What is the first thing that you will notice about The Walking Dead? Well, there’s an extremely broad audience, and – hear, hear – a rather high quota of femal readers. What’s wrong with them? All the blood & gore, loose zombie parts flying around, frequent shots in the head. Is that sexy? To be honest: putting the series into the „horror“ genre may be lucrative, but it isn’t really what it’s all about. Robert Kirkman himself is reluctant to use this category and even if scaring readers would make him insanly happy – it will not be the undead that do the trick. Zombie movies like „Dawn of the Dead“ are Kirkman’s passion, and his self stated goal is to make a „zombie movie“ that, „never ends“, because what interests him most are the things that will happen AFTER the end. A theory most impressively supported by the end of this first book.
Once you have finished the first volume – probably without taking a break –, you will quickly understand why the author himself doesn’t call it a horror story. First and foremost because this isn’t about zombies. It’s about human relationships – and the question of how people react and interact under extreme circumstances. About how they change, when they are forced to act out things they normally wouldn’t or should’t. In the world of The Walking Dead luxury has gone to the devil. Zombies potentially lurking behind every bush build up the tension, but them being zombies is rather secondary. Like the main characters themselves, you will take this in as a fact rather quickly. Tony Moore (and later on Charlie Adlard) will of course find those unsavoury beasts a nice challenge for their artwork. As a menace however, they are completely exchangeable. Who hasn’t seen or read a gripping science fiction story in which a minority has to come up against an overbearing threat. What makes it interesting is always how the main character acts out his destiny. In this case it’s Rick Grimes, textbook example of America’s idea of a „Good Cop“: common sense, healthy emotions, optimism, realistic views and extraordinary cooperativeness are among his virtues. He isn’t the egoistic type and easily puts his needs aside for the greater good. The best character a person could have – so to speak. Right from the start Kirkman leaves no doubt that we are dealing with Rick’s personal story and the way it develops under these extreme circumstances will be most intresting.
As for the zombies – they don’t differ much, neither in shape nor in origin, fromthe rest of humanity. As a degenerate human form they smell worse and have lost their ability to think or feel. And that could be said about quite a few people, too. So – why zombies? Easy. Robert Kirkman thinks they are cool. And his success proves him right.
Artistically speaking the species of course has a lot to offer and by looking at Tony Moore’s drawings – of humans, zombies, horses – and the way they support the story only one conclusion springs to mind: this is a real dream team. Moore’s artwork is of an extremely high quality. His characters are singularly detailed – mixing them up seems impossible. I would even push it so far as to say there isn’t a single zombie in the book that isn’t unique. Moore keeps up this precision in the slightest detail. All his panels are worked on to pinpoint, yet without exaggration, and stand out through powerful yet subtle inks and balanced grey scales that support the atmosphere quite well. Lettering of the German version is quite good – as well as the translation (and I’m saying this as a reader who prefers original US comics if there’s a choice). Downsizing to the smaller hardcover format still works out fine and doesn’t affect reading ort he artwork in a negative way. One might actually think this is the format of choice.
So, once again: why do Kirkman’s zombies work for people who aren’t generally zombie manaics? And again, simple: Because the story isn’t about them. Then who are „The Walking Dead“ really? Well. Read it. But watch out! It’s addictive!