Have you read The Walking Dead yet? If not, you are in for a big treat my friend. It’s a fantastic comic series written by Robert Kirkman about life after the zombie apocalypse. The main character is a police officer named Rick Grimes who gets shot in the line of duty, goes into a coma, and wakes up after the proverbial shit has hit the fan (a la 28 Days Later). It is the perfect way to introduce the series, because it’s about life after the zombie apocalypse, so using the coma technique is a clean way of allowing us to adjust to the post zombie world along with our hero.
The comic book/graphic novel medium is perfect for exploring this subject matter, because the story goes on and on, and thus it can take us so much deeper into the questions and metaphors inherent in the zombie genre.
There are tons of reasons why zombie stuff is great, but one of the more important reasons is that it is rife with metaphor at the heart of American culture. It wasn’t an accident that Romero set the sequel to Night of the Living Dead at a shopping mall.
At the moment, our culture is in the midst of this bizarre war where a huge portion of the population refuses to let go of American mythology from the 50’s. We have these ideas of what it means to be American, of what “real America” looks like, and while that ideal never existed, it is even more dangerous now because it should have died a long time ago, it’s alive and kicking even though it shouldn’t be, it is undead now. Actually, Bill Willingham used this as a tiny portion of his Fables storyline, and it was utterly brilliant, but Fables must be left for another post.
Zombies represent something terrifying because they are us. They are our fear of death, our fear of our appetites, our fear of the nagging thought in the back of our minds that we are our own worst enemy, that we will bring about our own destruction.
Yet, what are we left with on the other side of that? We play with the zombie genre, and lets say we make it to the other side of the cataclysm, doing our best to survive long term in a world overrun with a horde of the undead. Then what? Well, that’s what The Walking Dead offers a potential answer to. It’s a band of survivors trying to make life work, trying to keep their children safe, trying to fall in love and find a reason to wake up each day. If everything that we think makes up our world is taken from us, where do we go from there?
Kirkman’s writing is fantastic; tense, well paced, and constantly engaging. I almost always buy what characters are doing, how they are treating each other, etc. That’s rare.
Also, it just may be the best panel work I’ve seen. The art is all black and white, and the way Kirkman and Tony Moore, followed by Charlie Adlard, lay out the panels is perfect. It’s sparse, often with very little going on within each page, creating a great relationship between the story and the art. Also, they avoid the common pitfall of accidently giving away a big moment by placing a full panel event on the right page. What I mean is that so often I accidently learn something I don’t want to know when I turn the page, because as your turn a page you see page 35 on your right before you look back to 34 on your left. If there is this huge, full color death scene (or whatever) before my eyes as I turn the page, I can’t help but see it, so even though I haven’t read the stuff on the left, I know what happens on the next page. In The Walking Dead I am consistently impressed that they build up the big moment, and then make you turn the page to see what happened. It seems like it would be a simple, obvious thing to make work, but it is rare in my experience. They take the medium seriously, and realize what the reading experience will be like.
I really love this series. In the coming world, post Z-Day, the undead won’t be our only enemies. Other humans in the world, people in our own group of survivors, even our own sanity and grip on reality becomes tenuous and dangerous. Kirkman engages the potential for story in this realm with great attention to detail, honesty, impressive character psychologies, and gifted artistic help. You should read these! (And watch the show on AMC when it finally arrives in October).