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Reviews of Zombies Calling

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I've come across a few new reviews of Faith Erin Hicks's Zombies Calling, perhaps written in anticipation of her upcoming graphic novel The War at Ellsmere, due out in December. Here they are, plus a little discussion of comics narrative under the jump because it contains spoilers.

First, at Geeks of Doom, TygerLily Ernst writes of Zombies Calling, "Reading this story was a pleasure. The feminist in me loves the strength of the female leads and admires how they never want to cower in the closest corner. This story would be a great introduction to anyone new to the zombie scene. It’s really an instruction booklet for how to handle an outbreak and get out alive."

John at Wit War comments on Zombies Calling's place within the meta-zombie world: "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."

Xaviar Xerexes at ComixTalk sums it up: "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 [...] 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."

Don't read my comment at the ComixTalk review if you don't want to encounter a spoiler. Xerexes mentions in the review that it is unclear how Joss and her roomies don't end up infected. Before the book was published, that was of concern to me, too, but then I looked at the art a bit more closely and noticed this:



Not sure what the significance is and don't mind a serious spoiler? Then follow me...

You see, in Zombies Calling, the plague that causes zombification is spread through tainted coffee, which college students often drink in great, slurping, alarming quantities. I did not in college because I drink tea (even now I am sustaining myself with the brew of the leaves), so I would have been spared a zombie fate, as were Joss, Sonnet and Robyn. But what explains their lack of coffee swilling? Look behind Robyn. Diet cola--obviously this group's preferred caffeine delivery system. In the opening pages, there is diet cola in the background of almost every page. I thought this was a clever solution -- it answered the question without the "Let's explain to the audience what they should have figured out themselves" moment that bad horror movies inevitably have.

But now I'm thinking about it terms of comics narrative theory after reading this article by Neil Cohn, "Panels as Attention Units."
Most of the time though, panels serve to exclude all relevant information except for the elements that need to be focused on, or at least clearly distinguish what is relevant from irrelevant. This lets panels provide a graphic manifestation of this mental "spotlight," allowing the author to control that attention instead of the reader's wandering eyes (which is one of the reason's I formally call panels "Attention Units").

This ties into the argument for why you don't want to overload a panel with too much stuff, because it becomes too hard to disentangle the attentionally important from unimportant elements. (If you still want to pack info in, inset panels help facilitate this honing of attention).
So I took another look at those panels. There are the characters in the foreground, hanging out. And in the background, aside from the apartment's furnishings, there are almost no objects lying around besides the diet cola bottle and cans, no stray socks, no Chinese takeout boxes. In the second panel on page six they share some space with a biology textbook, the Complete Works of William Shakespeare and The Princess Bride -- the last a nod at the metatexual tone of the book, perhaps -- but that's after the cola has been pretty well established. This should signal to the reader that the diet cola is what Cohn calls an "attentionally important element."

I'm not sure if most readers caught on to this, but I'm assuming many did, since I haven't seen a lot of people wondering about how Joss and her friends avoided infection. But if it's something that gets missed, I think it is because too often readers zip through graphic novels, getting a summary of the action and reading the dialog. But the panels are there to read, too, and sometimes they have more information in them than a quick glance will impart.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
1takejohnny
Sep. 18th, 2008 02:40 pm (UTC)
John from WITWAR (on his old LJ account)
How the heck did I end up getting linked on the SLG livejournal? I thought nobody read my stuff!

I'll be sure to check out The War at Ellsmere this December, but the reason for my review was that I just happened to find Zombies Calling on the shelf at my local bookstore. How could I not buy it?

As for the infection thing, I realized as I was reading that I hadn't seen any of the protagonists drinking coffee, so I figured they were safe. I wish I could say that I noticed the diet cola, though, as it is a rather clever explanation.

Keep up the great work!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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