I’m sure at some point before I’ve mentioned the large shadow The Walking Dead casts over the zombie genre in comics. With how successful and how critically acclaimed that series has been, any other zombie comic has to have its own niche if it’s going to stand out. With Zombie Outlaw, a self-published comic by writer Brian J Apodaca and artist B Paul Jordan, the twist is setting the zombie horror against the backdrop of college campus comedy. It’s definitely different in tone and presentation from Kirkman’s zombie opus, and is very much its own entity. But is it a good comic?
Well, there’s a lot of good stuff here, at least, even if it doesn’t all quite come together in the end. Apocada is clearly a skilled writer, bringing his central characters to life with an easy charm, making them instantly likeable (or hateable, if that’s required) within a few choice interactions. Although this is the kind of surreal world where the key to a long-lost tomb is on the librarian’s keyring, the characters feel credible. Geeky Matt is the kind of character that is familiar to the teen comedy – picked on by a meathead bully, lusting after the girl of his dreams from afar – without falling too far into bookish, bespectacled stereotype. And when he first encounters a zombie for the first time, he pisses his pants, which, let’s be honest, is probably a reaction we’d be more likely to have than picking up the nearest weapon and launching into battle. But stealing the show is suave student mentor Will, channeling the spirit of Ferris Bueller by way of Indiana Jones.
So, on a panel-to-panel basis, Apocada’s writing is strong. But as a whole, it doesn’t quite gel into a satisfying, cohesive narrative. Oddly enough, it feels like simultaneously too much and not enough happens. On one hand, it feels like we’ve barely got started on the story before it comes to an abrupt end, with the zombie action just getting going by the conclusion of this first issue. But on the other hand, I think I might have preferred a whole issue before the zombie outbreak got out, gone more in-depth with the mythology and history of the Zombie Outlaw from back in the Old West, while also giving us more time to get into the friendship between Will and Matt before it’s broken apart. In trying to pinpoint the central structural problem of the issue, I’d venture to say that there are two good stories here – the zombie curse from a bygone age ready to unleash itself on today’s world, and the college campus romantic comedy – but in trying to rush through the development of each, neither is fully realised. This might not end up being a problem once the story is complete and we can read it as a whole, but better pacing could be something to take on board for future issues.
Funnily enough, I think B Paul Jordan’s artwork has a similar problem to Apodaca’s writing, with the whole “strong on a panel-by-panel basis but problematic when taken as a whole” analogy. I’ll begin with the positive: I love his art style. It’s a style that’s instantly distinct, with his characters’ massive forearms and weird inversed eyes with black whites and white pupils. With the unusual body shapes and knack for visual gags, Jordan actually reminds me of Rob Guillory’s work on Chew. Like Guillory, he’s an artist perfectly suited to comedy. It is very hard to make comics funny, and much of it depends on the right artist, someone who can capture a quirk of facial expression or body language that sells the moment just right. But Jordan pulls it off, hitting home some genuine laugh-out-loud beats in the comic.
However, I think he needs to work on his layouts. Save for a couple of impressively orchestrated zombie sequences in the latter half of the book, much of the layouts are quite unremarkable, and in the early pages in particular there is a noticeable amount of dead space. The storytelling can be a bit off in places as well, with characters jumping from one massive, overblown pose to the next with little cohesion between them. It veers dangerously close to one of those manga parodies, with someone eyes bulging out of their heads with a crazy zoom-in as they cry, “OH NO! I FORGOT TO BUY MILK!!!!” However, Jordan has an instantly appealing style, and if he hones his skills a bit more, I could see him being an artist in real demand in the future.
As a first issue, Zombie Outlaw #1 has some flaws, but it is still an enjoyable comic, I was never bored while reading, and there’s enough groundwork put in place that you get the sense subsequent issues could be better. Both Apodaca and Jordan are talents with real potential – with a little refining here and there, I think they could do some really good stuff down the line.
You can buy Zombie Outlaw #1 from Comixpress. If you’re attending the ComiKaze Expo in Los Angeles on November 5th/6th, you’ll be able to get the book there too. For more info, check out www.zombieoutlaw.com.