Friday, January 27, 2012

The Death of the Zombie

The zombie is one of America's great cultural institutions - and it is dying. Of course, it will never stay dead, but its revival and passing tell us something about the state of our age.

Urban Dead

Malton is dying. For real this time.

A city born in death, the home town of text-based MMORPG Urban Dead is pretty much empty now, seven years after it came online. It consists of a grid of buildings - 100 suburbs in the city, 100 blocks in a suburb. According to the game's stat log page, there are 11,732 active characters, or a little more than one per block. When the game was young there were five times that many. But Malton is dying a slow death, and an odd one at that, because the zombies never managed to kill all the survivors.

On the contrary, the survivors dominate the game in numbers - as they have for most of its run. They seem content to sit out the death of their city quietly as they go offline, one by one. Even the game's creator seems to be losing interest as additions and modifications become rarer and rarer.

Cultural consensus on any one thing is rare, but the internet seems to be leading the way on the death of the zombie.'s Dan O'Brien, the site's editor, wrote in May that he felt zombies had jumped the shark because the CDC had written an article on how to best survive an attack by the living dead:

There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.

Now, what does that sound like? Exactly: Someone trying desperately to use a "cool" cloaking to teach you something useful. O'Brien reached the same conclusion and was even less forgiving about it:

But here's my question: Why the shit should the Centers for freaking Disease Control and Prevention care about going viral? I get that the Internet is a big huge thing, and a lot of people spend a lot of time online -- but that doesn't mean every business and organization needs to try to connect with the Internet on its level, especially an organization that's genuinely important.

Yes, the CDC broke down and tried to appeal to us on our level, and we spurned them for it.

Generally speaking, a fad collapses when the bandwagon gets so top-heavy that it falls over (graphic). That's what happened here. Mind you, the damage is still fresh enough that a really good zombie movie could save it, but the vultures are already circling. Consider this post from Unfortunately I can't copy and paste any of the text because everything's in the form of images, but the gist is that the people who still like zombies are idiots.

Something Awful

Also that Cracked (shown here as "Skewed") is the bathroom in the internet's Chuckle Hut. Which is half true, but they're missing the nuance.

The first wave of modern zombie culture was born out of Night of the Living Dead, a movie made in 1968 by a man named George A. Romero in Pennsylvania. It's awesome, and you should watch it if you haven't already. It didn't look like much, and it showed. But the story is somehow that much more unsettling for it.


Romero topped himself a decade later (after a few more horror movies and a purportedly awful comedy called There's Always Vanilla that I dearly want to see) with a sequel called Dawn of the Dead that was everything I loved about the original along with sparkling color and the garish sensibilities of the late 1970s.

These were the golden years of the zombie, and they carried over to 1985 when the last two good original zombie films came out: Romero's Day of the Dead and an odd genre parody called Return of the Living Dead. The zombie concept was concrete enough to allow self-analysis and self-parody. And then it pretty much went away.

And that was the first death of the zombie. It had blended into the popular consciousness enough that me and everyone else in Generation Y grew up knowing that zombies are dead people (Night of the Living Dead) who hunger for brains (Return of the Living Dead). But there was nothing new under the gravestone until 2004, when the zombie rose again.

Romero got back behind the camera and came out with Land of the Dead, and I wish I could say it was good. More importantly, Shaun of the Dead, a send-up of virtually every zombie movie to date (including not-quite-zombie-movies Evil Dead and 28 Days Later) came out, along with an unnecessary but surprisingly good remake of Dawn of the Dead.


The zombie also made cultural inroads to text, with the publication of Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Manual in 2003. I honestly didn't think that much of it, but Brooks knocked it out of the park in 2006 with World War Z. The new wave of zombie popularity even became self-sustaining; in 2009 Zombieland came out, a movie whose creators credited Shaun of the Dead as an inspiration.

But now, at last, the well runs dry. Romero made two more movies, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead, which continued a trend of diminishing returns for him. And that's a shame, in my opinion, because I love George Romero. He's the grandfather figure who also makes horror movies. Zombies just might not be his thing anymore.


World War Z is being made into a movie and there's a sequel to Zombieland in the works, so the zombie might yet get back up, but it seems to be general consensus now that we're as sick of zombies as we are of vampires. But, of course, you can't keep a dead man down. Give it another 20 years; they'll be back.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Webcomic Wednesday #2 (Mini): The Zombie Hunters

Type: Unfolding dreamscape, sort of
By: Jenny Romanchuk
Self-described as: "At first this comic was a private story for my friends and I, it was loosely based off of a dream I had that was highly amusing, so one day I decided to make a comic about it, just something for fun. Months later I posted a few pages online and other people came to like it."

