Category — Interviews
How to tie together the The Zombie Explosion, French and Indian War, Bruce Springsteen, the Luminist Art Period, and flesh-eating Zombies? Two words: Arthur Suydam – the Zombie King!
It seems to clear to this writer that the irreverent insanity of Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips’ series might have eventually found an audience. But what size? To bridge the gap from having Marvel Zombies stand as a mere cult classic with acceptable sales to being something with a more widespread penetrance with Marvel readership, they needed something extra. They needed a unique talent to get people in the door, something to help prospective buyers overcome the very natural revulsion most normal people feel when told a comic contains stuff like Giant-Man literally lunching on his pal the Black Panther!
They had the concept: parody classic Marvel comics covers by replacing the familiar elements with zombie gore. But more key as the concept was the choice artist. They needed someone who had an inherent love for the covers of old, someone who could retain elements of the formal compositions of the original pieces but reinvent and take them to new places of horror fantasy, to weave in textures that would be alternately loving and irreverent, someone whose illustration credentials would deliver all that and more.
In 1979 20th Century Fox selected for its film Alien , Spectrum Gold Award winning illustrator H.R Giger to save the troubled project , for Marvel Zombies, Marvel called on Spectrum Gold Award winning creative genius Arthur Suydam to reinvent the Zombie genre. And this move helped seal the kind of deal nobody could have foretold: Marvel Zombies was set to become the kind of barnstorming sales juggernaut rarely seen in publishing that would prompt an international phenomenon that would introduce the undead into the homes of the general public and forever change American pop-culture..
Flash forward to 2007, and Arthur Suydam is a smash sensation on the convention circuit. While this interview was conducted at DragonCon in Atlanta, hordes of fans – many of them dressed as the Zombies inspired by Suydam’s peerless paintings – waited in line to get an autograph from the hottest fantasy illustrator in the art world today. Belying any impressions one might have that an artist so good at delivering the gritty, gothic gore of the Marvel Zombies would be a similarly dark, twisted fellow, Zombie King , Arthur proved to be as sunny, friendly and outgoing as they come. Delving into the historic artistic legacy of his family name, his career as a professional musician and his love and respect for Marvel history, art and what the Marvel Zombies has done for American pop-culture and his growth as an artist, Arthur delivered a fine interview that we are happy to bring you in this special expose’.
INTERVIEWER: Can you give clarification for everyone on the pronunciation of your last name? I think a lot of people like to say SY-dum.
INTERVIEWER: Soo-DAMN Emphasis on DAMN! (Turns to line of autograph seekers.) Everybody got that? Soo-DAMN!
ARTHUR: They don’t look impressed. (Laughter.)
INTERVIEWER: They’re like, “Just sign my book!” So the name Suydam is Dutch?
ARTHUR: It’s Dutch, that’s correct.
INTERVIEWER: And you come from a long line of Dutch settlers in New York that goes back to the 1600s as settlers in the New World . That’s further back than most people can take their heritage.
ARTHUR: Pre-America I believe.
INTERVIEW: Right. How much of your family history are you aware of that has been really fleshed out, where all the parts of the family tree are put together?
ARTHUR: I know a little about of it. My aunt is the one who is really in the know. They showed up early on and eventually spread out to local small hubs of civilization, like Pennington and Lambertville.
INTERVIEW: It was a Suydam that settled the area of New York and the Suydam name has stayed on.
ARTHUR: Them and others. They came over from Holland and fought in the Indian wars on the Hudson River. This was all pre-New York. They became farmers and landowners in what became New Amsterdam and then later on, New York.
INTERVIEW: I am told that there are a couple of streets here named Suydam.
ARTHUR: Two in Brooklyn, and one in New Brunswick, I hear. This used to be a fairly Dutch area. After the wars, there were no women, so some of them found native brides. There are a lot of Dutch and Blackfoot Indian combinations in the Suydam family. My little brother, James, married a Blackfoot girl.
