Finally, this is my actual reading pile. All the books I have bought myself for the purpose of my enjoyment and as I am not tieing myself down to any kind of formulated structure, you may notice that I read whatever takes my fancy, rather than switching characters or publishers etc...
Anyhoo... THE WALKING DEAD!!!
With issue #100 out next week and my copy of volume 16 of the trade paperback arriving in the post, I decided to go back a few volumes and recap on the last couple years worth of story lines. Though I must say, with the flowing structure of this particular ongoing title, I want to talk about it on whole as an entire piece of work so far, rather than just the few trades I have recently read.
When I first read volume one of The Walking Dead, I absolutely hated it. I had picked it up because a few of my friends were insisting that I read it, but after finishing the first six issues, I didn't understand what all the fuss was about. I wasn't overly enamoured by Tony Moore's artwork. It was ok, but almost every panel of Rick had him aghast and it all seemed a little repetitive. The opening of the book with Rick waking up in hospital was very similar to the opening of 28 Days later, which had been released a year before issue one hit the stands. But the thing that bugged me most about that opening volume is that the story is so rushed. Rick wakes up, his family is gone, he assumes they've gone to Atlanta, they just so happen to still be alive, he finds them straight away, Shane gets mad, Carl shoots him. Done! There is no pacing or suspense in those first six issues, which looking back now is strange as the tempo of the book now is nothing but pacing and suspense.
I dropped the book and didn't bother with volume two onwards. People started looking at me funny when they asked my opinion of the book and I gave it to the straight. As the years moved on and the book became a phenomenon, I seemed to be the only person amongst my peers who hadn't taken a liking to the book and it wasn't just that I thought it was bad and they thought it was good, most of these people were raving like this was the best thing since sliced bread and I was legitimately crazy for not jumping on the bandwagon.
Now, I am a stubborn son of a bitch, anyone that knows me well will attest to that. But I like to think that I can admit when I am wrong and apologise for it, so it was time for me to give The Walking Dead a second chance and see once more what all the fuss was about. Again, I started at the beginning with volume one. Perhaps this time I would see it in a different light. I didn't. It still sucked. But this time I pushed forward with volume two and beyond. With issue #7, the first chapter of volume two, Charlie Adlard replaced Tony Moore on art duties. Now, I'm not trying to say that Adlard is the better artist, as Moore's work is great, but he seemed to bring a freshness with his style and a hint of realism behind the characters eyes that was and is more engaging than Moore's version. Also from volume two onward, the pacing began to slow down. Maybe when Kirkman was writing the first arc he was treating it like a TV pilot, establishing the world, characters, threats and dangers of the story in the limited space that he had in a hope of hooking in a readership quickly. I don't know, but I did begin to immediately enjoy what I was reading far more than I was before.
As soon as the guidelines for the story were established, the character development went into overdrive. It became a soap opera story about the lives of the people who were following Rick, hopefully to a promised land of some sort where they could settle down and just live a relatively normal existence without the worry of being eaten alive by the living dead. The zombies were just background noise, the setting for the world in which this particular group, who normally wouldn't find themselves together as friends, lovers etc, are indeed forced to live side by side. Sure they are a threat. As the issues move forward there have been plenty of the cast that have been devoured by these ghouls, but as soon as they hole themselves up in whatever safe haven they stumble across, the danger seems to come less from the dead and more from the living. You see, in this post apocalyptic world, everyone is fighting for survival and sometimes that means screwing other survivors over to get what they have. Money doesn't equate to power in this new environment and now, with it being 'Survival of the Fittest', the people with the most bullets have the most power and this is emphasised with the arrival of a character called 'The Governor', who is a dictator and madman who has found himself as leader of a tribe of blood sport obsessed survivors. I found myself horrified as a witness to the brutal acts that the Governor inflicts upon Rick and his group, especially Michonne, and it was at this point that I was truly hooked. I cared about the characters. Their lives and stories were rich and detailed and I followed along with glee. I too had finally been sucked into this world of survivors and found myself walking with them.
Kirkman has found a way to make the mundane, entertaining. By accentuating the tension of the world around them, you start to empathise with their plight. New relationships are built from scratch as people join the group along the way. Favourite characters die, sometimes in very unmerciful circumstances that have you gasping with surprise. Real emotions are explored like love, hate, fear, relief, envy, bitterness, compassion and spite. Real human traits that whether you like it or not, you can recognise it within your own life from people around you.
And now we are in the thick of it, wondering where the story will lead to. Does Kirkman have an end in sight? Maybe this book will continue for as long as Kirkman is around. There isn't a traditional method to the way the story is told. There isn't a particular villain or threat every six issues that is wrapped up in each arc. The story is very linear, always moving forward with the lives and deaths of the characters, so to be fair, this story could continue forever, or at least whilst there are still people alive within the cast.
Don't get me wrong though, this book isn't perfect. It is very dialogue heavy, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but a lot of the time the characters repeat themselves, especially as they all like to talk so much. The conversations don't feel natural a lot of the times and I find myself wondering why they have to go into so much depth about the tiniest little thing. And they never have a laugh and a joke. I know that they are living in a tough and dangerous world, but I can't remember ever seeing a scene with a few of the boys sitting around, shooting the shit about the good old days and the dialogue making me laugh. It is always so tense and serious all of the time!
But the one thing about this book that bugs me more than anything is; "We could make a life here!" This particular sentence is repeated over and over throughout the run of the series by several different characters. They never switch it up and say: "This could be a good place to settle." or "Maybe we could build a community here.", no, it is ALWAYS - "We could make a life here!"!!!
Small gripes aside, I can finally see how important this book really is and I don't want to understate that fact. My generation looks back at 'The Dark Knight Returns', 'Watchmen' and 'Sandman' as the most important game changing books of the past thirty years, but in twenty years time, they will be saying thing about this book.
Issue #100 is out next week. A new danger has arrived on the scene by the name of Negan. The community is expanding and an Army led by Rick is on the horizon. Something tells me that this first hundred issues is only the beginning.