A few months ago I did a post revealing my deep, dark comic secret – I’m not a fan of Batman. (I just don’t see the appeal! Sigh…but that was the story of another post.) I found the act of getting that off my chest and sharing it to be cathartic. So I’ve decided to do so again. In a timely piece, given the build up to the Season Seven premiere this weekend, I wanted to spend a little time talking about Robert Kirkman’s MEGA comic book hit The Walking Dead.
Now The Walking Dead was one of those things that happened to the world of comics while I was away. When I stopped reading comic books in the late nineties, Image as a company still felt relatively new. It was the home of Todd McFarlane’s independent work, specifically his incredibly popular angry, cape-wearing, visual knockoff version of Spider-Man new character, Spawn. But The Walking Dead wasn’t yet a thing. It would take the world by storm with its release in 2003 and help usher in our modern age of zombie super-fandom. Presently, zombies are EVERYWHERE and I think Kirkman deserves a lot of the credit (or blame, depending on your disposition) for that. The series regularly receives both critical acclaim and commercial success too. I’ve had many conversations over the years with various students or friends where they’ve said something to the effect of, “I’ve never read comics before but I love The Walking Dead!” So, if nothing else I was very intrigued by this comic that was bringing so many newbies into their local comic store.
My intrigue only increased once Kalie and I started watching The Walking Dead for ourselves. Jeff has loved the show from the beginning and on many, many, many occasions over the years he’s tried to get me to watch it. I’d always respond with a variation of the same basic argument, “NO WAY I AM WAAAAAAAAAY TOO SCARED TO WATCH THAT SHOW MAN NO WAY!!!!” As I’ve said before, I was sort of a baby. Oh, actually, I totally still am a baby (even if Kalie’s helped me build my courage). Anyway, last fall, Jeff said, “Listen. You watch horror movies all the time now. If you can handle Sinister and Insidious, you can handle The Walking Dead. You need to watch this show!” Motivated by Jeff’s enthusiastic recommendation and the fact that I was dating a horror aficionado (who happens to run a horror blog) and this was something Kalie should be aware of too, I decided to be brave.
Last October I purchased the DVDs (no, I didn’t do Netflix…I was that confident I’d be as passionate about this show as Jeff assured me I would be) and Kalie and I began our odyssey into AMC’s The Walking Dead. The second episode – where Rick, Andrea, Glenn, and company are trapped in that department store and have to cover themselves in fresh zombie guts to get out – brought me crazy close to legitimately vomiting. As I dry heaved on the couch Kalie said, “Cover your eyes!!” To which I replied, “I am! They’ve been covered for awhile but I can still hear and I know what’s going on!!!!!” Kalie then wisely advised, “Go to the bathroom! Get out! Don’t throw up on the couch!” I tried to tough it out and was successful…barely.
Anyway, somehow I found the resolve to keep watching until I became totally numb to the gruesome and violent bloodshed that is a regular part of the world of The Walking Dead (whether that’s healthy or not is anyone’s guess :/…). We ended up binge-watching five and a half seasons in a little over a month. I can’t even begin to describe the anxiety this created in me! My thrown-in-the-deep-end-of-the-pool introduction to horror movies with Kalie left me often waking in the middle of the night, thrashing and screaming from nightmares. However, we slowed our pace of horror consumption and I got a little bit tougher and now it’s a rare horror film that has me waking, screaming in the middle of the night from nightmares. The Walking Dead didn’t give me nightmares BUT it made me feel very, very anxious. I was just a little jittery in my regular life you know? I also found myself randomly sizing up locations around me every day that might make for a suitable safe house should the zombie apocalypse hit…
So I was hooked on the show. Gross, yes. But I got through that and became enthralled with the drama and captivated by the characters’ development. It was only natural then, after Jeff and Kalie brought me back into the world of full-on comic collecting last Christmas, that I eventually jump into the comic version of The Walking Dead and see what all the excitement was for myself.
As you’ve probably guessed from the first paragraph to this piece, I didn’t like it. At all. I ordered the HUGE The Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 1 from Amazon. I got a little under half of the way through it before I called it quits. I just couldn’t get into it! I want to like it. I even kind of think I should like it. (I mean, c’mon, now I’m being that guy who loves the show/movie but has never read the book! I don’t want to be that guy!) But I just can’t seem to find a groove. It just doesn’t grab me.
Thankfully, Nancy (over at Graphic Novelty 2) has reviewed the first two compendiums (here and here). While I’m traditionally a HUGE anti-spoiler guy, I did appreciate her recap as it let me see where the comics and the show have agreed and where they have diverged in the plot. But then I started to think, yes, I don’t care about the comic but why am I reading what could inadvertently spoil the show for me? So I don’t know if I’ll have the audacity to read the third compendium review whenever she posts it. Anyway, recap reading aside, I just can’t get into the comics.
I don’t even seem to be able to bring myself to finish the first volume. Whenever I think that I should try I just think of how many other AMAZING things I could be reading. It’s still sitting on my end table, covered in dust, with a half dozen other books I am at various stages of reading on top of it. But I doubt I’ll ever pick it up again. Nor can I imagine ever trying to dive back into the world of The Walking Dead comic books. What’s particularly rough about this is, presuming I’d love it and not wanting to get further behind, I went ahead and purchased issues #145-151 (so I’d be ready to pick up after I’d gotten through the third Compendium) and put the comic in my file (so I’d get the discount) even though I wasn’t ready to read it yet. Now I have to unload those back issues somewhere…
For me, the comic book just seemed too crass. The characters on the show are all so dynamic, so vibrant. There are layers upon layers to these characters and their emotional journeys. In the comics, at least the ones I read anyway, they seemed so very flat by comparison. I’m not sure why as Robert Kirkman’s involved in both too! Also, on the show, the stories seem so intelligent and challenging. While that may be present in the comics too, it seems buried under and wedged around a fair amount of sex, lots of violence, and a lot of casual swearing (particularly “fucks”) on every page. Now, I have no problem with vulgarity per say. In fact I’ve been known to use some myself from time to time (especially when dealing with technical difficulties). But I think, in an artistic avenue, it can be a lazy tool used to get juvenile minds excited because “They’re swearing!” and to try and easily express emotion without crafting an emotionally compelling scene or emotionally engaging dialogue, “They must be angry/sad/excited because they’re swearing!” And that just doesn’t do it for me. Incidentally, I have the same problem with Dane Cook. I think he legitimately has some very, very funny jokes. I also think he knew he was playing primarily to a college demographic so he said “fuck” every other word because a lot of college kids laugh at profanity. (Kudos to him though; he knew his market and he struck while the iron was hot!) For me, that can be funny, but only if it serves some point beyond profanity-for-profanity’s sake.
Limited to the year or so I read of The Walking Dead, I found the characters to all be very similar in disposition and primarily motivated by fighting to survive, being angry and swearing, and hooking up as often and as graphically as they can. So, despite it being a legitimate worldwide phenomenon and the source for one of my favorite shows, I just can’t enjoy reading The Walking Dead.
It also means I have no idea what all the allusions to the comics mean! So I have no idea who these Knights of the Kingdom are. I don’t know what sort of stuff’s going down with Negan. I have no idea where the story’s headed. But I can’t wait to find out! And for all of you who’ve read the comics and may have a good guess as to what’s going to happen – shhhhhhh…please don’t tell me.