Join Comic Booked’s Jeff Hughes as he sits down with one of the most talented artists in the industry today- “The King Of Zombie Art” himself, Arthur Suydam. Together, they discuss life, comics and of course zombies! All in time for Arthur’s appearance at Comicpalooza May 27th-May29th.
When did you start drawing and when did you first receive acknowledgement for your artwork?
I began drawing at age 6 after being burned very badly and spending a year in the hospital. As is traditional with hospitals, visitors usually bring flowers and magazines for friends or family. My dad brought me comic books; mostly DC’s Legion of Super Heroes, Superboy and GI Combat with GI’s battling dinosaurs.
I was wrapped up from head to foot, like a mummy, including my hands which were badly burned. Once released from the hospital, I began to draw. It was quite painful at first, and it took years for my hands to heal and decades of reconstructive surgery to get them back functioning correctly.
My drawings began to receive parental recognition within a few years, later with kids from the neighborhood who also liked to draw. Some time later, I had a great art teacher in high school by the name of Brother Carl Overton, who began to guide me and introduce me to some of the European illustrators from bygone eras.
I know you have probably been asked this a thousand times, but when did you decide to pursue a career as an artist?
Later on many of those professions actually came through for me, though writing and the artwork were my first real pay days out of high school.
Jim Warren from Warren Publishing had asked me to come work for them when I graduated for Creepie , Eerie, and Vampirella magazine in ’72. On my way to Warren Publishing, I stopped off at DC Comics,where editor of EC/ Warren artist/MAD editor, Joe Orlando hired me on the spot and stole me away right from under Warren’s nose.
When I showed up at DC Comics,I had a folio full of fully painted comic pages and stories I had written, mostly mixed media and in oils with a mix of fantasy and horror themes. Comic publishing was all process coloring on newsprint paper with writing targeted for 8 to 10 year olds, but I wanted to paint comics, and a great letterer there was also production manager for Heavy Metal. They let me write and paint for a more mature audience and printed the painted work on nice glossy paper.
I am told that my work and Richard Corben’s were the first painted comic works in America.
I loved working for Julie Simmons, John Workman and the gang at Heavy Metal. It was real mom and pop, you could really grow there, and it was a great vetting growing ground for creatives.
In the states there were myself, Richard Corben, Bernie Wrightson, Jones, Bode and Kaluta; overseas there were Mobius, Milo Manara, Phillipe Drulette and Phillipe Caza, they were pushing the envelope, those were great times in Comic-dom.
As a fan, you often hear from artists that they really didn’t pay attention in class because they were drawing or doodling. Were you that type of student?
Only in art class; remember, in my mind I thought I was training for a career in science. In my town were some of the best schools in the nation,so junior high schools were extremely labor intensive and difficult.
When we got to high school, integration and busing came in and that all changed for the worse, because as it turns out, some schools were pushing students through the grades. By the time many of the students got to the local high school, they still couldn’t read or write.
This provided me with a fair amount of sketch time through most of the classes and still allowed me to land passing grades.
What was your very first comic book job, and do you still have the art work to look back on?
As soon as I did my first job for DC Comics the notoriety began and art dealers began to seek me out to purchase the art, so that art is long gone; some of the newer stuff is socked away in storage.
Everyone asks about your favorite early projects, but I want to put a twist on that and ask about the one early project that you wouldn’t want anyone to find out about?
Well the best early jobs were all the ones I got to write myself and actually paint; the worst ones were a few that I got to completely reverse the barometer on the story and tell the reverse of the story.
An example was a typical cookie cutter Cinderella fairy tale/short horror story for DC with a pretty little thing living with a rude, crude, mistreating dude in the swamps. The story was everything one should not do in writing, it really pissed me off. It was so bad that I turned the girl into the ugliest troll ever to walk, and it gave the story a very colorful but sick David Lynch kind of flavor, I believe I saved the story.
In the process, that story is what landed me a job at Heavy Metal magazine, for which I am eternally grateful.
You are both a writer and an artist, which is more challenging and why?
Both are challenging. Because of the particular format and style of writing, which is a screenplay style cinema graphic character development method, I find writing a lot more labor intensive.
It was bound to come up in the conversation, and I know you have been asked this a million times, but how did Marvel Zombies come about? What was your initial reaction to the concept?
I believe Marvel Zombies was just one of those rare, magical combinations of talents and subject, with myself, Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips pooling our creative abilities on just the right project that sneaked through the cracks of the bureaucracy.
