Karl Kesel— a writer and artist who has worked on many of Marvel and DC’s top titles, and come oh-so-close to winning a number of industry awards— launched his first creator-owned web comic on October 31, 2011. JOHNNY ZOMBIE debuts on his Mad Genius Comics site, madgeniuscomics.com
“I’ve wanted to do a zombie comic for many, many years,” Kesel said. “Excuse the pun, but I’m no Johnny-Zombie-come-lately to the living dead. I left in the middle of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead the first time I saw it in the late 70s, it creeped me out so much (I was a sheltered teen, okay?)— and then ended up in the front row to watch the original Dawn of the Dead during it’s opening weekend a few years later. Those experiences scarred me for life, I’m happy to say.
“About a year ago I wondered: could you do a zombie Christmas story? The two genres are so opposite— zombie stories have a core sense of hopelessness, and Christmas stories are all about hope. Almost instantly, however, an idea came to me. And I realized it was also a perfect story to feature a character that’d been kicking around in my head for a few years— Johnny Zombie.
“On one level, Johnny Zombie is the world’s biggest, baddest zombie fighter. His main weapons are a blue metal bat named ‘Babe’ (after Babe Ruth) and an armored glove he calls ‘Jawbreaker.’ His symbol is a kind of unsmiling smiley-face with a bullet hole in its forehead. And that stuff’s all very fun and very cool, but there’s a deeper level to the character, something going on below the surface, that I don’t want to say too much about. I want people to read the story and, hopefully, start to figure it out themselves.
“I actually pitched Johnny Zombie to a print publisher a few years back, but their “zombie slot” was filled, so they passed. That’s when I started eyeing the internet. I mean, the web’s the future of comics. And it’s probably the most exciting thing to happen to comics since… well, since the early days of the newspaper strips. Just like then, everyone’s making it up as they go along, trying to figure out how the pieces fit, what works and what doesn’t. I’ve told people I’m doing a web comic and they’re excited, sure, but the most exciting thing to me is how many of them say ‘I’ll add it to my list— I read so many web comics!’ These are people who don’t read “normal” comics— but they’re reading web comics!”
Kesel had been trying to figure out how to fit a web comic into his life for a number of years. “I’m not a fast worker, so don’t have a lot of free time to take on extra work. A web comic was always a ‘someday’ project.
“Then my wonderful wife Myrna and I decided to adopt a baby. That was the tipping point. It suddenly became about my legacy, and what I could leave behind for our son or daughter.”
Kesel named his site Mad Genius Comics (where he is “Using My Power For Good, Not evil. Mostly.”) because “I plan to do any number of characters and concepts at Mad Genius. Some of these comics will be drawn by others, some I’ll draw myself, and I wouldn’t rule out me drawing someone else’s story, but I’ll always own or co-own anything that appears on Mad Genius Comics. Remember— I’m doing this for the kid!”
Johnny Zombie’s first story is penciled by David Hahn, known for his art on BITE CLUB, SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE, MARVEL ADVENTURES: FANTASTIC FOUR, FRINGE, HERC, and ALL-NIGHTER. “I love David’s work, and knew his style had enough edge for a zombie story, but was also open enough to fit a Christmas story. And, selfishly speaking, I’ve always wanted to ink David, so this was one way to finally get that chance!” The story is colored by Grace Allison, a recent graduate from the Savannah College of Art and Design and one-time intern at Portland, Oregon’s Periscope Studio, where Kesel met her. “She’s got so much talent beyond coloring,” Kesel pointed out. “I’m lucky I got to work with her before the rest of the world discovered her.”
“I’m not expecting to get rich off Mad Genius,” Kesel laughed. “I’d be thrilled— and pretty surprised— to just break even! I’m following the ‘Iron Man Business Plan’— exist in obscurity for 40 years, then have a hugely successful Hollywood movie made and become an overnight sensation. Anything happens faster than that is icing on the cake!”