[Scary things happen when Rue Morgue contributors Mike D and Aaron Von Lupton collaborate. Take, for instance, their Q&A with indie comics creator Jeff McComsey...]
Picture the square-jawed heroes of WWII-themed comics like G.I. Combat or Fightin’ Army. Now imagine them transported to the zombie-plagued Romeroverse and you have a pretty good idea of the glorious tales of honour, duty, sacrifice, head shots, and flesh-chomping delivered in FUBAR, a series of comic anthologies and the brainchild of one Jeff McComsey.
The first anthology of zombie tales emerged in 2010, titled FUBAR: European Theatre of the Damned and quickly sold out its initial print run. A second anthology, FUBAR Empire of the Rising Dead, won a People’s Choice Award for Best Anthology of 2011 at IGN.com and was subsequently rewarded with a number six spot on the New York Times Graphic Books best seller list, in what may be the first Kickstarter-funded project to even make the list. FUBAR: Empire of the Rising Dead features a whopping 42 writers and illustrators contributing a total of 27 stories spanning 256 pages.
The story behind FUBAR’s creation itself is pretty epic, a tale of how one small press achieved big success with very little ammunition, and that success is set to continue on the biggest comic book day of the year – Free Comic Book Day. Using Kickstarter to raise more than $3500, McComsey has created a 28-page comic for FCBD called “The Devil’s Dance Floor,” with story and art by McComsey and cover art by Steve Becker. They call it a “stand alone World War II story about the remnants of the British 6th Army in North Africa’s last stand against zombie Erwin Rommel’s Undead Afrika Korp” and it can be read for free right here.
McComsey recently took time out from drawing decomposing flesh to talk to Rue Morgue about all things FUBAR.
Jeff McComsey: I used to do this mini comic called Sgt. Kilroy about an over the top WW II sergeant who fought zombie Nazis. I sold them at conventions and wherever else I could. Eventually I started working on another mini comic story called Mother Russia, which followed a female sniper in WW II trying to protect a child in zombie-ravaged Stalingrad. I had wanted do one more story and collect them into a trade of some sort. Instead of just doing one more short, I reached out to some of my fellow small press writers and artist friends to see if they would be interested in contributing to a World War II zombie anthology. Just about everyone said yes and we got to work on what became FUBAR Volume 1. I don’t worry too much about the “just another zombie book” thing. I set out to produce a comic that I would buy if I saw it at a con or in a shop. My thinking is that if you make a fun book at a good price, people would buy it. So far, so good.
RM: How were you able to find so many people to contribute their time, presumably without pay?
JM: Most of the contributors are friends I’ve made in the small-press arena and we generally don’t mind contributing to each other’s little projects. The work load is usually a short script or eight to ten pages of art. I’m incredibly thankful for everyone that contributes to make something stronger than just the sum of its parts. I try and give the contributors plenty of time to work on their shorts and I accommodate schedules as best I can. I also start the next volume of FUBAR almost immediately after the previous version hits the shelf so we don’t have to rush anybody.
RM: How much WWII research is necessary in developing the stories?
JM: I leave that up to the writers for the most part. Some stories center around one historical battle or event, while others just take a certain setting and run with it. I leave it up to the individual to decide how steeped in history or how accurate their story is going to be. The artists usually are the meticulous ones, when it comes to research. They have to dig up old photos of the gear and weapons that were carried in World War II.
RM: How many books did your Free Comic Book Day Kickstarter campaign allow you to print and how many comic shops took advantage of your offer What did the package you sent to the local comic shops include?
JM: We collaborated with fellow indie publisher, 215 INK for the FCBD event. We both produced a 28-page black and white book. Kickstarter allowed us to print 2000 of each book and send them to I believe just over 50 shops. The standard package was 30 of the 215 book and 30 of the FUBAR one-shot. Some shops requested more and we accommodated as many as we could.
JM: We have a list of shops participating on our blog at fubarpress.com/news BUT if you can’t make it to one of the shops, we are offering FUBAR: The Devil’s Dance Floor as a FREE download from our site on FCBD and beyond. [See the link at the top of this story.]
RM: Are you surprised by the success you have had, particularly FUBAR’s placement on the NYT Best Sellers list?