INTERVIEW: I’m curious how much of that legacy influences what you do today? Are there specific parts of it or is it perhaps the whole continuum of this legacy that’s hundreds of years old that influence who you are and what you stand for?
ARTHUR: It’s actually something that I don’t give much thought to . On Sundays my Aunt Alice and the elders would drink beer and talk politics and family affairs at Pop-Pop’s farm, while my brothers and I hid under the table . We were too young to take an interest.
Later on I was approached by art collectors who were beginning to collect my work, some of whom also collected the paintings of some of my great uncles, who were mostly Hudson River painters. That kind of started the ball rolling . Over the years, little by little you began to become a little more aware.
INTERVIEW: Upon reading a little bit about your uncles and some of your family tree from the distant past, it seems that your family was full of some high achievers, in almost a Renaissance man fashion. For instance, your great-uncle James was a merchant and a world traveler. He was a successful businessman, extremely well educated and his artistic talent was obvious.
ARTHUR:. He had a lot to do with The National Academy Museum here in NYC. He got started quite late in life with his art, after he had already achieved some degree of success in science, business and education . I believe it was the logical next step, get the essentials taken care of, then focus on the really important things, self-development and the arts . I think it was more of a philosophical thing than anything else ; one life to spend and how to best spend it.
INTERVIEW: Do you think it’s in your genes?
ARTHUR: What’s that?
ARTHUR: I think that subject raises the more questions than answers for me, really. I’m not sure that I can speak authoritatively for anyone other than myself.
I was taught from an early age that there are areas in life a man must master to be well rounded. You had to know science, you had to be fluent in all major sports and excel at least, in one , you had to be versed in multiple musical instruments and master at least one , know how to dance the basic 5 social dances , support charity, be able to fight, speak more than one language and have a vested interest in and experience in the arts, in general.
I’m just learning as I go , really. Recently I discovered that the street where I’ve resided for the past 32 years is the on the same block where uncle James lived in the 1800s in downtown east New York City.
INTERVIEW: All happenstance.
ARTHUR: Some coincidence. On the subject of being overachievers, I don’t know about that. I think it comes down to a game plan for life. Set the bar high. When you reach you goals, set it again- never stop. Set them high and far from reach. Don’t waist your time with TVexcept as a learning tool. We were raised to believe that everyone can achieve their goals with investment of time and focus.
For me, there was the additional catch-up element to deal with after I was burned at age five. They didn’t expect me to live. I had to learn to walk again and had to play catch up for years.
INTERVIEW: Yeah, it’s interesting that a lot of the same echoes from the past seem to reappear in your life. You know, you, in a way, can be considered a Renaissance type personality in that you’re obviously a successful musician, a successful artist, you’ve got your hands busy in many disciplines. You have the option to do a bunch of different things, but right now you’re heavily involved in illustration. Tying that in to your family history is a very interesting thing.
ARTHUR: I started drawing and writing when I was about four years old. Many of my uncles and aunts, are artists and musicians. Pop-pop played about five or six different instruments. My father was mostly a singer and guitar player.
I think that I picked up my love of music from listening him play at night over the years. I started playing professionally when I was about 14 years old in the clubs.
INTERVIEW: Let’s talk about that part of your artistic career. Tell me how you got started with your professional music career.
ARTHUR: I was singing in Baptist churches when I was kid. I went right from that to playing in bars in Jersey. They had to sneak me in because I was under age. It started with going to jam sessions in bars. Then once I moved to New York City I had my own bands, and was hired to do film sound tracks and was performing in multiple bands; I’d be in two, three, or four bands at the a time. When I came to New York, soon there was this rockabilly explosion, which is kind of what I do, American roots music. That came in vogue when the Stray Cats hit. I would draw during the day and was playing the clubs at night. The Lone Star Café; all the clubs that specialize in that Americana music, four, five, six nights a week .
Eventually it got around that I was the guy to go to for that kind of music. There were lots of very good players with me at the time, from Paul McCartney’s band, Brian Setzer’s band, the horn section from the Rolling Stones, rhythm section from Steely Dan, Joe Cocker and a host of others.
