The first step in my journey with The Walking Dead began back in the fall of 2004, when I went to my favorite comic book store to buy my friend a birthday present. My friend was a salty tattoo artist who took great pleasure in hating most things…he and I did, however, share a love of graphic novels and comic book art. So, there I was in the store, combing through the rows and rows of comics, looking for a couple of issues of something cool enough not to incur his withering ridicule or bored disinterest. I knew what he liked: dark, compelling story lines with great artwork.
I went up to the counter and asked the young clerk if there was anything he could recommend. He immediately put down the comic book he was reading, and with a gleam in his eye, came around the counter, pulled an issue off one of the front promotional racks, and handed it to me. I looked down at the cover, and my first thought was, “Wow.”
The art on the cover was amazing…a perfect snapshot image of total mayhem, drawn, inked and colored in an inimitable style. Emblazoned across the top, the comic’s title, The Walking Dead, glowed bright red like fresh blood.
The cover image showed a lone sheriff’s deputy in full uniform: wide brimmed hat, jacket, muddied boots, standing his ground against an oncoming assailant. The deputy’s broad back faces the reader at a 3/4 angle, his legs are braced shoulders’ width apart in a defensive sideways stance. His head is turned to face his attacker, and we see his narrowed eyes and squared jaw as he sizes up his foe. His look is grim and unafraid as he loads, or reloads, his shotgun with (perhaps his last) two bullets.
All around the deputy, it looks like the world has gone to shit. Beside him, the smashed front end of a car has rammed into an overturned fire hydrant. A shattered storefront window behind the deputy exposes the store’s dark, empty interior, with toppled mannequins inside peering lifelessly through the gaping holes in the jagged glass. Lying amidst the broken glass and bricks on the ground is an arm, and while it looks as if the arm came from one of the mannequins inside the store, there is an eerie suggestion that the arm could have just as easily been ripped, or gnawed, off some poor doomed person.
And, reflected in the shards of broken storefront window glass, the reader sees what is coming for the deputy: the sunken faces, wild hungry eyes, bared teeth, and the crooked, hunched posturing of a horde of zombies. World’s end. Zombie apocalypse. It was like a choir of twisted angels singing inside my head, “Awwwe-some!”
I just stared down at that cover for what felt like forever. I had never seen anything like it. The drawing style was simple and stylized, but full of nuance and detail, like the rendering of the zombies in the shattered window glass. The inking was dark and shadowy, and the coloring was simple, sepia-toned with hints of yellows and oranges and reds. Down at the bottom right-hand corner, I read the names of the writer and artist: Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. That explained the amazing cover art. Tony Moore’s drawing and inking style, especially in his graphic novel, From Hell, was one of my favorite styles.
Check out the cover of the first issue of The Walking Dead for yourself:
See what I mean? Love at first sight.
While I flipped through the comic, the young clerk began to tell me about the series, happy to share his enthusiasm with an appreciative audience. He told me that they had just recently gotten it in the store, and that the series was generating a real buzz around the comic book community.
He outlined the basic story line: a sheriff’s deputy, Rick Grimes, is injured in a shootout and wakes from a coma in a hospital to find the world around him overrun with zombies. He searches for, eventually finds, his wife and son in a small group of survivors…but his wife, thinking her husband was dead, has hooked up with Rick’s best friend and patrol partner, Shane. The series follows this bizarre love triangle, and the hellish plight of the human survivors, as they try to stay alive in a hellish post-zombie apocalyptic world.
I’ll never forget one thing the clerk said:
“And the name, ‘The Walking Dead’….it’s like you don’t know if it applies to the zombies or the human survivors.”
Sold! I bought the first two issues for my friend’s birthday present and ended up keeping them for the next week before giving them to him. As I did with all my favorite comics, I spent hours reading them and trying to emulate the drawing style of certain frames I especially liked in my sketchbook. One of my favorites from the first issue showed a half-eaten female corpse, all ribcage and bones, beside a bicycle frame…like some poor woman either had been on a bike ride when she got attacked, or she had tried to escape the hell around her on bike. In the story, Rick approaches the woman’s body beside the bike and is about to take the bike for his own use, thinking the woman is dead. There is a great frame, a close-up of his face registering his wide-eyed horror, his hand clamped over his mouth and a tear running down his face when the corpse actually moves and he realizes she is, to some degree, alive…or undead.
I drew the zombie woman with her bike in my sketchbook, and it turned out so well that I gave the drawing to a guy I had a crush on at the time and labeled it, “A Happy Ending.” You may be thinking, as you read this, that I have a pretty bizarre flirting style, and I will tell you, my friend, you are absolutely correct!
(Of course, this character has become one of the iconic walker characters of the show, Hanna, the bike walker. More on Hanna in later posts…we have a lot to discuss with that one!)
Anyway, back to 2004. Of course, my friend loved his present and became hooked on The Walking Dead comic series. I borrowed issues from him from time to time, but life took me in a different direction, and my friend and I fell out of touch. Time passed. I fell in love, had a kid, got married (yes, in that order), had another kid, and life became full of more immediate concerns besides comic books. While I knew that my focus needed to be where it was, on my babies, on being a wife and (gulp!) a grown-up, I did yearn for the day when I would have some time again to explore those things that I loved, like comics, and drawing, and writing…and sleeping.
