By Faith Erin Hicks
Slave Labor Graphics
By all accounts, the zombie story has experienced something of a renaissance, over the past few years. Several boundary-pushing works have entered the mainstreaming, exercising creativity in what has largely been considered a one-note subgenre. Zak Synder re-imagined George Romero’s classic, Dawn of the Dead as a fast-paced videogame shooter of a movie, while Romero himself breathed new life back into his franchise with “smart” zombies of Land of the Dead.
Shaun of the Dead presented us with arguably the best example of horror-comedy since the days before Sam Raimi and company were bitten by a radioactive spider, while 28 Days Later and Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror opted for more contemporary visions of the whole zombie motif.
Always eager to tackle the pulpier sides of pop-cultural phenomenon, comics have, not surprisingly been more than happy to play along, mostly notably in the case of the tongue-in-cheek Marvel Zombies series, which is something of a Secret Wars for the flesh-eating set. In the alternative comics scene, Slave Labor, long time proprietor of Hot Topic fodder like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Lenore, has been happy to fly the zombie flag, as of late, including Eating Steve, the latest book by Egg Story author, J. Marc Schmidt, which we look at, a few months back.
Like Eating Steve, Faith Erin Hicks’ Zombies Calling benefits immensely from never taking itself too seriously. With a few exceptions, too much earnestness should largely be considered a death-knell in the world of slow moving brain eaters. In terms of target audience, however, Hicks’ debut graphic novel shares more with her long-running Webcomic, Demonology 101, albeit skewed a touch older, at least character-wise, centering around a college-aged heroine, rather than the 16-year-old Buffy-inspired protagonist at the center of Demonology.
Zombies Calling, it seems, is less inspired by the aforementioned vampire slayer, than by Wes Craven’s Scream trilogy, with the survival of main character, Joss (okay, there is some Buffy-derived inspiration, after all) largely hinging on her near-encyclopedic knowledge of the “rules” that govern zombie movies—which, fortunately for her and her two friends, have long been one of her primary cultural obsessions.
Zombies Calling’s biggest strength is its refusal to take itself too seriously, instead relying on its own penchant for goofy humor, moments of bloody girl power (yes, the spork on the cover reappears inside in full gory glory), and plenty of homages to the pop-culture that gave rise to the book. Fans of Demonology and the lighter side of manga (or for that matter, Scott Pilgrim), which both Hicks’ drawing style and the book’s layout invoke, will likely find a lot to like in the artist’s debut graphic novel.