Above: Frank Vieira, center, and some of his students reading ‘Zalem, Mass.’ Books, or holding up posters from the series. From left, front row: Helina Almonte, Frank Vieira (me), Richard Morrison; middle row: Mark Savio, Cortney Cook, Julia Chen, Precious Ifeacho; and back row: Olivia Bowers, Angelina Auth./COURTESY PHOTOS
By Shelley A. Sackett
Frank Vieira is not your typical history teacher. By day, the 47-year-old lifelong Salem resident engages Lynn’s Thurgood Marshall Middle School eighth graders with lessons about World History, covering the time period from Ancient Greece until the Enlightenment.
But once he leaves his classroom for the day, the mild-mannered father of five shifts gears and dons his other persona: Frank Vieira, creator and marketer of “Zalem, Mass.”, a comic book series about surviving a Zombie Apocalypse.
“‘Zalem, Mass.’ is not your typical zombie story. It is rich with emotion and quite often brings its readers to tears,” Vieira said, noting he deliberately included actual Salem locations, such as Forest River Pool, Market Basket, Winter Island and Steve’s Quality Market in the action-packed series. “Readers will be hard pressed to not be thinking about seeing zombies no matter where in the city they might go. Using actual geography truly helps to bring the story to life and give it a real feel.”
The zombie craze that is sweeping the globe, and especially the television series, “The Walking Dead,” is the backbone of Vieira’s inspiration to write his comic book series. “This global fascination was no different in my household, where my five kids and I frequently found ourselves having numerous discussions about what we would do if a Zombie Apocalypse ever actually happened,” he said. As the stories and ideas the family tossed around grew in richness and detail, so did Vieira’s motivation to write them down, and “just like that, ‘Zalem, Mass.’ was born.”
Since the story is based on the Vieira family’s brainstorming sessions, the series uses actual people, centering on the Vieira family.
In a nutshell, “Zalem, Mass.” tells the story of a how a normal and unsuspecting family deals with the onset of a Zombie Apocalypse as it approaches their home in Salem. The father takes immediate action to keep his family safe and together, eventually building a sanctuary at Winter Island, which they call “Constantinople.” “Being a history teacher, I based this Safe Zone on the Byzantine capital, now called Istanbul and located in modern day Turkey,” Vieira said.
Originally, he wanted to take his story “on the road” and have the characters travel the countryside for one reason or another, “but Salem is the Witch City. Not only does it have so much spooky history, but it also has become the Halloween Mecca for millions of people,” he said.
Once Vieira decided to set the series in Salem, he came up with the idea of covering the “S” on an “Entering Salem” road sign with a bloody “Z”. He brought the concept to his close friend and local artist, Christina Robichau, and together they designed the final book cover with a bunch of zombie arms reaching for the bloody city.
In May 2013, Vieira started the Zalem, Mass. fan-page on Facebook and invited a few people to the site. After he added the cover image, he received requests for posters and t-shirts. “I literally made everything from coffee mugs to beach bags, to phone covers… Whatever people wanted, I made and sold via the fan-page,” he said.
Friends of friends invited friends of their friends. As soon as Vieira finished writing a chapter, he posted teasers, works-in-progress for some of the artwork, and, eventually, the finished artwork. “With each new image, people wanted new posters and t-shirts, etc.,” he said.
“I also had five or six test readers who I allowed to read my first drafts in order to get feedback. When they began posting how awesome they thought the story was, more and more people continued to look forward to the book’s eventual release date,” he added.
Last year, Vieira ran his first Kickstarter campaign for 30 days, with the goal of raising $5,000. He raised over $6,000, with many fans literally buying their way into the storyline. Larry Harrison, owner of Harrison’s Comics in Salem and a strong supporter of the “Zalem, Mass.” series, pledged $500 to become a character in Vieira’s Book 1:Constantinople and Book 2:Loss, and to have a major scene take place in his store in Book 3. A second Kickstarter this summer raised another $3,000.
Armed with funding, a title and a cover, Vieira began writing Book 1 in earnest. He plumbed Facebook to meet Marvel and DC artists, Thor Mangila and Michael Magallanes, two Philippines residents who created much of the book’s artwork. “I have been reading comic books for the last 40 years and have met many creators by writing letters or chatting on Facebook. Some I met in person at comic conventions, and one [Ed Beard] I met at the King Richard’s Faire,” Vieira said.
With $10,000 from Books 1 and 2 pre-orders, Vieira was able to pay for the artwork, copyright and publishing expenses. After several frustrating experiences with potential publishers, he decided to self-publish with Amazon.com. Currently, “Zalem, Mass.” has more than 13,000 hits on its website (zalemmass.com) and more than 2,100 worldwide fans on its fan-page (facebook.com/zalemmass).
As a teacher, Vieira uses his books to encourage his students to follow their dreams and do whatever makes them happy. He shares the writing process and what publishing a book entails with his students and their families. His classroom is filled with original drawings and paintings by many of his comic artist friends. He was even able to get one of his students, Yen-Nhi Chit, who he discovered was “an amazing artist”, published in “Book 2: Loss” by pairing her with one of the Marvel/DC colorists. “Now she is not only a published artist, but she has also made her first serious contact in the art field. Not too bad for a 14-year-old young lady,” Vieira shared with tremendous pride.
“My central idea is to serve as a role model for my students and their families by being an example and showing them that anything is possible if they dream big, and then chase after their dreams and make them a reality,” Vieira said.
Vieira will be available at Harrison’s Comics at 252 Essex St., Salem, on Saturday October 24 from 1 to 3 p.m. for a book signing to celebrate publication of “Zalem, Mass. Book 2: Loss.” For more information, visit facebook.com/zalemmass and zalem