I like Stephen Lindsay. He’s a standout writer on the indy comic scene, one I’ve praised at length before. Massive Awesome was my introduction to his work, and it’s a hilarious, surreal, insane romp brimming with invention and nuttiness. More recently, I read the first issue of Buck, and was impressed by the increased maturity and nuance of Lindsay’s writing, and was intrigued enough by the set-up that I still find myself anxiously awaiting the second instalment. But for the longest time, I never got around to reading any of Lindsay’s most famous work, the series that first made his name: Jesus Hates Zombies.
Which brings us to Jurassic Kinda Life, the latest series released under the Jesus Hates Zombies banner. And I’m disappointed to say that I wasn’t too impressed. Lacking the increased mastery of storytelling reflected in Buck or the frenzied, madcap innovation of Massive Awesome, this feels like something of a regression for Lindsay. There really doesn’t seem to be much to the story beyond the high concept of “Jesus VS zombies”, save for also throwing Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin and Elvis Presley into the mix, and now adding dinosaurs as well because they’re the new hot thing.
It all feels like a contrived effort to be quirky and “out-there”, which is all the more frustrating given how effortlessly Lindsay has pulled off quirky and out-there in his other work. I think the problem is that, while the crazy high concept might attract people’s attention, you then need something more substantial to hold that attention. And Jesus swearing a lot isn’t a gag with enough mileage to do that.
One thing that isn’t dampened in Jesus Hates Zombies is Lindsay’s knack for snappy back-and-forth banter in his dialogue, making the friendship between Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln feel naturalistic and down-to-earth against the odds. At other points, he manages to slide in hefty chunks of exposition (worse, exposition about time travel) into concise chunks of speech that still manage to feel like believable dialogue. This is an important skill for a comic writer to have, yet one that is sometimes lacking even with high-profile creators. So, kudos to Lindsay on this front.
I also had some issues with the artwork of Rob Croonenborghs. Technically, the art is good. The cartoony style has plenty of energy, giving the pages an exciting, kinetic feel. My problem comes with the renditions of the main characters. Given my issues with the plot of the book, and the lack of meat in the gags, a lot of damage control could have been done simply by nailing the appearances of these famous characters. But because, with Croonenborgh’s art, you don’t really get a clear, immediate sense of these characters as actual historical figures, this becomes a sorely missed opportunity.
To explain: take Ethan Nicolle of Axe Cop fame. He can draw a brilliant Abraham Lincoln, that remains cartoony and in the Axe Cop style while at the same time totally working as a recognisable caricature. If you had an Abraham Lincoln as detailed and instantly recognisable as that in this story, riding a Velocorapter, slicing the heads off zombies – that’s an instant hit gag right there. You could show that panel to someone on the street out of context, and they’d get a good laugh right away, because it’s ABRAHAM LINCOLN riding a raptor and killing zombies. But as it’s drawn, it’s just a guy with a beard riding a raptor and killing zombies, and so you’d have to explain to this random person on the street that it’s Abraham Lincoln, by which time the visceral impact of the gag is lost.
There’s also the odd issue of clarity: for example, when you have zombies and dinosaurs in the same story, the idea of a ZOMBIE DINOSAUR showing up becomes irresistable. But when it finally happens, it wasn’t immediately clear to me that the dinosaur in question was a zombie, until Jesus brings it up in dialogue a couple of pages later. Niggles like this aside, though, Croonenborghs has a fun, breezy style that helped the pages stylishly flow by.
With the news that this is being adapted into a film by Six Feet Under actor Eric Balfour, slated for release next year, I suspect Jesus Hates Zombies: Jurassic Kinda Life could be set to get a major boost in profile, and in turn a sizeable increase in sales. I hope this does happen, that this comic becomes a surprise cult smash, and the creators see lots of money from it. But most of all, I hope that Jesus Hates Zombies becomes successful and popular enough that more people decide to seek out Stephen Lindsay’s other work, and get to see the quality stories he’s really capable of.