Chances are, you have already seen or heard about The Walking Dead. The seven‐year‐old series has spawned a cult following with its intelligent dialogue, fast paced plot, and graphic illustrations. The graphic novel has won the coveted Eisner Award, spawned a video game, and become a record breaking cable television show.
There is a reason people cannot put down these books. It is not a story about zombies, which are a dime a dozen in the horror genre; rather, The Walking Dead centers on the emotions and motivations behind people intent on surviving this apocalypse. Some of the most interesting books are not made interesting by the actions of the plot, but rather by the human motivations that drive these actions and how we, the reader, can relate to those motivations.
‘Investing’ in a novel is when the reader feels attached to the story by their emotional interest. It’s ‘investing’ that makes us cheer on the hero or storm off when our favorite character dies. This literary feat is what distinguishes a great book from the rest. It is this investment Franz Kafka expounded on, “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”
Robert Kirkman, the author of The Walking Dead, will pull you right into the Atlanta outskirts. Each individual’s story will slowly be revealed. As the story progresses, you will cheer on your heroes like the main character, Rick Grimes. You will cringe and despair as they make choices you surely, safely in your zombie‐free world, could never imagine considering. They are more human than your everyday story protagonist. There is no battle of good versus evil. Everyone makes good choices and bad choices. A breath of relief during a peaceful treaty could immediately become a gasp as your peacemaker attacks. You will shout into the pages “No! Why?!” but you won’t put that volume down. The choices Rick and his compatriots make are acceptable because the reader can identify and grudgingly agree with their reasoning as despicable as the result may be.
Deep in the illustrations of Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard are subtle depictions many books lack. As Rick sits with his head in his hands for several frames, the world around him does not stop. The creators are able to maintain a focus on his mental anguish without reducing the background characters to a few sentences. You can often infer more from imagery than words alone. When a story’s only method of communication is the written word, foreshadowing and side-plots can be difficult to hide in descriptions without being overly verbose or creating a predictable plot. The ability to have a background character react to something outside of the panel or do something behind the main focal point can create a more subtle plot and dynamic characters.
One of the many benefits to reading The Walking Dead is the story is not over. Seven years of published volumes account for a partial story, and fans of the series have years of content to look forward to. Readers also have the added bonus of alternative content. Unlike most books that turn to the screen, The Walking Dead’s author worked as a script writer on the television series. Movies and shows often start with a book’s plot and veer away; whereas, Kirkman plans for the story to stray and return to the main storyline often throughout the television series’ lifetime. This will further energize fans and satisfy their thirst for more content than the published work provides.
The Walking Dead may be outside of your normal reading list. Graphic novels are often pushed aside by readers as a genre meant for kids and the man‐child. The reality is, like most other genres, there are books within this segment geared toward nearly every demographic. Intelligent plot engineered with beautiful illustration is just another way to spark a reader’s imagination. Readers should always push themselves to taste new materials and genres to avoid stagnation of their creativity. The Walking Dead is a gateway work perfectly positioned to push a reader over that edge into a new world of imagination.
Written for application to the Columbia Publishing Course graduate program
Colleen M. Riordan – March 2011