I have been informed that the series broke all-time trade sales records up at Marvel. The sad thing is that some people have no clue what to do with the talent when it falls in their lap; you would think it might occur to someone who it might be lucrative to try to keep the trio together to work on a variety of projects – you know, repeat the success.
I knew right from the start that the series had the potential to become the biggest hit in comics, which is exactly what happened.
What were your thoughts in the outline of the Marvel Zombies; and is there still one particular character not only in Marvel, but any comic book character you would like to zombify?
I am a 1960’s Marvel Comic’s story expert. I have all the stories and characters memorized and have a small line of Marvel Zombies mini–series for which I would like to write and do covers.
If they let me write and act as creative director for the mini-series, it would be as successful as the first series we worked on. I am the most appropriate writer/artist for the series out there.
You are the Zombie King, after all. Your name is synonymous with Zombies and with Marvel Zombies in particular, but would you like to do another similar comic series dealing with other monsters?
We are in talks right now to do a zombie universe thing for DC. We will see how that one goes and let you know, its more or less top secret.
Do you think the comic book and movie industries are becoming saturated with too many zombie projects?
No, I don’t think so. For me, only the good zombie projects count, and the rest just fall by the wayside, like in any other genre. If the concept and writing can stay strong, there should be no limit to the tales that can be told.
Think mafia movies or any other genre. Like spaghetti westerns, they just keep getting better and better.
For me, Robert’s first two episodes of the new “The Walking Dead” TV series stand as one movie and may be the best serious-natured zombie movie I’ve ever seen. In addition “Shaun of the Dead” was great fun as well, from a different angle.
Speaking of zombies, what is your favorite zombie-based or horror movie, and what makes you want to watch it over again?
That’s an easy one, “Return Of The Living Dead“,the Dan O’Bannon comedy flick, the original “Night Of The Living Dead”, and Robert’s new “The Walking Dead” TV series, episodes one and two. I watch that one over and over again.
Some of the artists I know really don’t read comic books on a regular basis but rather concentrate on the artwork. Do you read comics or are you primarily interested in the artwork?
I use my friends for guinea pigs and only read the ones they recommend to me. They know my taste. The writing in both DC and Marvel, with occasional exceptions, is just too bad.
Some of them would be a waste of time, though I would say that the art in comics has improved by leaps and bounds.
We met a couple of times at past Wizard World Texas Conventions. You were nice enough to do a zombie Captain America for me for a Toys For Tots charity. That said, you are very outspoken about how important charity is. Why do you feel so strongly about charity?
Because the older I get and the more I learn about life, the more I see, the more I am convinced that we are all related, like it or not. It is our moral duty to look out for our less fortunate brothers and sisters, fight the good fight, fight the profits over people and the propaganda that corporate media has been shoving down our throats to destroy organized labor since the seventies.
That propaganda was “look out for number one only,” this is their mantra, that is the message of greed by the corporations. They will not be satisfied until they have cheated their brothers out of every last penny and ruined the planet.
Me, I am on the other side.
What are some of your favorite charities to support and sponsor?
Hero Initiative, Smile International, Children International, WBAI Radio, Bowery Mission, Salvation Army.
Many others, and any worthy politicians looking out for America’s workers.
What charities are you currently a part of, and what can we do to support them?
That’s an unusual question that I believe may have an equally unusual answer to. I would ask my fellow Americans to do something for themselves, and in doing so they might also do their country the greatest of services.
That would be to educate themselves and take an interest in the news and politics of the land, for which so many died on the battle field. By that I mean the real news, not the science fiction presented in the corporate media, TV, radio, and newspapers which were highjacked from us back in the seventies.
Then we will all benefit.
Where can fans go to read more about you, see where you will be appearing and of course where to checkout your awesome artwork?
There are a fair amount of books out on the subject; to name a few, I would mention the following:
Visions : The Art Of Arthur Suydam
The Fantastic Art Of Arthur Suydam
Art Of The Barbarian
Marvel Zombies,The Covers
Luminism, The Art Of James Suydam
All of these are available at Amazon.
Comic Booked and I would like to thank Arthur Suydam for taking the time to talk with us and give us some insight into his life in and out of comics. Be sure to visit with him at Comicpalooza in Houston, Texas May 27th-May 29th.
When you do stop by his table, be sure to give to one of the charities he mentioned above. He is always taking donations for these charities.