Mills Zombifies History with "Defoe: The Damned"

Tue, June 4th, 2013 at 12:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Karl Keily, Contributing Writer
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"2000 AD" is swapping science fiction for science historical fiction with June 12's prog 1836, debuting the latest installment of Pat Mills and Leigh Gallagher's 17th century zombie tale "Defoe" with "Defoe: The Damned."

"Defoe" takes place after a zombie plague suddenly strikes England in the year 1666. Former soldier and titular character Titus Defoe realizes he has a talent for killing zombies, employing weapons designed by inventors like Sir Isaac Newton to destroy the undead.

Mills, who also co-created "Marshal Law," "Nemesis" and "ABC Warriors" as well as being the co-creator of "2000 AD" itself, spoke with CBR about "Defoe: The Damned," revealing what fans can expect to see in the new chapter, opining on the current state of steampunk and more.

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CBR News: Pat, what's headed Defoe's way in "The Damned?"

Pat Mills: The final battle between Defoe and Faust. It's difficult to go into details without spoiling several surprises and shocks waiting for Defoe. We last saw him with the zombies besieging the Tower of London.

Mills said the 17th century setting "lends itself so well to zombies."

Why create a zombie saga set in the 17th century?

The dark, sinister period lends itself so well to zombies. It's a truly fascinating era and the birth of modern science and capitalism, which is great fun to explore. It's also the last time the British people tried and failed to get rid of their corrupt royal family. It's no coincidence that most of us were never taught about the Levellers at school -- yet they are far more important than the jingoistic "heroes" teachers usually bang on about. Steampunk is very heavily trawled in comics, whereas clockpunk is fresher and it's possible to come up with original material without having to check someone else hasn't already done it.

Are there any 'good' characters in "Defoe?" Everybody seems to be tainted in some way.

Zombie hunting's the most horrible job in the world, so it's going to attract rather flawed individuals. I think if there were any 'good' characters in "Defoe," they wouldn't be very popular. No one likes goody-goods -- with the possible exception of Superman -- and everyone has flaws and problems. Defoe is certainly a force for good. His dark side is that he has betrayed the cause of freedom by taking the King's shilling and becoming the Zombie Hunter General.

The best villains are often reflections of heroes -- how would you say Faust and Defoe are similar to each other?

The short answer is they are probably not, which perhaps invalidates Faust as a best villain! That's okay -- I still hate him! You're right; there is something neat about being opposite sides of the same coin -- I recently wrote a character Blue Eyes in "American Reaper" who is a dark reflection of the hero, so I know what you're getting at. It can be very powerful. Nemesis and Torquemada spring to mind.

Faust is an arrogant, dangerous, authentic, elite occultist who has been around for nearly two thousand years (St. Augustine has a furious debate with him). He's the kind of magician who would spell magic with a "k" and calls musty old books liebers. I have personally known people of this ilk and despise them, even though they do actually have a valid -- and sick -- occult perspective, a life-hating form of Gnosticism which has profound implications for anyone they're involved with. Whereas Defoe is a Leveller, a man of the people, who has an intuitive sense of spirit, rather than a formal esoteric education -- which gives him certain detective abilities -- and has the audacity to challenge this pretentious evil twat.

Do you see "Defoe" as a story with a definite end like "Nemesis" or as ongoing saga like "Slaine?"

This story completes one cycle of Defoe's life. There's at least two cycles beyond that -- the world and the characters are still being established. I'd certainly like to explore what happens after this current story concludes -- it ends on a rather different note to previous stories.

When you say 'cycles' of Defoe's life, what are you referring to specifically?

He was in the New Model Army who fought at Naseby. They were true revolutionaries for the time -- challenging the establishment. Then he takes it further and is a leader of the Levellers, amongst our greatest and forgotten heroes who wanted freedom and were sold out by Cromwell.

Mills plays to relevant historical topics of the time period in "Defoe" and even draws parallels to present day Western culture

So in peacetime he goes "straight," is a sedan chair carrier (the 17th century equivalent of a black cab driver) before he earns enough to buy a house in Colchester and settles down with his wife and kids.

Then comes 1666 and -- following the deaths of his family -- he becomes a zombie hunter. He's full of hatred for zombies and is promoted to Zombie Hunter General.

But now he's working for the King and the forces he was once bitterly opposed to. In his heart he feels he's sold out. Those are the cycles in his life so far. Now it's crunch time… He can't carry on like this any longer…

What does artist Leigh Gallagher bring to "Defoe?"

He's got to be the premier black and white horror artist. I can't think of anyone who can match his darkness, detail and horror; combined with creating an excellent hero -- and a working class hero at that. There aren't enough of them. The world of fiction is largely dominated by Sandhurst types, Hooray Henries and the upper middle classes; we need more mirrors to the truth rather than establishment icons.

