Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book-A-Day 2010 # 357 (1/26) -- Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks

New creators often make up for a looseness of purpose and control with vast reserves of enthusiasm and energy -- they might not know exactly what it is they want to do, or precisely how to do it, but they're going to do that, whatever it ends up being, as strongly as they can. It's endearing and often contagious, and one of the best reason to seek out new creators.

Zombies Calling wasn't Faith Erin Hicks's first comics story -- she'd worked on long-form webcomics before that -- but this was her first do-it-all-at-once, published-all-together story, where she could control all of the pieces and fix all of the pages before putting it out for the public to see. (And I doubt prose novelists realize what a luxury that is; Dickens didn't have it, most of the time, even though nearly all novelists have it now.)

Zombies has a heroine who is as energetic and enthusiastic as they come: Joss, a Canadian college student with massive loans, two semi-slacker roommates and an encyclopedic knowledge of zombie movies. And, of course, if a modern story references zombies, you know that they're going to appear. (This is precisely the opposite of the rule Joss cites -- Joss has codified all of the knowledge to be found in zombie movies into a series of rules, though Hicks missed the opportunity to beat the movie Zombieland to the punch and organize her story around those rules -- but it seems to me much more common these days. Every single zombie story starts out with people who deeply know zombie mythology, since those are the obvious audience-identification characters after forty-plus years of zombie movies.)

So the plot from there is pretty obvious: zombies attack -- well, shamble around, mostly, but they'll eat your brains if they can manage to get their hands on you -- and Joss leads her two friends to safety using the rules. Except, as I said, Hicks doesn't really organize the story around the rules, so Joss's knowledge is more theoretical than explored. And she doesn't really lead them to safety, either -- I won't give away the ending, but most of the things she says always happen in zombie movies (like the miraculously appearing cache of weapons) don't actually come true. That may have been Hicks's point, but it's so subtle as to be buried, and so it's difficult to say if she meant it.

But Zombies is tremendously enthusiastic and likable, just like Joss, and Hicks does a great version of the slightly grungy pseudo-Oni-house-style. It's a light, breezy zombie story, about some college kids who just want to live their lives without having their brains eaten. Sure, Hicks's metaphor is spelled out a bit too precisely near the end, but this is a book with a lot of heart and an infectious power. (Like zombies themselves, I suppose.)

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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