Gaming Editor Louis Wright reflects on why The Walking Dead comics are still a shining example of the zombie genre 20 years on from its inception
Reading The Walking Dead (2003) in the modern day is something that could be considered redundant, seeing as it is the inception of the current zombie genre – a genre which is, in a word, oversaturated. With a large influx of content in the later half of the 2000s and early 2010s, it is fair to say that zombie media is overdone. However, the quality and craft that author Robert Kirkman puts into The Walking Dead allows the series to hold up against its derivatives.
Inspired heavily by George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) and with an opening pulled straight from 28 Days Later (2002), Kirkman presents a story not about the hordes of the mindless undead brought back from the grave, but about a man and his fight to survive the new world. Rick Grimes, as a character, is likely the comics’ strongest component: he is well developed as a frontman, nuanced as a leader to his people, and we feel for his struggles as a father. By focusing the story of The Walking Dead on Rick’s journey of adapting to and surviving in the new world, the narrative has an emotional core that carries the series through its 193 issue run.
Most powerful in this story is Rick’s dynamic with his son Carl. Carl represents the hope that the world still contains, a new generation that will grow up and rebuild society anew. Everything Rick does throughout the comic is for Carl, and therefore for the new world that he will build and reside in. While simple, this dynamic allows for a complex narrative to be formed around it – how Carl is changed by the world is a mirror to how Rick is changed, and therefore a mirror to how Rick is influencing the world around him.
The other characters in The Walking Dead’s character-driven narrative are memorable and contain depth even if they only appear for short periods of time. Glenn is the everyman of the apocalypse, trying his best to know who he is outside of just surviving, while Tyrese presents an alternative leadership to Rick that allows for an examination of the morals of the new world. Andrea represents the ability to adapt and change in order to thrive and become an asset in a way that would not have been possible before.
However, a special mention needs to be given to the villains of the comics, as all of them explore a different premise and spin on the corruption of humanity and the evil that must be overcome in trying times. Negan is the character that has entered pop culture most prominently for his representation in the television series, and for good reason. The foul-mouthed tyrant is a charismatic cult leader who rules through intimidation, but is also innately likeable in his own twisted way. His presentation by penciller Charlie Adlard is excellent in bringing his concept to life, being consistently drawn as incredibly imposing, looming over every other character with his sheer size. Rick only coming to his chest is an unspoken element of the art that adds to Negan’s character and physically represents the threat he poses to the group.
The Governor is another character that is radically different from his television adaptation. While David Morrissey’s portrayal is nuanced and gives a reason for the Governor’s villainous actions, Kirkman’s original character is psychopathic from the outset. There are many actions his character takes that could be analysed, but are best left to be experienced in reading for the sheer shock value that they carry in their heinousness.
Within 193 issues, The Walking Dead is a fantastic analysis of the human condition in the most strenuous environments. With many characters, plot beats, and monumental events that push the storytelling to its limits, this series is unlike any other piece of zombie media. For this, it is a series that is well worth the dive, even for those who have not ventured into the world of comic books before.
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