Unnatural Aelection: the Evolution of Zombies on Screen and on Paper

AL10APR-WALKING DEAD MAIN Jessica Holland in The National:

Gwen Dylan is an artist in her 20s living in Eugene, Oregon, who deals with the same issues as everyone else: relationships, needy friends, criticism of her work. There’s something else, though: she has to eat human brains once a month to survive. That’s the set-up of a smart new comic-book series by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred which turns the usual zombie narrative on its head.

Instead of one individual struggling to stay alive amid infected undead hoards, iZombie has our protagonist attempting to maintain her identity despite the fact that at some point – she can’t remember when – she died and came back to life hungry for human flesh. Out in May, iZombie is one more example of a trend that, like its subject matter, refuses to die. Once the preserve of B movies and nerds, zombie stories have gone mainstream in the past 10 or so years, with clever, knowing films such as Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later reinventing the genre as one with mass appeal. Mainstream releases such as Zombieland, starring Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, followed, along with countless books and television series.

In its original traditions, the zombie was a corpse reanimated by witchcraft – not brought back to life, merely moving. The basic premise of the current zombie story is simple: an infection (probably caused by human folly) turns huge swathes of the population into groaning monsters with below-average IQs. Classically, they shamble along slowly and feed on brains, although there have been variations.

The central metaphor is that it takes courage to be an individual and to think for yourself; if we’re not careful we’ll allow mass culture to rot our brains.