Defoe uses creative weaponry to fight the zombie hoards, including some items designed by the likes of Newton himself. How do you come up with these designs and are there any lines you won't cross in terms of period realism?

I dream some devices up myself, but everything is based on something real -- thus Damned's steam car is based on the first French steam car. The strange double-purpose guns used by the zombie hunters are actually authentic. Defoe's multi-barreled pistol, for instance, was used to quell mutinies. Even Mungo's pickaxe rifle is genuine. Many other inventions were at least made in model form or designed on paper at the time. Like the "Chinese" car used by Prussian Blue, It wasn't just Da Vinci who designed flying machines.

In "Defoe," there has been a scientific explosion of knowledge -- thanks to "Angelic" intervention -- and so the 17th Century world is struggling with inventions that would normally take three hundred years to develop and process. This has echoes in our digital age, where the speed of scientific progress has sped up beyond anything ever seen in the past.

To that point -- what other parallels exist between 17th century life and today?

Defoe and the Levellers wanted an equal society, which meant getting rid of the royal family and the privileged class. We're still trying to do the same today. Actually, they were nearer to getting rid of them in Defoe's time. Our royal family are currently very secure.

In "Damned" Defoe uses weapons both real and fantastical to destroy zombies, but even his fictitious arsenal is rooted in fact

There was a lot of wild new esoteric and political thought in the 17th century -- possibly because of increased literacy and cheaply available bibles. Hence biblical forms of expression. These fascinating esoteric ideas have never been written about in a popular culture format so we're largely unaware of them.

It would be equivalent to the New Age and counter-culture movements of today. Drugs (tobacco was sometimes used like a drug), weird and bonkers cults (guys who went around swearing as a spiritual belief) and cool ideas (communes) come into both. There's terrible injustice in both eras. I recommend "The London Hanged," an excellent book taking place shortly after the "Defoe" era.

It's the beginning of global capitalism with the slave trade started by our royal family who formed a company to control it. Now, global capitalism is at its zenith. The beneficiaries of the slave trade are still around -- Cameron's wife comes from a slave trade family who made money exporting slaves from Africa to St. Lucia. They received millions of pounds in compensation from the British government when the trade was abolished. And of course we have our own modern slave trades, as in the Third World sweatshops.

The 17th century beginning of modern espionage has some striking similarities to espionage today. Hence in "Defoe" I have Damned Jones who is a James Bond style killer. There are also beautiful female spies, funky weapons and cunning ways of discovering secrets in both eras. Also, fantasist spies. I feature one in "Defoe" who invents a heroic alter-ego for himself. In our day there is a whistle-blower spy David Shayler who has tragically gone a bit strange and is now a transvestite. Then and now spies often worked as journalists as a cover -- hence Damned was a journalist. Today he'd work for the "Daily Telegraph."

So there's endless similarities! I try to feature as many as possible in "Defoe," so we identify with his world which is our world.

You mentioned "Defoe" is clockpunk and not steampunk. Thinking back, you were one of the earliest adopters of steampunk, too, with some of your "Nemesis" stories in the '80s. Do you think the steampunk genre has been done to death at this point?

There does seem to be a lot of steampunk around. Some of it seems a bit derivative of "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," but I still haven't seen anything which compares to Kevin O'Neill's steampunk art in "Nemesis the Gothic Empire." He devised and drew that whole thing which is true genius. I defy anyone to find a more impressive steampunk sequence. It's streets ahead of anything else that's followed.

Like most of your stories, "Slaine," "ABC Warriors," "Nemesis," etc., "Defoe" sits in a genre by itself. What's your favorite genre to work in?

Historical. Modern history -- 20th century to the present day. So anything which draws on this time period.

When I can't achieve that, I use science fiction. I'm fascinated by the pre-Beatles 1960s -- the classic "Mad Men" era -- which I feature in "American Reaper."

Are there any genres you have yet to explore but would like to?

Yes. A World War II equivalent of "Charley's War" set on the home front, digging up the serious dirt on World War II.

The media did an excellent job on promoting it as a just war. But there are many facts that challenge it. I finally found a cool way of doing this, but have yet to find a publisher.

Of course, I'd like to write more girls serials -- occult and "Inbetweeners," "Dawson's Creek" kinda thing. Essentially "popular culture" beyond superheroes, science fiction and fantasy. A lot of comics and graphic novels today seem to be aimed at "North London" middle class adults. I think we've forgotten their humbler roots and the original audience from which they derive their success. I'd like to help reverse that.

"Defoe: The Damned" debuts in "2000 AD" prog 1836 on sale June 12

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TAGS:  2000 ad, pat mills, leigh gallagher, defoe

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