We went to our nation’s capitol last week to get out of town and enjoy the thrill of watching costumed legislative aides and lobbyists pour out of the Dupont Circle Metro Station. There were lots of Mario brothers and a fair number of Piper Palins. (Speaking of Metro Stations, the Chinatown/Gallery Place stop is really interesting. Turn right and you can find fabulous cuisine. Turn left, and you are thrust into the Valley of Chain Restaurants and That Guy. I beg you to always turn right if you’re faced with this choice, unless you have a high tolerance for twenty-something lawyers smoking cigars and acting entitled.)
Anyway, I stopped at a comic shop in hopes of finding a copy of Tokyo Zombie (Last Gasp), but I had no joy on that front. (I’ll keep looking, not to worry.) I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave without some satirical zombie comic in my hands, so I picked up a copy of Faith Erin Hicks’s Zombies Calling (SLG). I’d heard a lot of good things about it, and I was in a rare mood for zombie satire, so…
It’s one of those books that make you really eager to see what the creator does next. I don’t think I’ll ever encounter what I’d consider a great zombie comic, even a satirical one, because the genre has been making fun of itself long before anyone sat down with the specific intent of doing so. Hicks takes a Scream-esque approach, featuring a devoted fan of zombie films faced with an actual infestation of the shambling undead. College-student Joss is part-horrified, part-thrilled that she can put her encyclopedic knowledge of genre tropes to practical use, trying to shepherd her friends through the hordes of the recently deceased.
There are some very funny bits, along with evidence of some of the pitfalls of this kind of satire. At a certain point, the creator either needs to go serious – hewing closer to the tropes she or he is tweaking – or find some new direction. Hicks almost succeeds in straddling the two, blending in some smart generational satire. And even if Zombies Calling doesn’t quite hold together as a story, the general level of craft and wit is more than high enough to carry you along.
As I said, it’s a comic that’s most notable for the promise it conveys. The prospect of watching Hicks get better with time is definitely enticing.
If I’d read his books in the order they’ve been published, I might have had the same reaction to Matthew Loux’s Sidescrollers (Oni). In spite of wide acclaim, I stalled on picking this book up until Oni re-offered it recently. (As with zombies, there are plenty of comics about slackers, and one can’t simply pick up all of them, because they won’t all be Scott Pilgrim or Solanin.) So I read Loux’s terrific Salt Water Taffy (also from Oni) first. And while Sidescrollers offers a certain amount of wooly fun, it can’t quite compete in my mind with the sharper, more polished work on display in Salt Water Taffy.