Writing stories set in a much loved, previously established universe is always a highwire act. It’s hard to make everyone happy. Tillie Walden takes the challenge in Clementine Book One, as she adapts a graphic novel from a Walking Dead video game character. Her success or failure is probably dependent on how invested in the Walking Dead universe you are.
This story opens with a Black teenage girl with an amputated leg traveling alone through a zombie apocalypse. She clearly knows how to take care of herself. She’s also been through a lot of trauma and doesn’t trust people easily, though no one seems to trust each other in this world. We learn that it’s been many years since the apocalypse began and Clementine has lived in this world for most of her life. We see flashbacks of what happened to her before (likely parts of the video game) and it informs who she is today. Soon she comes across a religious community and reluctantly accompanies one young man on a quest he’s undertaken to meet others on the top of a mountain in the hopes they can survive there away from the living dead. As with most zombie stories, nothing goes as planned and mayhem ensues. There is a complete story in this book but another door opens at the end in the hopes that readers will want to see what Clementine’s next steps are.
Walden’s art and storytelling are clear and distinctive. She is able to create the appropriate mood and atmosphere for a zombie apocalypse. The book is in black and white, just like the original Walking Dead series, which does make it hard to tell some characters apart. Walden uses clothing and hairstyle to do most of this work and she’s successful most of the time. The book is mostly set at night, so everything is pretty dark. This makes depicting Clementine’s race particularly challenging. In general, if you liked Walden’s art previously, you’ll enjoy what she does here.
We’ve had a lot of tales told in the world of the Walking Dead. Focusing on the trials of a capable teenage girl is a good story to tell, but it’s not breaking much new ground other than the fact she is an amputee. Fans of Tillie Walden will be interested to see her working in someone else’s “playground.” Fans of the Walking Dead and the video game will get to see Clementine’s story move forward. Not all of them will be happy about where the story takes us, though. I am curious where planned books two and three go. Image Comics head and Walking Dead creator, Robert Kirkman, has picked a good property to launch his new Skybound Comet imprint at Image with. It will be interesting to see how well this imprint expands Image’s audience to include a younger crowd of comics readers. Clementine is rated for older teens and could go in most public library YA or adult collections. Whether it stands alone or if it has too much backstory for most teens will be the test of whether it is a hit or not.
Clementine Book One By Tille Walden Image Skybound, 2022 ISBN: 9781534321281
Publisher Age Rating: 14+ Related media: Game to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Lesbian Character Representation: African-American, Bisexual, Missing Limb, Prosthesis
In the not-so-distant future, a pandemic ravaged the nation. Now everyone lives in fear of getting sick, wearing masks when they do go outside. Those who do get sick are likely to die. If they survive, they face life with newfound telekinetic abilities, immunity to the illness, and complete lack of support by former friends, families, and society at large. Mer finds out firsthand how badly this can all go, and finds herself clinging to one of the many gangs that have formed of those survivors. But even that life turns out not to be very safe, or even happy.
One of the most striking things about 20XX is the art, which doesn’t follow the convention of Western comics in having full color pages, but instead is much closer to a manga. The entire comic is in greyscale, with little texture, and has minimal sound effect visuals, something that does not follow manga or comics conventions in terms of how sound effects are represented. While it’s an interesting approach, ultimately for me it made it harder to connect to the story because everything felt flat and about the same mood throughout, no matter what’s going on. For example, the few scenes someone laughs in, it’s typically a small “ha” and that’s pretty much it. This can be effective, but there’s not enough context to know how to read that simple sound effect. Part of the effectiveness of the black and white of manga is due to the use of high emotion or visual cues, and there just isn’t much of that going on in 20XX.
Similarly, the writing was a bit rough. We get no exposition or explanation at the start, which isn’t always a bad thing; there are quite a few stories out there that throw the reader in and it works, but this one left me with questions. I don’t actually know if this virus was worldwide, or just in the U.S., or even what it’s called. We get a graphic at the very beginning before the comic starts that explains the different kinds of telekinesis, but then that is never used inside the comic. Mer never registers with the government like she’s supposed to and that never comes back into play aside from a brief mention late in the comic about her lack of registration. It adds to a sense of not knowing how much time has passed since the beginning, because she was given a deadline by the government. It’s unclear why or how Mer still has an apartment when she no longer has a job and we never learn about her earning money or getting rent assistance. Some of these issues I could ignore, since they aren’t exactly key to the story, but the problem is that the primary storyline doesn’t keep me engaged enough to keep me from wondering about these things.
However, I could see appeal for this with readers of manga who want to try Western comics or for fans of more restrained stories that don’t go to extremes while still exploring difficult situations and topics. I haven’t been able to find anything on this, but I’m curious how coincidental the creation of 20XX was with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. It certainly hits like a commentary on the pandemic, intended or not, and could make this a more difficult read for people heavily affected by it.
20XX By Lauren Keely Art by Jonathan Luna Image Comics, 2020 ISBN: 9781534316126 Publisher Age Rating: M
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Character Representation: Queer, Missing Limb
Rob Guillory’s Farmhand classifies itself as dystopian/horror/humor, but it’s the Southern Gothic exploration of family and secrets that really drew me in. After a seven year run as co-creator and artist of the award-winning dystopian horror comic Chew, Guillory decided to return to his writing roots, pulling double-duty for his new series. In his blog, Guillory talks about the image of a tree growing limbs popping into his head and how in developing the idea he landed on a Black farmer because it wasn’t a story that’s been told. In most narratives, a Black man in a field is a story about slavery; Guillory makes his central farmer a Black man dressed in classic bib overalls but driving a cutting-edge agricultural marvel. Guillory revels in wordplay frequently in Farmhand, for both comedic and poignant effect. So “farmhand” refers to Zeke Jenkins, the son and hero of the story whose father, Jedidiah, has created a new combination of farming and medicine that allows for organs and limbs to be grown on a farm. It also stands for the symbol of the Jenkins Family Farmaceutical Institute, a hand sprouting a seedling in place of a thumb, and the greenhouse full of trees growing full arms. Lastly it’s a reminder that the person you likely picture when you think of a farmhand is limited by stereotypes. Guillory flips common conceptions with several characters in Farmhand, including Zeke’s wounded army vet sister Andy,bioengineer Dr. Monica Thorne, and Tree, a hulking ex-pro football player turned pastor.
Currently comprised of three paperback volumes or 15 single issues, Farmhand follows unemployed writer Zeke as he relocates his wife and children to Freetown, Louisiana, the rural town he grew up in. He reconnects with his estranged father Jed, whose medical agribusiness has invigorated and corrupted the town. A mysterious vision turned Jed from a mediocre commercial farmer to the inventor of the Jedidiah Seed, which functions as human stem cells that can be cultivated like plants. While transplantation of limbs and organs has become cheap and easy with his new technology, there are signs that the seed has started invading the flora and fauna of Freetown. Worse, strange new growths and psychological afflictions have manifested in patients who received previous transplants. Zeke struggles with becoming entrenched in the troubles surrounding his father’s farm while still letting his young kids get to know their grandfather. Andy works side-by-side with her father, leading the company and farm security. Dr. Monica Thorne, the woman who helped Jed develop the seed, has emerged from obscurity to run for Mayor of Freetown and reopen old wounds in the Jenkins family. Festering under everything are decades of secrets and lies, the unearthing of which drives the characters as much as the spiraling medical-eco disaster.
The series unfolds slowly, with Vol. 1: Reap What Was Sown laying the groundwork by developing the main characters, the town, and the farm. Vol. 2: Thorne in the Flesh focuses on the farm’s response to the plagued Transplants converging on the town and the outbreak of the seed. Vol. 3: Roots of All Evil digs into the villainous plot overtaking the story. Guillory anticipates a final length of 24 to 30 issues and it’s clear he’s taking his time building and revealing complex characters and plot lines. It’s hard to go into much detail without providing spoilers—even naming the villain gives away part of vol. 1. There are plenty of action sequences, including fighting spies from foreign companies and defeating veiny, bulging diseased animals. Mostly, it’s not the action that moves the story forward and it’s by no means action-packed.The slower pace pays off with well-developed characters who have emotional depth and realistic interactions, despite the phantasmagoric setting. There’s a lot of humor and pathos in moments between Zeke and his wife Mae. The sibling bond between Andy and Zeke is a keen balance of trauma-forged camaraderie and quick-rise anger.Jed and Dr. Thorne are multifaceted older characters that are frequently lacking in comics.
The themes in the story are deftly handled. The unknown origin of Jed’s seminal vision creates a shaky foundation for examining faith in the story that is just starting to come to a head by the end of vol. 3. The role of racism is in an undercurrent of tension in the first two volumes. When Andy is menaced by an over-entitled farmer’s son in a bar, his attacks are laced with racial undertones. The third volume tackles the subject head on with the origin of the town and ancestral tragedy. One of the things that makes the story really get under your skin is that the Jedidiah Seed and farm is the only part of Farmhand that is dystopic, the rest of the world appears to be the same as our contemporary one.
I feel like I’ve painted a fairly dark and serious portrait of the series so far, but really it’s full of wry humor and zaniness. The art is cartoonish and shows the body horror and grotesque elements with a combination of whimsy and teeth. The characters’ faces are full of emotion and their body language is animated with dynamic energy. There’s a lush quality to the color and lines of the art that feels different from Guillory’s previous work on Chew. While some may find the stylized art off-putting compared to more realistic art styles, I think it’s the perfect campy counterpoint to the substantial story.
Farmhand earns its Mature rating through gory violence and horror, with no sex, no full nudity and little language. Fans of comics Bitter Root, Chew, Black Hole and the works of Joe Hill will find much to sink their teeth into, as will fans of Stranger Things, David Cronenberg, and Michael Crichton. This comic belongs in every adult graphic novel collection.
Farmhand, vols. 1-3 By Rob Guillory Art by Taylor Wells Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781534309852 Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781534313323 Vol. 3 ISBN: 9781534315907 Image, 2019-2020 Publisher Age Rating: Mature Series Reading Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult Character Traits: Black, Missing Limb Creator Highlights: Black