The Last Of Us: American Dreams Review

The Last Of Us CoverI’ve been a fan of writer/artist Faith Erin Hicks since her OGN Zombies Calling. If I recall correctly, I picked it up on a whim my first time at San Diego Comic-Con a few years ago, and fell in love with her storytelling ability. She somehow manages to make every character relatable and sympathetic, and there’s great depth in her cartooning style. I’ve pretty much read everything she’s done since my first exposure to her, and when I saw her name in relation to a dark, horror video game title, I was rather surprised. It’s not her normal playground, but I’m glad I gave The Last Of Us: American Dreams a chance.

This 106 page full colour TPB collects the recent four issue mini-series based on the game of the same name that was released not that long ago. Dark Horse have a good history when it comes to video games, and although the medium rarely translates well to the silver screen, there have been some great comics based on video games in the last few years, such as Udon’s always good value Street Fighter series, plus the Horse’s own efforts which include franchises such as Mass Effect, and Dragon Age. The publisher have also released some rather pretty art books which are must haves for lovers of concept art and world building, on such games as Bioshock Infinite, Remember Me as well as The Last Of Us.

American Dreams expands that world further. Written by Hicks and the creative director of the game, Neil Druckmann, with art by Hicks, this is set before the events of the game. The writing pair set the world up elegantly. In the first dozen pages, we know who these characters are, and what world they’re living in. Essentially, the city is barricaded by a giant wall against  hordes of diseased citizens called, “infected.” There’s also a rebellious faction calling themselves The Fireflies who are against the new police state, despite the good intentions of its militaristic leaders.

After some initial friction, and lots of swearing, Ellie, the angry new girl, and Riley the more experienced and sarcastic girl team up to escape their new “home.” Riley is about to turn 16 and like all those before her at that age, will be forced to become a soldier for the good of the surviving community. She doesn’t want that life so she escapes the compound with Ellie and introduces her to the older Winston, who lives in a tent in a very rundown shopping centre.

Hicks’ art conveys the emotion of each scene splendidly and isn’t afraid to use silence when necessary. The city that the mischievous pair traverse is deserted thanks to the infected, which are kind of like fast zombies, although there’s not highly detailed exposition within the story itself. On the back cover, however, is a nice setup (19 years ago a fungal outbreak killed most of the world’s population).

Being largely unfamiliar with the game, this tale stands on its own, and by focusing on two teen protagonists, and their interaction with each other, the scary world, the infected, and the hardcore Fireflies, Hicks and Druckmann have crafted a believable world in which people question their values and determination. Fans of The Walking Dead will surely be fond of American Dreams, and Hicks’ artwork is, as always, a pleasure to behold, and the few extra pages of her sketches is a pleasant bonus. At first glance it may seem that her style may not suit the gritty and intense story being told within these pretty pages, but there’s great raw emotion and dynamism at work here. When characters shout, or get frustrated or scared, Hicks superbly renders all those feelings.

The Last Of Us: American Dreams is available from October 30, and you can see a preview here.

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Zombies Calling Review

Zombies CallingI have a new habit these days. Ever since I arrived home from San Diego Comic-Con in July I have briefly stared at the pile of comics I bought there with curiosity, excitement and mild disdain at not organising them yet (especially as said pile is sitting next to my bookshelf crammed full of unread stuff from last year’s SDCC). However since I’ve been getting the train to work I now have an hour each day to get some good reading in and watch the pile slowly diminish, or at least, be rearranged.

So, each night I grab a random book and throw it in my bag for the next morning’s reading, and that’s how I came to read, and enjoy, Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks and Slave Labor Graphics. Man, that was an unnecessarily long intro.

Zombies Calling is a 112 page black and white digest that was created in 2007. Hicks’ blog details her submission process that got it noticed. Her next project is Brain Camp about “a creepy summer camp and how there may be monsters in the forest, and it’s all a metaphor for how puberty is scary as hell.” Cool.

So, ZC is about Joss and her two room-mates at a Canadian university. Joss is fixated on England, and more importantly zombie moves. She knows the rules of said films, (think of the rules for horror moves as stated in Scream) and thankfully, her skills must be put to the test when zombies invade her campus, or rather students are transformed into the shuffling undead.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much and only picked it up at the Con as it was cheap, but I was pleasantly surprised. After the first few pages I thought it may just veer dangerously close to the kind of playful tale we’ve seen before in which all the characters are witty and reference pop culture to show the readers/audience how they’re just like them. Hicks is wise and creative enough to not let that happen though. By sticking to only 3 main characters and giving the zombies an unusual origin that doesn’t require lengthy exposition, she can focus on showing just enough tension, tenderness and humour that could comfortably exist in an average episode of Buffy.

Besides Joss, there’s so-called ladies’ man Robyn and Sonnet, who is more serious and goth. There’s nods to Shaun of the Dead and the non-zombieness of 28 Days Later, and lots of running, hiding and zombie hurting.

It’s the combination of action, character development and touching scenes, such as the discussions of virginity, and death, all in just over 100 pages that make this an entertaining read. It’s also great to look at. Hicks does wonders simply with the page layouts and knows how to use space, and silence to great effect. It’s just a pleasure to look at and not like all the manga-lite artwork currently flooding the shelves. She knows how to render detailed backgrounds, and make the characters emote, and even a nerd like me can appreciate the hip fashion choices.

Also included are a few pages of character sketches and preliminary cover designs. Zombies Calling is a refreshing, done-in-one read that you wouldn’t be ashamed to pass onto your curious friends.

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