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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 7.22.2012
Book from: Personal collection

I know the universe loves me because there’s a new comic called The New Deadwardians, and it’s about vampires, zombies, and class conflicts in alternate Edwardian England. I saw the first issue (from March of this year; there are to be 8 issues total) still hanging around in a comic store, picked it up, read it as soon as I got home, and wished I had bought the rest.

The cover art gives away the punchline, though the first issue never says it outright: the English aristocracy have embraced vampirism – “the cure” – in order to escape the zombified lower classes. (It’s not clear yet what’s happened to the rest of the world.) As Twilight literalized class (and race) conflict via Bella’s choice between sleek, chilly, uber-white vampires vs. rough-n-tumble, blue-collar, Native American werewolves, so Deadwardians does with poker-faced pish-posh vampires vs. sloppy Cockney zombies. Caught in between are living servants, police officers, and other members of the working class, who also appear distantly as angry unionists demonstrating against the military zoning of London. The undead – and presumably some living survivors – have been pushed back beyond “Zone B,” and hence are referred to as Zone-B’s. Har de har. I also winced at the use of “Deadwardian” in the comic itself – it’s too cutesy to be believable in-universe. Luckily, it’s the only false note struck in this issue.

The protagonist is George Suttle, a vampirized detective afflicted with some degree of existential angst, and a pruny mum who should appeal to fans of Maggie Smith as the dowager duchess in Downton Abbey. The end of the issue sees Suttle confronted with a puzzling mystery: the murder of an already undead man.

Most of the issue is devoted to building up atmosphere and setting. Artist I. N. J. Culbard and colorist Patricia Mulvihill work gorgeously together in the ligne clair/clear-line style, with smooth inking and planes of muted color that emphasize the setting’s eerie placidity and the script’s deliberate, brooding pace. A scene of Suttle walking into his almost entirely deserted office building, its many untenanted desks draped over with white sheets, and numerous shots of meticulously rendered architecture looming over sparse inhabitants, recall the trademark scenes of deserted London streets that opened 28 Days Later – this is just a century earlier.

Gloomy atmosphere, sociopolitical satire, a burgeoning mystery, immersive art: I’m hooked. I can’t wait to see what Abnett and Culbard do with the rest of the series; I’m particularly excited to see how hard they’ll play the alternate history angle. The Edwardian era was characterized by both great economic disparity, and increasing social mobility and political activism – I can’t imagine the latter two will do very well against an immortal and literally parasitic upper class…

You can see a free 6-page preview of The New Deadwardians and a brief interview with Culbard here (source: L. A. Times – did you know they covered comics? I didn’t).

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Dan Abnett: bio and works reviewed

 

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Date read: 8.24.10
Book from: Borrowed from my cousin
Reviewer: Emera

In brief:  ZOMBIE OUTBREAK etc. Global pandemonium ensues.

So I assumed at first that this was in novel form, and was mildly intrigued since I’d never read a novel-length zombie survival story. (ETA: Oh wait, I have: Warm Bodies.) Turns out it’s actually in the format of interviews with various survivors of “World War Z:” soldiers, community leaders, doctors, lone survivalists, a feral child, etc., brought to you by the author of The Zombie Survival Guide. Most of it is schlock, especially any part of it that aspires to any emotional or philosophical depth and the so-called “satire,” which amounts to making very obvious fun of Corrupt Politicians, Shallow American Suburban Housewives, and so on. (Also, I must salute Brooks for his incredibly creative choices in making two of the three or four total Asian characters, respectively, a blind samurai zombie-whacker and a former otaku turned “warrior monk” (barf).)

