How do you follow up taking on a zombie outbreak during 14th Century? How about taking on the forces of Satan himself. Creators Frank Tieri, Oleg Okunev and Rob Schwager return to the next volume of their Aftershock Series, “Pestilence: A Story of Satan.” Roderick Helms and the Fiat Lux have “retreated to a life of hidden seclusion after failing to expose the Church’s role in the Black Death. But something threatens to bring him back into action.”
For insight into new arc of “Pestilence: A Story of Satan,” we were able to talk to writer, Frank Tieri. Frank discusses the zombie genre, creating likable characters in a time filled with unlikable people, and what to expect going forward from the series. A huge thanks to Frank for taking the time to discuss series and be sure to look for the new issue of “Pestilance: A Story of Satan” as well as the first collected volume of “Pestilance” in stores now.
Thanks for taking the time to talk about “Pestilence: A Story of Satan”! The first arc ended with a victory for the heroes but the realization of a bigger threat and that they must go on the run. The next arc is titled “A Story of Satan”, which makes it sound like it is not going to get any easier for the Fiat Lux. What can readers expect with book two of this series?
Frank Tieri: As you might expect, readers can expect Satan to make his presence felt in this go around—and as we saw in issue 1, he does so BIG TIME.
So yeah, Satan’s involvement was hinted at in vol 1, but as we see in vol 2, it wasn’t just talk. In issue 1 we see he has control over Sir Richard and his ex- zombie followers and just when the Black Plague seemed to be waning, this causes it to rear its ugly head again and become more of a threat than ever. We’ll learn that this all was part of Satan’s bigger plan, which we’ll see unfold as the series progresses. Needless to say, Roderick and the gang will have their hands full.
Each issue of the first arc seemed to introduce a different trope of the zombie genre and either subvert or adapt it for the setting of the story. Are your inspirations for genre different for this next arc?
FT: Yeah, that’s something we did very much on purpose in vol 1. We wanted our zombies to be different than the standard WALKING DEAD “eat brains” variety. Our zombies evolved as the series progressed—so while they started off as typical “walkers”, eventually they started to regain the skills they had in life. The biggest problem with that of course were all the fallen soldiers who had succumbed to the Plague, reappearing again to hunt Roderick and his men with their previous abilities now intact.
But now here in vol 2… the zombies are very different. In fact, I don’t know if you can all them zombies at all. They’re really extensions of Satan now, part of a sort of Satanic “hive mind”. So Satan can act through them, see through them, talk through them, etc. His consciousness is in total control—which makes this incarnation of the Plague more dangerous than ever.
I remember first hearing the idea of the series and thinking of it on the surface level of zombies/plague/knights but as each issue the progression the lore and larger conspiracy story is what really hooked me. How did the idea for the series develop and become what “Pestilence” now is?
FT: Pestilence was actually originally a video game pitch by a couple of Hollywood writers that decided to make a comic in order to better sell their idea. (I think you can see how it would make an excellent video game, by the way). They pitched the idea—What if the Black Plague as we know it was actually a zombie outbreak covered up by the church?– to Aftershock and that’s when I got a call from Mike Marts. Marts and I have worked together for years, way back to our WOLVERINE days so he knew I was a history nut and could obviously handle the violence a book like this needed. So I came in to do the comic and then took the idea, expanded on it and that was vol 1 in a nutshell.Continued below
And now, since vol 1 did well– and we were smart enough to leave the door open for a sequel– here we are with vol 2.
In the first arc the art by Oleg Okunev and Rob Schwager really stood out. For a series tackling the dark world of medieval zombie plague horror I loved that the art was bright and very stylized. What do Oleg and Rob bring to the series as an art team and what can we expect from them in this next story?
FT: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… my guys draw the best zombies in the industry, period. The designs are all different and unique—From James’ open jaw, tongue out tied up zombie to that zombie mother breastfeeding her zombie kids. Plus we have a LOT of big sprawling fights with undead hordes in these books and these guys rise to the challenge every time.
