Aurelian Zahner is having a terrible day. His wife smiled as she told him she was sleeping with her tai chi teacher, his gun changed into a banana as he tried to hold up a diner, he got hit by a car and nearly killed, and then – just to make things even worse than they were, as if they could get much worse – and then he got bitten not once, not twice but four times by various creepy-crawlies and then forced to work in a supernatural theme park selling cotton candy.
Ahh, this is exactly what I needed as I sat here contemplating the endless rise of the super-serious zombie comic. Zombillenium is a wacked-out sitcom of a graphic novel, a charmingly light and delightfully drawn look at a supernatural amusement park that actually employs witches, zombies, werewolves, vampires and other mystical creatures as employees.
Drawn in a delightfully animated style by Arthur de Pins, Zombillenium could have come off the screen from the latest flat-animation film. This new Euro graphic novel has a casual charm and silliness that makes for a winning combination. The story is driven as intensely by the characters that de Pins creates as by the thrust of the story – often a sign that a series will have legs and last a good while. Zombillenium depends somewhat on readers’ knowledge of classic supernatural tropes, but it doesn’t depend on those tropes too strongly for the graphic novel to succeed on its own terms.
In Aurelian, we get a protagonist who’s just enough of a loser for us to empathize with but strong enough for us to like. As the story progresses, we witness that Aurelian has greater powers and abilities than we first think he will have, giving readers a sense that there’s somewhat of a mystery behind his bulging muscles and hairy chest. Meanwhile, his friend the intern Gretchen is a sweet and appealing guide for our hero through all the trials and travails that he experiences.
Unsurprisingly, as Zombillenium progresses we find that Gretchen, especially, has deeper secrets to share than the ones that we first read on the page. Her life is more complicated, and scarier, than we ever expected – events that don’t quite cast her in a different light as much as they add complexity to her character.
As much as I liked this book, it’s really about at the right length at 46 pages, and I wonder if it would become somewhat less compelling as an ongoing series. I found myself getting tired of de Pins’s art by the end of the book because in its extreme precision and lack of variation in character design and depiction, de Pin’s work started to feel somewhat sterile and repetitive. The cast also feels a bit too great for a book this size. I appreciated de Pins’s zeal to create a large supporting cast for Aurelian, but some moments towards the end of the book fell flat for me because I felt I didn’t know some characters as well as I wished I could.
But I really enjoyed the sweet charm and easy silliness of Zombillenium quite a lot, especially when I read it after the latest issue of Walking Dead. Sometimes it’s fun to be reminded that we can and should laugh at monsters.