Grave Concerns

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The best horror films, books and comics often play on the basic theme of supernatural justice. Ghosts and ghouls return from the dead to wreck havoc on those who have done them wrong. Some crimes are so bad that the victims return from beyond the physical world to enact metaphysical vengeance. This is horrifying because of the shared complicity that humans have in all atrocities. If we didn’t commit the crime, did we do enough to stop it?

Tom Waltz, creator of the upcoming four issue mini-series CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE, depicts an act of violence so repulsively brutal that it has awakened a vicious menace. His story follows a team of Special Forces soldiers who discover evidence of a mass slaughter at the hands of a rogue terrorist. They find thousands of graves, graves which are disturbingly empty, as if the inhabitants had dug themselves out…

CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE is both an exciting military action comic as well as an atmospheric horror story. Published by Shooting Star Comics, CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE features stunning artwork by the exciting newcomer Casey Maloney. Set for release in January 2005, it can be found in the November previews - Diamond Preview Number: NOV042877 (page 313). Broken Frontier asked writer, Tom Waltz, about some of the themes of the book and about some of the challenges that face a new series in a crowded market.

Broken Frontier: CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE cleverly encompasses a few different genres. As a writer, do you find genre canons to be helpful or restrictive?

Tom Waltz: For a long time now I’ve written superhero prose for iHero Entertainment’s on-line magazine Cyber Age Adventures (www.ihero.net), and the first and most important lesson I was taught by Frank Fradella (iHero Entertainment’s President) was that strict adherence to genre rules is a big NO NO. To make the lesson perfectly clear, Frank rejected my first five or six submissions before finally accepting one of my stories and eventually inviting me on board permanently.  Frank’s acceptance meant that I finally “got it.” The “it” was the ability to take an established and, in many ways, stale set of rules and twist them into new and exciting shapes. In the case of Cyber Age Adventures, that means writing superhero stories wherein super powers and fantastic feats and amazing adventures take a backseat to the real issues normal people so often face in everyday life. In other words, if the stories only focus on the powers, then all you have are another set of cookie cutter superheroes with nothing more to offer than, say, laser beam eyes and big muscles. If, however, you take the same guy or gal with laser beam eyes and big muscles and stick them in a situation like being late with the rent payment or being stuck in the middle of a nasty child custody battle, then you have both a story AND characters that nearly all readers can relate to on some level or another. 

This type of non-genre “keep it real” philosophy has carried over to my writing outside of Cyber Age Adventures, including CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE. It would have been very easy to turn CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE into just another zombie/ghost fest, but I didn’t want to do that. Yes, there are creepy moments, but for the most part I wanted to focus on the people, especially how similar events from their pasts have lead them to their current situation. I figure if I do a good job of telling their stories – their “real” stories – than the fantastical/supernatural stuff will become a fringe benefit. An enhancement to the story rather than the story itself.

BF: To what extent is CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE a story of its time?

TW: Well, certainly there is the military’s war against terrorism aspect that immediately stands out. That, and the horrific details of ethnic cleansing. For the story, I am using a fictional Middle Eastern country called Stinwan, but anyone who reads a newspaper or watches CNN knows that genocide is a brutal reality in many countries throughout the globe. Just yesterday I read an article on-line about a mass grave that was recently discovered in Iraq, one that was filled with hundreds, maybe thousands, of decaying bodies of men, women and children. They had all been executed and then unceremoniously dumped into this massive, stinking pit in the middle of nowhere. There were descriptions of mothers still clutching their babies, even in death - women and children ruthlessly shot through the backs of their heads. Just awful.

BF: There seems to be a strong theme around the consequences of when children are the victims of adult conflicts. Can you expand on why this theme was important?

TW: In some ways, this ties into my last answer. I have a teenaged daughter, and it never ceases to amaze me to overhear she and her friends talking and to realize that the majority of these kids have all been victim (and victim is a word I feel is apropos) to some kind of adult conflict in their lives. Divorce is obviously the one that stands out most, but many of these kids have parents who are on drugs, are woefully unemployed, or are nothing more than big kids themselves who are unable to adequately provide their children with the kind of care and guidance they so desperately need. It’s a situation wherein many kids are forced to grow up way too quickly, losing out on the wonders of childhood through no fault of their own. 

What I wanted to do was expand on this theme by showing the ultimate loss of childhood through adult conflict: ethnic cleansing. What I hope to convey is a sense that the wanton destruction of youth will lead to the destruction of all. Ultimately somebody – some adult – is going to have to step up and champion these poor children, or we can all kiss our collective futures good-bye. Ironically, in CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE the champions are soldiers who, themselves, were victims of adult conflict in their youth. It’s a vicious circle that begs to be broken.

BF: The art in the book is very strong and professional. How difficult was it to find the right artist for this kind of story?

TW: Boy, in this regard I have to say that I was, and continue to be, totally blessed. I was browsing through the Artists Forum on Digital Webbing one day and happened to come across a fantastic picture Casey Maloney had done of Daredevil battling it out with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I fell in love with his style immediately and shot him off an email detailing plans I had to do some short scripts, as well as a 4-issue mini-series, and asked him if he would be interested in working with me. He was quick to say yes and we began work on an 8-page short featuring my Cyber Age Adventures character Catalyst, which will appear in the upcoming iHero Presents #1 from Shooting Star Comics (http://www.shootingstarcomics.com/iheropresents.html). Well, needless to say, Casey knocked my socks off with the work he did on the Catalyst piece, so I immediately recruited him again to draw another 8-page story I wrote that will appear in J.S. Earls' Sorrow #0 anthology from Dark Elf Productions (http://www.freewebs.com/thesorrow/index.htm) in support of the children’s charity Protect.org. 

Since then, Casey has worked with me on a number of projects, including CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE, and I can’t think of a better person to be associated with. He is ultra-professional, always on time, freshly innovative, open to suggestion, and a helluva nice guy to boot. And, as much as I liked the early work he did for me, the stuff he is doing on CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE takes it to a whole new level. I think Beau Smith (WYNONNA EARP, IDW Publishing) said it best:  “Casey has a nice movie eye with the camera.” Yes indeed – some of the angles he comes up with in his panels just blow me away sometimes. Casey has taken my script and made it his very own graphically, and I couldn’t be more proud to have my words represented by his artwork. Look for big things from Mr. Maloney!

BF: In a world of increasingly written-for-the-trade comic stories, what makes Children of the Grave fit a bi-monthly structure?

TW: Honestly, the bi-monthly publishing scheme was more of a business decision than anything else. Shooting Star Comics’ Editor-in-Chief, Sean Taylor, very aptly decided that the bi-monthly format would be the best way to get the word out about CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE. The concern was that, since both Casey and I are relatively new to the industry, our names on the cover of a TPB would not be enough to garner interest in the project. The hope is that if we spread out the publishing schedule, the story in CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE will be strong enough to promote positive word-of-mouth advertising, which will in turn draw in those readers who might have otherwise skipped over a one-shot trade because they didn’t recognize the names Waltz or Maloney.

Personally, though, all business decisions aside, I feel CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE is actually suited for the bi-monthly structure because I try my darndest to end each issue with a cliff-hanger that I hope will keep readers curious about what will happen next and anxious for more. And, Casey’s last page panels are just awesome!

Still, if we are successful with this series, I don’t see why we won’t collect them into a trade in the future. We’ll just have to keep our fingers and toes crossed.

A four page preview of CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE #1 can be found at http://www.shootingstarcomics.com/childrenofthegrave.html.

- Matthew Clark



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