Now as for this next story, the zombies are different, as I’ve said. So yeah, there’ll still be big huge fight scenes but the look and nature of our zombies aren’t the same. Here they’ll have black eyes and black blood like liquid leaking out of their eyes and mouth and nose, etc.
And then… they’ll change again. Stay tuned for when that happens—what it means storywise– and what Oleg and Rob come up with then. You won’t be disappointed.
You are obviously no stranger to the horror genre in comics. How have you learned to balance effectively telling a horror story in the comic’s medium? “Pestilence” has been releasing almost concurrently to “Jughead: The Hunger” and its really great to see how you manage the two different horror series.
FT: Thanks—but while PESTILENCE and JUGHEAD: THE HUNGER are both horror titles and deal with a lot of the same themes (loyalty, friendship, secret organizations, etc) they’re really very different books. There’s the time period aspect, obviously but also JTH is more classic movie monster—reluctant hero turns monster, etc. Pestilence is straight up historical horror.
I have to admit, though it’s been fun and challenging at the same time, juggling both books like I am. Like I said, they both allow me to stretch different horror genre muscles, and I’m cool with that.
It could be pretty easy to have a character who is an ex-Crusader like Roderick Helms and agents the Church like Fiat Lux be people who readers are maybe indifferent to. How important to the series is it having a good “hero” and someone like Roderick who I was actively rooting for? Where will readers see Roderick and what will drive that connection in this next arc?
FT: When we start vol 2, it’s actually a few years after the end of vol 1. The Plague is waning, the evil Cardinal Price is now Pope and Roderick… well, Roderick is sort of retired. He;s living with his family in seclusion in the South of France, done with his days as the Church’s cleaner. He’s essentially Clint Eastwood at the beginning of Unforgiven.
But, despite his strong desire to the contrary, to be left alone with his family… the circumstances of Satan’s emergence do eventually bring him and his ex-compadres in Fiat Lux back. Because that’s who Roderick is. Sure, he’d rather someone else save the day this time but it’s like he can’t help himself. In the end, he’ll always do what’s right. And that’s what ultimately makes him a pretty damned good hero.
Could you see yourself expanding and tackling other historical events/settings with the lore in “Pestilence”?
FT: It’s funny you say that—in my original draft there was a modern element to the book, where an ancestor of Roderick was looking back at the events of the book and we see a whole new zombie apocalypse threatens to emerge once again. Aftershock decided they didn’t want to mix the two timelines—but that was then. So in other words, that’s not to say we won’t revisit that concept in the future. Or that other timelines can’t be explored.
Aftershock continues to add titles and creators that have really impressed me and have released some of my favorite books this past year. What makes Aftershock the place for Pestilence?Continued below
FT: I think why books like Pestilence do well at Aftershock is because fans have begun to realize that you won’t be getting the same old crap at Aftershock. Aftershock takes chances and has started to become known as a place to get quality fare of all genres—not just superheroes. I’m happy to be associated with them.
Those Tim Bradstreet covers! How important is it to have a cover artist like Tim and setting the tone for the series, especially for an independent creator owned title?
FT: Tim is a personal buddy of mine who I’ve worked with way back since we did PUNISHER NOIR together at Marvel. So when I got the PESTILENCE gig he was the first I called as I knew he’d be a great fit for it. The guy not only does his historical research, but he brings a grim and gritty realistic feel to the book that was much needed. And as you can see by every cover he’s produced for us, we absolutely made the right call on Tim.
What do you hope readers get or take away from the series? Why should they join the Fiat Lux on this next journey with you?
FT: I’d like them to want MORE, for crissakes. The PESTILENCE fans have been great with their support and it’s why we have a volume 2. But really, there’s no end to the stories we can tell in this world—and we would like to tell them. So go out and buy plenty of copies of PESTILENCE: A STORY of SATAN, will ya kids? You won’t be sorry.