Zombies Calling (SLG Publishing)

zombiesheader.jpgJoss proves it’s a whole lot easier to survive a horde of undead brain-eaters when you know the zombie movie rules.

 

 

104 pgs. B&W; $9.95

(W / A: Faith Erin Hicks)

 

Contrary to popular opinion, there’s actually a fair amount of flexibility when constructing a good zombie yarn. Fast zombies, or slow? Smart or dumb? What about the tone: over-the-top funny, gravely serious social commentary, or just buckets of blood-soaked gore? Whatever choices are made, however, zombie stories still follow their own distinct set of rules, and chief among those is that seemingly no one in the story has ever actually seen a zombie movie before.

 

The cover to Zombies Calling. Click for a larger image.Such is not the case with Joss, a horror movie buff (with, naturally, a zombie fetish) who has all the zombie story rules down pat. This naturally comes in quite handy when her university is invaded by real-deal brain-eaters, leaving Joss and her roommates—the too-dimwitted-to-be-afraid Robyn and the sarcastic-but-scared-spitless Sonnet—holed up in their dorm room with a problem that’s a bit bigger than the prospect of impending student loan payments.

 

With a strong-willed, quip-wielding teen girl and her Scooby Gang facing off against a bevy of horror movie baddies, you might assume Faith Erin Hicks was stealing moves from Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer playbook. Yet despite appearances (and lead character names), Zombies Calling strikes a more madcap, meta-fictional tone. Anyone who has ever yelled at a horror movie character not to go up the stairs (or leave the house, or answer that telephone…) will get a kick out of seeing the tables turned.

 

Hicks wastes little time with setup. The main trio is plopped fully formed onto the book’s second page with a rich, inside joke-laden back and forth that firmly establishes their personalities (without resorting to tired stereotypes—no easy feat) while the zombies stumble and grunt their way in a scant few pages later. From there, the book rockets off, mixing full-on zombie-smashing action with hilarious dialogue and solidly written character moments in a fun-filled romp that ties up neatly with an ending that satisfies on all levels.

 

A promotional image from Zombies Calling. Click for a larger image.As breezy and engaging as Hicks’ writing is, it’s her art that really sells the book. There’s a bit of Scott Pilgrim creator (and fellow Halifax resident) Bryan Lee O’Malley’s manga-styled electricity, but where O’Malley keeps his work simplified and iconic, Hicks is cartoony but richly detailed, paying particularly close attention to clothing styles and expressive faces. Though the main cast is grounded in reality, the zombies are laughably over-stated, united by their absurdly thick brows and sizeable chunks of exposed brain. Hicks’ designs are slick, but her inks are positively drool-worthy, using thick, sleek brushstrokes that bring to mind Becky Cloonan (American Virgin). There are some inconsistencies in the characters’ facial appearance from panel to panel, a minor complaint that—due to the small cast and their distinct designs—does nothing to detract from the story flow. Call it first book jitters; this is still a phenomenally sure work that marks Hicks as an artist to keep your eye on.

 

Hicks also includes a few pages of early design work that sheds some interesting light on her influences. The first drawings showcase a more straightforward manga style, but later incarnations show hints of manga-influenced mainstream comics artists like J. Scott Campbell and Randy Green before settling into the book’s principle look. There are also a number of fashion show-like iterations that show that the main trio’s distinct looks were no accident.

 

Fun-filled action, witty dialogue, and slick art sounds like a recipe for the perfect comic, and this one’s low price of entry is just icing on the cake. For fans of comedy/horror mixtures like Buffy or Shaun of the Dead, picking up a copy of Zombies Calling is pretty much a no-brainer. | Jason Green

Click here for a 15-page preview of Zombies Calling, courtesy of SLG Publishing. For more info on the series, visit the author’s website at www.faitherinhicks.com!

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