Zombies are really getting into the spotlight lately. Tor has been having ‘zombie week’, Night of the Living Trekkies was released, and Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels The Walking Dead have been getting a lot of press, due to the upcoming release of the series airing on AMC this coming October. Zombies are just hot right now.
Excited by the trailer for The Walking Dead, I went to my favorite comic book store in the area, Emerald City, and bought the first four (of twelve) graphic novels. I really enjoy graphic novels, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert on the art form. Comics and graphic novels are something I began to get into my senior year of college, thanks to a really one-of-a-kind roommate I had who was very into the genre.
What I like about graphic novels is the way the text and the images come together in my mind while I’m reading, to form a kind of emotional engagement with the story that is very profound. Not to mention the amazing and oftentimes beautiful artwork, or the delicately illustrated action and horror sequences. In The Walking Dead these images are grotesque and haunting, but there are also drawings of the characters that I find strikingly beautiful.
“How many hours are in a day when you don’t spend half of them watching television? When was the last time any of us really worked to get something we wanted? How long has it been since any of us really needed something that we wanted?This story starts off fast, and doesn’t let up the pace very much during the first two books. The first volume is called Days Gone Bye. Our protagonist, Rick, wakes up in a hospital after being in a coma, and finds the hospital abandoned, and the world around him seeming really creepy and weird and quiet. Of course, this doesn’t last long when he encounters his first dead person, walking around. This first volume races from his realization of the scale of what has happened, to his journey to find his wife and son. There is a lot of action and a few poignant scenes where the typical zombie questions are briefly explored - are these people any more? Do they suffer? Do they think? However, there isn’t much time for anyone to sit down and discuss the possibilities here, or the ramifications of what the truth might be. There is only survival, from one moment to the next, and the desperate attempt to maintain some semblance of normality and society.
The world we knew is gone.
The world of commerce and frivolous necessity has been replaced by a world of survival and responsibility. An epidemic of apocalyptic proportions has swept the globe causing the dead to rise and feed on the living. In a matter of months society has crumbled, no government, no grocery stores, no mail delivery, no cable TV.
In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”
This volume sets the groundwork for the rest of the story, introducing some main characters, and setting up the backdrop of a world ravaged by the chaos this phenomenon has caused. Before the volume ends the group is already realizing that this situation, the things that they are going through, has the power to change people. This is a major theme in this story, especially for Rick. Kirkman says in the introduction for Days Gone Bye:
"With The Walking Dead I want to explore how people deal with extreme situations and how those events CHANGE them. I'm in this for the long haul. You guys are going to get to see Rick change and mature to the point that when you look back on this book you won't even recognize him. I hope you guys are looking forward to a sprawling epic, because that's the idea with this one."This endeavor Kirkman has embarked upon is going to keep going after the typical zombie flick ends, and show us what happens to the people in these stories, the ones who survive, and how they survive.
The second volume is called, Miles Behind Us. The group has been through a lot together, to put all of that gore and horror mildly. Rick has come to be respected and looked up to as the leader, the guy they can trust to get them through this. They decide to move camp, and as they move on we meet some new characters, and encounter entirely new situations – some of which deal exclusively with the politics of other groups of humans in this post-apocalyptic world. This part of the journey begins to show us some of the different ways people are dealing with a world they don’t even recognize, a world where death is right around the corner.
Zombies traditionally represent internal fears that we all harbor - the fear of death, the fear that we are at our very core, violent creatures. They represent mob mentality, and the fear that what makes us individuals is simply an illusion – and if that is so, then who are we? How do we define ourselves? Rick’s journey in this new world prompts us more and more to ask these questions. When the group meets a man who doesn’t see zombies as monsters (I’m for real), Rick can’t understand that, and at the same time that man can’t understand how Rick can shoot a person, or what was once a person, in the head with no thought to the possibility that there might be a cure out there.
This volume delves deeper into the relationships between some of these characters, and it’s interesting, because some of them seem to become deeper and more real as a result of what is happening, while others seem so transparent. When people are afraid of dying alone, they need some kind of comfort, someone to make them believe, even if it’s the smallest shred of belief, that they’re not alone.
I’m very excited to see where volume three and four take these characters. From what I've read so far these are characters I'm getting attatched to, a story that is keeping me on edge and isn't letting me down as far as excitement and depth. I’ll be posting next weekend my reflections on the next two issues. If you missed the trailer, check it out here. I’d like to know, what makes zombies so attractive to you as a reader? If you were in this situation (which is something I think Kirkman wants us to imagine while we are reading his story) do you think you would change as drastically as people in zombie films and books do?
Robert Kirkman - Creator, Writer, Letterer
Tony Moore - Penciler, Inker, Gray Tones
Cliff Rathburn - Additional Gray Tones