But what fun schlock it is! The interview format gives Brooks an excuse to play out as many obsessively detailed scenarios as his zombie-nerd brain can churn out, from panics fueled by the failure of a fraudulent zombie-virus vaccine, to reappropriated medieval castles under siege, to all the intricacies of anti-zombie warfare and weapon design. (Possibly my favorite section: a long interview regarding the training of military dogs to track, and sometimes lure, zombies. It tickles the part of me that insisted on using attack dogs when playing Red Alert against my brother.) There are also numerous satisfyingly suspenseful episodes and creepy moments: the narrative of an American soldier who is ejected from a damaged plane and lost, alone, in a zombie-infested forest; the realization of a submarine crew that that odd sound is the clawing of dozens of submerged zombies that have surrounded their vessel. (Brooks’ zombies survive drowning, and can re-reanimate if thawed after being frozen, which leads to the fabulously grisly image of a world with its polar regions abandoned to hordes of half-frozen zombies.)

All in all, World War Z made for some great summer reading. I suppose it’s a little late to be reporting that, but there’s always room for a little brainless (pun?) entertainment. If you’ve ever discussed zombie outbreak contingency plans with friends, you’ll likely enjoy this.

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Max Brooks: bio and works reviewed

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If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ve probably noticed our mild obsession with the works of one Isaac Marion, a mysterious and sardonic Northwesterner who has independently published two novels and, on his website, many short stories – all horrifying, hilarious, and heartwarming in various measures. I first stumbled on his signature story – “I Am a Zombie Filled with Love” – by chance in the summer of 2008, fell in love, and shot the link to his website over to Kakaner.  Both of us became avid followers of his work.

This fall, we were thrilled when Marion announced that his novel Warm Bodies, a story about love after the zombie apocalypse, and based on the original “I Am a Zombie Filled with Love,” had been sold to a major American publisher. Even more recently, he announced that it’s also been sold for publication in the UK, and in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Korean. On top of all that, he’s planning to self-publish a collection of his short fiction – something Kakaner and I have hoped for for a long while.

This week, we had the honor of actually interviewing Isaac Marion. Below, he shares a little (actually, a lot) about his life and influences, and reflects on Mass Amateurism, the zombie trend, and more.

Sir Isaac Marion

TBL: Isaac, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we try to write an author page for each author whose works we review. Could you give us a mini-biography of your life until now and anything else you think should be in an author bio of you?

I grew up in northwestern Washington and have lived in or near Seattle most of my adult life. My family was really poor while I was growing up; we lived in a lot of weird places, like tents and tow-trailers and my uncle’s mossy motorcycle garage in the woods, which was eventually condemned by the city and burned down. (I have a photo of it burning posted above my desk, as a reminder that things could be, and were, worse.) Even when we were living in real houses or at least mobile homes, we moved a lot; 27 times total before I set out on my own.

The year we spent in that motorcycle garage, which I dubbed “The Hovel”, was the year I started writing. I was 16, so of course I wrote a mind-blowingly overwrought thousand-page fantasy epic called “The Birth of Darkness”, which will never be read by anyone as long as I’m alive to prevent it. I always knew I didn’t want to do any kind of job that requires a degree so I skipped college and taught myself how to write by just reading and writing a lot, which I think was time better spent. Several years and a few dozen weird and unconnected jobs later, it paid off, and now I am apparently on course to living the dream. Exploding high-five.

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isaac_marion_anna_warm_bodies_inside_postcard

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen Emera’s and my numerous reviews of Isaac Marion‘s works, namely The Inside, Warm Bodies, and Anna. These works are pretty much all highly recommended, and are self-published by Marion (links provided at the bottom of this post). Marion is noted for his strange genre niche that is, for the most part, a mix of horror, weird fiction, and romanticism.

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Date Read: 1.30.09
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

This humorous, 2003 Eisner Award winning one-shot is the story of an unlikely superhero, Screwn-on Head, who researches an occult myth at the behest of Abraham Lincoln. Apparently, an evil zombie named Emperor Zombie has stolen important ancient tomes that could lead to the destruction of the earth. The cast of this comic also includes Mr. Groin, Screw-on Head’s manservant, and Patience, Screw-on Head’s old vampire lover.

the-amazing-screw-on-head-opening-sequence

I actually first watched the TV pilot adapted from this comic written and developed by Mike Mignola (best known for Hellboy) and Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies). After holding out for about a month to find a copy of The Amazing Screw-on Head, I gave up and attained a much more accessible copy of the TV pilot. Later, I finally found a copy on eBay (cursed OOP’s).

