So, I’m beginning to notice a trend. I’m quite the zombie fan. I usually don’t care much for horror stories, unless there are zombies. I’ve decided there are several reasons for this. Zombie stories lend themselves to humor much more readily than slashers, monster movies, and the like. You can get away with a few jokes here and there and maintain a serious tone. More importantly, the protagonists take an active role in their own preservation. They’re not just victims of some sadistic creep, feral monster, or terrifying circumstances. They are out there defending themselves, adapting to the situation. Sure, sometimes they still all die in the end, but more often than not they survive and it’s not through dumb luck.
Take for example Jenny and friends. The stars of Zombie Hunters have been accepted into a small community at the very top of Michigan which is striving to reestablish a government in the wake of the rising of the dead. Artist Jenny Romanchuk based the main characters on her and several of her friends in a way not often embraced by the horror genre. The main characters share the looks, names, and it would seem, personas with their real life counter parts. But don’t worry, Jenny has said she has no qualms with killing off her friends for the sake of the story. It’s a bit like playing Oregon Trail and naming your party members after your friends. At some point sacrifices will likely be made.
Unfortunately each character is instantly likeable and teeming with depth. Perhaps its the fact that the characters are so closely based on real people, or maybe it’s just Romanchuk’s abilities as a writer. Whatever the reason I was immediately drawn into the universe. Our heroine Jenny is the newly appointed leader of a group of zombie hunters on a mission she has blown quite badly. After our initial introduction to Jenny et al, we do a pretty significant rewind. We learn that Jenny and her friends recently joined the islanders, did I mention the community lives on an island? Zombies can’t swim after all. So, this group is the outsiders in more ways than I will get into here. That also means they are very good at what they do because they spent most of their post break-out lives surviving on their own without help from any government in any form. It’s great to watch them work, and Jenny makes sure we have front row seats.
Romanchuk is one of those rare and beautiful people in webcomics who not only writes an intriguing story but also has an exceptional talent for drawing and coloring those stories. The pages are done in traditional comic size which provides ample space for rich detail, space which Romanchuk puts to good use. Curiously her style alternates between a cartoonish interpretation of characters for far away shots and a stark realism for closer shots. By the time you get through the whole archives, which can be done in an afternoon, the transitions are seamless and it simply won’t occur to you any longer. The finite details that she does so well are crucial to genre because let’s face it. What’s a good zombie story without good zombie gore?
The trouble with art of this caliber is it takes some doing, which limits the comic to a weekly and occasionally bi-weekly update schedule. This and other factors have slowed the story’s progression significantly. The comic began nearly five years ago and we’re still in a series of flashbacks which began in chapter five at the end of 2008. As I said you can read through the whole archive in one rainy afternoon curled up by the window with a nice cuppa which does leave me concerned for the future. Dr. McNinja‘s progression occasionally falters in its grip on my attention which leads me to believe Zombie Hunters will likely lose it all together sooner rather than later. Romanchuk released the first four chapters in book form at the beginning of this year and I almost think that would be the better route. Of course for those of us who prefer our comics free you can always use the approach I take for Erfworld. I check it at month or two intervals and catch up. Granted with Zombie Hunters you might have to make it once every six months. But be sure to click on a few ads while your there unless you plan on buying one of the reasonably priced t-shirts. Freeloading will only get you so far.
Even after five years of fascinating character development we haven’t even met all the zombie types yet. Romanchuk has decided to keep her characters on their toes by using the Left 4 Dead method for creating zombie mayhem. Create zombie classes with increasingly horrifying abilities. While some of these classes are a direct port form L4D and other zombie stories, there are a few particularly clever and creepy types I’d never hear of before. And by direct port I don’t mean they were copied from the game, just that their abilities and such are the same. I believe the comic predates the game significantly. The most intriguing is mercy zombie, which quite literally kills you with kindness. These things will follow the weakest of the survivors and when they finally drop from exhaustion or whatever the mercy will caress them and take one small bite from a vital vein then caress th survivor as they slowly zombify. I mean, what is up with that? I can’t think of a creepier way to go.
Still, there are worse ways. When it comes right down to it, Zombie Hunters is well worth your time but it will not be an easy one to follow. It’s probably not the Halloween night thriller you’re looking for.