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Land of The Rising Dead Creator Ben Laverock Talks Upcoming Comic Series Where Feudal Japan & Zombies Collide

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[Exclusive] I met up with writer Ben Laverock and artist Scott Dewey who are the minds behind the upcoming new comic series Land of The Rising Dead, where feudal Japan and zombie apocalypses collide. We spoke about their Kickstarter funded project and what fans can expect from the badass new series which is set to debut in early 2016.

Feudal Japan has been unified under the Tokugawa shogunate, and the era of the Warring States has finally come to an end. Yet there is little repose; a mysterious plague begins to creep across the land, awakening the sleeping dead and transforming the living into nightmarish fiends. In an effort to contain the outbreak, the Tokugawa shogunate has issued Sakoku, an edict isolating Japan from the rest of the world — no one can leave or enter Japan on penalty of death.

Follow the adventures of Tatsuo the masterless samurai, Moshi the martial arts monk, Ino the fugitive ninja, and Boo the teacup panda as they investigate the mysterious zombie plague, tracing its origins to the fall of the Koga and Iga ninja clans.

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I ran into Ben and Scott when they were doing a signing at Lethbridge’s Kapow! comic store. Scott was giving away his amazing prints to anyone who backed Land of The Rising Dead on Kickstarter. After a lengthy conversation about the origin, death and likely resurrection of Jon Snow on Game of Thrones, I backed their campaign and took home an amazing print of Scott’s which is proudly framed on my wall as I type this. That glorious illustration is oddly enough – Jon Snow and his direwolf Ghost.

These two guys were incredibly cool, nice to hang out with and just shoot the shit about the nerdiest stuff. Their campaign for Land of The Rising Dead, a new and innovative comic series that mashes up zombies with ancient Japanese culture looks astounding. It’s the first and only time I’ve ever backed a crowd-funding campaign and I’m extremely happy that I made the decision. Check out my interview with Ben on the comic, his inspirations and aspirations for the series and much more below:

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Keven: Land of The Rising Dead has now hit pretty much every stretch goal before the deadline and it looks like the final product is going to be one slick as hell first issue. How far ahead do you see this type of story going in terms of issues/arcs?
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Ben: We’ve had an incredible reception from the online community, and the success of our campaign alone has proved that there’s an audience for our story. However, we’ll have to wait and see how people react after reading our comic book; we hope they’ll enjoy it enough to push for a second issue. If the Kickstarter is any indication, I’d say expect more issues in the near future!
Keven: You were inspired by the action of Kill Bill and the Japanese culture having been to the country yourself on occasion – are you worried that some people might be turned off by the addition of zombies? If not – what sets your zombie integration apart from series like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies etc?
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Ben: It’s true that zombies have been under the mainstream spotlight for a while. A lot of people have exploited that, from publishers and artists to filmmakers. I would say that our integration differs in that we’re engaging actual folklore and Japanese mythology. For example, the creation story of Japan tells about Izanami, a kami (god) who dies giving birth to the main islands. The story goes that her husband sojourned to Yomi, the Japanese underworld, in an attempt to retrieve her. When he discovers her, however, the husband flees in terror. She’s a living nightmare—a zombie. The husband seals the entrance to Yomi, trapping his enraged wife who swears to murder a thousand innocents a day if she ever escapes.

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Keven: This is your first comic book but you have an amazing artist with Scott (Dewey) which I’m sure definitely helps. What’s been the hardest part of translating your story for Scott and how has he helped alter the overall work?
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Ben: I remember one of my earliest conversations with Scott when we were exploring projects for collaboration. We both had our own story ideas, some of them fairly developed. Scott, however, suggested that we generate something new—a story that neither of us were attached to. That was when we came up with Beowulf: The Untold Saga, a graphic novel still in the works, and our current project, Land of the Rising Dead.

Translating the story has never been a problem because we’ve created them together. The best part is, the ideas we’ve come up with are ideas that neither of us would have arrived at alone. Because of that, I’m a huge advocate of collaboration. In addition, it also helps that we share responsibilities. Scott can write and I have a background in graphic design.

Keven: You knew Scott from highschool and was aware of his talents as an artist – what is the most unique thing about him that maybe you didn’t know before you started collaborating on Land of The Rising Dead?
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Ben: Scott wasn’t serious about art and illustration after high school, so he’s only been at it for a few years. Most of his friends had no idea that he could draw or paint. I didn’t, and I remember when I saw some of his first digital paintings on Facebook; I remember thinking they looked too good, too real. I assumed he was using Photoshop filters on real pictures or something. But I was wrong.

I’ve seen Scott paint, and I’ve seen his process. He works from scratch and paints with a Wacom tablet in Photoshop. You’ll be impressed if you know what a Wacom is, because it’s one thing to draw or paint, but it’s another to draw or paint on a tablet while looking at a monitor. The most unique thing about Scott? He’s damn good, and I’m not saying that because I’m working with him.

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Keven: You’ve been dedicating most of your social life to this project, attending conventions and whatnot – what’s been the most challenging aspect of this journey so far and what’s the weirdest thing/person you’ve encountered thus far during one of your cons?
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Ben: The most challenging aspect has been the social media and promotion. Crowdfunding experts suggest spending at least three to six months in advance building an audience and gathering a following before launching a Kickstarter campaign. We didn’t do that. We launched right away because we have multiple projects that we’re just too excited to share. I’m glad we launched when we did, but I’ve just had to learn at an accelerated pace.

Our convention experience has actually been quite tame, aside from super weird cosplay, but I’ve met some incredible people. Attending comic expos has helped immensely. I’ve learned that there really are no shortcuts to networking. If you want to build a fan base, if you want to connect with other artists and writers, you have to do it the old fashioned way. That means getting out and meeting people. One highlight for me was meeting Cary Nord at the Saskatoon Expo, since I’m a huge fan of the Conan.
Keven: One of the coolest indie comics I’ve read in some time is Squarriors, which also started as a Kickstarter campaign and now they’ve just wrapped up a four-issue arc with publisher Devil’s Due and they’re headed into their second this year. Land of The Rising Dead probably isn’t a fit for Marvel/DC — who are some of your favorite publishers outside the big two?
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Ben: There’s nothing wrong with being an indie author or a freelance illustrator, but being published is one of our goals. The first publisher we’d like to approach is Image. Image published The Walking Dead comic books, so they have experience with the whole zombie genre. If that doesn’t work out, we’ll try others.

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Keven: Why a Panda? And Does the Panda kick some ass in the comic?
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Ben: Pandas are awesome. For one, they defy racial stereotypes—they’re black, white, and Asian! Pandas are also easily recognizable, and we wanted an animal that could be used for branding purposes. Initially, we considered a monkey since macaques are native to Japan. In the end, we decided on a panda and created Boo, the Chinese teacup panda rescued from a traveling circus and armed with Chinese fireworks. In the comic book, Boo doesn’t just kick ass…he blows shit up!

Keven: Your favorite zombie film or series? Your Least favorite?
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Ben: My favorite zombie film is World War Z (2013). My least favorite would be Nazis at the Center of the Earth (2012). If you haven’t heard of it, count yourself lucky. It’s terrible.

Keven: Your favorite Manga series? Your least favorite?

Ben: This is the most difficult question you’ve asked me [laughs]. Dragonball Z was my introduction to manga, so it’s up there. Recently, however, I’ve enjoyed Attack on Titan, Parasyte, Sword Art Online, and Hunter x Hunter. My least favorites are the ones that end bizarrely. If you’ve delved into anime or manga, you’ll probably know what I mean. While the Japanese are great storytellers, they’re not always the best at offering closure to their stories.

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Keven: You had mentioned that you’d be injecting actual history into your tale albeit the you know… zombie plague — What’s the most exciting factual storyline that you’d like to one day see in the series and how would you put your own spin on it?
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Ben: Japanese history in general is fascinating, but it’s the ninja that intrigue me the most because very little is known. The actual history is enthralling enough as it is, but we decided to put our own spin on the fall of the Koga and Iga ninja clans. The reason why the ninja were exterminated is our biggest twist, but I won’t go into spoilers. You’ll have to wait for the comic book!
Check out the Land of The Rising Dead on Kickstarter HERE
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Editor-In-Chief of Fox Force Five News. I had a zombie cameo on the opening page of The Walking Dead issue #91, where I was killed with a machete... It was awesome.