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Bluffing the Un-Dead: How Horror Made Poker a Comic Hit

Posted on July 12, 2016 at 4:46 pm by Geek Legacy

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Credit Image Source: g-rath.deviantart.com

When it comes to entertainment, horror is one of the genres we hate to love. From comic books to TV shows and movies, horror has long kept audiences on the edge of their seats through a combination of fear, trepidation and, eventually, relief. Indeed, such is the power of the horror genre that we’ve covered it in depth across our site.

From a guide on how to turn your house into a creepy crucible to our reviews of horror movies like Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999), we’ve shared with you all the genre has to offer.

In fact, one of the main reasons we’re big fans is because horror can cross boundaries and add a touch of spice to unexpected situations. For example, Chucky, the doll from Don Mancini’s Child’s Play series, appeared once in a professional wrestling ring in 1998. In a bid to outdo WWE in the Monday night ratings war, WCW had the sadistic doll appear during a wrestling match featuring Rick Steiner. Although the stunt was panned by critics, the audience loved the drama it brought inside the ring.

In more recent times, the horror genre has been used to enliven another sport: poker. Thanks to writer Chad Holloway, poker and comic book fans alike were treated to a sideways glance at one of the game’s biggest events, the World Series of Poker (WSOP). Aptly titled World Series of Zombies (WSOZ), the comic book looks at what life would be like if a zombie apocalypse descended on this major tournament.

When Poker Meets Horror

The Walking Dead - Season 2, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC - DSC_0111phgn_R_Ph_Gene_Page

The Walking Dead – Season 2, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC – DSC_0111phgn_R_Ph_Gene_Page

A total of 16 pages, WSOZ takes place inside the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino Las Vegas during the WSOP Main Event. As is the case in real life, the Main Event is packed with players hungry for a WSOP gold bracelet and a top prize worth millions. However, after an unexpected showdown between the comic’s protagonist Dalton and WSOP regular Mike Matusow, things take a turn for the worse.

After Matusow turns into a zombie, the room quickly becomes filled with members of the un-dead. Knowing he can’t bluff his way out the situation, Dalton has no choice but to team up with the uninfected pros and fight for his life. Like in zombie spoofs such as Shaun of the Dead, Dalton finds himself in terrifying situations that are often tinged with an element of humor.

In fact, Holloway’s aim was to use poker pros who would be recognized both by the poker community and the general public. WSOZ focuses heavily on two of the game’s most notable players: Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth. Owing to their big personalities and immense professional success, Negreanu and Hellmuth have become mainstream stars over the last decade, which made them obvious choices for Holloway.

Indeed, since Negreanu became the youngest player to win a WSOP bracelet, he’s gone on to bank $32 million+ in tournament earnings. Not only that, but he’s starred in shows such as Millionaire Matchmaker, is the topic of a whole documentary (see the trailer of Kid Poker above) and even met President Obama, so it’s fair to say he’s a familiar face to any casual observer with a passing interest in poker.

Phil Hellmuth is another legend of the game with a record 14 WSOP bracelets to his name. This impressive achievement is backed by a super confident personality that’s allowed Hellmuth to become a good friend of Tiger Woods and star in an array of commercials, including one for Carl Jr.’s Texas BBQ Thickburger.

Something for Poker and Comic Fans Alike

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Image Source: mykenoshacounty.com

Of course, comics often have cult followings and when you have a community of fans there’s always room for some inside jokes – WSOZ is certainly not short of those.

Because Holloway decided to use major characters like Negreanu and Hellmuth, he was able to build some scenes around their most famous moments in poker. For example, possibly the most entertaining scene for readers is the one involving Hellmuth and another poker legend, Phil Ivey.

Taking inspiration from a classic WSOP moment where Hellmuth proclaimed “I can dodge bullets baby” (as shown in the video below), the scene shows the zombified pro utter his catchphrase before Ivey invites him to “dodge this.” Drawing his gun, Ivey opens fire on Hellmuth who begins to dodge bullets like Neo from The Matrix.

Aside from an engaging storyline and motifs that strike a chord with multiple demographics, Holloway knew that social media was one of the best ways to get his product out to the masses. In addition to creating a dedicated Twitter account (@WSOZombies) filled with snippets from the comic, Holloway tagged players like Negreanu and Hellmuth who have 780,000 Twitter followers between them.

Beyond social media, Holloway used a variety of additional marketing tactics, such as releasing special edition copies with cover illustrations by comic book artist Erik Reichenbach. The end result was a comic that’s not only become a hit with poker aficionados but the comic community at large. Indeed, as well as praise from poker pros and fans alike, WSOZ has a four-star rating on ComiXology, which just goes to show that the unlikely pairing of poker and zombies actually works.

A poker/zombie mash-up might not sound like it has the makings of a hit horror comic, but Holloway has proved otherwise. By tapping into a popular comic genre and using some of the most famous poker players in the world, WSOZ has shown that a touch of horror has the power to make even the most seemingly unconnected situations extremely entertaining.

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