'Gung Ho' Interview: The Wrong Move Will Get You Killed
Oct 29, 2019
by Troy-Jeffrey Allen
What does it mean to be the "spiritual successor" to The Walking Dead? Well, for starters, it's means you have big shoes to fill. Secondly, it means that you're filling a post-apocalyptic void that was recently vacated by one of comics' biggest success stories.
Is ABLAZE Publishing's Gung-Ho that book? Only time will tell. But the groundwork is there for a character drama that traverses uninhabitable landscapes, promises unpredictable twists and turns, and will result in some personal and terrifying transformations. Y'know...the stuff that any good "survival horror" journey is made of.
In the following Gung-Ho Interview, writer Benjamin von Eckartsberg and artist Thomas von Kummant explain why their new book from ABLAZE will scratch that post-apocalyptic itch.
PREVIEWSworld: How did Gung-Ho come about as a project?
Benjamin: It is a true collaboration between writer and artist. Thomy and I are close friends who have worked together for a long time. I wrote the adaption of the novel series The Chronicles of the Immortals by Wolfgang Hohlbein for him. In 2005 I had the idea for the Gung-Ho story and told Thomy about it. He was intrigued right away and it was clear that this would be a project for the future. After two successful books of The Chronicles of the Immortals, we wanted to work on a story of our own. I didn't have a plot at the time, just the setup, how the world and the colony are organized. After the green light from Paquet, I sat down in 2011 and developed the characters and the plot and wrote the scripts for the whole series. All in all, it will be one story told over 420 pages. Then Thomy started with the visual development and the storyboards. It was and still is a huge joy for me to see my story brought to life by his amazing art skills.
PREVIEWSworld: Is this more sci-fi, horror, or action-drama?
Benjamin: It is a mix of coming of age drama and post-apocalyptic survival action. It is set in the near future, but I don’t consider it sci-fi, because there is no advance in technology due to the breakdown of society.
PREVIEWSworld: Tell us about Zack and Archer. Why do we follow them through this story, specifically?
Benjamin: Being outsiders, they have to learn their ways around Fort Apache, the fortified settlement in the danger zone. So the reader is getting to know this place and its rules together with Zack and Archer. As brothers with very different personalities, they react differently to their new surrounding and it’s inhabitants, which creates the dynamic of the story. With their arrival and rebellious attitude, the fragile social order gets confused. With drastic consequences.
PREVIEWSworld: The book definitely has roots in the post-apocalyptic genre. Tell us more about that. What inspired this book?
Benjamin: As a writer, I love the freedom the post-apocalyptic genre entails. You can shape your own little world on the ruins of today and play the “What if...-Game“. The teenagers as the main focus of the Gung-Ho story was the whole point of the original idea. It started with a daydream I had in 2005. A bunch of teenagers chilling in the Danger Zone. They sneaked out of the walled colony into the Danger Zone to hang out without adults controlling their every move. You know, smoking, flirting and dangerous tests of courage. But while they are partying, they always have to have their weapons ready and one eye on the wilderness around them. There are creatures out there that prey on humans.
I like teenagers as characters for stories because they are humans in the making. Roughly shaped, untamed. They feel important emotions for the first time, every new experience leaves a deep impression. They have a fresh view on the world around them. If and how they will arrange themselves with the rules of the society they find themselves in is an interesting theme for a story. At least in my opinion. It can be the motor for a lot of drama in any genre, but combined with the ruthlessness of a broken, post-apocalyptic society it is especially juicy. So we play with that in Gung-Ho.
Thomas: Visually I love this genre because it gives you the opportunity to invent worlds with your imagination even if they are located in the world that we know. Working on a comic story takes a long time. So for me, the plot, the dialogues and the depth of the characters are even more important than the genre. Fortunately Ben brought it all together very nicely.
PREVIEWSworld: How did you go about depicting the fall of civilization?
Thomas: Benjamin wrote the whole script before I started, so I first drew a map of Fort Apache to see where the needed locations of our story will be placed. And I started to keep my eyes open for inspiration. For example - we did a trip to China and found an amazing old abandoned steel factory that came into our story as the “Training Area”. It was amazing to see how fast nature is taking over the territory if nobody is taking care of it. I did research on abandoned locations but also places with wonderful nature that could fit into the world of Gung-Ho.
PREVIEWSworld: What's the creative process like between you two?
Benjamin: The first step is writing the story. After the initial idea, I worked out the world of Gung-Ho, the species of the rippers, the danger zone, the settlements and their rules, the characters and locations. Then a short step outline of the scenes and then a more detailed treatment for the whole story. The last step is the writing of the final dialogue scenarios, which in my case, are very similar to a movie script.
Thomy: After reading the scenario I create the character and location designs, and in the beginning, the illustration style of the series. Then I transform the scenario into a rough grayscale storyboard, approximately between 350 and 500 panels per book. When we agree on the storyboard in every detail, I arrange the storyboard into the page layout. Now it is readable like a comic book and last changes can be made before the long and exhausting process of illustrating all the final panels begins.
PREVIEWSworld: Looking forward, what can readers expect from Gung-Ho after issue 1?
Benjamin: Hearts and rules will be broken. Zack wants to make good, find friends, start over again in the settlement, under the watchful eyes of the settlers' leader, Miss Kingsten. But his brother Archer is hungry for action and thinks rules are made to be broken. He takes what he wants. Every day could be his last, after all. Zack has to decide. Does he want to be part of the problem or part of the solution? Which is more important, community or family? The fate of the whole settlement hangs in the balance.
Traumatized teenagers, strict discipline, hypocritical adults, lots of guns and the deadly creatures outside. It's an explosive combination. Add teen hormones to the mix and you have critical mass. The catastrophe runs its course in this hot summer somewhere in Europe...
PREVIEWSworld: In terms of audience, who is Gung-Ho for?
Benjamin: The story may be told from the viewpoint of the teenagers, but it is not a story only for teenage readers. We tried to tell our story in a realistic, mature manner, despite its unrealistic setting, and have some fun on the way with romance, action and deadly creatures. If that sounds compelling to you and you like gorgeous art, then you should give Gung-Ho a try.
Troy-Jeffrey Allen is the producer and co-host of PREVIEWSworld Weekly. His comics work includes BAMN, Fight of the Century, the Harvey Award-nominated District Comics, and the Ringo Awards-nominated Magic Bullet.