When you’re the greatest rock band, nothing will stop you, including the undead. In Dynamite’s latest series for the group, KISS: Zombies, the iconic rockers find themselves facing a zombie apocalypse that only their iconic tunes can handle. Writer Ethan Sacks (Old Man Hawkeye) and artist Rodney Buchemi (Death of Hawkman) lead the team on this limited series, with colors by Dijjo Lima (Assassin’s Creed, Doc Savage) and letters by Troy Peteri (Amazing Spider-Man, Witchblade). Fans can also look for covers by Arthur Suydam (Marvel Zombies, DCeased), Stuart Sayger (Vampirella vs Reanimator), and Buchemi, as well as a photo cover of the band.
Sacks chatted with The Beat about his first foray outside of Marvel and shared a little bit of his own personal history with KISS during his days as a journalist.
Deanna Destito: You have a history with writing about KISS. Are you a super-fan or have you become an expert over the years?
Ethan Sacks: I’m a super-fan first and foremost, and have been since I first stumbled on KISS as a four year old, the same age I discovered Godzilla and Star Wars. At the time, it was the look of the band — and Gene Simmons in particular — that enchanted my brain. But I also had a cool older cousin, Sam, who has since passed away, who shortly afterwards introduced me to their music. By the time I became a professional journalist years later, I had seen them live in the ’90s several times with and without makeup. I was fortunate to work at the New York Daily News and rise to the point where I could pitch entertainment stories. I wrote about KISS three times — including this piece for their 40th anniversary:
Destito: What made you transition from journalist to comic writer?
Sacks: Covering a “geek beat” at the paper, I built up a lot of friends and contacts in the comic book industry over my twenty years at the New York Daily News. I owe my second career completely to Marvel CCO Joe Quesada, a good friend and an even better mentor, who read a spec script I had written on a lark and saw enough in it to champion me to then editor-in-chief Axel Alonso. At the same time, I had been down on journalism as I watched friend after friend succumb to downsizing in a shrinking industry. An opportunity for a buyout came at the same time I was in talks with Marvel, so I took a leap of faith. To be honest, before then, I just never thought it was a real job — something someone like me could never hope to do, like being an astronaut. But less than three years later, here I am visiting strange new worlds!
Destito: What is behind the idea to have KISS face zombies?
Sacks: My editor, Kevin Ketner, pitched me the idea, but I had carte blanche on how to tackle the story. Personally, I love skipping ahead decades into a zombie apocalypse and setting up a world in which there are survivors who know nothing else but this horrible life of dodging death all the time. I had a eureka moment visualizing what if KISS, refugees from a better time, suddenly found themselves in this future and if the survivors pinned all their hopes on these four mysterious strangers. I didn’t want to make them supernatural heroes either: I wanted to make it dangerous for them to face off against a zombie horde, so the stakes are very high.
Destito: Does a very theatrical band like KISS make it easier to come up with crazy plots and settings for different story arcs?
Sacks: Because of the iconic stature and the aesthetic of the band, they can be the subjects of so many types of genres. But to me, their look is especially well suited for horror. The Demon looks like he could beat the crap out of actual demons! That larger-than-life mystique made them the perfect heroes in this post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland — a symbol others could rally behind. Plus, I really wanted to do something cool with those bat-wings!
Destito: Have you spoken with the band about their comic book counterparts and this latest installment in their comic canon?
Sacks: About 15 years ago, I spoke to Gene Simmons for a story for the New York Daily News about a comic coming out that featured KISS as supernatural heroes. Underneath all that makeup, he’s a big a comic geek as any of us… he just looks much, much cooler. This time around, our fearless editor, Kevin, is our go between. But as I understand it, Gene loves the story idea.
Destito: How has it been working with the creative team?
Sacks: We’re just getting fired up, so I’ve mainly been working with Rodney Buchemi, but I’m well acquainted with the others’ amazing work. When we get emails on a daily basis from Rodney with the art, I actually get goosebumps. The art is so stunning, the zombies so chilling, the action so visceral. Every panel, every page. It’s so detailed, you can see into the zombies’ rotting flesh into the rotting muscle of their cheeks. I think readers are going to be blown away by how great this looks.
Destito: Are there more KISS stories you’d like to tell or is there another set of characters you have your eye on?
Sacks: I’d love to tell more KISS stories. The great thing about the band of characters is that they could surface and kick butt across multiple genres. I also love a lot of the licensed properties that Dynamite has in its sandbox: Game of Thrones, Bond, The Bionic Man, The Green Hornet, Xena. Those all represent worlds I’ve loved to visit at one point or another throughout my 46 years on this planet, and I’d love to visit in comic book form. I’m putting it out there in the ether….
KISS: Zombies #1 is available for preorder this month and is slated for a November release. It will also be available digitally on Comixology, Kindle, iBooks, Google Play, Dynamite Digital, ComicsPlus, and more. Head to Dynamite’s website for more info.