Who made it?: Robert Kirkman (Writer), Tony Moore (Artwork), Image (Publisher).
Who’s in it?: Rick Grimes, Morgan Jones, Shane, Lori Grimes, Glenn, shitloads of zombies.
Original run: Monthly, 6 issues.
Published: October 2003-April 2004 (Volume 1).
With the second season of The Walking Dead under way, I thought it was time to take a look at where it all started: the comic book. The title had a strong following before the AMC TV series, and at the time of writing is at issue 89. Like the best zombie stories before it, The Walking Dead is a commentary on humanity and readers have been drawn to its gritty hyper-reality and acute characterisation. This is less a review and more of a recommendation – the comic differs enough from the show that reading it offers new surprises for fans of AMC’s blockbuster.
Days Gone Bye collects the first arc of the now award-winning title, written by indie super scribe Robert Kirkman and drawn by Tony Moore. At this point, Kirkman was largely known for his work on the Image superhero comic Invincible, which is highly recommended, as well as other oddball titles such as Tech Jacket and Battle Pope. Naturally the idea for his zombie opus came from the films of George A. Romero, as they always do. His influence is clear, from the characters down to the look of the walkers themselves. Moore’s artwork is highly reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead due to its black-and-white style, which hopefully hasn’t turned off many readers.
The TV series has followed its own path to date, but Frank Darabont’s masterful pilot stuck pretty closely to Kirkman’s first issue. Police officer Rick Grimes is shot in a stand-off with a crazed man wielding a shotgun. He awakes from a coma sometime later, completely unaware of the plague that has taken over the world – a blatant swipe from 28 Days Later (2002). We follow Rick’s journey from the hospital to his family home in a desperate search for his wife Lori and son Carl. We see him deal with this new reality in his own way, including the moment he carries out a mercy killing on a walker (brought to life memorably by Darabont). Along the way he meets fellow survivor Morgan Jones and his son, who tells us everything we need to know about the outbreak. Rick eventually makes his way to Atlanta where he finds Glenn, a member of a band of travellers who become his new family.
While The Walking Dead makes its influences painfully obvious, Kirkman rises to the challenge of making well-worn subject matter compelling. His writing is a little rough around the edges here, being a relative novice at the time, but the quality of his dialogue papers over the faults; conveying a great deal of back story without relying on heavy exposition. Days Gone Bye makes us care about Rick, his situation and the outcome. That’s primarily because the comic is about the human characters first, zombies second… in fact, months can pass in the book without a single walker present. Put simply, it is about family ideals, relationships and the darker aspect of ourselves.
Moore’s artwork is lovingly detailed and the stark black-and-white imagery suits the subject matter. The art is one of the biggest selling points for me, adding a level of grit and despair that could have been lost with the comforting spectrum of colour. A few critics have complained about the cartoonish nature of his imagery, which might explain why he was replaced by realist Charlie Adlard, but Moore’s work set the tone. The first volume is a textbook example of how art can complement story and characterisation, with page after page of indelible designs that have given the series its most famous shots.
The Walking Dead will be remembered as one of the classic comic book stories of the 21st century, especially now that it has made the leap into the mainstream. Kirkman’s storytelling is just breathtaking in places and he pulls no punches; it is hard to believe that it took so long to make the screen. The comic has consistently delivered, and I can easily see it going for another hundred issues without losing its pulse. If you’re a fan of comics, zombies or beautiful art, pick this up.
- The Walking Dead won the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series at San Diego Comic-Con.
- Morgan Jones’ son is named Duane, a reference to the star of Night of the Living Dead.
- McFarlane Toys have produced a series of action figures based on the character designs from the comic. You can also pick up a board game and look forward to a video game spin-off that stays true to the roots of the story.
- A black-and-white version of the TV pilot can be seen on the Season 1 Special Edition DVD and Blu-Ray.