Fast forward to the late fall of 2010. I was catching up with an old friend on the phone, and she told me her new husband was obsessed with the new Walking Dead series on AMC. I had heard of the series, and while I was intrigued, I wasn’t so sure I could handle it at that point in my life. I tell you, something happens when you have kids. It’s like your heart explodes open into a million pieces and you start to feel everything…you don’t have a filter anymore. I had a three-year old, I was still nursing my youngest son, and sleep was elusive enough without hellish images and zombie dreams keeping me awake even more than I already was.
So, I held off…for a while. But I kept thinking about that show. And I couldn’t stay away. I started looking it up online, and from what I read, The Walking Dead television series seemed to be a really quality adaptation of the comic series. I was glad to see that the comic’s creator, Robert Kirkman, was both an executive producer and writer for the show. I began to read the synopses of the first season’s story line, and I saw that it diverged from the story line of the original comic. While I don’t usually go for spoilers, I just couldn’t take any more surprises than life was giving me on a daily basis.
My online poking turned into my DVR’ing the second season of The Walking Dead while beginning to watch the first season on Netflix streaming. And, once again, it was love at first sight. The writing, the acting, the design and cinematography, the makeup and special effects, were all groundbreaking. And of course, the super-hunky actors like Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Lennie James, and Norman Reedus were a definite draw…all the characters were compelling, whether you liked them or hated them, and it was perhaps a little too easy at times to imagine what it would be like to actually be among them, navigating the hells of zombie apocalypse.
And so, despite my initial hesitation, I became one of the Walking Dead Obsessed (WDO for short). On Sunday nights, after the kids went to bed, my ritual from 9pm on became wincing through horrific scenes of zombie carnage, OMG plotline twists, and furiously texting my best WDO buddy about how hot Rick and Daryl were. I would go to work and seek out the student interns to talk WD. I would think about it throughout the day, turning the show’s plotlines around in my head while my kids regaled me from their car seats with everything I ever needed to know about Transformers.
My husband does not share my love of the WD. He is a good, intelligent man who likes to watch documentaries, comedies, and This Old House. He invariably will come in the living room while I am watching WD just in time to catch a particularly gory scene, like Glenn curb-stomping a walker. Never fails. He never gives me shit about it, but he can’t help but react like any normal, sane person would….“Ewwwww, god!” One time, he turned to me and asked,”What is the appeal?” He wasn’t trying to be a dick, he was truly mystified. I just smiled weakly and shrugged…I had nothing!
I mean, honestly, what is the appeal? I didn’t have the words to explain it, but I know I love it…and I know that maybe it’s not the best use of my time to stay up late and watch the gory, disturbing show with the bleak story line, the walkers chomping the hapless victims, the loss of beloved characters, the decapitations and the blood spatter. Week after week, I go to bed, shaken at the latest episode’s turn of events, fall into a troubled sleep full of zombie dreams, then jolt awake at 6:30 am to get the kiddies off to school and myself to work… What can I say? I love our show, people, and because I love it, week after week, I take another one for the team.
And apparently, I am not the only one. The Walking Dead television series has received strong Neilsen ratings and has set new records for a television cable series, reaching 12.4 million viewers for the Season 3 finale episode, making it the most-watched drama series telecast in basic cable television history. Ok…if that sounds like it reads like a Wikpedia entry, that’s because I got it from there. Sue me.
I’ve been kicking the concept of this blog around in my head for months now…a blog based mainly on The Walking Dead television series, filtered through my perspective, my world, and yes, at times, my crazy. The basic concept: write a post centered around each episode of The Walking Dead series, shooting from the hip but also including, at times, factual and technical tidbits about the episode. Initially, I wanted to write about each of the episodes, in order, leading up to the Season 4 premiere episode…but with two young kids, a marriage, a household to manage, and a job, things didn’t quite turn out like that.
So, the entirely new plan is this: post an introduction and a pre-Season 4 post (you know, feelings, hunches, predictions, worries, reminisces about the shit that’s gone down so far and what’s gonna happen next kind of post), then just dive in with the premiere of Season 4 on October 13th. And along with each week’s new episode, I will begin the journey with posting an entry about the “Episodes Gone Bye,” starting with the first episode of Season 1, “Days Gone Bye,” and continuing from there in sequential order.
In addition, at the end each post, I will include a playlist of at least three songs that I feel correspond to the episode and characters the episode focused on. My friends have been a little confused about this one. “You mean songs from the show?” they asked. No, just songs, songs from the huge list I have been amassing on my phone as I stream music. I have heard more than one actor from The Walking Dead series say that they use music to both prepare for, and come down from, some of the more intense scenes they film.
So, basically it’s a blog half about my Walking Dead obsession and half about the damn skeletons in my own closet, or, my own damn barn fulla walkers. With a soundtrack.
I don’t know if I am ready to take the ride…at this moment, I am thinking of so many reasons to back out, but when are we ever ready for zombie apocalypse? The premiere of Season 4 airs tomorrow night, 9pm. So here we are. Let’s just see what happens, shall we?
Arcade Fire, Ready to Start
Drake, The Motto
TV on the Radio, Staring at the Sun