Surviving The Damned, by writer James Holmes and artist Christian Zamora, is something of an unpolished gem. It has its flaws, but if readers can look past those, I believe they’ll find a surprisingly engaging horror comic on offer here.
James Holmes knows his horror. He takes the right approach here, avoiding the urge to explain what the invading demonic creatures are. That can always come later, but few things can get in the way of an emotional response like an exposition dump. Instead, we very much experience these demons in the same way our cast of characters do: with them suddenly appearing out of nowhere, with the threat they pose and the damage they’ve done coming to us in degrees until we reach a shocking cliffhanger finale.
On the downside, despite his strength as an idea-man, Holmes’ actual writing at times falls short. I noticed quite a few grammatical errors and typos peppered throughout the dialogue. Admittedly, these could either be a failing of Holmes’ writing or errors on the part of letterer Patrick Meeker, but either way the ultimate responsibility lies with the editing. Mistakes like these are the kind of things that need to be caught in the editing process. Everyone makes little slips, but if an editor doesn’t catch them and those errors remain in the published work, it makes even an otherwise impressive book look unprofessional.
Beyond that, there are a few instances of hokey dialogue, but this is forgivable. The line delivery, along with the black-and-white visuals, at times gives the book a feel of a 1950s B-movie or a 1970s Grindhouse video nasty – which I actually mean as a compliment. Less forgivable are the moments of poor logic in said lines. For example, how ill-matched the closing splash page reveal is with the woman – I don’t believe she is named in the first issue – proclaiming, “Thank God we’re finally safe.”
That’s not to totally dismiss Holmes’ writing ability. The characters are inroduced economically and organically, but we quickly get a sense of their personalities and what they bring to the ensemble. And given the hellish antagonists, the script is peppered with clever double-meanings in its use of blasphemy, such as “get off the damned ground already.” It can be taken as a simple turn of phrase, or also a reference to the fact that the very ground they’re standing on seems to be literally damned – it is, after all, where the demons are sprouting from.
Then there’s the art of Christian Zamora. At least, I hope that’s the artist name. Another problem I encountered in writing this review was that – with no title page within the comic, and an incomplete name on the front cover – I couldn’t get the artist’s full name for reference, and any blurbs on 215 Ink’s site or Wowio seemed to only refer to James Holmes. In the end, I had to take the name from another review I found online.
Anyway, at first it might be easy to dismiss Zamora’s art due to instances of sloppy anatomy or strange facial expressions. The first panel on page 19, with three characters running away, looks like the world’s wonkiest daisy chain. But while there may be some failings with Zamora’s human figures, the demons are fantastic. There are moments on display here that give the story a truly nightmarish vibe. The first reveal, in particular, is blood-curdling stuff. Furthermore, Zamora works in some clever little tricks in his panel layouts that manage to keep things visually interesting. And the last page splash image is a triumph.
Horror is a tricky genre to get right in comics form, with the books that work in being genuinely scary doing so through their haunting imagery. On this front, Zamora proves to be a major asset to the book. If he can tighten up some of the non-horror elements of the story, Surviving the Damned could prove to be a very beneficial showcase for this artist.
This review may have came across as very critical in its tone, but I must say the overall impression I took from Surviving the Damned #1 was a positive one. The concept of the story provided enough chills and intrigue to make me want to come back for more and discover what happens next in issue #2. Definitely worth checking out.