It was a good time musically.
INTERVIEW: I don’t think a lot of your comic art fans are aware of that side of your artistic career. Obviously everyone knows you now through the zombie prism. When you were playing music professionally, did you stick pretty much in New York City or did you play around elsewhere?
ARTHUR: Well, I went out on the road a bit. Mostly national, with a few international things thrown in. I did tours with Bill Hailey’s Comets as musical director and followed that, with Tony Williams and the Platters .
INTERVIEW: Were you the musical director for the Platters during this time?
ARTHUR: No, not for that band. That was Ray, from Roberta Flack. I functioned primarily as the warm up group vocalist and lead guitar player. Because I had my own full group in the city, it worked out well because the Platters were always late for what-every gig they were booked for ; at least an hour, two hours, sometimes three hours late. So that meant that they needed a complete rhythm section with vocalist who could arrive on time to cover their butts and give them time to find their way to the gig. I actually got a movie deal out of it on one occasion, when I was covering for them one night and a movie producer was out in the audience and caught the act. I used to do a lot of film work.
INTERVIEW: Buy them some time. (Laughter.) I’d like to talk about how you got involved with a group of musicians that would later turn into a working relationship with Bruce Springsteen. Was your band called the Gotham Playboys?
ARTHUR: The Gotham Playboys, that’s correct. In New York, you get to play with many bands. As many bands as you can hook up with. That particular band happens to be a Cajun zydeco band. In that band I sing in English and French. It’s mostly a roadhouse band. Pre-Giuliani there was a very vibrant and active club scene in New York City. That’s just not the case now following his “ quality of life “ program to do away with all the noise, including the noise that all the musicians were making . Prior to my working with the band, there was a singer with the band who happened to be best friends with Patty, who eventually became Mrs Bruce.
INTERVIEW: That would be Soozie Tyrell, right?
ARTHUR: Yeah, Soozie, Patti (Scialfa), and Lisa (Lowell); the Three Redheads, we called them. They had a band together way back and had been struggling to make a go of it in the City scene. At some point Soozie left the band and I stepped in replacing her as lead vocalist.
Now incidentally, Bruce Springsteen wanted a band to play his birthday party one year out on the farm so we ended up doing the gig and the thing turned into this huge jam session with all the musicians, all the guests getting up on stage. We played from about 12 in the afternoon to about 11 or 12 at night. It was so much fun that it became a thing that we would do every year: go down and do this big jam at Bruce’s place. We performed our own shows and the band operated as the rhythm section backing everyone else up.
INTERVIEW: Down in New Jersey.
ARTHUR: At his Jersey ranch house, yes. We would hear how well people thought he sounded good with us backing him up. That turned into the band to record a tribute to Pete Seeger on a tribute record [1998’s Where Have All The Flowers Gone cd] and then later with the We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions CD and live in Dublin cd.
INTERVIEW: The Gotham Playboys also embarked on a worldwide tour, won a Grammy for the album – all cool things. You didn’t get to partake in that thanks to the crazy success of Marvel Zombies and the positive effect that had on your art career.
ARTHUR: I was happy with me work. When the subject of doing the cds and the tour came up, I kind of just backed away from the whole thing . I had already done a lot of roadwork and had been burned back home as a result. One of the things about going on the road, you come back and all your jobs have dried up and you have to start all over again. Mostly because they find somebody else to replace you; that the lesson I learned over the years when I was going to go mainstream in years past . So while on one hand, it sounded like a fun gig, I was quite content to focus on the zombie project that was just getting started and hadn’t come out yet . Also, esthetically speaking, musically I double up with Bruce pretty well; we do the much the same thing so that job wasn’t a match for me. I’m mostly hired as a singer guitarplayer. There just wasn’t a real clear spot for me on that particular job, so I have no regrets about it. He got his grammy for best folk record , I got the Spike award for best comic of the year. The rhythm section got paid well for a world trip, now it’s back to the drawing board. I’m comfortable with my decision to stick to my guns.
