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The Walking Dead, Compendium One

July 1, 2012
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I got this weighty tome for my birthday. I finished it the other day. My birthday is in February. That says less about this book than it does about the length of my reading list.

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The Walking Dead comic (and TV series) details the lives of a dozen or so people in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. As he is the first introduced, former police officer Rick Grimes is the de facto main character. Waking up in hospital following a coma (a la 28 Day Later), the end of the world comes as a bit of a shock to him. Trying to survive, he heads to the nearest population centre, Atlanta. There, he finds the city overrun but there is a group of survivors camped just outside. Among their number are his friend Shane, wife Lori and son Carl. The weighty tome then details their efforts to survive over the next year or so. Zombies attack, people die, and more survivors are met.

I have to start by saying how much I enjoy zombies as a genre. Unlike other tropes of horror and fantasy, you can readily imagine what you would do in such situations, how you would try to survive. This speculation adds to the richness of the genre, if only within our own minds.

But the important thing throughout all fantasy is that it isn’t the monsters that matter, it’s not the magic, it’s not the vividly imagined landscapes – It’s the people who matter. With mortality so high in zombie fiction, if you don’t care if a character lives or dies, the story falls apart.

However, The Walking Dead really does make you care about its characters (some more than others). It keeps the cast numbers down so no one ever feels like cannon fodder. At the same time, characters can get hurt, seriously injured, and make a recovery. This means you don’t immediately give up on a character. Instead, you read on in hope that they’ll make it, even against impossible odds.

In contrast to the engagement it engenders in readers, most of the cast are resigned to the fate that they, and those around them, will probably die, possibly quite soon. The characters are portrayed what I imagine is realistically in case of zombie apocalypse. They are all shown to struggle with the tough decisions that need to be made to live (and love) at the end of the world. I would say that some characters do seem to swing between being even-minded and batshit irrational but you could argue that this is a reasonable portrayal of an apocalyptically damaged psyche.

This compendium of the first 48 issues ofThe Walking Dead certainly puts the graphic in graphic novel. As you would, even demand, of a zombie story, there is blood and guts galore. This is not a comic book for the squeamish. Aside from that, the same level of detail is poured into the characters, illuminating as well as illustrating them.

As much as I enjoy comic books and graphic novels, I don’t really have the time or patience for their serial nature. When I read something, I like to devour character development and story arcs in big wolfing mouthfuls. 50 pages or so each week just can’t sate my appetite. This is a shame since I miss out on some genuinely fine storytelling. The Japanese manga tankobon does a little better but is still not enough. That is where the strength of this compendium lies. After digesting the first 48 issues (roughly half the series at the time of writing), I am now deeply involved with Rick and the other survivors and am thoroughly engrossed.

If you like zombies, you will most certainly enjoy The Walking Dead – though you may not have needed me to tell you that. If you don’t like zombies, this may not be your thing. Nevermind, I’m sure you’ll find something. Meanwhile, I will continue to find The Walking Dead both compelling and deeply human.

Question is, do I really want to shell out £60 for Compendium Two?

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