Shaun of the Dead (Titan Books)

Chris Ryall and Zach Howard bring Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s zombie/slacker comedy to comic book life in this "director’s cut" edition.

96 pgs., color; $14.95
(W: Chris Ryall, based on the screenplay by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright; A: Zach Howard)
The 2004 film Shaun of the Dead offered a fresh take on several well-worn genres—the slacker comedy and the zombie flick among them—and was a breakout hit for director Edgar Wright who went on to direct Hot Fuzz (2007) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). In case you missed it, or if you just want to recall how much fun it was, IDW now offers a single-volume comic-strip adaptation of Shaun of the Dead which they’re billing as the “director’s cut” adaptation produced in cooperation with the film’s scriptwriters, Wright and Simon Pegg (who also played the titular character).
Edgar Wright seems to be very comfortable in the world of graphic storytelling: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was adapted from the graphic novel series of the same name by Bryan Lee O’Malley and the Shaun universe also has been featured in several comics. Wright and Pegg wrote a tie-in comic, “There‘s Something About Mary,” for the British magazine 2000AD, and this along with two other comic strips which plugged plot holes or developed the stories of minor characters were included on the DVD of Shaun of the Dead. IDW also produced a comic mini-series adaptation of the film, which was published in 2005.
I’ve seen (and enjoyed) the film but am not familiar with any of the previous comics based on it so I can’t tell you how much in this adaptation is really new. I will note that some of the pages are identical with previews available online of the 2005 series, but I’m going to stick to reviewing the book I have in my hand and relating it to the movie; someone else will have to asses it in relation to the other comics.
Reading Shaun of the Dead provides an experience remarkably similar to watching the film: not only are the characters and story basically the same, it also feels the same. That’s a good thing: Shaun’s mix of comedy and horror is not easy to pull off and neither is staying balanced, as both the film and the book do, on the knife-edge between sympathy and disgust regarding the main characters. Shaun is still an amiable but directionless young man who represents the middle ground between his tight-ass housemate Pete and his best friend Ed (played by Nick Frost in the film) who passes his days playing video games on the couch and whose other primary talent is imitating an orangutan. Meanwhile, Shaun’s cute girlfriend Liz has had enough of evenings at the Winchester (Shaun’s favorite pub) and his step-dad still thinks he’s worthless.
Shaun and Ed are well on their way to becoming zombies, in the sense of people who pass through their lives without really experiencing them, as are many of the people around them (isn’t that the way the world of working adults always looks to kids?). But the story includes the more familiar flesh-eating zombies as well: early on around the edges of the frames, you see mysterious attacks and there are other clues as well that something is amiss, but Shaun is too indifferent to notice. When the zombie attacks escalate to a crisis on the magnitude of Night of the Living Dead, Shaun sees the chance to become a hero by rescuing everyone and, well, you’ll have to read the book to find out the rest.
The promotional materials for Shaun of the Dead say it features “deleted scenes and other never-before-seen material,” but I’d be hard-put to say exactly what they are. The story flows very smoothly and includes lots of clever touches, from Ed’s brand of cigarette (“Tumor’s: Now with Vitamin C”) to the unusual means (including LPs and cricket bats) used to battle the zombies. The general approach taken in this adaptation is close to a straight storyboarding beefed up with some moment-to-moment frames. Zach Howard’s art finds the sweet spot between stylized and realistic: you’ll recognize the original actors in their roles, but the resemblance is not so absolute as to be creepy. Oddly, the cover image of Shaun looks more like Simon Pegg than his likeness within the comic, but both are more than adequate to convey the character.
My bottom line is that Shaun of the Dead is a skillful presentation of the film in comics format, one which can stand alone and be enjoyed for its own sake. However if you have already seen the film, it doesn’t provide that much in the way of added value, but serves as more of a souvenir of the experience on the order of the novelizations often created as tie-ins to popular films. The only extra is five pages of additional art. | Sarah Boslaugh

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