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Reviewer: Emera
Date Read: 3.31.09
Book From: Personal Collection

Warm Bodies is the tale of a zombie in a society of zombies. R (he can’t remember the rest of his name), originally the entirely nameless protagonist of Marion’s beautiful “I Am a Zombie Filled With Love,” here has his story extended: during a raid on a human encampment, he inexplicably makes the decision to shelter a living human girl, so that they make their way together in a stagnating world.

I would primarily describe this novel as cinematic, both in good and bad ways. Good because so many of the scenes are uniquely vivid and striking and just beg to be visualized – zombies swaying back and forth in “church;” R riding an airport’s moving walkway and coming to a stop just opposite his soon-to-be zombie wife; the Stadium that is the center of life for a surviving human community. Bad because most of the plot and execution is cheesy as hell.

This really just needs to be stripped down and rewritten, or at least have a stronger editing hand. It’s not just some of the questionable language (“the sun stood over us like a royal guardian,” “my mystique has thickened and intensified like balsamic reduction”), it’s the overall plot concept. A rebellious, artsy-bohemian girl who Changes Everything by having the protagonist fall in love with her? [SPOILERS FOLLOW; HIGHLIGHT TO SEE] Humans literally being so soulless that they turn into zombies? Please. Pleeeeeease.

The original short story was charming and likable because it was quirky, lovely, and unexpected – this beats all of its loveliness and unexpectedness into a sticky, saccharine pulp. I read most of this with a sort of mild curiosity as a result, rather than real interest, despite the many excellent individual concepts. Still, I love Marion’s work in general, and am extremely excited to see his career take off,  so I’m very happy to own one of the few copies (I think about 220 were printed in the end) that he designed and self-published. Signed, too!

Go to:
Warm Bodies (2009) [K]
Isaac Marion
Some words (and exploding high-fives) with Isaac Marion

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Reviewer: Kakaner
Date Read: 3.15.09
Book From: Personal Collection

Summary
A zombie in a post-apocalyptic desolate landscape befriends a rare living girl and finds himself being transformed by his relationship with her. An extension of a short story by the same author: I am a Zombie Filled with Love.

Review
This was… sadly underwhelming and disappointing given Marion’s previous works. I was initially very excited to read this because 1) ZOMBIE FICTION MOG! and 2) the short story was pretty amazing. The first chapter opens up with the original short story, a very poignant 1st person zombie narrative describing the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the narrator during one slice of a day. There is emphasis on the zombie’s inability to think coherently, speak, or process thoughts quickly. The zombie’s outlook on the world is extremely complacent and only slightly quizzical, but it is apparent the zombie brain cannot handle being inquisitive.

In order for Marion to tell the story he wanted to tell, he had to break away from the narrative restraints he set up in the short story by giving his narrator a larger capacity for thought and purpose. However, the result was a rather obvious discontinuity between the first chapter and the next couple chapters in narration, and the subsequent abrupt change in atmosphere and storytelling wasn’t handled very well. Overall, the characters and story were rather predictable, and as ashamed as I am to say this, the story was just cheesy. All of Marion’s works are very romantic, and usually he manages to either avoid cheesiness or fully embrace it and turn it into something special. I lost interest about halfway through Warm Bodies, frustrated by the narrative inconsistencies and the plot.

Although The Inside wasn’t perfect, I think it suited Marion’s style and storytelling better. There was a lot more confidence, atmosphere, and passion in that novel. I guess Warm Bodies still makes for an interesting casual read because it is still zombie fiction for once NOT presented in graphic novel form.

Go to:
Warm Bodies (2009) [E]
Isaac Marion
Some words (and exploding high-fives) with Isaac Marion

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