The most frustrating things about zombie comics, right now, is that there are just too damn many of them and far too damn many of those have the potential to actually be good and fail.
By my own count, these are the comics that either have zombies integral to the plot or are just straight up zombie books that are currently being published: Alpha Girl, the just-released Deadworld: War of the Dead, Fanboys Vs. Zombies, Army of Darkness, The New Deadwardians, Revival, Fatima: The Blood Spinners, Marvel Zombies Destroy and of course, the one to blame for all this, The Walking Dead. BPRD and The Goon get a pass because they were doing zombies before zombies were a fad, but I’m watching you, Dark Horse.
These are just the books I can think of. A few of them I’ve talked about before, usually in the sense that I would like to stuff the creative teams into a sack and beat them with hammers. That’s not counting miniseries that have run their course, like the recent Rebel Blood. This is just the second wind of a fad that started somewhere around 2005 and just will not stop.
But I get it: The Walking Dead has a hit TV show, a hit video game, a soon-to-be hit console game, it’s already been turned into a pop-up theme park, and comic book publishers like money. But if you have to do it, here are five steps to do it right.
#1) Stop Trying To Imitate Ben Templesmith
Just stop it. Yes, I understand that Templesmith doesn’t seem bound by the chains of anatomy or staying within proper ink lines, which is appealing to artists of limited talent, but that was a conscious choice on Templesmith’s part for 30 Days of Night. He doesn’t always draw like that. He can draw other things. In the decade since that book came out, he’s done so. Templesmith was just riffing on Brian Froud anyway, for God’s sake.
It’s getting to the point where horror comics in general and zombie comics in particular have a canned, cliched art style not unlike the Jim Lee look you find in way too many superhero books to this day. It’s getting to the point where a book like Revival can have an art style that’s way too Jim Lee-esque and I’m happy to see it because at least it’s not another Templesmith knock-off.
#2) Don’t Just Recycle The Same Goddamn Romero Plot
The best current example of this is the superb Vertigo series The New Deadwardians. It’s basically a Masterpiece Theater murder mystery with more vampires and ugly death, but what makes it work is that Dan Abnett makes zombies a key element of the setting without having a bunch of survivors holed up in the Tower of London arguing over who’s better at ruling over the ashes of the human race.
Dan Abnett has instead turned zombies into a commentary on English class structures, but that’s just the setting for a curious and involving story. Half the time the zombies aren’t important…but they’re always there.
In other words, stop trying to rip off Kirkman.
#3) If You Have One Unique Idea, Go With That and Ditch the Cliches
Deadworld: War of the Dead, just released, is a great example of what could have been. Most of the book is essentially a litany of cliches: chick with a katana, dude with long coat wandering post-apocalyptic world, survivors holed up in some military facility that was formerly the site of awful crimes. I’m aware that this is building on a book that’s been publishing sporadically since 1986 but cliches are cliches.
Then the book has one sterling moment of creativity: a platoon of lepers, fighting the zombies because they’re seen as the dead, yet shunned by the living they protect.
It’s one gem in an unoriginal book and if it had centered around that, it would have been the comic you should be reading this week. That’s a great concept. A bunch of zombie fighters slowly dying, but able to walk among the dead like they’re not there? That’s a pretty hard concept to screw up, and a fresh, unique take.
#4) Have a Moment of Genuine Horror
Another kind of bland book with a great moment is the aforementioned Revival. The first issue is mostly set-up and the finale commits the writing crime of broadcasting the ending splash a mile away, but the final scene of the book is a genuinely unnerving moment that has nothing to do with flesh eating while still establishing the zombies in the book are dangerous. Let’s just say that it’s going to stick with you, especially when you go to the dentist.
Note that I’m not talking about gore here. Gore is not scary. Never has been, never really will be. I’m talking about horror: You’re making a comic about the dead getting out of their graves, now cross a few lines.
#5) Make It a Miniseries
When I discovered The Walking Dead when it first came out, it was a book I couldn’t get enough of. Even when it jumped the rails with Michonne, I kept reading. I stopped at around issue forty.
I picked up the hundredth issue when it came out and found that nothing had really changed.
In short, have an end-game. Build to something. Otherwise, you’re just spinning your undead wheels.
How about you? What would it take to make you pick up a zombie book?