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B&N Week 24: Here, Zombie Zombie Zombie!

| June 7, 2011 | 1 Comment

Tuesday! Were you waiting for it? I know I was. I LOVE Tuesdays. But, you already know that, don’t you? If I were a young woman [like, fifteen], it’d be “I heart Tuesdays!” Or, let me put it like this: I love Tuesdays like tween females love the Twilight movies. Deep, right?

Anyway, we’ve been talking about horror. We started with an overview, went to vampires, then talked about werewolves, and this week, we keep right on truckin’ with zuvembies!

In comics, we’ve gotten away from the classic sense of the zombie. I blame George Romero, personally. His Night of the Living Dead was revolutionary for the zombie, but really, I’m getting ahead of myself.

When most people think of zombies [especially in comics], they think of The Eater: shamblers or runners, wanting to do nothing more than rend you limb from limb. Looking back, though, the zombie is much more [and less] than that.

The more classic sense of the zombie has its roots steeped in voodoo. These zombies are nothing more than dead bodies that have been reanimated, and used for menial tasks. Super-strong, unfeeling and untiring, the voodoo zombie was something to be feared, because they were directed by the will of their creator. If you talk to an old school Haitian, one of the things they feared was being turned into a zombie. They feared having their souls trapped by someone using their powers for evil.

In the 60s [maybe the 70s], Marvel even had their own zombie, done in the classic sense. Simon Garth was turned into a zombie, and controlled by two talismans. One can be found around his neck, and the other would be in the possession of his handler. Definitely a horror character, but one you don’t see too often anymore. [Although, with comics being plundered by Hollywood, I wouldn’t be surprised if a well-done horror movie were done with Simon.]

The classic zombie is basically dead, though. Dead and buried, giving way to their brother, The Eater. The Eater is the legacy of George Romero.

George shocked the world and made us think when he unleashed his movie. Really, when the dead rise up and want to do nothing more than eat us, what are you going to do to survive? That was the basic question that was posed to us, and we’ve been responding since.

For good or ill, The Eater is here to stay. They have invaded pop culture, and their dominance will remain for quite a while. How can I say that? Because it’s gotten deep. Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead was optioned by AMC and became a weekly series. It doesn’t come much deeper than that.

So, let’s look at the zombie, shall we? Let’s look at their tropes, see what makes them tick, and see what you can do in your own zombie stories to make them scary or to go against the norm.

Classic Zombie: these are the zombies from voodoo [voodoun if you want to be more correct], and are usually controlled by someone. I find these zombies to be a little more horrific, when used appropriately, not because of the zombie, but because of their handler. In the case of the classic zombie, for me, the macabre lies in the control of the living, not in the plight of the dead.

The Shambler: this is the contribution of George Romero. These are the zombies that are dangerous en mass, and want nothing more than to eat you. Eating brains came about in the 80s with Return of the Living Dead, which was something of a comedic take on zombies. These zombies are easily outrun and outfought, unless you’re surrounded by them.

The Runner: made popular by the movie 28 Days Later, these aren’t zombies in the sense that they’re the walking dead, they’re more of a mindless creature that will chase you down until you’re tired and then tear you limb from limb when they catch you. Like most zombies, they’re tireless [or so close to being it that it doesn’t matter], and your only option is to hide.

Head Shot: this is the only surefire way to kill The Eater, be they shamblers or runners. If you do anything else to try to stop them, you’ve failed. Cut off their heads, or take a mallet and do a Gallagher reenactment [did I just date myself?], or shoot them in la cabesa—something to do massive, traumatic damage to their heads—and you’ve got yourself a chance for survival. However, when the zombipocalypse occurs, pray for all you’re worth for shamblers. Runners need bullets, because they’re damned fast. Nothing else but a head shot is going to work.

Bites: being bitten by an Eater is your death warrant. Eventually, you’re going to turn into one. In this sense, the Eater is something akin to the Werewolf, where if you survive a bite [note I didn’t say survive an attack, which is different], you become one. Try to enjoy every waking moment you can. If it was a shambler, you’re going to become sick, have a high fever, eventually die, and then your body will get up and start seeking living flesh to devour. If it’s a runner, the change is usually much faster. Depending on if it’s the type of runner made popular by 28 Days Later, you won’t even die. You’ll just get a drop of blood in your own system, and then change within a minute. Nice, huh?

