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Zombies, Are They Comics' New Monkey?

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What do Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics, IDW, Humanoids, Viper Comics and MV Creations have in common? Zombies! Today, the undead permeate pop culture as the bad guys or, in a few cases, the romantically entwined lead characters of comic books, movies, and comic book adaptations of movies. A fair number of current and soon-to-be comics and movies feature the living dead in them.

Image’s “THE WALKING DEAD” by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore (Currently in Stores)

Viper Comics’ “DEAD@17” by Josh Howard (Currently in Stores)

Humanoids Publishing’s zombie serial “FRAGILE” by Stefano Raffaele (Starting in the Metal Hurlant Anthology issue #7, Still Available in Stores)

Humanoids Publishing’s other zombie serial “THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE THE WORLD” by Jerry Frissen and Guy Davis (Starting in the Metal Hurlant Anthology issue #8, Still Available in Stores)

Dark Horse’s “LONE” by Stuart Moore and Jerome Opeńa (Currently in Stores)

Dark Horse’s “THE GOON” by Eric Powell (Currently in Stores)

IDW’s “REMAINS” by Steve Niles and Kieron Dwyer (To Be Released in Spring 2004)

IDW’s “DAWN OF THE DEAD” by Steve Niles and Chee (To Be Released This Year)

MV Creations “Rob Zombie’s SPOOKSHOW INTERNATIONAL” (Currently in Stores)

Plus movies like 20th Century Fox’s recent “28 DAYS LATER” (technically they were not zombies but they were not far off) and the upcoming “DAWN OF THE DEAD”-remake from Universal Pictures, all contain the living dead.

The undead are in vogue! Almost every comic company has a zombie comic book, which begs the question:

Will zombies replace monkeys as comics' best gimmick?

For this article I contacted several zombie enthusiasts to find out two things, why zombies and why now? What came back from these creators is an amazing range of belief as to what zombies are all about and why they are so popular in comics today.

Zombies are different types of characters to different creators. Each comic tailors the undead to fit their tale. Nevertheless one is forced to ask, why zombies in the first place?

“They're dead, they walk, and they want to eat you. And they're incapable of reason,” THE WALKING DEAD’s artist, Tony Moore summarizes his views of why zombies are cool in his and writer Robert Kirkman’s comic from Image. He feels that, “the threat of the undead will hopefully always stay fresh, keeping the heat on everyone.”

Eric Powell has a simple use for his dead automatons, “As far as THE GOON, the zombies are really just punching bags. The Zombie Priest uses them as cannon fodder. I'm not going for the pretentious statements of social understanding with this book.”

Josh Howard sees the undead as an excellent backdrop to his teenage story of discovery, “[DEAD@17 is] hot chicks fightin’ zombies.” Josh, the sole creator of DEAD@17, continues, “The great thing about zombies is that there is a virtually limitless supply of them. And you don’t have to worry about your hero feeling remorse for killing them because they’re already dead. It’s great to have villains that essentially exist just for you to hack them up.”

Josh was not alone in the belief that the undead are little more than cheap bad guys. “Zombies are the perfect henchmen,” said LONE’s writer Stuart Moore, “Remember those big dumb guys on the [60’s] Batman TV show who’d be working for Catwoman, and they’d have big shirts labeled TABBY or MANX? Well, zombies barely think at all, and they don’t have names. You don’t even need the shirts!”

Yet, not every creator sees the undead as the bad guys or throwaway toughs. Stefano Raffaele’s FRAGILE features a very different view of the undead, “Zombies are the main characters in the story, and they are the good guys, too.” FRAGILE chronicles a unique tale “about the love between two zombies, Alan and Lynn, who search to understand what happened to the world,” Stefano explains. “[Alan and Lynn’s] bodies are rapidly decomposing, and they have a limited amount of time to discover how the world became what it is now. In the process, they discover that love has no physical barriers.”

Stefano says he went against the grain on zombie stories, “I thought it would be really interesting to tell a story from the zombies’ perspective…in a way that makes a couple of zombies the good guys.”

Humanoids editor Paul Benjamin was instrumental in bringing Stefano Raffaele’s FRAGILE to America from Europe and serializing it in Humanoids Publishing’s monthly anthology, METAL HURLANT. “We always strive to find the stories that haven’t been told,” remarked Paul, “These stories may use a well-known genre, but both of our series approach zombies in new and innovative ways.”

The other serial that Paul Benjamin is referring to is Jerry Frissen and Guy Davis’ THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE THE WORLD. Series writer Jerry offered this brief pitch to encapsulate why his series is distinctive, “Los Angeles, 2064. The world has changed. The dead are rising from their graves. Corpses walk upon the earth. Unable to deal with the increasing numbers of the living-dead, the government decrees that the living must dwell with the dead. Peacefully.”

Jerry went on to say, “[Zombies are] everywhere. Society decrees that the word “zombie” is not politically correct; people call them “life impaired”. They’re like the living: some of them are winners, some of them are losers. Some life impaired are making a good living, others don’t. I even have a zombie chairman of a company, but a majority are like bums on the streets. They aren’t especially mean, except some of them who are really bad... The living use them for a lot of different things: scientific experiments, minimum wage work, sexual fantasies, etc. The main characters of THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE THE WORLD are some kind of “zombie hunters”. For a small amount of money, they can take care of a resurrected grandfather who smells too bad to keep him at home. Or they can find you a beautiful actress from last century.”

“When you look at all the zombie books that are coming out rece