COMICS: John Reviews ‘Zombies Calling’ by Faith Erin Hicks

Hey, kids! Do you like zombie stories, but have to wait until you’re older to watch R-rated movies like Shaun of the Dead? Well, you don’t have to wait any longer for your living dead fix! Faith Erin Hicks’s first original graphic novel, Zombies Calling, is a fun-filled and action-packed horror tale that has all the fun of popular zom-coms like Evil Dead, Shaun of the Dead and (to some extent) Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with a PG rating!

Jocelyn (or “Joss,” as she prefers to be called) is a reasonably typical Canadian college coed. She’s terrified of her mounting student loan debt, is enamoured with British culture and positively obsessed with zombie media. She claims to know all of “the Rules” of zombie fiction, though she has a much harder time remembering to study her actual coursework. On an otherwise ordinary day, her most exciting dreams and worst nightmares are realized as zombies overrun the campus! Joss quickly barricades herself and her friends (studly, dimwitted jock Robyn and sardonic mall-goth Sonnet) in her dorm room where they plan to use Joss’s knowledge of “the Rules” to survive until help arrives.

Will Robyn, Sonnet and Joss survive the zombie outbreak? Will Joss still have to face the nightmare of insurmountable debt? Will she ever get to realize her dream and visit Merry Olde England? And what’s the deal with the zombies, anyway?! The answers to all these questions and more are waiting to be read by you in Zombies Calling!

Judging by her love for the subjects in this book, Faith Erin Hicks must be nearly as zombieand Britishobsessed as I am. There are dozens of homages to the great creators and works of the sub-genre, from the first pair of zombies exclaiming “Grr! Arrgh!” to Joss’s scathing derision of the lone “fast zombie.” Pay close attention to the posters on Joss’s dorm room wall for a few more nods. Joss longs for a zombie-destroying cricket bat, but has to settle for a change jar and, later, a spork (which makes for some of the best humor in the book!) And what would a piece of zombie fiction be without some form of social commentary? The zombie master puts things into a very humorous perspective that anyone can understand, but college students will especially appreciate.

It took until nearly the end of the book for me to stop judging it by standards that do not apply. Zombies Calling is not cut from the same cloth as any of its predecessors, with the possible exception of Shaun of the Dead. If you are expecting a dark tale about the collapse of society in the face of rampant consumerism (of flesh!) or any other heavy social metaphor, you are looking in the wrong place. This is a light-hearted look at zombies that stabs the fourth wall with a mighty jab from its blood-covered spork. Its ideal adaptation (in my mind) would be an animated prime-time special on Cartoon Network. I say a special rather than a movie because it is rather short in length, only taking one hour at most to read through (if you’re not hunting for homages.)

Faith Erin Hicks not only wrote Zombies Calling, but pencilled, inked and lettered it as well. She admits that her style is reminiscent of Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim) and Andi Watson (Clubbing, Glister, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and I completely agree. In particular, Sonnet bears a striking resemblance to Charlotte, the protagonist of Clubbing. The characters each have their own unique looks (Sonnet notwithstanding) and the action is kinetic and dynamic without being graphic. Also, it’s very funny to watch Joss fend off packs of zombies with nothing but a hybrid utensil. The panel layouts are straightforward and easy to follow, which is perfect for an all-ages (or at least ages 8 and up) book.

I would recommend Zombies Calling for anyone who enjoys zom-coms and can laugh at their better-known conventions, but doesn’t require layers of subtext underneath the menace of flesh-eating undead. It may still be a bit too much of a horror book for younger readers, but I would put it on par with your average R.L. Stine book in terms of scariness. As joss would say, it’s bloody brilliant!

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