In a world where humanity has fought the... right, I already explained that. The comic follows the lively misadventures of a group of people who must search through the ruins of civilization for anything that might be of value to the small community of survivors. Unfortunately for the living, some of them have a passive viral infection that will cause them to reanimate upon death. These include dream-Jenny and her friends (though she says in the site's FAQ that the characters have substantially mutated from their real-life origins and "grew into their own people, as characters should." It must be touching to watch yourself grow up into a strong young adult in a cartoon apocalypse

They are accompanied by a wholly fictitious individual named Charlie, a man who was a zombie but who was later revived - though at great cost. Together, they search through a dead world in fear, because the passive infection they carry with them does not grant them immunity from swift, certain death if they are bitten.

Romanchuk's world - teetering on a wire between comedy and wretchedness - has a feeling of permanent unease. The infected (as the comic sampled above indicates) are made to wear marked tags and brassards so that they can be distinguished from the healthy. In the complicated world of The Zombie Hunters, there are many different types of living, as well as many different types of dead.

That, unfortunately, leads me to my only major criticism of this strip: you have to go through all of Romanchuk's notes ( this being only the section on the living) in order to actually have a real grasp of what's going on - something I regretfully confess I lost long ago. It's a fascinating world - but a confusing one.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dig Deep

Normally we use the blog for random stuff, but this is more like news, because it concerns the comic itself.

When Kuurion finally sold me on the outline for what eventually became Our World, he had a small handful of characters, a fantastic premise, and an initial plot arc. Beyond that, he wanted me to write the story.

I'm sort of bound in what I can say next because there's a lot of stuff that needs to be kept secret. On the other hand, you can only be mysterious so much before it becomes a stumbling block. But: The premise of this world, as defined by him and fleshed out by me, implies a vast and sweeping scope involving many times and places.

So many times and places they won't all fit in one comic.

Right now, we're in the pre-production stages for bonus comics. Multiple bonus comics. There had been minor back and forth between Kuurion and myself on the subject, but a few weeks ago I actually sat down and hammered out some storylines.

There are three or four in consideration; the two we're looking at hardest right now are set well before "Our World." The working titles are "Nu" and "Cobalt Country." The third one doesn't have a name, and the fourth one is another side of the existing story Kuurion wanted to maybe tell separately.

In many ways, bonus arcs will be a relief to me - and probably Kuurion, too - because there's a lot of story here and due to limitations we have to drip it out one page a week. Kuurion's told me a couple of times he can't go faster than that. Bonus arcs would change that dramatically.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wednesday Webcomic Review the 1st: Flipside

Welcome, welcome. Happy New Year, everybody! I hope you all had wonderful holidays with your families and loved ones. Me, I’m likely just getting back from the mountains for a 3-day bender with my buddies when I post this. Remind me to have Tylenol ready on my desk for when I get back.

Something me and Cap have wanted to do for a while was to start writing some amateur webcomic reviews. It was, by and large, the primary driving force behind us forming a blog for ourselves in the first place. Once we had it running though, we both just kind of forgot about it. Well I’ve got some free time around the Holidays here, so I figure I’ll get the ball rolling. The plan was originally to post a review weekly, on Wednesdays. Since we’re new to this and are likely going to be busier than the animal Canada is known for, we’re going to be posting them at our own pace. Still on Wednesdays, though.

I wondered for a while which one of the comics in my long list to review first. I don’t want to use up some of my absolute favourites, because I’m not familiar enough with the format or with writing to put my best effort in. Good thing that’s only about 6 or 7. So first up is a story about a nymphomaniac, bisexual jester girl who has magic powers. Flipside!


So, there is more to the story than just that one girl. Quite a bit more, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it all was. Maybe that’s just a side effect of having read through the archives approximately 2-3 years ago and reading a lot of stuff since. With a current archive size of around 700 pages, I couldn’t find time to read through the whole thing again, either. Which is a bit of a shame, I must be due for a re-read soon; I do remember after initially going through the whole thing, I was in love with the comic and shared it on Facebook with a good number of people. Got ‘em with the same hook, too. But after a few years in my bookmarks folder, large sections of the story have dropped from my memory. I checked back on a few chapters too, and even with visual reminders I could still not tell for the life of me what was going on, what was the context. Have I not said the author’s name yet? I need to get a handle on this rambling. It’s Brian Foulke.

Anyways, perhaps this is a sign that the story doesn’t have much staying power, perhaps it’s just me being absent-minded, perhaps it’s the type of story that needs more rapt attention than a bi-monthly check-in can provide (this would make sense, seeing as I was loving it immediately after my first reading). What I can say is that Flipside is most definitely unique, and that says something in the modern world of copy-pasting entertainment ideas.

