Better Living Through Graphic Storytelling
A Comics Blog About Shit We Like
02 May 2007
Life After Death

Are there any more zombie-genre stories left to tell? The medium of comics has recently been over-saturated with generic zombie story, after generic zombie story, culminating in Marvel's Marvel Zombies. At this point, everyone seems to be sick of them, but are we sick of zombie stories, or is there anything left out there that could possibly breathe life into this seemingly (un)dead sub-genre.

Granted, there are a few good zombie books being put out right now. The drama-level of Robert Kirkman's Romero-worshipping The Walking Dead

remains consistent, but about half-way through the series, it lost it's moral footing. The gray areas became too gray. The character flaws have come to define the characters, rather than simply flesh them out. It has degenerated from a book that featured zombies, to a book that is about zombies.

Arguably, none of George Romero's classic zombie films have ever really been about zombies, just like no science-fiction story set in the future is really about the future. The zombies were more scenery than anything. The created an environment in which specific social issues could be tackled. That is why, unlike a long-form ongoing comic book series, they only last two hours. To extend the story beyond that would be hitting your audience over the head with a hammer. But without moral conviction, Romero inspired zombie stories have virtually nothing to offer us.

On the other hand, European styled zombie stories (a la Zeder or Zombi) have certain aesthetic strengths that their American cousins are lacking in. Warren Ellis' Black Gas mini-series has been a perfect example of this aesthetic translated to the printed comic page. The moral footing of these kinds of stories is a bit shakier, boiling down to 'everyone's a fucker', which Ellis pulls off perfectly (again). The biggest difference, however, is in its attention to the aesthetics of horror. Euro-zombie stories are supposed to be genuinely scary and/or creepy. You'd think that this kind of storytelling would prove so effortless for cartooning, since you essentially can create any mood or atmosphere that you desire without having to expand a SFX budget.

At the end of the day, however, the problem is not zombies, but too strong a focus on zombies. Even Black Gas seems to have the problem of pacing a story along with featuring enough zombie eating flesh moments on top of that. The most exciting of zombie stories prove that.

Jason's The Living and the Dead, and Brain Ralph's post-zombie-apocalypse story Daybreak, are fresh new zombie stories that work. Both stories use the zombies as little more than window-dressing, giving the narrative a bit of an extra 'umph', but are capable of standing on their own. If only there were more people willing to tell stories (zombie or not) like these two, I would be buying a lot more comics right now.

What we love about zombie movies is the zombies themselves, but unfortunately that is hardly ever what makes a movie worth watching or a comic worth reading. The zombie is a trope that works because it can easily be connected with various other tropes of almost any genre within fantastic/speculative fiction.

So to answer my question, there are more zombie stories out there to tell, but nobody seems to be imaginative or clever enough to come up with them. Until then, the genre will remain another ghetto the comics medium has tried to cash-in on and destroyed in the process. It will take an unbelievable amount of talent and craft to ressurect zombie fiction.

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