So, after yesterday’s post about being excited that The Walking Dead Season 3 is now on Netflix (by the way, here’s a really fascinating article about the effects of Netflix as a conduit for our culturally significant television programming) I sat down to not watch The Walking Dead, but to start reading the comic series (a friend of Rachael’s has loaned us the omnibus with the first 48 issues, and I am ready to devour it whole).
I’ve read through the first chapter, which ends just after the group decides it’s time to relocate their camp away from Atlanta. It’s very different from the show in a lot of ways (this is only cosmetic, but Rick’s a sandy-haired sheriff from Kentucky), and very similar in others (Amy still bites it during the zombie attack on the camp, and Jim gets infected and left behind following the same). I know that things veer off in a very different direction from the television series, so I’m looking forward to seeing how all this post-apocalyptic chaos turns out.
On a side note, considering that this story takes place after the fall of modern civilization, does it really belong in the apocalyptic genre? I mean, the purpose of apocalyptic literature is to help shed light on the meaning of life as we know it by giving us an imagined ending for it (in many ways the ending of things is what helps us figure out what their ultimate significance is). The Walking Dead imagines that life as we know it ends with a zombie plague that destroys civilization and leaves the few survivors scrambling to figure out the meaning of their own new life-as-they-know-it. Maybe this should be a separate blog post of its own.
Anyway, I’ve read the first chapter, which was quite good in a lot of ways (the dynamic between Rick and Shane was one of my favorite parts of the first two seasons of the show, and I really enjoyed getting to revisit that relationship) and not as good in others (I didn’t think it was possible, but I think the comic has even more problems with its female characters than the show does).
I’m really enjoying the art (mostly because I can now see where the game took cues from for its art style), which is really refreshing after all the superhero comics I’m accustomed to reading. Even though horrific things keep happening on panel, the semi-realistic style of the characters and the simple grayscale palette are kind of soothing in comparison.
Of course, (incoming feminist rant) I’m not sure which is more problematic: unrealistically proportioned depictions of women in spine-breaking poses, or female characters who look like they really exist, but who are just poorly written. I mean, on the one hand we have the reveling in the fact that a fictional character is, at its base, an object designed for human manipulation and consumption, and on the other hand we have characters who are drawn to hide that fact, but whose actions and dialogue suggest a troubling view of gender dynamics. If I have to pick, I’ll probably say I find the second option more problematic, because it involves attempts at making characters that appear more realistic, but have manufactured personalities that support the dominant social narrative of patriarchy.
It comes down to these two characters and laundry, really. See, there’s Lori in all of her irritating glory (I’ve not read past chapter 1 yet, so I don’t think I’ve been fully exposed to all the headbanging frustrations she presents for fans of the comics) and then there’s Donna, who I honestly can’t remember from Season 1 of the show (if she was a character that transferred over, I don’t recall her being written the way she is here, and I certainly don’t think she made it past the incident at the CDC). Donna is a character who fulfills the straw feminist trope in the laundry scene; she complains that washing clothes is something that everyone should take turns doing instead of being foisted off on the women while the men go hunt, and Lori tells her that she’s complaining about insignificant things because its a rational division of labor.
Except it’s not. Washing clothes by hand is unskilled work (though Lori makes a big deal about how Rick couldn’t wash clothes with a machine) while hunting is. In this situation, doing laundry is a luxury while hunting is something essential because the group needs to eat. Logically speaking, in a world where there’s danger pretty much everywhere and the guys are always putting themselves in harm’s way by doing dangerous things like hunting and scavenging for supplies, it follows that everyone should be learning how to hunt. Donna makes an excellent point here, but Lori shuts her down as the queen bee that I’m so familiar with from Season 2 of the show.
Of course, despite this strong point, which here is cast as Donna being unnecessarily uppity because of feminism, she later gets jammed into the role of being unnecessarily uppity because of religion. Donna frequently scoffs and makes snide comments about the fact that Amy and Andrea are sleeping in Dale’s trailer, which she apparently takes issue with because she has a rather conservative evangelical background. That would be fine, except then it doesn’t make sense for her to also have a strong aversion to traditional gender roles in the presence of the camp’s other women. By the way, I’m not saying it’s impossible for a woman to be a strong feminist while also having a strong evangelical Christian worldview, but because both things are presented as negative traits in Donna, I think their application to the same character indicates they serve the purpose of characterizing her as a dour nag. I doubt that Robert Kirkman put much thought into how these apparently disparate character traits should logically fit together (either as conflicting parts of a more fleshed out character or as things that are both core to the character’s identity and have a sort of equilibrium established between them).
Okay, I’m letting go of the rant now.
I suppose at this rate I should aim for a hat trick and write a post about the Walking Dead video game. Maybe someday.