Article by Mike Chaiken, 2/9/06, reprinted courtesy of The Bristol Observer

Underground among the Zombies
Bristol pair’s creative career gets graphic


For most pop culture loving Americans, graphic novels are just bubbling beneath their collective conscience.

There have been a few films based on the cutting edge art form. If you’ve seen “Ghost World” with Scarlett Johansson or “Sin City,” with Jessica Alba and a slew of others, you’ve had a peek into the world of graphic novel.

For the most part, however, the world of graphic novels is a shadowy one that eludes the attention of the masses.

But it’s a world Bristol resident Mark Anastasio, and his buddy Brian Hemming, want to be part of. They have begun to dip their pens into the deep dark waters of that underground universe. And they dream of success.

Anastasio and Hemming are the driving force behind the Bristol-based Allergic to Zombies Comics. The pair have issued the first of four chapters of their self-penned horror story, “The Coffin of County Cork,” and they are in the process of issuing their next work, “The Skull and Lucerne.” Anastasio, a student of Tunxis Community College with dreams of being a journalist, and Hemmings, a tattoo artist and a graduate of Massachusetts College of Art, started dreaming up comic books when they were sixth graders at Hubbell School.

In the beginning, the two friends simply read comics. Then, they began to concoct ideas for their own comics. In time, the pair picked up the necessary artistic and writing skills and went to work to produce their own comics.

The pair’s first graphic novel, the zombie tale “The Coffin of County Cork,” was released in 2003. It found distribution in Connecticut and in Boston. And Anastasio distributed free copies of the work at the San Diego Comic Con.

“The Skull and Lucerne,” their latest tale, is expected to be ready in March.

Anastasio explained: “It tells us the story of an elderly protagonist who has lost his wife… He is left alone with the regrets of his life… and the failures as a husband and a father.”

Alone, Anastasio explained, the protagonist slowly begins to kill himself, but he doesn’t quite commit suicide. Instead, Anastasio explained, “He’s doing everything he can to get out of this life.” He said the character is similar to Nicolas Cage’s character in the film, “Leaving Las Vegas,” who slowly commits suicide by drinking himself to death.

“It’s written as a horror story,” said Anastasio of “The Skull and Lucerne.” As the protagonist moves closer to his end, he begins to suffer horrific and chilling flashbacks. The protagonist begins to wonder, Anastasio explained, “Is it senility creeping in or is it something else?”

Anastasio said the story was not inspired by anything or anyone he has experienced in his own life. Instead, he said, “It is something I sketched out of my head.”

The foundation of the story began with Anastasio’s drawings of sugar skulls (calaveras), such as those used by the Mexicans in their Day of the Dead celebrations. And then the work developed into “an exercise in creating a protagonist who was someone you could care about,” said Anastasio.

Anastasio and Hemmings have divided the labor, relying on Hemming to tackle the more artistic intensive drawings required for the work. “So far it’s coming out nice,” said Anastasio.

When the work is published, Anastasio said it will be available for sale at Kevin’s Comics and Compact Discs in Southington, Comicopia, in Boston and at Allergic to Zombies website, www.atozombies.com. The friends also plan to distribute the publication at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco in April.

Although Marl is headed toward a career in journalism, he explained, “This is what I love to do.” And if all things were equal, he would prefer a career writing and inking graphic novels. But, he also recognized, “It’s a really competitive market” and one that is difficult to excel in.

But, he said, “It’s something I need to do, it’s the one artistic output I have.” So if he can’t work in the world of comics and graphic novels full-time, “I would just be happy to self-publish indefinitely.”

Anastasio said, “It’s been a big part of my life since I was a kid and I can’t see cutting it out now.”

For more information, go to atozombies.com.

To comment, email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.