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THE ZOMBIGATORS' LAMENT
July 11, 2005
 

 
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Dale, who writes the comics.

The source of the Zombigators' sorrow

In this episode, our poor Zombigators, so transformed, must live the cursed half-life of the undead. But it’s not this that bothers them. Rather it’s that they have been deprived of the things that provide them with comfort. They are afflicted with homesickness, which only takes effect when the activity of the day is over, and they lie in bed, tied up in meager blankets, with nothing to distract them from their unsettled minds, wishing for the things which once made them happy, no matter how distant. They couldn’t possibly crawl to the refrigerator to eat what they like, or even get up, to wander outside for a few minutes of fresh air, because they are guests in someone else’s home, and that would be considered, not only strange, but an impolite transgression. The ritual of their entire lives has been shaken to pieces. They hope that during the next day, weightlessly floating in their tank, their life above water will somehow improve, or at least flourish with niceties, so that when they emerge from the water’s threshold, something small will be placed in the empty silhouettes of their distant loved ones, wobbling in the mirage of memory, just below the surface of the depths through which they used to so buoyantly summersault.

dale

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David, who draws the comics.

More Resurrection for You

This episode continues to explore issues of death, rejuvenation, and adorable pets. Once again, I've remained with a compact format, which I think makes it easier for the reader to stay with the whole piece, to linger and return to various moments of the narrative long after the plot has been ascertained. I've probably mentioned this, but for a while Dale and I have been talking about making comics like poems. By this, we mean (in part) that the reader feels compelled to reread the comic, and that it unfolds with continued attention. The last panel shouldn't kick the reader out the back door, but entreat her, "please, stay for just a bit longer."

The flow of this episode bears out that idea: it begins predictably, but ends abstrusely. It's not even clear which panel is the last, chronologically. The reader proceeds through a series of standard rectangular panels, to discover that the biggest image, the most imposing element of the comic, exists outside the tight progression of the story. I'm talking, of course, about that big illustration of the house at night, with the table in the foreground and the kitchen in the distance, and a sleepless Dale descending a staircase which – like everything else – retreats into darkness. It's surprising because it seems to jump backwards in time from "only one piece left!" We've already seen Dale peering into the fridge, and now we see him on his way to the kitchen. Assuming that both images depict moments of the same occasion, this is indeed a step backwards in time. This unnatural move is helped, however, by the placement of the dark house scene relative to the fridge panel: it lies to the left. Since time usually progresses from left to right, when we move from "one piece left!" to the dark house – leftwards – it feels like a step backwards, or at least, a step taken with uncertainty.

To set up my next observation, let me point out that this comic, like many recent ones, contains a passage which is very quick, punchy and "comic strip-like," and contrasts it with a more reflective part. The most dramatic example from the archive is episode 26 ("SLUMBERCAKES"), which begins with a huge image of the last moment before sunset, the last moment before sleep swallows up the young lives of the seven princesses. The rest of the episode plays out in a crude little strip at the bottom. This is the life the princesses awaken to, in which even their memories cannot conjure anything as momentous as that moment before sleep.

I'm trying to evoke different frames of mind. The quick panel progressions suggest those times when the world seems to dictate the actions of the people in them. Everything happens at such a clip, that we are all compelled to respond before even thinking. (I think I'm interested in this in part because many people seem to live always in this mindset.) Against this I try to set up lingering moments in which the mind is the most active player. Observation and thought supersedes external events.

Returning to the zombigators, we have a snappy sequence, followed depressingly with an interminable moment of shadows and dread. What I find interesting is that this moment seems to function logically between "the zombigators have brought me a bucket of barbeque chicken!" and "later that night," although we don't receive it when it "happens." By missing its cue in the flow of the story, however, it takes on much greater significance. It skips out of line and creates its own space. I enjoy the transition between the image of the witch doctor kneeling on the rug with his chicken bucket, and Dale checking the fridge. The narrative whisks us along with an obvious and well-worn "LATER..." flag, but we, the readers, are more clever than that. We don't swallow pills without labels, Jack! Why don't you tell us just what happened between those two panels? Why are you so eager to move us along? You think we might discover something?

By entering that gloomy scene, we escape the noise and the nonsense of the march. And what do we find? It's hard to tell! We find ourselves in an ominous place, but from where does the evil emanate? There are two objects which draw our suspicion and arouse our fear, and those are the bucket of chicken and the box of zombigators. Both are blood-red and both contain deceased, transformed animals. (Granted, the alligators have been zombified by an occult ritual, while the chicken has been merely deep-fried, but if we overcome our prejudice, they do not stand far apart.) Dale is clearly more interested in the bucket with its last piece within, but readers are more imposingly confronted with the box, which not only receives a close-up and interior view, but becomes the final step in a reddening spiral which started with the first panel. Investigating the red box, which pulls on us so insistently, we discover the zombigators, sleepless like Dale. Vicious as they appear, their bittersweet reflections encourage our sympathies. Could they be what is haunting this place when their pain is so understandable, when they, like us, are only meek subjects of the darkness? Wandering from the box, it is unclear where next to go. The kitchen, too, beckons us, but to what? Is the bucket of chicken a red herring? Should we stay in the shadows, will the truth be treasure for our patience? We can wait, yes, and we will be like the zombigators and like Dale and like the last piece of chicken in the bucket. We will be alone, surrounded by darkness, waiting.

We won an award!

We've been honored by the WebCartoonists Choice Awards, in which we won Best Layout. Thank you to everyone who voted for us, and congratulations to the other winners.

Our poster business is rolling along. If you have not yet received your order, please be patient, as we are just waking this slumbering behemoth. For those who didn't know, we're offering posters of every episode in the archive. Head over to the Shop for details.

The forum was down due to some disruptive event in a remote location on the globe, perhaps a small meteorite impacting an uninhabited swath of the Sahara. Right now, Dale's blackened face is squinting as he tickles the underbelly of a mechanical beast. Now he calls me to say, it is done. The forum is back.

As a last note, I collaborated with Ryan North on a comic for his Whispered Apologies.

Thank you for reading, and please tell us about your exaggerated emotional reactions to our work.

Love,
David

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(c) David Hellman and Dale Beran 2005