‘Graveyard of Empires’ Brings Zombies into the Afghanistan War [Previews]
On sale now from Image Comics is Graveyard of Empires #1, the 32-page first chapter of a new limited series set against the war in Afghanistan. Created by Mark Sable (Unthinkable) and Paul Azaceta (Amazing Spider-Man, B.P.R.D.: 1946), the story is a prodigiously researched and unflinchingly violent depiction of what life is really like for American troops in this 10th year of war in Afghanistan, but with one critical difference: zombies, an undead threat that forces the Marines and the Taliban to work together to stop a common enemy.
ComicsAlliance spoke with writer Mark Sable about Graveyard of Empires, just the latest of his politically-themed comics, and previewed eleven pages of lettered artwork by Paul Azaceta.
You're likely familiar with the striking artwork of Paul Azaceta, who's contributed to such comics as Amazing Spider-Man and Potter's Field (both with Mark Waid), as well as Punisher Noir and Mike Mignola's B.P.R.D.: 1946. Mark Sable and Azaceta first worked together on the graphic novel Grounded but ComicsAlliance readers are probably more familiar with the writer's Unthinkable, the espionage thriller that got him detained by the TSA. Featuring covers by Azaceta and artwork by Julian Totino Tedesco, the BOOM! Studios book told the story of a writer whose job was to devise terrorist plots for Homeland Security to then prepare for should they occur. An Unthinkable script was confiscated from Sable by the Transportation Security Administration.
With Graveyard of Empires (the longtime nickname for Afghanistan itself), Sable and Azaceta wished to address the surprising lack of American war comics set against the nation's current conflicts. To that end, the creators interviewed Afghanistan veterans, intelligence officers and journalists. Most notably, the Graveyard of Empires team were advised by the late Tim Hetherington, a journalist and documentarian who was tragically killed during the recent conflicts in Libya. The comic is dedicated to his memory.
Part of the reason Paul and I awe so passionate about this comic is that there is a real dearth of war comics, particularly those covering modern conflicts. That's surprising for a number reasons. One, comics has an amazing tradition of dealing with war, from Captain America to Blazing Combat and beyond. Because of how quickly and cheaply comics are produced, they can deal with war in real time, and bring an immediacy that no other fictional medium can.
The lack of modern war comics even more disturbing because we're in two (or more) wars right now. I suppose that reflects a broader cultural problem - so few are asked to sacrifice that moat of us don't feel the pain that war brings.
What's been nice about the reaction to the book so far is that there does seem to be a hunger for this type of book. Even the criticism so far has been from those who were expecting a straight war comic, rather than a military/horror conflict. Out of 32 pages in the first issue, only a couple deal with zombies.
The zombie element of Graveyard of Empires sneaks up on the reader in a startling fashion not unlike the way vampires suddenly appear in the middle of the film From Dusk 'Till Dawn. Prior to their arrival, Sable and Azaceta spend a great deal of time developing the grim setting and violent characters that populate both sides of the war. Among them, a new commanding officer whose hopes of endearing himself to his entrenched troops are slim-to-none; an opium-abusing Explosive Ordinance Disposal specialist, driven to drugs by the stress of dismantling bombs; a treacherous Afghan cop; a mutinous American sniper; a Female Engagement Officer whose job is to work with the grotesquely oppressed women of Afghanistan; and an Afghan surgeon forced by the Taliban to implant bombs inside of people. It's after we get these people that Sable lowers the zombie boom on them.
While there will be more horror in the next few issues, we don't plan on losing sight of the very real people on both sides of the conflict. As a plot device, zombies serve to do something that would otherwise be inconceivable - force US Marines and Taliban to cooperate against a common threat. Metaphorically, the zombies represent a force not unlike the Taliban. A foe with inscrutable motives that doesn't seem to need to eat or sleep, and no matter how many you kill...they just keep coming.
We hope the horror aspect will tempt readers who might not otherwise try a war book, while fans of military fiction will finally finf the comic they've been waiting for.