Tuesday 1 December 2015

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman

I've seen the first season of the TV series of The Walking Dead and I was very intrigued by the comic book. I'd been looking for an opportunity to catch up with it, so when this handsome volume turned up at a local charity shop I seized it eagerly (after paying for it, of course).

This is an ideal place to start. It's the first hardcover collection and gathers together the initial twelve issues, or the first two trade paperbacks (what I would call graphic novels). 

It omits the covers of the original comics (although they're included at the back of the book) —  I suppose this helps from the point of view of creating a continuous unbroken flow of narrative, but it also has no page numbers, which makes it hard to navigate and almost impossible to reference and indeed has nothing to break up the story except for a division between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 (the original graphic novels, or six-issue sequences).

Also, it's printed on glossy, high-quality, but very thin paper which means its easy to inadvertently skip a few pages and lose some of the story (again with the lack of page numbers!).

Well, it won't surprise you to learn it's good stuff. The story is very talky and character driven — it's essentially a soap opera with the occasional zombie. But this is actually highly effective. The usual gossipy guff about some couple having a fight, or someone finding out she's pregnant takes on a whole new aspect when a shambling animate cadaver is likely to lope in at any moment and kill them. It's also rather low key and low budget (so to speak) – no space battles, no flying superheroes; no wonder they turned it into a TV show.

Robert Kirkman is the writer and creator (he also does the lettering). The first six issues were drawn by Tony Moore; the next six by Charlie Adlard who apparently is still drawing it today. Tony Moore's style sort of reminds me of the French comic artist Jean Giraud aka Moebius — but in his Lieutenant Blueberry westerns, rather than his SF stuff.

Charlie Adlard on the other hand is from the school of Alex Toth, one of my favourite comic artists and a towering illustrator. Adlard has the same high contrast style with the emphasis on heavy blacks (the art is all in black and white, by the way). Sadly, Charlie Adlard, at least in these early issues, completely lacks the amazing graphic design sense and story telling genius of Toth. The drawing is nice, but often the reader doesn't know what the hell is going on.

There is no clear sense of geography in the illustration, which vastly reduces the impact of the action sequences: Is he at the top of the stairs or the bottom? Where did his assailants come from? What is happening? While I’m puzzling this out, the excitement and suspense have drained away. Or when the barn door opens — what the hell is supposed to have happened? I don’t know if these problems originate with the art or the descriptions in the script but they are pervasive, and fairly fatal. Also, Adlard can’t seem to draw kids. They look like strangely stunted adults.

The first artist, Tony Moore, drew the hero's wife Lori much more effectively; under his pen she clearly looks Native American — and very appealing. She becomes much blander under Adlard. So it's a bit of a shame Moore departed.
However, Kirkman generally provides potent, strong dramatic writing which, luckily, is often un-fuck-up-able by the visuals, as when the melting snow drops away to reveal a sign warning our heroes — way too late — to stay out of a gated residence full of zombies.

Addictive and engrossing.

(Image credits: The front cover shot is from Amazon. The front & back cover is from AVX Search. The Spanish cover is from Good Reads. The title has been I think inaccurately and rather boringly rendered as The Living Dead. The Walking Dead in Spanish would actually be Los Muertos Caminando.The shot of the kid surrounded by zombies – gulp — is from How to Love Comics. It isn't part of the volume under discussion, but I just couldn't resist it. Also, this site has a very useful essay about the comics and where to begin reading them. Book 1, it turns out.)

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