The Zombie Years: An In-Depth Indie Comic Review

The Zombie Years: An In-Depth Indie Comic Review

I was given a variety of books to review by Creature Entertainment Founder, artist, writer and editor Juan Navarro. Among those books was The Zombie Years. Hit the Jump for more on this In-Depth Review.


Editorial Biases

When it comes to critiquing a piece, any piece, you have to understand and determine your own objective from your own subjective views. For me when I was looking at this particular book I had to force myself not to be completely subjective due to the setting; which is in Miami. Not only that it Is in the rather large metropolis that is Miami, but that the story happens to occur in literal locations that are in my old neighborhood; practically my own backyard. The out-skirts of Little Havana by the Miami River. At least in the opening of the book that immediately caught me on Navarro's literary hook.

Navarro also uses a lot of colorful language mixed in from being Hispanic and raised in Miami. So various uses of "spanglish" took me out for a ride that was as close to home as anything can get for me - having had much of the same experiences growing up in this city. 

The Good

Navarro has both illustrated and penned a wonderful display of ethnic culture via a zombie apocalypse vehicle. It sounds odd to think of it this way (surely) but when you break down the concept you'll come to this conclusion yourself. I was taken back to the Cuban film "Juan of the Dead" when I read this story and wondered about its inspiration; at face value what you have here is a Cuban variation of the Zombie Apocalypse. I wanted to break this down and decipher if the similarities were merely subtle because of genre and category. Or if the writer was attempting to milk the proverbial zombie teat. Thankfully he was not and the wonderful use of ethnic themes worked cohesively to deliver a nearly flawless interpretation of this genre from the point of view of a random Hispanic male that isn't the usual subject of this type of story.

The character of Frank Nunez is an interesting start to a high energy thrill ride of gore and dismemberment. A completely oblivious and virtual plain Jane (rather John) type of character. You don't have any preconceived notions about this guy. The only notion I have or expect to have is a general curiosity for when he's going to die. Which slowly becomes "Is he going to die?" The same feeling similar to the nervous tick you feel when playing a survival horror game. You know something is going to happen, you expect something ridiculous to pop out of the next door and rip your head still jump when it does because you don't want to die...

Here I am constantly expecting our protagonist to die and I'm concerned to the point of falling out of my seat when he is seemingly about to do so; because this random nobody slowly becomes somebody before your eyes in a very subtle and innocuous manner.

The small cast of characters makes for an interesting dynamic that allows you to delve deeply into their individual psyche's with little effort and the narrative gives you moments of relief with interestingly placed flash backs of their past before the outbreak. 

The Bad

I've seen a lot of this before. It is the end result of the questions I tend to give when it comes to publishing anything. Why publish this story? Who is it for? What is unique about it? Why should anyone want to read this?

Because of those usual questions, the immediate connections to popular media are completely apparent and are seemingly obvious as to the inspirations the author may be using to create this world. While The Zombie Years is not a Frankenstein style mish-mash of story concepts or 'rip-offs' of other existing media. It is hard to not allow your mind to wander at various points in the story to the 'what if' concept of where the origin of this story is coming from.

While this is an inescapable problem due to the my ridiculous amount of Zombie media in existence; while it is next to impossible to come up with something completely new (which is somewhat accomplished in these comics) it is still evident that much of what exists in popular media has inspired this story in great variety. 

The Ugly

It is hard for me to argue an ugly side to this comic book because of the raw nature it has and how well put together it is. To be fair and objective there are a few issues. If I may be allowed to enter grammar-nazi mode; there are moments throughout the book that needed some minor typographical corrections as well as some minor grammatical issues. But I'm hard pressed to ever find something (my own work included) that doesn't have an interpretational error in grammar or some form of random typographical problem. Being an Indie project those types of issues are bound to happen, are small in detail and are insignificant.

There are a few minor details in plot where the characters (rather the writer) abandons minor points in the story to jump ahead in the narrative. Some of which can be excluded as unimportant; however, depending on the reader may attach to a point and break the fantasy of the narrative wondering what happened to said point. Even if it is something as random as blowing something up for survival and understood in context. 

The Great

“Welcome to Miami!”

Navarro's illustrations are abstract with deep black shadings but even so contains an amazing amount of structure and displays a completely visceral experience with the characters and their myriad plights. This is an art style I normally wouldn't like in the comics I read. It's gritty. It's dirty. It's injected with a sort of contemporary film noire that is hard to fully categorize. While I don't think the mold is being broken here; I will admit that I'm equally captivated and repulsed. 

My revulsion to the horrific imagery Navarro creates in his zombies go beyond the usual conceptual argument for what a zombie usually is. A mindless and poor being trapped in undeath, needing uncontrollably to feed. These zombies take on a more hellish role. The old notion made popular by Romero's films: "When Hell is full, the dead shall walk the earth." Navarro has in all his gory beauty brought that notion to life. 

