Monday, April 30, 2007

The Walking Dead Comic by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard: Emotionally Believable Zombie World

It’s rare that a mainstream comic book comes along that features ordinary people with human weaknesses trying to cope with the emotional fallout from a disaster. It’s even rarer to find emotional empathy in comics, where the need to big, violent things to happen and for even bigger things to explode (like the occasional planet) appears to dominate.

Having devoured 5 books of The Walking Dead in one week, I’m happy to have found a comic that has a cast of believable ordinary people and applies emotional realism to its storytelling. Admittedly these believable ordinary people spent their surrounded by (as well as fighting and being eaten by) zombies, but their reactions to this extraordinary situation are refreshingly realistic.

The scenario is the same as most zombie flicks: we follow a group of survivors as they try to stay alive in a nightmarish, shattered United States ruled by the shambling brainless dead with a penchant for dining on living flesh. We start out encountering a small-town cop Rick Grimes as he wakes up in hospital after being put in a coma by a gunshot wound (echoes of Danny Boyles' 28 Days Later). After quickly getting acquainted with the flesh-eating zombie situation, he tries to track down his wife and child in Atlanta (which is chock full of carnivorous corpses).

I don’t want to talk you too much about what follows, as I’d love you to read it and become as gripped by the twists and turns of the plot as I was. Suffice it to say that the writer, Robert Kirkman, deals with well-worn Romaro-style tropes and explores them in his own way. The characters develop, experiencing survivor’s guilt, fear, depression, boredom and loss. They harden up as the old social norms and certainties slip away. They grow and change. This is unusual for the horror genre in any medium, let alone comics.

In the main, the art is handled by the UK artist Charlie Adlard (who I know from his virtuoso black and white drawing for ‘Savage’ in 2000ad) whose dark, rough and expressive style adds to the realistic atmosphere.

Having never been a big zombie fanatic, I’ve had 7 days of living with the dead and I love it. Just have to wait for volume 6 to come out now…

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