It’s the late 14th Century, and a Great Pestilence—the “Black Death”— is sweeping across Europe, killing over 100 million people. BUT, what if history as we know it was a lie? What if, in reality, this was no straightforward plague, but the FIRST non-recorded Zombie Infestation of man? Ex-Crusader Roderick Helms and his fellow “black ops” agents the Church, Fiat Lux, must seek out the cause of this undead outbreak and vanquish it before mankind ceases to exist!
Written by the master of violence, gore, and mayhem, Frank Tieri (Marvel vs Capcom, Wolverine, Deadpool), with spectacular art from Disney illustrator, Oleg Okunev, and covers by Eisner Award-nominated artist Tim Bradstreet (The Punisher, Hellblzer)! Check out our exclusive interview below with Frank Tieri on crafting Pestilence Volume 1.
Pestilence Volume 1 from Aftershock Comics will be available January 30, 2018.
Pestilence Volume 1
Ashley Kronsberg: Zombie stories have forged quite the fan base over the last decade of story-telling, but Pestilence Volume 1 spins a unique tale by planting this idea in medieval times. What was the inspiration behind bringing this fan-favorite trope?
Frank Tieri: Actually, it was Mike Marts and AfterShock who brought the basic idea to me – this notion that the Black Death was in actuality a zombie apocalypse that was covered up by the Church-- and I later expanded on it.
The original concept from which I built on came from two Hollywood writers—Eric Bromberg and Brandon Auman. It was actually initially intended to be a video game pitch—and by the way, I still think it would make quite a fucking kick ass video game—and the thought was I would come in and be a part of the project and write the comic. Mike and I have worked together for years at Marvel and DC so he knew I was a bit of a history buff and, as most of the book would be ultra violent with knights and zombies murdering the shit out of each other throughout the whole series, that I would be a good fit.
I think it’s safe to say I was and I’d say it’s worked out pretty good for everybody involved. Really proud of how it turned out.
Aside from being a zombie story, Pestilence deals with deeper themes of loyalty, comradery, leadership, feminism, and faith. Could you give us some background on why these themes were important to have present throughout this story?
Well, that’s the thing with zombie stories, right? There has to be something other than just zombies eating people otherwise what’s the damned point? Our story had to be about people—in our case, it really is one person’s story in particular, Roderick Helms’. He pretty much embodies all those qualities you mentioned. His leadership and comradery and faith is what keeps Fiat Lux going. His loyalty is personified when he refuses to abandon James. Roderick was our center and he, more than anyone, really humanized our story.
As with any zombie-story, eaters as they are called in Pestilence, we see a number of the main cast lost to the flesh eating hordes. Was there any particular character that was the hardest for you to write off? Were the deaths natural to the story's progression, or did they take even you by surprise as you moved on?
Both. I knew everyone wouldn’t make it all the way through—some were predetermined. Some I decided along the way as it fit the story.
As for who was the hardest to write off… not to give too much away, but it’s the character with the biggest secret. (and people who read the book will know who that is). But that character’s death is so selfless, so triumphant… I just had to leave it in.
Our main character, Roderick Helms has the dual duty of narrating the story through his letters to his beloved Jaqueline. Framing the story with Roderick's inner thoughts to her provides an intricate insight into not only how he is processing this situation as a soldier but as a human being as well. Was this framing device always a part of your plan when you started writing?
Yes. Roderick is a pretty damned stoic guy, a guy who had to be strong for his men so he couldn’t always let his true feelings be known—so I needed an outlet and the letters to Jaqueline provide just that.
I also wanted something that Roderick was trying to obtain that was not just him trying to stop this zombie apocalypse. Jaqueline and their unborn child was that, that thing that more than anything he ultimately wanted to get to, that thing that more than anything he was fighting for.
Pestilence is a fairly fast paced story as readers travel thousands of miles and learns several secrets along with the Fiat Lux. Oleg Okunev is the artist on this series, and his art not only maintains the pace of the story but also grounds readers through the intense color choices and graphic details. What has it been like working together on this series?
Yeah, Pestilence was a fairly challenging story to tell but I do think we both managed to pull it off. I mean, we’re in the Holy Land, we’re in the Vatican, we’re in Westminster Abbey… running around, killing zombies at break neck speeds, a lot of times in these grand, epic over the top fight scenes. And to Oleg’s credit, he was able to keep up and nailed it every time. His art was as much a part of Pestilence’s success as anything I wrote. Maybe even more so.
We start off with a pretty big cast going into the first arc of this story. Disregarding anyone's untimely death, who would you say is/was your favorite character? Is there any character you have a love-hate relationship?
Geoffrey was by far my favorite character to write—and I think you can tell. I mean, he’s probably the character that has most of my voice. He’s also the character who is sort of the audience at times, his comments reflecting how nuts everything gets when the shit really starts hitting the apocalyptic fan.
I guess Domenico was a love/ hate character. He was difficult to write at times because yeah, he’s the group asshole—in this case, one of those people that is so blinded by faith that he makes some questionable decisions at times in the name of that faith. So you have to be careful writing a character like that. In other words… assholes can be tough to write at times.
I found myself not only engrossed in the story, but in the variety of eaters we see throughout the story. Okunev's art works perfectly with the gruesome nature of the tale, and his depictions of the undead are particularly impressive. My personal favorite is the mother with triplets. Do you have a favorite eater yourself?
Honestly, Oleg probably draws the best zombies I’ve ever seen. Such variety, no two zombies really the same. And believe me, most of that was entirely him. Especially as the series progressed, I let him design the zombies as he saw fit and he didn’t let me down. And yeah, that mother with the triplets was def up there, certainly. I’m also partial to how he designed James when he took his zombie turn. I called for the no jaw but the big Venom-like tongue was all Oleg.
Without giving away too much more, is there anything else you'd like readers to know about this series before they plunge knee deep into the blood and guts of "The Black Plague"?
Well, realize this series isn’t necessarily the end. Let’s just say in the end there’s an opening for plenty of more story to tell. There’s a reason it’s called Volume 1, ya know…