World of the Dead: this is your basic New World, in which there are more zombies than living beings. This is generally due to people’s own stupidity in putting down their loved ones. “Grammy won’t hurt me! She loves me! She baked me cookies when I was a—CHOMP!” The Eater is really a plague, and it grows exponentially. This is why you get the world of the dead. Most of the time, we don’t get to see the planet turned into the world of the dead. Most of the time, we just get to see how it looks now, and we get introduced to our next trope.

The Survivors: These are the people who have the intestinal fortitude to live in the World of the Dead. [Stop thinking you’re one of them, too. Just go get that book on how to survive a zombie attack, and study. Then you may be able to survive.] It’s a world they generally didn’t make, but they’re making the most of it. The best example of Survivors in comics today will be found in the pages of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Sure, they’re surviving shamblers, but they’re surviving [mostly].

Not a lot of tropes, are there? They tend to blend together, really. Discounting the classic zombie, you have Eaters in the World of the Dead, making more eaters by Biting Survivors, and only being stopped by the Head Shot. Five tropes in one story. And this is the reason companies are tired of seeing zombies. There really isn’t that much more being done with them. Sure, you can do a few interesting things, but they aren’t sustainable over the long term.

Look at Marvel Zombies. Zombie superheroes [and villains] who go around eating survivors. All you’ve done is added superpowers to the zombie, but nothing new has really been done with it. Shaun of the Dead ends with zombies being somewhat controllable: his best friend ends up zombified and in the garage, where Shaun goes to relax and play video games with him. There’s Fido, a current movie set in the 50s, taking a somewhat comedic approach to zombies. [Picture The Pink Panther without the general slapstick, and add zombies.]

Honestly, while The Walking Dead is still going strong, I don’t know why you would want to throw your hat into that ring. Just about anything you do with the blending of those five tropes will get you compared to TWD, and when that happens, you’ve already lost. It doesn’t sound too promising, I know.

Here’s what I want you to concentrate on, though. The horror isn’t in the zombies. It’s in the survivors and possibly a controller, when talking about a classic zombie.

The zombies are nothing more than a cipher, and sometimes, a lens, for us to examine ourselves through. And honestly, I think that is the purpose of the zombie today. For us to examine ourselves, and to make statements about ourselves with. When the writer fails to either examine or make a statement with the situation of the zombie, they’ve failed.

There are a LOT of failed zombie comics out there. Take note.

If you want to write a zombie comic, I suggest you look at the field, see what’s being done, see what’s NOT being done, and then try to do THAT. (Steven, you said not to do market research last week! Now, you’re saying to do it?! What gives?)

Here’s the thing about zombies: there are only so many things you can do with them and still remain in the horror vein. And even then, you’re only using the zombies to talk about the human condition. Once you get away from the zombie as a human threat, you’re no longer talking about horror.

I also suggest doing short stories with zombies. And no, I’m not talking a mini-series. I’m talking about a short story—eleven pages or less. (But my opus! I have a story about zombies running over a zoo, and the survivors are riding donkeys to get away! That’s a chase scene for your ass!) [Oh, that’s bad!] The reason I suggest short stories is because you have to build the tension and do a little to relieve it, but I also suggest that you don’t truly end the story.

Let’s look at a movie like Land of the Dead. Even though the story’s ended, there’s no real resolution to the story. If you end your short story, but don’t really resolve it, you’ll have a story on your hands that makes more of an impact. That’s a key component that lots of new writers don’t understand, and I’ve been waiting to say for a little bit now.

When you have a story like zombies overrunning the world, quite often you’ll end your story without resolving the issue. Look at the remake of Dawn of the Dead. No one survives the end of the movie. Sounds pretty damned bleak, doesn’t it? The story’s done, but the situation is far from being resolved. That’s what I suggest you strive to do in your own stories, but in a shorter timeframe.

Your homework is to do research on the zombie. Even though I reference a lot of movies in these articles, I also do a lot of reading. I suggest you hit the books first before watching movies—and then, watch older movies first. 50s and earlier. Get a sense of where they’ve been in order to try to determine where you want to go with your story.

See you next week!

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (1)

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  1. Kristoffer Peterson says:

    A great book on the voodoo style that gives a peek into the culture is The Serpent and The Rainbow by Wade Davis. It doesn’t have much to do with the movie really. But it does have That Scene…. Guys know what I’m talking about.

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