LAND OF THE RISING DEAD, written by Ben Laverock and illustrated by Scott Dewey. Close Date: October 20, 2015; Publishing Date: PDF December 2015; Tangible Rewards: February 2016.
Elevator Pitch: Feudal Japan has been unified under the Tokugawa shogunate, and the era of the Warring States has finally come to an end. Yet there is little repose; a mysterious plague begins to creep across the land, awakening the sleeping dead and transforming the living into nightmarish fiends. In an effort to contain the outbreak, the Tokugawa shogunate has issued Sakoku, an edict isolating Japan from the rest of the world–no one can leave or enter Japan on penalty of death.
Follow the adventures of Tatsuo the masterless samurai, Moshi the martial arts monk, Ino the fugitive ninja, and Boo the teacup panda as they investigate the mysterious zombie plague, tracing its origins to the fall of the Koga and Iga ninja clans.
Ben Laverock interviews himself.
Q. Give us some backstory about yourselves.
Ben: I've been writing and drawing ever since I could hold a pencil. And funny enough, one of the first stories I ever created was about a ninja rescuing a princess. Since my youth, I've been fascinated with Japanese culture. It's become an obsession, really, fueled by videogames, manga, and an appetite for sushi. I've even been to Japan on several occasions which has only intensified my infatuation. So really, it's not surprising that Land of the Rising Dead will be my first comic book.
Scott, on the other hand, is already published. In fact, his first graphic novel was successfully funded through Kickstarter. Remarkably, he's only been illustrating and painting digitally for the last couple of years. Already, Scott's been selected for commission work by Wizards of the Coast and more recently painted an image at the request of Ben Templesmith for the graphic novel, Dagon.
Q. How did this project get started?
Ben: It's funny how everything fell into place. At the same time that Scott lost his previous writer, I graduated from university and was more than ready to dive into some kind of creative project. Scott was an acquaintance from high school and I was already a fan of his art and illustrations, so it was pretty cool when we began collaborating on Land of the Rising Dead. Scott loves Japanese culture, too, and we thought zombies would be a fresh angle on the whole ninja/samurai genre.
Q. Can you tell us what we can expect from Land of the Rising Dead?
Ben: We wanted Land of the Rising Dead to be a Kill Bill style comic book, meaning it's exploding with action and violence. But that doesn't mean that story will take a backseat. I've spent countless hours rifling through stacks of books regarding Japanese history and culture, samurai legends, ninja handbooks, classic manga, and believe me when I say it hasn't gone to waste. We've done our best to represent the chivalry of the samurai and the mystique of the ninja. Readers will see that we've done our best to ensure an authentic Edo period feel, demonstrated in both the illustrations and the writing. We've even included some simple romaji (Romanized Japanese) sprinkled throughout the dialogue.
I'd also like to note that although Land of the Rising Dead will be dark at times, we've included humor. Once again, we've drawn inspiration from Japanese culture. For instance, Scott has worked exaggerated expressions and iconic symbols often employed in manga into our comic book panels. In addition, our characters have their funny little quirks, too, which lighten the mood when necessary. For instance, Moshi the monk often explodes into a comical outburst of profanity that generally escalates dangerous situations.
Q. In the Kickstarter video, you mentioned romance.
Ben: Our goal is to appeal to a wide range of audiences. So expect violence, humor, epic moments, and the occasional sappy moment. Nothing too sappy, mind you. This is a comic book about a zombie apocalypse, after all!
Q. Will Land of the Rising Dead be a continuing series?
Ben: We would love it to be—fingers crossed. So far, the reception has been fantastic! Our Kickstarter campaign was funded in the first few days with over three weeks to spare, and everyone that I've talked to has reacted positively to the notion of samurai and ninja combating hordes of zombies, especially when they learn that we've fit the story into actual history. We've even thrown in a panda—exported of course, because pandas are native to China. And who doesn't love pandas?
Q. Can you name some sources of inspiration that have influenced your approach?
Ben: From the art, you'll see that Scott has a very strong painterly style. Some of his favorite artists include Ashley Wood and Frank Frazetta, and it shows. But like I said, we've adapted both the writing and art to reflect what we've grown to love about Japanese culture, at the same time making this project our own.
For me, manga and anime has been a huge inspiration. I think the Japanese are incredible storytellers. Some of my all-time favorites include Koike and Kojima's Lone Wolf and Cub, Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z series, Masashi Kishimoto's Naruto series, and of course, Hayao Miyazaki's Ghibli films.
Q. Why did you choose crowdfunding over approaching a publisher?
Ben: We're hoping to do both, actually. Crowdfunding is just a start and we would love to approach a publisher eventually. In the meantime, however, launching through Kickstarter allows us build an audience and test the market. Thanks to our backers, Land of the Rising Dead is already funded. The support we've received has allowed us to create on our own terms and conditions, and for that we're extremely grateful!
Q. Running a Kickstarter campaign can be overwhelming. How have you both coped?
Ben: Being a two-man team is tough. My social life, for example, consists of social media; managing and promoting this campaign is all I do, alongside writing. Meanwhile, Scott is up to his neck in pencils, ink, and digital painting. He's busy with the comic book, drawing original sketches for backers, and painting promo posters for expos. In fact, in the last four weeks we'll have attended three comic expos. We're tired, but this project is driven by passion and we love what we do.
We've also been fortunate enough to have incredibly supportive friends and family. In fact, half of our funding has been pledged from close friends and family. However, it means just as much when a stranger backs us. It's a wonderful feeling to know that people are willing to support our work despite never having met us. It's both encouraging and humbling.
Q. So what's next?
Ben: Good question. A lot depends on this Kickstarter. We hope Land of the Rising Dead will evolve into a continuing series. Ideally, we'd love to approach a publisher after we've fulfilled our end of the bargain and made our backers happy. But we have other projects lined up, too. So whatever happens, this won't be the last time you hear from us!
Twitter: @BenLaverock, @ScottDeweyArt