John Russo’s Plague of the Living Dead #1

Held prisoner in their home and awaiting a bloody execution by an unrelenting wave of flesh-eating ghouls, a family in Stone Mountain, Virginia fights for their lives against their undead assailants. There is no way out and no escape… And certain death looms by the rotting hands of an army of corpses.

John Russo’s newest addition to his popular Living Dead line of comic books, PLAGUE OF THE LIVING DEAD #1, will arrive at retailers across the country May 16th. PLAGUE will be John Russo’s third title with Avatar Press and his second with artist Dheeraj Verma. John Russo, an architect of the modern zombie genre and co-creator of the original Night of the Living Dead film, and series artist Dheeraj Verma recently sat down to answer some questions on the new series:
John, as someone who has been actively involved with the genre since its modern day roots, can you tell us your thoughts on why zombies have been such powerful subjects for so long?

JR – In the early days of movie making, zombies were not heavyweight fright material, like vampires or werewolves. They didn’t do much, except maybe try to strangle someone or throw someone against a wall. What seemed to do the trick was when we made them flesh-eaters. And if you got bitten by one and did not die, you could come back as one of the undead — a form of “immortality” that no one really wants. In a way, we combined the vampire, werewolf and zombie myths into one ball of wax, and this struck an atavistic core of fear in people.

Recently in the past few years the zombie genre has especially become popular in the comic medium. What about the medium has made it such a popular, shall I say effective, way to tell these stories?

JR – Well, comics can go “over the top” in a way that movies can’t- because of the necessity of getting a “R” rating. The artwork can be and is very graphic and creative and, in a word, it can be excellent. Often the art is quite lurid, but this doesn’t freak anybody out because it’s also unreal in a sense. It’s just plain FUN. Plus, you don’t have to worry about needing millions and millions of dollars to produce a comic book. You can portray BIG action of any type — it’s up to the imaginations of the creators.

With Plague of the Living Dead #1 coming out in, can you comment on your third title with Avatar Press? How much creative freedom do you maintain?

JR – Working with William Christensen, Mike Wolfer and all the creative people connected with Avatar has been an exciting, rewarding experience in every way. We develop ideas together, without friction, because we’re all so much on the same page. We all love doing this, and it shows in everyone’s work.

It’s great to be working with people who aren’t in it solely for the money, even though money has to be made to stay in business. Thanks to the fans — who have absolutely loved our new stories and are buying the comics in huge numbers — we can have the satisfaction of knowing we’re giving them what they want, which is a tremendous source of satisfaction.

This is also the second series in which you are working with artist Dheeraj Verma. How has he handled depicting the intense details present in your scripts?

JR – I love the artwork that Dheeraj has been doing! He has brought the characters and events to life in a powerful way. And he has stayed true to the original concept, which is always a blessing to writers like me.

With Plague, you really seem to plan to dive into subjects that have been hinted to or skirted around in previous series (i.e. Army-sanctioned zombie program, parallels drawn between zombie genre and Vietnam War.) Can you tell us a little about these facets of Plague?

JR – The military aspects of “zombiehood” had been dealt with or talked about by me and others in the past, but using those elements in Plague was Mike Wolfer’s idea.

He and I both worked out the story and treatment from that point forward. As I say, it has been a rewarding collaboration and this kind of working relationship doesn’t always happen in the entertainment business — so that when it does happen it should be treasured.

Dheeraj, how has your experience with Avatar Press been so far? How about with John Russo?

DV – It’s a pleasure to be working with Avatar Press and William Christensen. He is very soft for such a hardened businessman. I respect him.. In India, Avatar means “New Life”, and Avatar Press is like a new life to me thanks to William. He is a gem.

About Mr. Russo, I can’t say anything that hasn’t been said before, he writing and original creations are genius. Before working with him, I had seen lots of horror movies, but I was unaware of zombies, even at that time when I started drawing Escape of the Living Dead. But since then I have seen many of his films. It’s really a golden chance for me to be working with Mr. John Russo. I salute him.

How much experience did you have with the zombie genre before working with Avatar Press and John Russo? Have you ever drawn zombies before these series, were you a fan of the classic movies, or were you wholly unfamiliar with the material?

DV – I did not have any experience with the genre before Avatar, but now I love to create these horrors for my readers. They expect a lot from me, and I want to show them the best comic book we can produce. This is my work and being flexible in what I can draw is key in the industry.

What has been the most exciting part about working on Plague besides the paycheck?

DV – Creating the nude scenes ;)

John Russo’s scripts are very detailed, particularly with action and gore. How have you adapted to capturing in your art the level of detail which you find in his scripts?

DV – Yes, he writes excellent scripts. He describes the scenes in very interesting ways.

Working on Plague of the Living Dead, what were your plans compared to your initial approach to Escape of the Living Dead series? Were your goals to keep the different titles more closely connected visually, or more distinct from each other?

DV – Both are more closely connected than not. I go deeply into my work and have had so much zombie work it’s like I am working on the same script without any break. There are loads of new characters, but the seperate titles are linked in ways. After this series I am looking to do something different, otherwise I worry I’ll be typecast.

Cover Art: Jacen Burrows, Dheeraj Verma, Jeremy Rock, Lucio Rubira
Writer: John Russo
Art: Dheeraj Verma
Readership: MR
Format: Full Color, 16 pages, 1 of 6

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