JM: FUBAR does very well at conventions so I knew if we got it on shelves that the books would sell, but we were all blown away by the NYT listing. It’s just not something that indie small-press books usually do, so I was immensely proud of all the contributors and very thankful for all the people who picked up the book when they saw it.
RM: Can you give a little more information about the third anthology, FUBAR: American History Z?
JM: FUBAR: American History Z is the third volume of the series which is currently in production. For this volume we will be covering the entirety of American history as opposed to just featuring World War II as we did in the previous volumes. The book will be chronological, so we start with early American settlers and follow that all the way up to the 21st century. We’ve got some awesome shorts under way right now, including Paul Revere’s last ride, a JFK assassination short, Harriet Tubman: zombie hunter and a Kickass World War 1 short to name just a few. I’m very excited about this volume.
RM: What are your plans to continue your story “Mother Russia” (from FUBAR: European Theatre of the Damned) and illustrator Steve Becker’s “Radio Base Z” (from FUBAR: Empire of the Rising Dead) on their own?
JM: “Mother Russia” will be an OGN in the near future. I have it started past what’s in the first volume – it’s just a matter of freeing up some time in my schedule to finish it. I’m fired up to do FUBAR’s first stand-alone graphic novel. Steve is also working on “Radio Base Z” as often as his schedule allows. The anthologies are just the tip of the spear for what we want to do with FUBAR PRESS. I see some non-zombie projects in the near future along with stand-alone OGNs in the WW II zombie universe.
RM: Can we expect an ongoing, monthly FUBAR series in our local comic stores?
JM: We have a 32-page one-shot that will be in Previews in June called FUBAR: Summer Special. This will be $2.99 and will feature three brand-new World War II shorts as well as one of the stories from American History Z. The short is set against the backdrop of the Woodstock festival and titled “World War Woodstock.” Depending on how well that one-shot does, we’ve considered doing American History Z as a three- or four-issue mini series that will be followed by the trade in the late fall. We’re playing that by ear, but I would love to do a mini or continuing series of FUBAR.
RM: FUBAR: European Theatre of the Damned is available digitally (iTunes, Android app store and Amazon app store). Have you found there is a strong fan base for digital zombie comics, or do most people still want a physical copy? Do you plan to release any other FUBAR titles digitally?
JM: We did release Volume 1 digitally as an experiment. It did moderately well. Our number one source of sales is conventions, so therefore we focus on print mostly. While there is always chatter about digital revolutionizing comics, my heart is still in the pulp. I love print. Someday that might change for the big two publishers, but I feel print will always be the business for small-press guys. We are currently not releasing Volume 2 digitally, but that may change. We will, however, be putting out a bunch of small print one-shots and promotional books for our con appearances this year.
RM: How long do you think you will continue with the FUBAR project? What other horror comic projects are you currently working on?
JM: FUBAR the anthology gave birth to FUBAR PRESS. Now that we have an imprint we intend to keep it rolling along and generating content for as long as we can. I intend to continue putting out FUBAR zombie books for at least the next few years under the FUBAR PRESS label, but we will also be expanding that label to include other genres of indie pulp fiction that fans of FUBAR will dig just as much.
RM: Where did you get the idea to develop FUBAR zombie targets for use at firing ranges? Have you heard any stories of them actually being used?
JM: My partner in crime Steve Becker is responsible for the target line. We needed something else besides the books to sell at our tables at cons, so Steve started doing these targets and they went over huge with our fans. I think he’s up to about 50 different targets. We tell people to shoot them up and make copies if they want, as long as they send pictures. We get pics in our inbox from time to time of decimated targets. I think it’s awesome.
RM: What are your favourite zombie movies, comics and video games?
JM: I love the 28 Days series. Both the comics and the movies. The zombie levels from Call of Duty are fantastic and served as early inspiration for Sergeant Kilroy, which led to FUBAR.
RM: What are you favourite horror comics in general?
JM: Well, The Walking Dead is brilliant. I have always been a big Charlie Adlard fan. His art on some of the 2000 AD [comics] caught my eye and I followed him on to TWD. I got a soft spot for black and white comics, and he kills them.