Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Walking Dead – From Comic Book To AMC, Zombie Survival Horror.

There's been a whole lot of backlash these last few years about the surge in popularity of zombies in films, games and TV. People rolling their eyes and saying “Zombies? Uggh, I'm so OVER zombies.” My response to those folks is “Fine. Piss off then. I'll continue to enjoy them.” The zombie apocalypse as a genre immediately gets people who are into it talking, planning, trading theories on “what would you do if...?”I've got an awful lot to write about zombies, what with the pre-alpha of Project Zomboid (which I pre-ordered) going live, and Doublebear's Dead State Zombie RPG trudging toward release, plus books and films I love in the genre. However, there's an obvious place for me to start when writing about zombies. The Walking Dead.

Seeing this image, and a few others lifted directly from panels of the comic gave me hope.

When I first heard about the AMC series The Walking Dead, how it would be a television show following survivors in the classic zombie scenario with a solid effects budget, I was immediately interested. Frank Darabont of The Shawshank Redemption directing? A story focusing on the people and how they cope with the stress of the end of the world? A cable network commitment to doing serious drama/horror with zombies instead of some schlocky parody? Oh, yes. Immediately researching the topic, I found that it was based on a long running comic series published by Image. This deserved further investigation.

I tracked down years worth of the comics, and sat down to read. I had a few long nights there, as I was immediately pulled in by the story, even if it wasn't groundbreaking or particularly unique. The Walking Dead comic started as a familiar story, well told. I caught up with years of the series in a few days, hooked as I was, and grew to care about characters as they developed, and gasp or grieve as favorites met a grisly fate. The brutality and the fact that in Robert Kirkman's world no character was safe added tension to the world, and a desire to keep reading because I knew any character could die at any time.

This comic became Images #1 selling title, even eclipsing sales of Spawn.

When the AMC series was set to premiere on October 31, 2010, I was excited, but convinced that there were a whole lot of changes they'd have to make for television, and I began to get nervous and prepare for disappointment. I was pleasantly surprised from the outset at the risks the series was willing to take, right from the first scene, showing a child zombie. Some of the casting decisions, new characters and subplots made me raise an eyebrow, but the first few episodes were good enough that I was willing to give it a chance. I'm glad I did. In adapting a book or comic to another medium like TV or films, changes have to be made. Pacing in a movie or episode is different from proper pacing in a novel or comic book.

There were some fairly serious departures and changes in The Walking Dead's first season, and I've been satisfied so far. Those of us who know and love the comics don't know exactly what's going to happen around any given corner. Characters who, according to the story we know, should already be dead and still up and kicking, and there's no telling if someone who survives a good long time in the comic might not die in the show. The suspense created by not knowing what is going to happen to any given character in the comic is important, and they've used changes to retain that onscreen. Zombie stories all too often descend into blatant allegory at the expense of their core story, and The Walking Dead hasn't done that.

The behind the scenes features on the effects and makeup for some of the zeds is fascinating to me. 

There are big questions posed by the zombie apocalypse scenario. What would you do if a loved one turns? How do you deal with losing everything? What could you sacrifice to survive? What do you have to become in order to keep those around you safe? What effect does growing up in a world where society has collapsed and a struggle to survive is normal have on a child raised in that world? These questions and others are addressed directly by Kirkman and Darabont, and though individual elements of The Walking Dead have been seen before in one form or another, something new and different comes out of how these elements fit together as a whole.

Looking for covers that won't spoil the series future seasons was tricky.
I'll be interested to see how AMC tackles the storyline with this guy, though.

When talking about “What would you do?” I frequently have a pretty strong set of opinions, and frequently find flaws in people's plans. How a group gets food when your canned goods run out, how to deal with other hostile survivors who are likely more dangerous than any zombie... These concerns are addressed in the comics, and I look forward to seeing how they play out on a TV screen. Here's to hoping that the hipsters and critics who are “so over zombies” don't allow the series to be cancelled before it has a chance to get into the meat (hrm, pun) of these topics.
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Erika said...

I have got to read this. Zombie comics are awesome.

Zombie Ad said...

Well said - here here!

Astronomy Pirate said...

The Walking Dead probably is the best Zombie series yet. It definitely changes how people view a zombie story by including prolonged survival, other then just a single movie, novel, or video game.

Jay said...

i watched the first two or three episodes, but lost interest unfortunately...

RedHeadRob said...

The series despite being way off from the comic books, is pretty awesome.

Alpha said...

Zombies > Vampires

The Angry Lurker said...

” My response to those folks is “Fine. Piss off then. I'll continue to enjoy them.” Well said, enjoyed the TV series to a point, the group is too large, would have a smaller amount.

Conspyre said...

I haven't gotten a chance to watch any more than the pilot episode, but I was overwhelmingly impressed with the pacing of it. Using the extended length of a TV season compared to a 2-hour film is a godsend.

Kelly said...

Hell, I was under the impression by what's going on in society today, that we were already experiencing a zombie apocalypse scenario. lol. I'm only halfway kidding about that. By the way, I loved the first season of the Walking Dead series on AMC. Unfortunately, Dish Satellite (what we have) only gave us a l year free trial of that channel. I never have checked out the comics so I can't give an opinion on that.

Happy Weekend, DocStout!

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