The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye
by Robert Kirkman
illustrated by Tony Moore
Image Comics (2005)
Last year's ComicCon was abuzz with the impending debut of The Walking Dead television series, based on Kirkman's comic books. I don't follow the goings-on of the comic book world, so this was definitely out of the blue to me, though the rapacious appetite that exists for zombie fiction it was unsurprising. I mean, film and literature have fully embraced the shambling hordes, but television hasn't been in a big hurry to hop on that bandwagon--until now.
I haven't seen the series yet, though. I wanted to check out the source material first. Now that I've read this first volume, here are my thoughts.
To look at the story, I really don't see a whole lot that is different from ninety percent of the zombie stories I've read or watched. The zombie apocalypse has happened under unexplained circumstances and civilization has crumbled. In a direct borrowing from 28 Days Later, the protagonist Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma in an abandoned hospital weeks after the apocalypse started. He then goes on a search for his wife and son towards Atlanta, hoping they went there to be protected by the military who has concentrated their efforts in the major cities. Sufficed to say, Atlanta is overrun with zombies.
With so much familiarity going on with the zombie aspect of the book, it's the characters and their interactions that drives the story. Here, Kirkman offers something a bit different. Rick Grimes and the other survivors he meet are genuinely frightened, confused, and desperate. There's hardly any pithy one-liners or tongue-in-cheek references, as it dedicates itself to telling these characters' stories. And thankfully, the characters aren't rehashed incarnations of other characters we've seen battle the undead. The back-stabbing racist isn't to be seen, nor the damsel-in-distress prostitute, or the all-too-noble hero. Every single character, including Grimes, is flawed and imminently unheroic. That's makes the story a whole lot more believable amidst the preposterous.
As for the artwork, Tony Moore has a style that seems reminiscent of those Saturday morning cartoon adventures. Heck, there are a couple of scenes where Grimes reminds me of a buttoned-down Shaggy from Scooby Doo. But the tone of the story, and the black-and-white presentation give the cartoonish aspect of the characters a more human quality. The zombies look like your everyday, slowly shuffling brain-eaters, but the way in which they decay and even continue to "live" when they're decapitated added just enough uniqueness to set them apart from every other generic zombie.
It's a very good story told in this first volume, and I'm definitely looking forward to reading the second. I'm just not sold on the immense hype that this series has received over the past year. It doesn't strike me as a "game changer" and I wonder just how long the interest will last. For now, I'm on board.