War is Hell: Johnson and Flannigan Talk "War of the Undead"

Wed, January 10th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Chris Ullrich, Contributing Writer

The date: 1945. The place: Germany. It's near the end of WWII. Hitler has committed suicide and the Nazis are desperate. Is this the end of their Third Reich dreams? Not by a long shot. They have one last-ditch plan to turn the tide and win the war – use the most famous monsters of all time, Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein's monster, as a weapon. But their plan backfires and the monsters decide to team-up, against the evil Nazis!

On their own, these creatures have entertained and terrified millions around the world, so imagine what they could do if they combined forces. Well, there's no need to imagine because it's happening, at least in the pages of the new "War of the Undead" comic book coming soon from IDW Publishing. CBR News sat down with the creators of "War of the Undead," Bryan Johnson and Walter Flannigan, to get all the gory, undead details.

"War of the Undead" came about in somewhat of an unusual way. Johnson and Flannigan had never done much comic book work before, although readers may remember the pair for their recurring roles as fanboys "Steve-Dave" and "Walt Flannigan" in Kevin Smith's "Mallrats" and "Chasing Amy." Their one previous attempt, "Karney,"was written first as a screenplay and then made into a comic book. In the case of "War of the Undead," it was conceived as a comic book and is a story Flannigan really wanted to tell.

"I'm a sucker for the 'monster as a hero' concept and I wanted to take a stab at drawing essentially a super-team of monsters," Flannigan told CBR news. However, in the beginning, Johnson took a little more convincing. "I had no aspirations of comic creation and wouldn't have thought of it had Walter not suggested the 'Karney ' adaptation," added Johnson. "The rest is comics history. At least in my house where publishing a comic is more than the eight preceding Johnson generations accomplished."

With all the Nazis, monsters, zombies and the like, how do these creatures fit together to form the story of "War of the Undead?" "A group of Nazis concoct a plan to resurrect [Hitler's] soul from hell and place it in an earthly vessel," said Flannigan. "To do it, they need a soul-less creature, Frankenstein's Monster, and they need to sacrifice a supernatural creature, The Werewolf. And Dracula is the final monster needed to complete the ritual. But before the ritual can take place, the monsters break free and join forces to take down the Nazis." Johnson's description is slightly shorter when he describes "War of the Undead" as "exactly as much fun as a barrelful of Nazis, monsters, and zombies."

When dealing with these famous creatures with histories, powers and abilities well known to most any fan, how will the creatures be portrayed in the comic book? "We're pretty much sticking to the lore of these three monsters," said Flannigan, "except for this one cool idea that Bryan had where he threw in whoever removes a vampire's stake would have control over the creature."

With all the focus on these famous creatures, can we expect any appearances by other monsters? "Yeah," said Flannigan. "Besides Dracula, The Werewolf and Frankenstein's monster, we have in the book: the mummy, tons of zombies, weird-ass costumed Nazis and in the prelude comic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde make an appearance."

For somewhat reluctant comic book creators Johnson and Flannigan, the "War of the Undead" book's green light from IDW actually happened rather simply. Instead of the usual struggle to get their ideas out there that entangles most creators, these creators started with a simple phone call. "It was Walt who had the idea of contacting Chris Ryall at IDW and told him we had nearly a full first issue written, drawn and colored and asked would he take a look," said Johnson. "Walter gave him a quick synopses and I think Chris was about 95% sold on that alone. Chris [also] had a very positive response to Walt's art and it was a go."

Just as their entry into comic book creation was unusually simple, Johnson and Flannigan don't collaborate in what could be called the "traditional" way of other writer/artist teams either. " We talk about the story, spitball ideas and figure out what we want to happen in the issue," said Johnson. "Walt then goes off and draws whatever he wants and when he's done I go back and fill in the narrative. From what I understand this isn't the way it's normally done. However, I've also been told it's the way 'Stan the Man' used to do it. So I'm pretty much exactly like him – except for the talent, money and good looks. Other than that, we're exactly the same."

Now that "War of the Undead" is close to hitting the shelves and the majority of the work has been done, what's next for these creators? Other comic books or perhaps a sequel to their newest creation? Johnson isn't quite sure what the duo will take on now. As for Flannigan, he's very sure what he would like to do -- more "War of the Undead." " I talked to Bryan about how cool it would be to do a story set 10 years later (in the) 1950s," said Flannigan. "A 'War of the Worlds' riff where the earth is being invaded by Martians and the only hope the earth has in defeating the aliens is Drac, Frankie and the Werewolf! That would be awesome."

So, if you're a fan of these creatures and would love to see them give the Nazi's the beat-down they so richly deserve, get your hands on "War of the Undead" when it hits stores early this year. Even though war can be hell, with Johnson and Flannigan in charge, war can also be exciting and fun, too.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Independent Comics Forum.

 
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