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The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye

I fear only two things in this world. One of them is clowns, because all clowns are actually serial killers just waiting for one more child to throw cake at them before they unleash a grease painted rampage of murder and death.

The other is zombies…because the f*****s don’t die.

No movie monster concept or silver screen nightmare has ever left as black a mark on my soul as seeing the dead rise from their graves and eat the living. Unending waves of rotting corpses chase me in my nightmares, and it is for this reason that I can almost never enjoy a straight-up zombie flick. I mean sure, I can handle watching 28 Days Later, a great movie with pseudo-zombie concepts but more about the lives of the main characters, but I can never watch Dawn of the Dead.

I never thought that I would willingly pick up Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s The Walking Dead, but when I saw it on the shelf, I knew it was time to face my fear. Bravery apparently pays off, because not only did I find a spectacular graphic novel, but I’ve also come to some startling conclusions about our good Mr. Kirkman.

The concept for the book is not new: Rick Grimes wakes from a coma in a hospital, only to find that the hospital, the town, and seemingly everywhere else is overrun with the titular walking dead. Escaping from the hospital, he seeks to find his family but finds his house deserted. After discovering that some survivors were headed for the nearest major cities (Atlanta in Rick’s case), he heads out in search of his family.

As I look at Kirkman’s writing skills, I realize that he’s exceptionally diverse. Tales of the Realm was an oft-amusing send-up of fantasy comics, while still being inventive in the way the modern and fantasy realms were blended so well. Brit is Kirkman’s answer to the ultra-violence craze that began well with The Authority, and petered out with, well, The Authority vol. 2. Invincible is a superhero book about families, and not less than excellent in terms of what a superhero comic can be. The man writes often, but unlike Chuck Austen or Ben Raab, he does it well. Kirkman is like Kurt Busiek in that respect; one could imagine him going from writing Astro City to Arrowsmith to Conan and back again with nary a line of wasted dialogue or scene poised intelligence.

He can cross genres with no problem, and make the conventional or mundane, at the very least readable, at the most exceptional. Such is the case in Walking Dead, as Kirkman takes a book about death and carnage, and turns it into a book more concerned with life and the human spirit than I thought possible of a book about zombies. In the introduction, Kirkman himself states his desire to not make this a book about zombies, but a book about Rick Grimes. He wants to see the character develop, change, and try to find a way in this new and frightening world.

He accomplishes this rather well and through good characterization. The first chapter introduces Rick to the audience not only as a rat caught in a zombie-laden maze, but a man trying to deal with the world around him. When he encounters a zombie or “thing” as they are referred to as in-text, that has been lying in the road, desiccated and moaning, he can’t help but look on in horror, but also shed some tears. We are shown that Rick both fears the walking dead that surround him, but also knows what they once were: namely, human beings, and he cries for them. He cries for the loss of his world, and while this may not seem like such a revelation, the fact that Kirkman, with ample amounts of help from Tony Moore, conveys all this with no dialogue is heavily admirable.

When Rick finally reaches a settlement, Kirkman continues the great characterization and storytelling, making every character as human as possible, which is hard to do with a cast of over ten. The character of Jim, a survivor that had maybe the most traumatic experience escaping from the hordes of the dead, is written subtly and with a quiet, muted demeanor that fits his backstory perfectly. Andrea and Amy are the cheerful and optimistic (former) college students, and Kirkman knows to make the ages of the characters matter. Older survivors look at the world slightly different from younger survivors. Characters with children have different concerns than those without. Kirkman recognizes that these characters are all different, and have different perspectives on their situation. He let’s these perspectives shine through the character in their dialogue and actions, making each character seem more of a product of real life than of some writer’s imagination. This is a story about characters who live, feel pain, loss, love, and do not simply respond to action, and the vitality of the characters is made all the more apparent when contrasted against the backdrop of a world of “living” death. Oddly enough, the back cover teaser says it far better than I ever could: “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”

The artwork by Tony Moore is the reason there should be black and white art. Not even counting Tony’s deft hand at character design, facial expression, panel perspectives, background and foreground detail, and pacing, Moore is a god at gray shading. Granted, while inkers are a valuable to every comic, gray tones are what really makes a black and white comic completely top shelf. Moore gives everything in this world a tangible quality, as he uses gray tones to give texture to almost ever object. Every scrap of cloth, every blade of grass, every rotting corpse looks good enough to touch (or run away screaming from, as I thought of doing several times…damn zombies). Moore, with help from Cliff Rathburn on the shading, lends a high level of realism to his art to compliment Kirkman’s humanistic story, without stooping to photo-realistic art techniques. These two creators blend their works together invariably well and the product is a great comic.

This comic will continue as long as Kirkman and Image comics decide to publish it, because I cannot imagine anyone who reads this trade not wanting to go out and buy issues (which has to start happening more often or more good books will be cancelled. Just look at Runaways). And the best part: it’s $9.95! Ten freaking bucks. Go out and buy this. I swear the nightmares stop after a few weeks…with enough valium.

Robert Sparling

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