Subjectively, the use of 'spanglish' and the direct ties to the characters heritage is absolutely wonderful. Of course, I am Cuban and therefore this completely appeals to my ethnic background. I can appreciate Eusebio's character and marvel at how much I want to punch my pages or hurl my volume out of a window; due to how perfectly this character captures the essence of my Cuban uncles. How irritatingly infuriating they can make me and some of my family; yet completely respect them all the same.

Even if the contextual dialog of the characters are very Hispanic, I can easily see how some, like Eusebio, fit in his own archetype that will connect with others. We all have this person in our family. The fact that here he speaks in broken spanglish doesn't make much of a difference. 

Navarro makes solid use of the Miami culture in these books from the marketing tools to the various epigraphs that can be found in the book. My personal favorite is Patrick Reilly's cover utilizing a zombified version of Al Pacino's Scarface with the moniker "The World Is Theirs" for The Zombie Years Volume 2 #1. But again, this particular aspect is very subjective and specific to me because of how this title resonates with me. 

…and, Amazing?

"Mierda! I broke my brain”

The art style, which (slowly) won me over, the gorgeous concept visuals introducing both the Miami and Miami Beach themes. The extremely colorful and purposeful use of the word '[frick]' that isn't just used gratuitously but with very specific style and need. The variety of ways we see our characters kill hordes of the undead. All of which paint a tableau of apocalyptic carnage yet somehow containing a character you genuinely want to get to know. A character who is easily dismissed as no one, yet brings some sort of gravity. 

Perhaps it's so pulp that it intrigues me to fascination or perhaps it is merely that good; no longer leaving my attention as a possibility but a requirement.

Character integration, back story and interweaving of their lives all abound. Not forgetting the horrors that lie in wait but not overarching the storyline as just Zombies out to eat your flesh all make this nearly a must read for any comic book and horror fan.

What Might have Hurt This Book…

The only two issues I can specifically argue that may hurt this as a broad release is its specific tailoring to the Miami audience; possibly causing a loss of readers that wouldn't necessarily connect or understand the subtle variances from the English/Spanish mix of language. Outside of the issues with language, that other folks may not completely understand, are the specific location mixes that are not completely explained. However those things are usually something that we tend to gain later from expanded material. There may be an aspect the reader is not going to understand because of variances in language. Some readers may not always connect to this material from that form of context. 

Will it hurt the book in the long run; is something that none of us can determine. Because most material is created for a broad audience in a spectrum of audiences that may understand liberties taken with the languages of other ethnicities. But usually some sort of state-of-plot kicks in to cause all of the languages to become homogenous. Here the languages are broken into dialog as they would occur naturally to the speaker. Which cause some confusion to anyone not able to understand both languages used in this sort of sequence. There is also a kind of amazing sense of humor from the varied Hispanic vulgarities that are lost in translation if the reader is unable to read the story without aid. 

Overall Verdict?

I absolutely love this book. It is very hard for me to designate any comic series above another because there is always something new that can blow you, me in this case, away and in far less cases blow me away in various directions. I am never actually looking for my next great fix from my reads. I'm generally looking for new encounters, ideas, interesting characters and interesting situations that while we may recognize 'it' as something we know and understand - we might not react or do the same thing the author is trying to convey. I think we get a healthy serving of that here in this story. Sure we can all easily compare this to "The Walking Dead" because in essence it is a Zombie concept in a serialized fashion. However, it is not the same thing. It is a completely different world with a cast of interesting and colorfully different characters. 

I completely recommend this book to anyone that a) love Zombie Apocalypse Stories b) love horror stories and c) love comics, especially Indie Comics.

It is not usual for me to give a 5 out of 5; it does not necessarily denote that this is a perfect book for me. It simply means it perfectly created a world that I immersed myself in, enjoyed and lived in for the entirety of the read. Very few books can do that for me. I'll usually read something in pieces as my time allows. This book I had to absorb as quickly as possible. While there was a period of time where my work absorbed me compeltely. I was frustrated that I could not simply just sit and read this book having already read the first chapter at that point and not wanting to put it down. 

I imagine that anyone looking for good Indie Comics may have come across this series; if you haven't, consider my voice your personal burning bush. Even if this comic has been out for a bit of time, allowing for a sizable amount of issues to be produced. Go out and get a copy. You will certainly enjoy it.

5.0 out of 5 Comic Book Movie Geeks

Have you read The Zombie Years yet? Are you planning to? Did this review help you? Do you agree or disagree? I want to hear from you! Comment, share, tweet, pin, form your words out of Lego pieces, whatever tickles your fancy; as always, don't forget to click the GIANT RED THUMBS UP GLOVE it makes Pasto happy in the pants when you do!
By @EmanuelFCamacho
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