Filler content with pictures

Two reviews that originally appeared in Black Static #44:-

EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY

ZOMBIES: A HUNTER’S GUIDE (Osprey Publishing hc, 80pp, £15) is a book written in the same vein as Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide, which author Joseph A. McCullough name checks in his list of recommendations for further reading. It’s an A4 book and generously illustrated, with photographs, paintings in colour and black and white, including some artwork that originally appeared in the comic The Walking Dead (another recommendation). Though Mariusz Kozik is credited as “The Illustrator”, there appear to have been diverse hands involved, with each work of art given an individual attribution.

The central premise of the book is that zombies have existed throughout history and are a fact of life in the modern world, or at least the world in which this docufiction is set. McCullough lists the various types of zombie – necromantic, voodoo, revenants, atomic, viral – detailing their strengths and weaknesses, the ways in which they come into existence and the means by which they may be terminated. He also includes events from history and zombie literature/film, so that there is a blurring of the lines, with Wade Davis’ work on voodoo The Serpent and the Rainbow given the same weight as Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and in amongst all the zombie lore there are plenty of snippets of factual information, such as the history of voodoo. We learn about the Nazi programme to create a zombie army and how Billy the Kid returned from the grave to avenge his own death. We discover that zombies were first used on a large scale in the American Civil War and how, as a result, Abraham Lincoln had Pinkertons create a special bureau to deal with future threats, while in the UK it was the Honourable Society of the Resurrection Men that rose to the challenge. Elements of secret history are threaded throughout the book, and McCullough details the ways and means by which modern governments tackle the zombie threat, describing weapons and tactics.

Okay, zombies don’t actually exist, but if they did then a book like this would offer a valuable taster course in the subject. As is, it’s an entertaining diversion and a way for zombie aficionados to get more of what they fancy. I just hope that in the event of an apocalypse copies of this book don’t survive, as any visiting alien archaeologists are going to get very much the wrong idea.

Just as writers such as Stephen King, Shaun Hutson and Stan Lee have appeared on celluloid, it appears that there are numerous thespians who just can’t wait to pick up a pen and put words down on paper. Case in point actress Evangeline Lilly, whose greatest claim to fame so far is her role as Kate in Lost, but according to the bio in her first published book, a fable for children entitled THE SQUICKERWONKERS (Titan Books hc, 42pp, £12.95), writing is Lilly’s “foremost passion” and she’s taken time off from her acting career to concentrate on developing this revenue stream. The Hollywood connection is reinforced by Peter Jackson writing part of the introduction and describing the book as “a wonderful tale” and filled with “deliciously dark mischief” to delight children of all ages.

As a child of sixty going on six months I have to admit that I wasn’t impressed by what’s more a vignette than a story, and a rather slight one at that. Selma of the Rin-Run Royals is a spoilt little girl who stumbles upon the marionette troupe going by the name of Squickerwonkers and ends up consigned to their care in the hope that she won’t continue to be such a brat. The story is told in rhyme, and the Squickerwonkers as described sound rather like the Thenardiers from Les Miserables, albeit there are nine of them, and despite their reputation for mischief all they actually do to Selma is burst her balloon. As stories go, this doesn’t really go anywhere at all, doing little more than introduce the characters and offer a trite moral lesson about what happens to bolshie children if they throw a strop, and as far as that goes, while she may be a royal pain in the arse at other times, and though her call for their heads may be slightly over the top unless you’re the Queen of Hearts, I can’t really feel that Selma is being unreasonable in objecting when the Squickerwonkers burst her balloon. I certainly would if anyone burst mine. And the grandfather who, in a move that’s completely out of left field, hands his granddaughter over into the care of a group of complete strangers seems like somebody Social Services should take an interest in. As cautionary tales go, this one is sending some very mixed messages, and overall the story left me feeling short changed (though there’s a big hint of more to come).

Still perhaps I’m over thinking it all, and as I’ve already conceded it’s been a long, long time since I was part of the target demographic for this tale of Cenobites for six year olds. It may go down very well indeed with the intended audience. I’m not in a position to say. What I can say however, is that the story is only part of what’s on offer. Taken simply as an objet d’art, this is a volume that has been produced to be a thing of beauty, with gorgeous colours and artwork throughout courtesy of illustrator Johnny Fraser-Allen, whose style is very reminiscent of the work of Brian Froud and brings the characters to vivid life on the page in a way that the words didn’t really accomplish for me. To use a timeworn phrase from the reviewers’ handbook: worth the price of admission alone.

 

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