Claudio Sanchez and Chondra Echert’s Undead Epic

Chondra Echert and Claudio Sanchez proudly display
the first issue of Key Of Z at New York Comic-Con 2011.
(Photo ©2011 by Bryan Reesman.)

Originally conceived as a vehicle for the epic Amory Wars series that has also been the focus of every Coheed and Cambria album, Evil Ink Comics has become the vehicle for Coheed frontman Claudio Sanchez and his various collaborators, including writers Peter David and Chondra Echert. Beyond the various Amory Wars storylines, Evil Ink has unleashed the psychedelic musical Kill Audio series and the new undead adventure Key Of Z, which comes off like as a mashup of Escape From New York, The Warriors and The Walking Dead. The story, which offers some social commentary while also possessing the feeling of a road movie at times, chronicles a zombie apocalypse sweeping the country. It focuses on Manhattan, where different human tribes have created refuges in three major sports arenas, each with a different agenda for the future of mankind. And one man wants to get many of them to turn on each other.

Sanchez and Echert recently sat down to chat with A.D.D. about Key Of Z, their creative marriage and what the future holds for Evil Ink. (Click here to learn about our Key Of Z signed comic book giveaway.)

The cover of issue #2 of Key of Z.

Obviously the zombie genre has been done to death, and it seems that when approaching Key Of Z you weren’t trying to do a typical zombie story. It’s more character driven, and the undead seem more incidental.
Claudio: Yes, yes. We were certainly focusing on the quieter moments of a post-apocalyptic time.
Chondra: It’s funny, how zombie stories are beginning to evolve. In the last couple of years we’ve started to see stories about zombies having actual personalities. A friend of ours wrote a book called Breathers. It’s about life in a post-apocalyptic zombie world, but it’s actually about the zombies themselves.  How they’re treated and how they cope with it. I think you’re right. Zombies for most people are incidental. It’s how do people react in the face of disaster, and that could be anything. We like to think that in Key Of Z that’s how they’re used, and ultimately they’re used as a weapon.
Claudio: You’ll find that out by issue four.

Originally this was called Subway Seriez, which obviously has to do with the Mets/Yankees rivalry, and their respective stadiums in this story have different types of people. The Yankees seem to have the nicer ruler here, and the Mets have a dictator.
Chondra: Well, kind of. You actually find out that it’s the flip.
Claudio: Atwater is actually the nice guy. There is Yankee Lavoe, Jackson Met, and Charles Madison Atwater, who’s in Madison Square [Garden].
Chondra: Madison Square is the neutral house. As far as New York baseball teams are concerned, you can’t pick one as better than the other in a story.
Claudio: Yes, you can. It all depends on who you’re talking to.
Chondra [laughs]: Ask him then. I’m not taking sides.
Claudio: We made them both bad. They’re trying to occupy territories and are warring against each other, while Charles Atwater is very neutral and looking to grow within the zombie apocalypse as opposed to decimating everything and ruling. He realizes that this is the future, these are the rules now in life and they should just try to make it work, whereas the other guys are just like, “Take what you can.” Our main character Nick Ewing — which is a call to him being from Madison Square, and it’s my favorite era of the Knicks, so that’s how I dressed him up — he gets positioned in between the two houses, and essentially he wants to get them to destroy themselves.

The Amory Wars is very epic, Star Wars kind of science fiction. Kill Audio has an underground ‘60s/’70s kind of vibe to it. This is totally my favorite of your series so far. The story is most cinematic actually. I could see this more easily be turned into a movie or TV series. Were you thinking about that at all when you were doing this?
Chondra: I think with any property that we do we obviously think about it, but I don’t think that influenced the writing. If anything, the things that we were reading and watching at the time is where the cinematic feel came from. It was the reverse almost, where we were very influenced by The Warriors or anything else we were watching at the time. We just brought them into the book.
Claudio: Along with The Warriors or Romero’s Dead movies, one element in particular that was inspired by film is the harmonica acting as the Excalibur [of the story]. I definitely wanted to tip my hat to [Sergio] Leone in Once Upon A Time In The West, specifically the Charles Bronson character. There are little hints and little homages to things that are in the story.

Santa needs braaaaiinnss to get that extra
energy burst for his Christmas haul.
(Artwork courtesy of Evil Ink Comics.)

