Half Dead's Second Life

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It doesn’t happen too often that a comic book comes along that carries a title that says as much about the real-world issues behind the project as it does about the contents inside. Yet, that’s exactly the case with Half Dead , coming this March from Marvel Comics and Dabel Brothers.

When the husband-and-wife creative team of Barbara Lien and Park Cooper went looking for a publisher for their mini-series, they found a home at Speakeasy Comics. After that company’s demise in early March last year, their story was figuratively half dead before being given a second lease on life as a graphic novel by Les and Ernst Dabel.

When asked what made Dabel Brothers interested in picking up Half Dead, Park Cooper gives as honest an answer as you’ll find—he doesn’t know. “You’d have to ask them that,” he says. “Or Marvel. Any speculation on my part would just sound like ‘I guess they thought it was really good.’ All we can say is that we are eternally grateful to the Dabel Brothers and Marvel for giving it a second life. We think we can speak for Jimmy Bott and the entire art team as well as for ourselves, certainly, when we say that we’re dying to work with either or both companies again.”

Yet, Cooper feels very good about the book changing from a mini-series to a graphic novel. “There’s something to be said for the serial style of telling a story, but while it can be a fun challenge to self-contain chapters of a story so that each is a successful entertainment on its own, as is done in one of our other stories, Gun Street Girl… why NOT try to say ‘and you’ll just have to wait until next time for the next part, folks!’ as seldom as you absolutely have to say it?”

Half Dead tells the tale of a human and a vampire conspiracy set in a rather bleak modern-day version of London. Usually, it’s the bad guys, the vampires, that are indulged in hidden schemes, not humans, but Cooper can’t divulge why the concept differs from regular conventions. “It’s a very good question that’s answered by in the plot. I suppose I’ll say that sometimes politics will turn out, surprisingly, to be led by very personal agendas.”

Cooper was a little less tight-lipped when it comes to telling some more about the book’s protagonist, Romany Petrovna,  a young girl who gets turned into a vampire and gets involved in the war between the humans and vampires. “Romany’s motivated by survival, and learning to cope with her new world and new identity as useful victim. Like a lot of people, she felt that life's problems were always either very personal or else very vague world-problems, and now she’s in a world where the buck of the world’s problems stops at her without her actually having much power over herself—without her identity really mattering all that much.”

Aside from Romany, the main cast is rounded out by a who’s-who of military people. “First, there’s Commander Ian Thomas,” Cooper continues. “Thomas was once in charge of Company C, the finest military unit at PASA (the Bureau of ParaHuman and Supernatural Affairs), but a vampire attack lost him an arm. Since then, he's been in Scotland on disability pay, and has recently completed his physical therapy. He returns after the attack on London's Underground... He's got the mixed feelings of Romany as a survivor of a vamp attack, mixed with the other side of all of his ex-wife Kate’s baggage.

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“Next is Dr. Kate McCarthy, the head medical officer at PASA. She's got a lot of issues to work out. She cares about her young daughter, but after that, she's conflicted, and that conflict makes her a bit nasty. Does she still care about Ian, or purely about what he used to be? She hates Romany, but sympathizes a bit, too, as a woman.

“Then there’s General Stuart Ambler. While still a Major in the Royal Air Force, Ambler was recruited for leadership in PASA. While PASA's origins date back to the Second World War, the bureau really became a force to be reckoned with during the Cold War between the NATO nations and the USSR. Since Ian Thomas left PASA, Ambler has had to delegate less and work more. That's about to change, however... He's increasingly lost everything that matters or could matter to him: duty and getting the job done is all that matters now, and for this job, that's always been hard and is getting harder.

“Finally, we’ve got Sergeant McKellan, PASA's second-in-command in the field since the absence of Ian Thomas. There were good reasons why everyone preferred Thomas to McKellen; PASA is about to be reminded what those reasons were... McKellan enjoys hurting people. In a variety of ways.”

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With the PASA trying to get a grip on the vampire plague, to say the least, Half Dead’s society is quite a bad place to find yourself alive in. “Well, there’s vampires and terror, but there is also an intentional bleakness. The atmosphere of Half Dead is one of the things that attracted artist Jimmy Bott to it—wanting to capture that. It's true that it's not set in the far future, but, well... when I was younger, living near Dallas, my best friend from high school and I ended up seeing, out of curiosity and this-should-be-coolness something we'd never heard of: Akira at the midnight movie, up on the big screen. This was way before EVERYONE in Geek America found out about Akira. It rocked our world. Yes, sure, it had lasers and uplifted post-humans, but the atmosphere, right at the start, was what really got us. The flickering florescent lights, the sound of someone kicking a bottle on the sidewalk a block behind you...

“We were WIRED when we left the theater—every little florescent light that had a pause before it came on with a hum, every sound freaked us out for a while. Jimmy Bott understands this concept. In the first chapter of Half Dead, no one goes back above ground until the very end of the chapter, and that's entirely intentional, to give this feeling—throughout the whole book, really—in which the emotional content corresponds to the political/national mood...”

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When Half Dead hits the stands, it will carry the Marvel and Dabel Brothers logos on its cover, something Cooper already pointed to he couldn’t be more excited about. Another logo that will show up in the book is that of the Coopers’ own Wicker Man Studios.

Wait. 'Wicker Man'? 'Half Dead'? Are the Coopers are all about horror? “Well, Barb and I are all about horror in an “in da house y’all” way: “Dude we are SO all about the horror.” On the other hand, we’re not ONLY about horror. We just like it a great deal. Like Ray Bradbury and carnivals. He does stuff that isn’t about twisted carnivals. He just really really likes twisted carnivals. But nah. Gun Street Girl frequently transcends horror, and Barb recently did the post-translation adaptation/rewrite on a manga import, Atelier Marie et Elie, which is comedic fantasy, for Tokyopop; that’ll come out this summer.

“We have many, many scripts for projects that don’t yet have artists attached, and there’s horror, but also superhero, all-ages, fantasy, science fiction, comedy… Between the two of us, Barbara is more the horror person. I do comedic stuff more than she does (for which there wasn’t much call in Half Dead), more straight science fiction and fantasy and just as much all-ages. But of course all our interests overlap, as Gun Street Girl and Atelier Marie et Elie shows for her, and Half Dead shows for me.

“We can do horror well, and it’s an especially hard genre to succeed in, as indeed is comedy. There’s a profound thought there, but I don’t feel like working it out right now. We want to give others the gift of good horror that we have so much trouble finding for our own entertainment. Of course, Half Dead is also an action blockbuster.”

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And for the book to achieve potential blockbuster status, Barbara and Park Cooper had to rely on other creative people—writing only gets you halfway through the door. “We’d like to thank artist Jimmy Bott, colorists Wes Wong and Dean Welsh, letterer Simon Bowland, cover artist Lakota Sioux (Afua Richardson) and all the artists who did the art for the various chapter divisions and pin-ups.

“The book was truly a team effort, with the art/illustrative team really knocking it out of the ballpark because they put so much effort into it. Jimmy, just for instance, turned down other projects just to do this, just because he believed in it so much. It hasn’t just been his imagination, nor his hard work, that amazes us; it was his sheer determination to get it done and to find Half Dead the best publisher possible. The guy’s like a hero to us and to this project. I really think that everyone involved with Half Dead is going to go far, because of their high degree of professionalism and dedication.”

There’s less than a week left to get your pre-orders in for Diamond’s Previews (January 26), which declared Half Dead to be Certified Cool. For more on the book, go to www.halfdeadcomic.com.

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