I almost didn’t read this book, because it’s about zombies. I don’t like zombies. I don’t get the appeal. I have liked one zombie comic, but that’s because it had a really big, really good sense of humor about the whole thing. By prominently promoting this graphic novel as containing “a foreword by Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead“, it’s clear that this effort is trying to speak to zombie fans, not people like me.
But I did read Things Undone, because I really really like the art style Shane White uses for the main characters. Although the first couple of pages (and other backgrounds throughout the book) show that he’s capable of drawing in a more realistic style, the cast is so exaggeratedly cartoony, like a blend of bobbleheads and Lego people seen through a manga filter, that I warmed to them. And the color, all orange, black, and white, is energizing. (There’s a preview here, but the pages aren’t half as bright as they are in print.)
Unfortunately, for much of the book, the material is typical of the indy “woe is my life” semi-autobiographical genre. It reminded me of Festering Romance in its use of fantastic elements to camouflage a pedestrian slice-of-life story. Or even closer, the now-forgotten Eating Steve, another zombie book about trying to figure out what you want in life.
Rick and his girlfriend have just moved cross-country to Seattle for a new start. Turning into a zombie (and having various bits of himself fall off) is symbolism for how confused Rick is about what’s going on in his life and how he feels like everything is falling apart. He doesn’t know what he wants from life, he’s not sure he’s in love, he’s having conflicts with co-workers (mostly that they like to come in late and stay late and he wants to come to work early and leave on time), and he’s bummed that he has to worry about things like money to pay bills. At least the goofy-fun art style keeps all the body-part mishaps from seeming too gross.
The thing is, his life isn’t that bad. He works as a video game artist. Although he doesn’t think games are cool, he’s working in a creative field. His big complaint is that he doesn’t feel anything, that he seems dead inside. What it looks like to me is someone who hasn’t yet come to terms with adult life involving compromise. But then, I’m not all that sympathetic to yet another “life as an artist is hard and not perfect as I dreamed of” tale.
Moving somewhere else rarely fixes your problems if they come from inside. As Buckaroo Banzai said, “No matter where you go, there you are.” You can’t run away from uncertainty; you have to take it out, understand it, and address it to move on. He idolizes his happier past, but during his flashback, you realize that he gave up on a previous relationship to pick a girl he thought was “fun”, who had “no issues to deal with”. That’s because long-term relationships, once you really get to know a person, are hard; of course new infatuations seem much simpler. He took easy ways out, blaming the resulting difficulties on other people.
That’s why I enjoyed the last third of the book, where he takes the symbolism over the top into a violent fantasy of making significant life changes. The material wasn’t any fresher, and instead of addressing his problems he chooses to start fresh yet again, but the cartooning was action-packed and funny. And Rick’s finally making some choices instead of moping around. They’re stupid imaginary choices, but at least he’s doing something, which makes him more interesting to this reader. (The publisher provided a review copy.)