Greetings gentle readers! I’ve spent the last few weeks riding the hype trains for Hamilton (the musical about the ten-dollar founding father without a father) and the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante (UNIVERSAL STORY, EVERYONEzisle logo GO READ THEM) and they took me far, far from Montreal. Luckily, I’ve managed to bring my thoughts a little bit closer to home with Z’Isle.

Z’Isle is a comic, game and web series about the Montreal residents who stayed on-island after the zombie apocalypse hits. I guess these are the people who didn’t make plans to meet their buddies in a Canadian Tire parking lot before heading for the hills, and they seem to be doing relatively okay. The scene starts seven years after the disaster begins, and the city has divided into a series of different strongholds that cooperate in order to survive. The recurring motto is “Trust. Trade. Hope.”

In and of itself, this premise wins me over. I think I’ve had my fill of grim-faced, lone-wolf warriors who don’t play well with others. It’s nice to see people cooperating and having reasonable conflicts. We’re social creatures, and it’s not so far-fetched to think we’d retain a little civility after disaster strikes – we’re the inventors of civility! That is of course, not at all suggesting that everything is sunshine and rainbows – it’s just that the disagreements and battles taking place feel optimistically believable.

The characters make use of a lot of Montreal icons and clichés – there are, for example, so many weapons built out of bike parts. And the Z’Isle logo is very smart… though does your logo need to look like a “Z” for “zombie” if you’re going to call them “feeders” instead? Sometimes, it would be great to see zombies in a universe where we’ve already hear of them – though of course the argument might be that if a world has a name for zombies, they’d be better prepared to combat them. Didn’t someone do a PhD on containing a zombie epidemic a while back?

Nearly every criticism I have for this comic springs from something that might also be a strength. The world is rich and intentional, with a cast of fully imagined characters… but at times, this can make it hard to keep up with the wide sprawl of storylines, especially given its traditional comic format. And since I’m a little face blind, I occasionally struggled to keep someof the characters straight. For the most part, this could be rectified by a re-read.

The artwork evolves with every issue, and it’s exciting to see the style evolve. The scenery in particular is eye-catching. I’m sure part of it is my own excitement at seeing my geographical references in an illustrated world. This too backfired for me, though – if I saw a place I didn’t immediately recognize, my first instinct was to put down the book and pull up a map. I imagine outsiders don’t have this issue, and probably understand the imagery just fine. Even if they don’t know about the cross on the mountain, a torn-down cross has plenty of significance in the Western world anyways.

The only truly negative comment I have is that the issues I purchased had a lot of typos, which is a) distracting, b) unnecessary – this city is full of people with useless English degrees, guys! And c) possibly fixed in later editions anyways.

Z’Isle can be found online, with links to digital versions through their Comixology store, or in person at your local comic book store (I had to go in a couple times before I found it). They also look like they have a pretty steady presence at the various cons. And a Facebook page, so you can keep tabs on the whole shebang!

The undying appeal of the undead

(I am not even sorry for that title.)

I picked up this comic. I watched TWD … until this season. I’ve seen most of the Romero movies. I read World War Z. I have clicked on so many Buzzfeed articles. I played The Last of Us until it became apparent that I suck at video games (then I watched someone else play it).  I am, you could say, mostly a fan of the subject matter.

What’s the deal??

Why are zombies so popular? You guys, 28 Days Later came out when I was in high school and I’m thirty now. When I started writing this article, I sort of thought they were a short-lived trend… until I started thinking about it.

The things we love to fear and hate tend to come in waves, particularly in pop culture. Jumping back just a couple decades, we had sooooo many Soviet spies and Russian baddies (thanks, Cold War). When that died down and the US didn’t have any real ready-made villains, our movies, at least, had to look elsewhere – natural disasters, comets, aliens… Conspiracies. Corporations. Et cetera.

Zombies, though, seem to have obtained some kind of perennial appeal over the last few decades.

SO. Let’s look back at Romero and the … pop-culture zombies par excellence. His zombies were originally a metaphor for everything he felt angry about in the world – hence the mindless hordes, consuming and destroying. This is cheekily echoed in Shaun of the Dead, when Simon Pegg’s character can hardly tell the difference between the pale, listless people of England and the pale, listless zombies they become.

While Romero may have laid the groundwork for today’s zombies, our fascination now isn’t with the mindless horde as it is with the survivors. Anyone can be ripped apart, but it takes someone special to make it through, and that’s what interests us.

It’s also worth mentioning that the zombie apocalypse is a fairly … comforting doomsday scenario. It’s less bleak than nuclear winter (and less probable). Zombies are brainless, meaning our heroes have a chance to outsmart, outrun and outfight them. And as my friend pointed out, they have the horrible added bonus of looking human while no longer being human, meaning everyone can indulge in some guilt-free, no-grey-area man-on-man violence. (I feel like it’s simultaneously REAL important for me to bring this up, and also distance myself from it 100%).

In the latest wave of zombie pieces, the focus is on resourcefulness – why did you survive when nobody else did? This mindset dovetails nicely with North American exceptionalism, and the idea that if you’re prepared enough or otherwise better than everyone else, the usual rules won’t apply to you. The protagonist in Zombieland proudly spouts off his rules the way a doomsday prepper would show off their bunker. The cast of The Walking Dead is constantly being forced to choose between being (violent, badass, sort of anti-social) survivors and being human (and weak like everyone else, and thus walker-fodder).

As previously mentioned, Z’Isle is refreshing with its shift in viewpoint, taking this resourcefulness and survival for granted. It manages to crank out a lot of the hits, while doing away with some of the genre’s characteristic cynicism and grimness.

Instead of the immediate “what”, “who” and “how”,  it lets us wonder “what’s next?” which is, in my opinion, infinitely more interesting.

All images taken from zisle.ca 

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