With the news that Faith Erin Hicks is getting close to completing a new graphic novel, The War At Ellsmere, it might seem odd to be running a review of her previous graphic novel, Zombies Calling. Really I should have reviewed this when it came out last fall from Slave Labor Graphics or more recently when it won a Joe Shuster award for Hicks (although I did get a chance to interview Hicks right after that news came out so I guess I'm not a complete slacker.) But you know what, I'm doing it now. So um, there! I mean over there… look over there!
Oh, you're still here I see. I guess a little bit of Grover-style misdirection isn't going to work with you, is it?
Well you may know Faith Erin Hicks from the popular and well-liked Demonology 101 webcomic. You should also know Hicks from the well-received and still updating Ice webcomic. Zombies Calling is her first straight-to-print effort and all of the work put into those previous webcomics really shows up in the well-done, humorous but still gripping zombies and zombie-movie-cliches story of this graphic novel.
Where to start? The concept I think — it's not entirely original, the whole Scream movies used the sort of know your horror movie rules concept too but this is specific to zombie movies which do have their own unique cliches. And it's a great vehicle for Hicks to tell an engaging story, carry a humorous tone and introduce us to some interesting characters. As much as I like Hicks' work on Ice she doesn't get a chance to display much of her lighter side there — Zombies Calling has all kinds of light in it.
The plot? It's tight. The first eight pages or so are spent introducing the three main characters to us as they tell each other about "the rules" of zombie movies. Then – blam! – one run for snacks to the vending machine later — main character Joss is splaying zombie brains with a jar full of change. Of course her friends don't believe her at first and there's a little effort spent on creating some sort of "plausibility" for the zombie infestation and why Joss and her friends don't get infected (Joss is in the bathroom, Sonnet is listening to music in her headphones, Robyn is… stupid?) but pretty soon all three friends are surrounded by a massive horde of zombies. Zombies are such sheep.
And then there's a lot of action; running through zombies, beating zombies, artfully dodging and weaving of zombies. It's all done in high spirits and Hicks is quite good at the action sequences.
It's not entirely perfect despite my gushing praise. Jokes about the costs of higher education are funny and the evil-teacher turning zombies into students to make a point about the pointlessness of university are funny but it's definitely overwhelmed by the zombie-movie-cliche concept and so the somewhat serious ending is a bit of an awkward fit to the story (and the main character Joss' fascination with England seems a bit of an afterthought even though it provides a reason for her character's distinctive look).
But it is really good. The art is fantastic — Hicks is good at many things now; character design, action, emotions and good panel and page design. The story is fun and satisfying (one wonders how the story would have evolved differently if Hicks had done it as a webcomic first; perhaps not at all, but there are portions of the story I suspect she might have expanded a bit if she had first serialized it on the web) and really one I would think would be very appealing to non-comics readers as well as fans of comics. It's just a very accessible story.
So do pick this up if you haven't read it and keep your eyes open in December of this year for Hicks' next effort The War At Ellsmere. (Below is an interview from Comicon this summer with Hicks about The War At Ellsmere)
Note: The creator provided a free copy to ComixTalk for review purposes.