought, "what better way than to create a piece of fiction that I could essentially hide my story in, and explore that need and want to explore comics; to use that as the medium to tell my story?" Ever since then, it snowballed into Kill Audio, and doing Key of Z, and future stories we've been talking about. I personally like my stories with a visual, whether it's comics, animation, movies, what have you, I like that visual counterpart to the stories. So this just made the most sense.
OH: Chondra, how did you get involved?
Chondra Echert (CE): I didn't grow up reading a ton of comics. I read Archie and Betty & Veronica, those kind of things, like it was my job. None of my parents read them, or anyone I knew, so I wasn't exposed to the medium, but I was a huge reader since I was a little kid. Over time, when Claudio and I met, he was so interested in them, and I was sort of absorbed in novels and never even thought about giving it a shot as an adult. Then I read Y-The Last Man. That was my gateway drug, and it snowballed from there.
OH: Talk about the scriptwriting process. How does the collaboration work between you two?
CS: With Key of Z, it was initially going to be a short story. Chondra had contributed to a zombie compilation in St. Pete, FL, and that was going to push to a New York location book, and she asked me if I wanted to submit a story for it. So I started to create a short story for it, and as the concept started to bloom, we thought "this actually might make a better comic book."
But usually I'll draw the essential outline, fill it with a little it, Chondra will filter it, and we'll go back and forth and color the characters. While she might make somebody more loose, I might counter that and make them more rugged, until the character actually makes sense.
[to Chondra] Is that a good answer? Is that a good answer for you?
CE: I loved it; it was beautful.
OH: Feel free to contradict. That would be great.
CE: [laughs] Claudio's a liar!
OH: How did Evil Ink end up at Boom! Studios?
CS: That's actually more of a Blaze question, honestly [referring to manager Blaze James]. We had partnered with Image in the past, and we had been looking for more on the editorial side to make a great story, and Boom! promised us that, and it's been working out ever since. We wanted better placement in Previews, we thought Boom! could get us that. I think for the most part, we were just looking for an editor who could help us bring it all together.
CE: It's difficult sometimes when you're working with creator-owned material because if it's creator-owned, it's harder to go outside the box, and editors don't really want to come and be involved because "it's your thing, do it!" But Boom! is really good about hiring editors who want to be very hands on. We've had nothing but good things to say about Boom!
One thing about Ross [Ritchie], the owner, he understands what it's like to be at the beginning stages and begin to grow and become this monster, so he has a lot of respect for people who are still getting their bearings.
OH: Tell us more about Key of Z specifically.
Essentially, it's a zombie apocalypse tale that takes place in Manhattan. All of the arenas around Manhattan – Yankee Stadium, CitiField, Madison Square Garden– have all been colonized and the factions within them are starting to war for control of Manhattan Island. Our hero, Nick Ewing, who comes from the House of Madison Square, is positioned between the houses of Yankee and Met, and essentially wants to get them to war against each other. It's really a revenge story at the heart of it. The harmonica is kind of the Excalibur of the story. With issue #2 you see the significance of it, and in issue #4 we bring it home. It's kind of an interesting way that we use the zombies.
CE: You can expect a lot of really cool artwork, a lot of cool visuals. Another reason we took it from a short story, a prose situation, to a comic, is that it's a very visual story.
CS: There are a lot of locations in the story, which again, I love the visuals of. I love New York City, so in a way it's almost kind of a love letter to it. Sports are such a big part of the culture here, and that plays an element, and again, paying homage to all of those great iconic places in the book really gives you a sense of place.
OH: How did you get hooked up with your art team?
CS: Nathan Fox did the variants on Kill Audio, and it was a style that we really wanted to see throughout all of the issues, so he is our cover artist. Tony Moore, from The Amory Wars, has come on to do the incentive cover, and Declan [Shalvey] was turned on to us from Boom! And the interior artist is Aaron Kuder, who did the last four issues of the "In Keeping Secrets" storyline of The Amory Wars. At the time he was kind of mimicking Chris Burnham a little bit and came into his own. He figured out a way to bend it so that it was his own by issue #12, so we thought it would be nice to give him his own book so that he can shine. I think he's a great, detailed artist.
CE: And to be fair, it wasn't just like "hey, you worked on that book, let's work on this one." We had picked a different artist and thought it didn't have the right feel to it, so we auditioned four or five more, and Aaron just owned it. Where one person would come back with one sketch of what you asked, he came back with like fifteen!
CS: Yeah, he was very proactive, which is exciting. We're really excited about the title, so it's nice to have an artist equal to that.
OH: You had mentioned that Key of Z started life as a short story. How long did the process take from inital conception to publication of the first issue?
CS: When did we start the short story?
CE: Last year, maybe? The end of last year.
CS: I remember when [Coheed and Cambria drummer] Chris Pennie joined the band and I was talking about the concept with him. It was definitely a concept that had been there...
CE: Maybe it was longer than that...
CS: I think it was perfect, when you had brought up the idea for doing the short story, and we thought this was the platform, and then we were like "this obviously needs a visual counterpart, let's go that route." So it's been a while.
OH: When you're writing these large, sprawling storylines in music and in comics, where are you getting these ideas from? Do you draw on your own life for inspiration?
CS: I do. One of the ridiculous parts of The Amory Wars is that I play a character in the story. It's an extension of the story I have to tell, only when I created The Amory Wars, I was too shy to tell it in song. So I thought "why not create this piece of fiction, and I can hide my story in it?" All the characters are very significant in my life. The title, The Amory Wars, I grew up on the street Amory Drive. Everything has relevance in my life, so a lot of it is drawn from where I am at the time I write a concept or a record.
OH: What's the latest on the band? Are you guys working on any new material right now?
CS: Yes we are. The album is pretty much written. We're actually going to go into the studio in November or December and start working on it, and start cataloging it. We're audtioning new bass players, we're trying to fill the position, but creatively, we're there.
Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch