It’s a dark and stormy night in Derry-Londonderry, and at the Verbal Arts Centre the dulcet tones of local band MadVillain bounce off rattling windows.
Perhaps a set of bony fingers scratching at the door may have added to the theme, but otherwise the atmosphere is perfect for the launch of Volume Four of the cult comic book, Zombies Hi!.
Inside the arts centre, artist Kevin 'Geo' Logue is working on a signed drawing for one lucky recipient. His colleagues, writer and letterer Danny McLaughlin and 'inkerman' John Campbell, are fraternising with the punters. Comic books are on-hand and the fans marvel over the story and artwork.
The comic tells the story of Derry's decimation following a zombie outbreak, and the locals’ attempts to survive while locked inside the historic city walls. Call it an Irish Zombieland – or 'Zombiederry', as a clever panel on page two quips. 'The key for us was to think local but go global, put something into a familiar setting,' Campbell says.
Logue concurs, adding: 'We wanted something that was universally accepted, a story about the city in a world with well-known rules. The comic is fun to read, but it’s also a story of survival, a social commentary on how the locals act and live. And it’s about decapitation also, as you can’t have a zombie comic without a few heads rolling!'
All three artists feel that the city walls are 'purpose built' for a zombie story, a perfect set up for a modern day Siege Of Derry. For Logue, the strangest thing is 'that no one has used them this way before'.
Being set in Derry-Londonderry doesn’t limit the comic’s appeal to a local audience, however. In fact, a Zombies Hi! slideshow on BBC Northern Ireland (take a look at it here) was front page news after getting 70,000 hits on the day of its launch.
Zombies Hi!, named after a well-known Derry colloquialism, also attracted the notice of a German artist, who saw it as a representation of a new generation's view on politics. It was exhibited for a month in Berlin, alongside work by artists like long-term Hunter S Thompson collabortor, Ralf Steadman.
'We’ve written the comic in a time of recession,' says Campbell. 'So it speaks not just to the needs of the city but also to a universal mood. We’re telling all our readers to just "deal with it" because you never know what trials and tribulations will come your way. But really, what we’re looking to sell is light comedy with a not-so-heavy message.'
'I also believe the uniqueness of the comic spells out a positive message about the versatility of art in Derry-Londonderry,' adds mcLaughlin.
Since the first volume of Zombies Hi! arrived on the scene at the 2D Comics Festival in June 2010, Logue, McLaughlin and Campbell have been on a 'mini tour of discovery'.
They’ve held launches all over Ireland, taken on contributors from north and south of the border, and celebrated winning an award for 'Most Innovative Business'. It really has been a whirlwind six months leading up to their first official launch in their home town.
But, as Campbell says, this has been a lifelong ambition for the trio. 'We always wanted to produce comics, and we were lucky enough to spot a gap in the market. It was tough initially, because we had no funds. But after we outsold every other famous artist on the first day of the 2D Festival, it all escalated from there.'
Logue hopes that the success of comics like Zombie Hi! will inspire the next generation of comic book artists. 'A comic industry doesn’t really exist in Derry, so we want to make it happen. We will always welcome more contributions, and hopefully we will be starting workshops soon for children between the ages of 11 and 16.'
This is one comic that is sure to run and run. After all, as Logue puts it, 'zombies will never die.' Unless, of course, you cut their heads off.
Buy copies of Zombies Hi! Volumes One to Four at Uproad Comics.