Creator/s: Jenny Romanchuck
Schedule: Monday and Thursday
It is difficult, I imagine, to work with something as tired as zombies while trying to create a new way to present the story. The living dead have been in legends for as long as people have been able to create legends, and the zombie that we know in pop culture has been around since Romero cranked out Night of the Living Dead. So for forty-five years, everybody has been working on creating a better zombie, or in some cases, just a more humorous take on them (Shaun of the Dead, Fido, Zombieland, etc.). Now, while I rather enjoy seeing a humorous take on the living dead, I’m usually not a fan of most zombie-related webcomics that I’ve glanced at. Most of the jokes circle around ‘what would happen if we take a zombie and put them in a 9-to-5 job!!!’ or ‘what if zombie just wanted to get laid’ and so on, and so forth. Outside of the webcomic world, there are also a great number of books and guides that try to ride the coattails of works such as Max Brooks’ “The Zombie Survival Handbook”. These books and guides are so uninspired that it pains me to read them. It almost seems as though we’re attempted to exhaust the entire concept of the living dead by making the most generic zombie media possible.
However, I get the feeling that Jenny Romanchuk has acknowledged this and set about to make sure that her own comic, The Zombie Hunters, wasn’t quite so dreadful. Instead of going with the trope of watching as a group of people try to survive the night in a wooden house as zombies attack–which is a trope that I absolutely adore, by the way–Jenny sets out to create a team of survivalists using a mostly female cast–another thing that I adore.
When I first started reading this comic, I really felt as though the world was a complete after thought. I knew that the comic was started just as a fun little self-insert thing of Jenny and her friends. I don’t mind self-inserts if they’re done in interesting ways, even though one of my least favorite things about Homestuck was Andrew Hussie’s constant ‘breaking the fourth wall’ gimmick. However, in the very start, it was quite obvious that this was Jenny and her close friends having a wacky zombie adventure. But that started to change when the comic focused not just on the team but on the world that they were living in. There was quite a bit of exposition delivered in a fairly decent manner, which told the audience what had happened to the world and where everything was taking place.
The most interesting concept that Jenny introduces is the various states of zombies that plague the world. A few of the zombies that show up are similar in form to zombies in Left 4 Dead. Though, it should be noted that Jenny’s ideas were online two years before Left 4 Dead was even released. So, I think we should applaud her for that. It’s very rare for a zombie film or game or show to have something other than just the regular ol’ shambling zombies, because, let’s face it, those are scary enough on their own. But alongside the ‘crawlers’, Jenny has deposited six new types of zombies–only a handful of which ended up being similar to Left 4 Dead’s zombies, anyway.
Not only did Jenny develop a variety of interesting zombie templates, but she also built up the organization called ‘Red Halo’ and the city/island that houses the survivors. The world of ‘The Zombie Hunters’ is without a normal centralized government–at least, one that we recognize in reality. Instead, the survivors all live together in the city, and do their best to find a cure and just generally stay afloat. There’s even a system of separating the ‘infected’ and ‘uninfected’ citizens, which is almost Orwellian. In this comic, ‘infected’ refers to the people who have the zombie virus in them but are still alive. This is a bit like The Walking Dead, in which everybody is infected by the virus to begin with, except Jenny gives us the chance to have hope that there’ll be a cure for it.
To add fuel to that hope, one of the characters, Charlie, is a half-zombie. He’s able to understand what the zombies say while they moan, but has complete control over his faculties. Charlie ends up being one of the more empathetic characters in the webcomic, in my opinion.
As for the other characters, I don’t have too much to say about them. The first few characters started out as a self-insertion comic, and then developed into their own personalities as the comic continued. However, they’re sort of one-dimensional. I found myself not really caring about what happened to any of them as the comic continued, mostly due to their moods in the beginning, and also partially due to the way that they talked. While the rest of the comic is pretty serious, a few of the characters speak with the sort of ‘lulz’-related humor that is common with adolescents on the internet. I felt like they’re just a bunch of comic characters who don’t really worry about their lives, and as such, the reader shouldn’t really worry either.
Sadly, the one character that I cannot stand is the self-inserted author. Her character is brash, childish, and in a position that she’s not capable of handling, yet constantly has people supporting her and pulling strings. She finds out about Charlie previously being a zombie and even though he acts normally, she becomes antagonistic towards him. And after she insults him in one scene, the rest of the team tells Charlie not to antagonize her. So basically, it’s his fault that she was a jerk to him, and everybody is pretty much okay with her being that way. It just doesn’t seem like the qualities a group of people would have, and makes Charlie seem like he’s even more of a hero than usual.
The art style shifts several times throughout the webcomic. The creator will start out with pencil, and then drift to a new medium, and then work on a new style in that medium, and then continue adapting new techniques to the point where it’s borderline inconsistent. At the start of the comic, the characters were more in the style of cutesy anime characters–their faces would shift around, having huge eyes or otherwise non-realistic expressions. The bear-hat worn by the author-insert would change its expressions to match the emotion displayed by the insert. These and a few other things would later phase out completely as the author continued to make the comic more serious.
A small problem I had, which I have with a majority of webcomics, is the use of the text bubble in this comic. At least for the first chapter or two, that is. The bubbles would stand out, and were very distracting, since they were done completely in the photo editing software, while the rest of the page had lines that were hand-drawn. It felt very apparent that I was looking at a box that had text in it, rather than just reading the dialogue. This slowly developed into a neater looking speech bubble, especially after the comic became more digital.
Most of the issues that I had while reading the comic are the same issues that I have with every comic. The comic starts out with a high-action scene, and slowly develops into exposition. The pacing is lost, and we’re spent with the period of orientation that I always seem to see in webcomics. Whenever a new person joins a team, they go through the introductory phase, and then the comic takes a chapter or two to show us that there is time passing and that the team is learning to deal with the new member, and then we get to see the new member’s thoughts and feelings–perhaps through a letter or some sort of journal. I really dislike this method of story telling, especially when it’s told in a sort of flash back scenario. We all already know that it’s tough being the new kid. That’s the point. You get hazed and then like every other 90s teen movie, we all learn that everybody’s the same and we all become friends. I just couldn’t wait until they decided to go out and deal with zombies again.
I think that’s another problem that happens in webcomics: there’s this feeling that external conflict is not nearly as important as internal conflict, but instead of melding the two, the creators only want to focus on one or the other at a time. And most of the time, when dealing with fantasy/scifi/horror, people opt to draw and write about the internal conflict. Granted, I just really enjoy when the external conflict meets the internal conflict, and both sides are represented together.
While I have some problems with the way the story is told and the way the characters interact with one another, I really enjoyed the idea behind it. Of course, I wanted to see more action and less moping by the time it reached chapter 8 or so, but not everybody shares my feelings. If you’re a fan of zombies, or just like them ironically, you should give The Zombie Hunters a read.
--S Blake Ervin
--S Blake Ervin