Sunday, November 04, 2007

Daybreak (Episode One)

Brian Ralph

Daybreak was my first experience reading a comic from Brian Ralph. Originally published on the group art blog, The New Bodega Blog, this zombie comic works quite well in its collected form. I never read Daybreak when the story unfolded panel-by-panel on-line, so I can really only speak for the collection, but I'm sure that it made for an interesting reading experience as it was first serialized. Anyways, Brian Ralph makes some interesting choices in his zombie comic. It's not your typical zombie story, for one thing. The creatures aren't even seen in the comic, with the exception of a few inky arms and shadows. With the threat off-panel the entire time, it still plays out in a thrilling way. There's still plenty of tension. Plenty of people say that monsters are scarier in your imagination, and with horror films in particular, a monster's appearance on-screen is often to the detriment of the experience. I think that's true to some extent. If the Blair Witch had appeared in The Blair Witch Project, it would have been a glaring mistake. Adding the creature to Jacques Tourneur's Curse of the Demon (or Night of the Demon) sapped the psychological film's creepiness factor with its inclusion (which was added at the insistence of the producer). I do feel that this was a good choice in the case of Brian Ralph's work. While it's a very cartoony story anyway, there is a certain tension there that wouldn't be present with the inclusion of cartoony zombies to match the rest of the book. Daybreak is pretty light-hearted overall (the featured one-armed survivor is constantly cracking jokes about his missing appendage), but it's still a survivalist story whether it makes fun of itself or not.

The most striking choice that the creator made in this work is the inclusion of the reader as a character of the story. The characters that appear in the panels often stare out at the reader and talk to them, including the reader in the plot, introducing them to the world and the circumstances they find themselves in. I'm not really sure why Brian Ralph made this choice, but one of the effects of this choice is that I constantly felt the writer's presence while reading the book. When reading The Walking Dead, I get caught up in the characters and events, and after reading, I maybe think "Well done, Robert Kirkman," or "Why the hell did you make that stupid 'We are The Walking Dead' speech, Rob?" But all the while reading Daybreak, the writer's choices make you think about...well, the writer's choices. It's almost like he's as much a part of the tale as the reader is when he/she is being addressed by the characters that are seen in panels. The idea of so much occurring outside of the boxes of the panels is interesting. Coupled with Brain Ralph's amazing cartooning skills, it's really a fantastic experience. But in the end, I feel like this is inadvertently a zombie comic, and more a showcase for the creator's talents. It could have been about a guy living in a garbage dump or aliens attacking and it wouldn't have felt much different. But that's okay. This book subverts expectations at every turn and I'd say that Brian Ralph has earned the right to showcase his talent. In terms of story, not much of interest takes place. I couldn't tell where anything was taking place in relation to anything else. It certainly doesn't add any interesting elements to the zombie sub-genre. If you're looking for a zombie story, you probably want to pick up a different book. But if you're looking for a great experience from a very talented creator, you owe it to yourself to pick this book up. A

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