I’ve heard people say that in the future we will have resource wars and be coping with natural disasters and environmental problems. Are you going to be dealing with any of those ideas here?
Chondra: Jackson Met’s ultimate plan with Manhattan — and the reason that he doesn’t get along with the Yankees gang or Madison Square — is to turn the city into a safe haven from the zombie apocalypse that’s happening across the country.
Claudio: And prosper from it.
Chondra: So he would be the Donald Trump of New York City, and take everything, build high-rises and have a fiefdom where he would be in charge. It would be preservation on a small-scale, and the whole world would be warring for this tiny little area.

It makes me think of Land Of The Dead, with the rich people living in heavily fortified high-rises in Pittsburgh. Getting back to zombies, they are a metaphor for many people. What do zombies mean to you?
Claudio: I don’t know. For me, when a zombie apocalypse is posed, it’s just a progress in the evolution of human consciousness. That’s really all I think about when I think of zombies — just how as human beings we react to something like that. Do we evolve or do we devolve and become savages then?
Chondra: There’s a whole social idea about zombies who are still technically human. They’re human beings who are in a state to which people could say we should be helping them. You’d think there would be groups that, if there were a zombie apocalypse, would be rallying for their ethical treatment. It’s the same point that Claudio made — how does their presence bring out the best and worst in people? And which side are you taking?

“Zombies for most people are incidental. It’s how do people react in the face of disaster, and that could be anything. We like to think that in ‘Key Of Z’ that’s how they’re used, and ultimately they’re used as a weapon.”
–Chondra Echert

So as a husband and wife team, how do you work creatively? Do you pick apart each other’s ideas?
Claudio: Emotions get involved sometimes.
Chondra: Absolutely.

But you don’t get angry?
Chondra: Exactly. We never do for long. The idea is to be honest with each other. If something isn’t working, it’s not that you don’t have good ideas. Don’t take it personally.  It’s “how can we progress this forward to make it the best book we can make it and not be pouting in a corner somewhere?” We spend a lot of time together anyway, so we understand each other’s hot buttons – how to not push them, or to push them on purpose.

Claudio meets Leeloo’s doppleganger.
(Photo ©2011 by Bryan Reesman.)

Did you guys meet through comic books?
Claudio: No, we met on the road in Jacksonville, Florida. We [Coheed] were supporting a band at the time. We talked on the telephone, and it grew from there. We’ve been seeing each other now…
Chondra: Since 2003.

When did you guys get married?
Claudio: Two years ago.

So it’s a perfect match!
Claudio: Yeah, and Chonny is a writer, although not necessarily a  long-time comics fan, which is my love.
Chondra: I’ve been drawn more in the past to novels. I read a lot of novelizations, but I’ve been making a concerted effort to learn the craft [of comics] by reading a lot. I like comics. Superheroes turned me off in a lot of ways, growing up. I just didn’t have anybody who was into that.

That’s a lot of Evil Ink.
(Photo ©2011 by Bryan Reesman.)

When I was growing up in the ‘80s, women were not really into horror movies, heavy metal or comics books. Now there are geek girls everywhere, and I say, “Where were you guys when I was growing up?”
Chondra: The writing has changed. A lot of the material in comics didn’t exist the way it does now. It was very tongue-in-cheek. Anything that wasn’t superhero-related was kitschy or over-the-top. Now you have people who are writing things like Daytripper, for example, which is a beautiful story that could be a novel. It’s so poetic and lovely. Not to say that women only read things that are poetic and lovely, but I think you can appeal to a much broader audience by changing the subject matter.

What’s coming up for you guys?
Claudio: Right now I’m working with Peter David on a prose adaptation of the Second Stage Turbine Blade story under the Amory Wars umbrella. We’re also working on a follow-up to Kill Audio called Kill Audio Too. We’ve got five issues penned.  We also have our first superhero attempt, called The Holiday. It’s still very tentative, but we’re throwing around the concept for the characters and the villain. I actually really like it. Part of me thinks that it’s going to jump ahead of Kill Audio.
Chondra: When Claudio is really excited about something, he has this urgency. He gets really enthusiastic and wants to delve into it, so that may very well jump in front of something. But we could do it all at the same time.

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