I ‘ve always felt that I was born to work on Marvel’s mainstream characters- fate and circumstance dictated that it would take us a while to get there. I believe that I can write these characters as well as I draw them- better. I’ve always seen myself working for Marvel -all the way back when I was a four years old.
INTERVIEW: Do you have any projects in mind though, musically?
ARTHUR: Actually, right now I have a recording contract with a music company in France to do my own album , combining my art and music. As soon as I get some time to go into the studio and work on the recordings, then I’ll get to that. But right now I’m so busy I just don’t have time to do it.
INTERVIEW: What shape will that album take creatively?
ARTHUR: It’ll probably be the thing that I do best, which is American roots music. All original tunes.
INTERVIEW: Whatever you do in that vein, I’m sure it will have to fit in with your comics schedule. Marvel Zombies has been a breakout phenomenon.
ARTHUR: Nobody expected it to go anywhere—— except me.
INTERVIEW: It bears mentioning that when you came on to this project, it’s not like it was an afterthought. It wasn’t just some throwaway. But at the same time, nobody anticipated it would become the brilliant success that it’s been. At what point did you get this sense that you were part of something that was going to be really special?
ARTHUR: I thought it before the project ever got started, as soon as I heard the concept of Marvel Zombies, I thought it was such a good hi-concept idea, that basically if the writer turned in anything that resembled a half decent story, it was gonna’ be a big thing. As soon as I heard about it I thought to myself, this is what comics have been missing all along. Rather than a different wrinkle on an age old template.
INTERVIEW: What elements stood out that made you think that way?
ARTHUR: Taking characters that everybody knows and loves and have been around. Iconic characters. And doing the kind of things with them that we’ve been waiting to see happen for as long as we’ve been reading comics. There’s always been a line over which the mainstream has been reluctant to cross when it came to storytelling and fooling around with the characters and letting the creative end of the comic world take some liberties. I thought Dark Knight Returns was the first time where they really gave the talent an opportunity to be progressive with these well-known characters. Marvel Zombies is the second . It just goes to show what can be done when, for instance you choose a good team and let them run with the ball.
INTERVIEW: Where in the process did it come to be that the covers were going to be integral part of the whole Zombies enterprise?
ARTHUR: They had a writer. I don’t know at what point they found the artist, but at some point very early on they came to me with the idea of doing the covers. I’m classically trained and I had a lot of samples of dark stuff that I could show them to prove I could paint that type of thing. The rest is history. I owned all of these comic books and I read them all and those were some of my favorite comics of all time. It felt almost like I was working on the original books. That was one of the things that instilled my interest in the project.
INTERVIEW: I’m sure you were immediately ticking off the covers you wanted to do in your mind: “Well, I wanna do this one, I wanna do that one, I wanna do this one.” Did that kind of excitement and possibility keep you up at night?
ARTHUR: Yes. I had a long list starting out and I still have a long list. It’s a very long list of all the covers I want to do, in the order I want to do them. As they appear, one by one, I’m chipping away at them.
tles, plus make space on your shelf for MARVEL ZOMBIES: THE COVERS HC, which includes extensive commentary from Arthur on a helping heaping of his classic Zombie covers!
April 22, 2015 Comments Off on How to tie together the The Zombie Explosion
Zombie King, Arthur Suydam Answered 15 questions at Sequential Highway.
Interview conducted by Julinda Morrow.
Arthur Suydam (pronounced Sā-DĂM) – also known as the Zombie King – is an artist who, with a splash of colour and a stroke of his brush, has the magic to bring Zombies to life as easily as he does Mr. Toad and the cast of The Wind and The Willows.
Arthur lives and breathes art. If he’s not painting or creating comics, he’s composing and performing music. He travels the world sharing his creativity with a warm smile and generous heart. And I have it on good authority that he’s one heck of a tennis player too.
July 2, 2012 No Comments
Fanboy video interviews Arthur ‘The Zombie King’ Suydam at the 2011 Wizard World Austin.
January 12, 2012 Comments Off on Fanboy Video Interviews at Wizard World Austin