I think one criticism I can gleam from recent catchup periods is that the story seems to be lacking a direction these days. Each character has their personal motivations, of course, but none of them line up in something that coherently moves the group along through the series of events. The prequel-esque “Book 0” was different in that I had a sense of something bound to happen soon, it was a story unto itself (largely to set up some of the concepts of the universe to new readers, as well as for Brian buffer himself through the initial “rough art” period of beginning webcomics.) At over 500 pages, it’s worth a read by itself if you feel curious about checking the comic out, and had a convenient end to call it quits at if you feel the comic’s not for you.

Characters! The story’s main character is said Jester girl, named Maytag. Maytag is the blood of this webcomic; it would not, COULD not, survive without her. She’s what brings everyone together, what ties the events into something bigger, yada, yada. She does what a main character is basically born to do. I did love her at first, because she’s just so damned open about everything. Nothing is off-limits for this girl to talk about, and she’s just so damned friendly that it’s hard not to like her. Weakness shows itself from time to time in her love life; the love interest, her polar opposite named Bernadette (yes they are lesbians) is quiet and reserved (also badass with swords and fears anything magical), and does not take well to Maytag’s very promiscuous style of friendship, and this causes Maytag some grief as she wants her to be happy.

As time goes on though, I started skrunking an eyebrow. She seems to have a god-like sense of kindness and forgiveness, at one point willingly allowing a sentient monster to eat her arm and saying there were no hard feelings. For the next - hundred, at least? I can’t remember – pages, she goes through the story with one arm, never showing any sign of blame or regret about the action, before it gets magically regrown. It’s a character type that hasn’t been explored much before, as she seemingly has no breaking limit. I don’t know whether that’s a good or a bad thing, but I do have a weak spot for the unique, so it gets a few points in my book.

As for the other characters, they all take backseats to what goes on with Maytag and Bernadette. One notable character is Crest, whom is introduced in the first few pages of the main storyline and has a seemingly important role for the beginning of the story. At one point about 500 pages in though, I noticed that he may as well no longer exist. Few speak to him about anything, he hardly speaks himself, and seems to be little more than a hanger-on whose motivations have been lost to me. I don’t care what happens to Crest anymore – give him something important to do, or send him packing back home. There are a few more stragglers that they pick up along the way, most of them versed at least somewhat (or supremely so) in magic, and they tag along with these strange people likely out of curiosity as to what Maytag is going to do next. The girl is nothing if not unpredictable.

Aside from the supporting cast, the only two characters worth mention are the Thin Man and Moss – The Thin Man is the primary antagonist, some sort of mad magic scientist who kidnaps certain individuals, performs experiments, creates monsters and has lackeys hidden around the world, and Moss is a child born with the strange curse of being able to see people’s weakness and fears. This does not gain him many friends. One strip comes to mind (if I could find it I would link it) of Moss’s childhood, wherein a foster mother attempts to console the tortured child. She promises whatever the issue is, it is not his fault and she will not lay blame to him. He tells her, tells her what he sees when he looks at her, (something to do with the woman’s own childhood, and memories of prostitution or sex abuse); she is horrified, calls the child a demon, and locks him outside her house in the night. Moss has a strong presence in Book 0, but did not make an appearance in the main storyline until around Chapter 23, and even then it was short. I hope to see him again, as he is one of the more memorable parts of the story.

My, but this review is taking a negative tone, isn’t it? I don’t mean to say the comic is bad, if it were it wouldn’t have a home in my bookmarks list. And a fair number of people appreciate it enough to vote for it every day and keep it at #19 on the topwebcomics list (as of this writing). The story just no longer grips me the way it once did, is all. I can say, however, that the art is quite fantastic, sporting a distinct mange-style of comic pages and maintaining a greyscale color style, often sticking with raw black and white inks for characters and including greys for background only. The action sequences are particularly well done, and feel very dynamic and full of motion. I could learn a few things from closer study of the fight sequences in Flipside.

All in all, the comic is definitely worth checking out. Read Book 0 first, see if Maytag interests you, and if so then move on to the main comic storyline. If you’re anything like me, you will find something to latch onto with your first reading and make your own judgment once caught up. There IS a story in there worth telling and worth reading, I just can’t remember what it is. I’ll do more research for my next review, promise. If you’re the type to check back weekly, Flipside updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, so there’s plenty of new material every week. Try not to wait too long, or Brian might hit the 1,000 pages mark and scare off some potential new readers from diving in.


Flipside can be found here: