Taking the Pulse of the Readers of the Undead | Arthur Suydam

Catching up with the "Zombie King" at this year’s inaugural Wizard World St. Louis convention.


One of the best things about attending a comic convention is getting to meet the faces and talents behind your favorite books. I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Arthur Suydam, “Zombie King,” one of the talents behind the extremely popular Marvel Zombies franchise, and creator of Wizard World St. Louis’ exclusive The Walking Dead #1 variant cover.
When I asked what started the whole Marvel Zombies movement, Suydam said that it was actually a fan-based idea, and was initially batted around as “Marvel/DC/Zombie”. This eventually grew into “Hey, we should actually do a book with them,” which later spawned into signing up with Robert Kirkman, who penned The Walking Dead series in addition to Marvel Zombies and Invincible.
I then asked what his artistic background was, and how he got into drawing horror. Suydam said he started doing horror for DC, but was first hired by Warren Publishing who did Vampirella, Creepy and Eerie. Later on, Suydam got recruited by Dark Horse to do the Aliens series for them. However, Suydam is actually classically trained, having attended the New York Academy of Figurative Art, where art students got to work with cadavers at night after the medical students got done with them by day. This intimate knowledge of human anatomy, which he said he also expressed in sculptures of the “flayed man,” is what makes his zombies and undead so lifelike.  
When asked about his inspiration however, Suydam pointed to the masters—Da Vinci and Michelangelo. He said that he was always drawn to their work and wanted to draw like them. Unfortunately, the one thing he didn’t care for was the Renaissance’s prevalence of the “praying style.” Because he was reading comics at the time and enjoyed them, he said he really wanted to take the classical technique and adapt it to comics.
When he was first getting into the business, Suydam and Eisner Hall of Famer Richard Corben (Hellblazer, Ghost Rider, Heavy Metal magazine) were among the first to introduce painted work into comics. Suydam’s interest was in fully classical and full-rendered work, and he wanted to be able to work on his craft even as he created products. Unfortunately, he told me that most companies he first looked at were deadline-driven. As a result, for a long time he stayed with smaller companies such as Heavy Metal, which allowed him to do the kind of work he wanted and gave him the time to perfect his painting techniques.
So how did he became involved with Wizard World? Once Marvel Zombies became the top-selling book, he thought he would do some shows and show off his work. As the winding line behind his booth at Wizard World St. Louis attested, everyone is eager to see what he’s got. Suydam said he has learned several lessons from doing shows along the way, not the least of which has been trying to take the pulse of the market. In trying to figure out what fans like and don’t like, he noted that people respond to familiarity. Suydam observed that many fans will like and seek out pieces with characters they know such as Rick and his son Carl from The Walking Dead, regardless of whether an artist thinks it’s their best work or not. Nontheless, Suydam thought it was great that the horror genre has taken off in popularity, and felt that being able to interact with the fans was the best. Another lesson Suydam said he has learned has been how powerful a portrait can be for fans. “They go for the eyes,” he said, which can be hard to reconcile when the main feature of a horror portrait is a skull.
I finally had to ask him the ultimate question—how had St. Louis’ inaugural comic convention been for him? “It’s been great!” he replied. He said he’d had good food in St. Louis and met great fans. A professional musician as well as artist (he plays in the band the Gotham Playboys), Suydam loves Blues music, and said he was particularly pleased to hear Blues music everywhere.
Arthur Suydam’s The Walking Dead #1 cover is a Wizard World exclusive to this year, and he will be at all the Wizard World conventions this season.
His website can be found at: http://www.arthursuydam.com
Suydam’s work can also be found on the covers of: Deadpool, Black Panther, Ghost Rider, Moon Knight and Wolverine, as well as oodles more. | Elizabeth Schweitzer


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