The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In my youth, I loved comics. I regularly read Asterix, Spirou & Fantasio, The Adventures of Tintin and Gaston; just to name a few.
I still love those dearly, despite quite a few of them (especially Tintin) not aging very well because those comics are “children” of their time – they’re ranging from “culturally insensitive” to “fairly damn racist” which I realised when I started re-reading Tintin after all those decades. So, lesson number one: Be careful if you revisit the heroes of your childhood.
Another thing I’ve learned long ago: I don’t like post-apocalyptic stories. Call me an incurable optimist but in spite of all the challenges we, as humans, face, I’m sure we will overcome those challenges and prevail. So, apocalypse? Go away.
In 2012, I played Telltale Games’ adventure game “The Walking Dead”. Pretty much a post-apocalyptic interactive novel. The game – as its successors – focuses strongly on character development and emotion.
Despite the setting I originally hated, I was captivated. Then I found out this entire thing was based upon a “graphic novel”. A graphic novel… sounded a) rather pretentious and b) a lot like my good old comics so I decided to give it a try.
I hated the setting, I hated the violence, I hated the gore – and yet, I liked it. After binge-reading all the novels available at the time, I had fallen in love with this modern kind of comic. And I came to understand why the term “graphic novel” is actually very fitting (in this case at least!): “The Walking Dead” featured highly interesting characters, a strong storyline and it touched upon a LOT of ethical and moral issues which are never “dealt with” and “done with” easily but are most often explored, a journey embarked upon and never taken lightly.
The most intriguing part, though, was the amazing cast of characters: From the eponymous “Walking Dead”, the roamers or walkers who everyone is destined to become, to the small-town cop Rick Grimes who pretty much becomes the centre of world of “The Walking Dead” (very much against his will and to his chagrin!), heroines like Andrea (no, it’s just that something flew into both of my eyes!) or Maggie and remarkable villains (who sometimes developed immensely!) like Negan to all the diverse and non-discriminating (I think we’ve seen all of LGBT) other characters.
Speaking of LGBT: This is one of the very few brilliant examples of how to be non-discriminating – by simply not caring AT ALL. As can be imagined, considering we’re talking about an adult graphic novel, we see deep love of every kind among the characters and their gender simply doesn’t matter (or at least not to the “good” people).
As if the great cast and the story and all that wasn’t already enough, the character development during its entire run among said cast was fantastic as well. I don’t think I’ve ever found the characters so believable and relatable in some cases and, in other cases, sometimes so outlandish and yet still so conceivable. What Negan was and what he became and, especially, HOW he became it, for example, is textbook-worthy. A truly masterful achievement of storytelling.
As can be imagined in the afore-mentioned post-apocalyptic scenario, a lot of that cast will, unfortunately, die. Now, you can just kill Star Trek’s red-shirts off. You can kill the nameless masses. Beware of killing off major characters as had to be done in this graphic novel: If you just kill off your character in, e. g. a “red wedding”, and that’s pretty much it, you leave your readers alone in their astonishment, their shock and, yes, even in their grief.
You might get away with it but you WILL alienate a part of your audience.
If, on the other hand, you kill if and when you simply HAVE to (e. g. because the story demands it) and you do it in a way that respects the character and preserves its dignity, then I can accept and respect that.
That said, Kirkman gets even that right: At one point, a MAJOR character dies. And, damn, did I cry. The novel ends with an optimistic perspective and that would have worked already.
Kirkman improves on that, though, and adds:
I’m sorry to my fans and to myself and to […]. I feel like I killed a close friend. The deaths in this series are never taken lightly, they’re never done with a sense of glee. They weigh on me the same way they weigh on you. These characters are very real to me, and their deaths are upsetting even to me.
As you can see, this reflects my view on killing characters and puts it very clearly.
So, let’s see: Great story, great cast, great author – what’s there not to like?
Well, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure myself. There are 193 regular issues but I didn’t quite binge-read them actually. In fact, my interest was slightly like the moon waxing and waning – I’d read, let’s say, 50 issues and, feeling sated, I would move on to something else.
After a few months or a year, I would read the next 50 or so and, thus, the cycle started anew. So, yes, for me there was enough “Walking Dead” and so I took my leave of that world for quite some time and, yet, would succumb to its lure all the same.
I’ve been told (and read in reviews of people whose opinions I value highly) that the quality among the story arcs varies. That could be true. Maybe it wasn’t just feeling sated but stumbling upon a weaker story arc that made me read something else.
I simply do not know.
What I DO know, though, is that I will sorely miss being able to revisit the world of the “Walking Dead” which I have come to respect and love just like any other wonderfully and skillfully crafted fantastic world.
If you’re just into comics/graphic novels, try “The Walking Dead”. If you don’t like reading or some such nonsense, try “The Walking Dead”.
If you’re beyond comics but are still willing to give the genre another chance, let it be “The Walking Dead” to make you feel the magic (albeit a completely different kind!) once more.
If you’re basically anyone, try “The Walking Dead”. They ARE that good.
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The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman