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Covering the End of the World - Part 1

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Newcomers Nick Tapalansky and Alex Eckman-Lawn have blown comicdom away with their startling Eagle Award nominated debut series, Awakening, from Archaia Studios Press. A 10-issue series chronicling a wholly different kind of zombie apocalypse, and sporting page after page of frame-worthy artwork, the first half of the story is now complete, with a hardcover collection soon to hit shelves in June.

To commemorate the event, Broken Frontier sat down with both creators for a look back at the early installments, the experience of bringing a comic to life, and a sneak peek at the future.

BROKEN FRONTIER: So Good God, what hasn’t been said about you fellows and your book, Awakening - the most lauded survival horror comic since The Walking Dead began? A large part of its charm stems from how uniquely it reads compared to all other end-of-the-world zombie scenarios. Not just different in concept, but also in actual execution and reading experience. Can you tell us what your immediate goals were with Awakening, both in story and art, and how well you feel you’ve thus far accomplished them?

NICK TAPALANSKY: For the basic story, the immediate goal was to explore something as simple as your typical "zombie outbreak" under different circumstances. What if things happened slowly? What if the characters weren’t even aware of what was happening around them? How would they react when they found out? In slowing down the process and following the city over the course of a year we can break from the standard convention of having five stereotyped survivors struggling against insurmountable odds and instead focus on the atmosphere, the environment, and the town itself by proxy of the characters.

That and I dig a kick-ass noir. The mysteries of the book were a huge focus for me – what’s going on in the background, the "zombies" if that is indeed the case, are ancillary and only serve to push the cast to find answers. Overall, I think we’ve done pretty well making all these things come to life. At least, I hope so…

ALEX ECKMAN-LAWN: This is a little tough for a first question! You guys don’t pull any punches huh? I set out mostly to create a mood and atmosphere to demand an emotional response from the reader. I really wanted to pull people into this story and make them as uneasy as the characters are within the story. Ha! I guess I’m saying I wanted to make everyone feel awful. How’s that for a mission statement?

As for whether I’ve succeeded…that’s the tough part…I hope I’ve accomplished this. I already look back on issue #1 and see things that I would do differently now, so I guess I think I’m accomplishing more and more as the story goes on and hopefully readers are noticing this too. I’d like to think that as the story progresses, and we get further in, the book is getting closer and closer to our ideal version. I’m pretty happy with how things are turning out, but I’m expecting future issues to make me even happier! 

BF: What were your greatest inspirations when crafting the series?

NT: Strange though it may sound, I think my biggest influence has to be Jeff Smith. Reading Bone taught me what sequential storytelling should look like – it just sucked you into that world so effortlessly. Definitely have to mention a few others though – James Robinson’s work on Starman, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man (even though it’s one of our mortal enemies in this year’s Eagle Awards), Hideki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, and so many others.

A E-L: I love Schiele, he was a big inspiration for me in general, both on my figures and my environments, and I know I’m not unique in that regard, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. I really dig the way McKean builds space and bends photos, and I really like how Ashley Wood handles his interiors. It’s definitely more simplistic than his covers but you don’t feel like it’s lost anything, you know?  Beyond that I’m not really sure. I’m a fan of a lot of different artists, but I try to not to take too much direct inspiration or things can wind up feeling a little insincere. Having said that, look at Sam Webber  and Simon Goinard Phelipot. Gorgeous work.

BF: In your own minds, what’s the greatest draw to Awakening?  What would you say makes it worth readers time and money to choose your book over all others in an immeasurably oversaturated market?

NT: I guess the big two are the time frame in which the story takes place and the noir/mystery angle with which we approach it. With each issue (of 10) covering about one month in Park Falls and with certain stereotypes debunked within the first two issues (bite means infection, the dead rising, yadda yadda) we’re creating a brand new perspective. As for the noir styling, we’ve worked pretty hard to create a great serialized noir in which the central mystery is supported by these horrors surrounding the town rather than making the horrors the direct focus. Rather, they’re the impetus to search out the answers to the mystery.

Essentially, we’re taking a look back at the basics and rather than build on them we’re taking the concept in a very different and unique direction, or so we hope. Night of the Living Dead is certainly an influence, but only from an evolutionary perspective: that movie created the modern "zombie" genre whereas what we’re trying to do is take the next step. The Walking Dead is a fantastic book and took a big part of that step by creating the movie that never ends. What we do is take certain preconceived notions about the genre, cast them into a different light and force the characters, and readers, to truly explore the horror of watching your town slowly succumb to something uncontrollable.

Then of course there’s the art. Alex works his ass off to make every page unique and match the atmosphere of the events that are taking place. I think the only creepier town you’ll find is Silent Hill and that’s thanks largely to Alex’s keen design work.

A E-L: This question was designed to make us look like egomaniacs right? Why do you have to try and make us look full of ourselves? That’s messed up…

I do think that we have something different to offer. It’s a pretty unique blend of influences and ideas, and plays out in a way that I haven’t really seen before. Nick’s approach is much more akin to Hitchcock than Romero. It’s about the mystery of the situation and the characters than gore and gloss, much as I love those things. And hopefully the art is something you haven’t seen a million times before.

BF: Following the slow degradation of a city over the course of an entire year is an ambitious thing to attempt – is this a carefully plotted angle for you, Nick, or is it something you tackle on an intuitive front?

NT: It’s absolutely a carefully plotted angle. I’ve been trying to take into consideration the idea of a slow escalation – and how slow it would have to be to avoid falling into the standard conventions of the genre.

I should probably point out that I’m absolutely not getting down on the standards – I grew up with them, love them dearly, and would carry their children. I guess I kind of hope that’s what I’m doing with the book really, continuing to challenge the status quo and push the genre in a new direction. Bring a new child into the world, so to speak - an existential horror noir zombie child which may not actually be a zombie, if that makes any sense.

BF: What was it that drew the two of you to each other?  What was it specifically about Alex’s art that seemed so right, and, Alex, what was it about Nick’s script that convinced you to give sequential comics a try?

NT: Atmosphere. I saw Alex’s illustration work and knew he would be the one artist who could convey the environment and characters in an atmosphere that was synonymous with the story we were telling. Even though he’d never tried sequentials I knew he’d be able to nail it.

AE-L: Wow, thanks, Nick. Such a silver tongue on this guy. I think what I had posted was a lot of environments and setting. Mood pieces for the most part, and I must have struck a cord with Nick in terms of how he wanted Park Falls to look. So in a way, it was destiny. We both had a similar vision; I just didn’t know what mine was for yet, if that makes any sense.

As for why I eventually gave in to Nick… Well how could I say no to this guy? Have you ever seen Nick Tapalansky? Dreamboat, seriously. Also his script was really lovingly descriptive, and just lush as f&*$. I could see the town, and it was already what I loved to do, so I thought, let’s give it a try!

NT: Heh, dreamboat. You’re not too bad on the eyes yourself, baby.

Join us tomorrow for the second part of this interview with Nick Tapalansky and Alex Eckman-Lawn ...

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