In the first volume of “The Walking Dead”, writer and creator Robert Kirkman guides the reader through a zombie mystery that is more about the survivors than the zombies themselves. Lovers of the horror genre will appreciate the slow build-up and impending dread of a story where even the characters involved have no clue how their world got turned upside down by an infection that causes its victims to transform and regress into decaying zombies. How did this epidemic of the walking dead begin and can it be stopped? These and other questions, as well as personal interactions and drama between the characters, will keep the reader intrigued as to what will transpire next. Although this concern for the characters’ well-being is sown within the story, Kirkman slips up when it comes to the dialogue. At times, it can seem jarring and distract from the enjoyment of the tale. The art by Tony Moore, however, is stellar throughout and is evidence of an artist who can create compelling human characters amid the beautifully horrific zombies and the desolate world they must all share together.
Kirkman proves with this first volume that he is an excellent storyteller and has created a world with many possible twists and turns that can support an ongoing book. He has created a band of characters that are on a journey, and, by making the reader care for them and their survival, has an obvious grasp on a story that has a definite direction (including the various shocking curve balls he throws our way). Rick, a cop from Kentucky, has just awakened from a coma after being shot while on duty. The hospital is empty and he is lost among a barren city. Even when Rick is reunited with his family (as well as the various characters who have been affected by the zombies), this aura of desolation pervades the entire narrative. This disparate group of characters must band together in order to survive, with Kirkman creating distinct personalities that distinguish each character from each other. Relationships are tested and melodrama is a constant in this page-turner of a book.
Kirkman makes the reader feel for the characters by instilling a humanity that exudes from them. Rick, the protagonist of this first volume, is shown to care deeply for others. He sheds tears of sadness, fear, and joy throughout the story, depending on his situation. Kirkman is definitely assisted by Moore’s art, which enhances the humanity. In one scene toward the beginning of the book, Rick sees a woman who has been ravaged by zombies. She is still alive and her body is brutally torn to shreds. Rick holds his hand to his mouth in horror, eyes expressing shock. Then a thick tear rolls down his eye. After obtaining firearms, he returns later on to shoot and put the woman out of her misery. As he does, he wipes tears from his eyes, with Moore’s art expressing Kirkman’s creation perfectly. Rick’s love toward his family is demonstrated in one worldess page with five panels where he’s sleeping with his wife Lori and son Carl. One eye opens, he lifts his arm up, and he lovingly caresses Lori’s face. The look on Rick’s face is beautifully expressive, conveying emotions of relief, joy, and serenity all in that one simple look. Scenes like these particular ones are proof of the humanity that Moore can bring out of Kirkman’s saga without any words in need of being spoken.
The silent scenes (and even some with sparse dialogue) are uniformly brilliant. Yet there is a distraction that rears its head time and again: the dialogue. Many times, it took this reviewer out of the story and eye rolls of embarrassment were an inevitable reaction. The dialogue is extremely expository and can be very tedious at times, with much of it sounding forced and stilted. Even simple conversations without expository dialogue have that self-conscious quality. A glaring example of this occurs when Rick and Glenn make a trek to a gun shop to stock up on rifles and ammunition. Glenn says, “We need to make sure we don’t grab anything that won’t work in the guns we get.” Rick then responds with, “Yeah…that’s a good point.” This exchange was unnecessary, quite obvious, and indicative of much of the dialogue throughout the book. The back and forth between them feels like filler (and absurd filler, at times, to boot). Another example occurs when each of the characters are telling their personal histories around the campfire. The entire scene is one big information dump, with awkward dialogue peppered throughout this particular scene.
There are many sequences where the dialogue balloons crowd the panels, adding an unintentional comical air to the goings-on. Great writers are able, at times, to create amazing (or simply good) dialogue in their stories. However, with dialogue in the “The Walking Dead”, Kirkman has trouble in this first volume and hopefully has improved in the next volumes. Maybe the story could have been assisted by having narration boxes that would have made the expository dialogue unnecessary. However, Kirkman might have wanted to do away with third person narration in order to contribute to the mysterious quality of the book (which it most certainly does). If the book was written by a different author whose strength was dialogue, then the book would be vastly different. Kirkman, however, is a great storyteller and has unique ideas, but dialogue is not his strong point in this first volume.
The decision for Moore to have the story penciled and inked in black, white, and gray tones is ingenious and obviously adds horror elements to the tale. Many great horror films, like the zombie classic “Night of the Living Dead”, was filmed in black and white. By being in black and white, a realism is added to the proceedings that makes the story that much more intense and visceral. When Rick and Shane come upon a zombie chomping on a dead deer, the zombie’s past life is evident by the clothes he’s sporting. A white short-sleeved dress shirt, an unkempt tie, and pens in his shirt pocket indicate someone who was a pencil pusher before he was unceremoniously zombified. His nonchalant attitude and empty eyes are given a realism through Moore’s stark pencils and inks. Certain attributes add to the creepiness of the zombies, like the detail rendered in the rotted flesh and the flies that constantly surround them.
Moore’s use of splash pages are used to great effect, adding to his already creepy artistic style. In one splash page toward the beginning of the story, Rick is still in Kentucky before attempting his journey to find his family. He is standing behind his cop car, ready to abandon it, and says, “Damn it!” A smashed can lies in front of the car and three birds fly over a clear, white sky. Moore, through this and many more instances, reveals his immense talent for exuding desolation through his artwork. In another splash page, Rick is surrounded by zombies while he’s on a horse. Moore makes an excellent artistic decision to make it seem as if the reader is looking at the scene from behind the zombies, with Rick’s back to the reader. The sense of being surrounded by the walking dead is intense, with Rick uttering the single (and appropriate) word, “Shit.” Flies surround the zombies, trash is strewn everywhere, steam exits a manhole, and a city drained of life is portrayed in one simple page. Moore is able to say more through his art than any words can possibly express in this story.
Robert Kirkman has created a zombie tale in the guise of a melodramatic morality tale. Although the dialogue and certain story beats were a distraction various times throughout my reading, I definitely want to know what happens next for these characters. The first volume ends on a shocking note, which will definitely leave the reader wanting to know what twists and turns Kirkman has brewing for the ongoing tale of “The Walking Dead.” Maybe Kirkman, in the subsequent volumes, has improved his writing and dialogue on his book. Whether you’re a lover of the horror genre or not, this story will keep you intrigued. Much of that is because of Tony Moore’s astounding art. After consuming this first volume, you’ll be left saying, “Anything can happen in this seemingly post-apocalyptic world.”
The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye
Written and lettered by Robert Kirkman
Pencils, inks, and gray tones by Tony Moore
Published by Image Comics