ORAN STAFFORD celebrates Shrewsbury comic book artist Charlie Adlard’s graphic novel artwork
Comics. Graphic Novels.
“Illiteracy” according to Bart’s new teacher Ms Mellon in the Season One episode of ‘The Simpsons’, ‘Bart the Genius’. Radioactive Man is a parody of a stereotypical superhero, and
Bart himself has donned an alter ego in Bartman. Once all the way back in the pre-virus days of 2012, I got my fan artwork of a Simpsonified Matt Groening published in Bongo’s Simpsons Comics. Usually when you think comics or graphic novels, DC and Marvel tend to come to mind. The superhero genre has acted as a primary focus for these fiction formats with vigilantes such as my personal favourites Spiderman and Batman taking centre stage. It is rare you’d come across a mainstream comic that does not feature some kind of superhuman individual or a generalised family setting.
Creating my collection
Waterstones has a graphic novel section with several by Image and Skybound. Skimming the ascending shelves, I discovered the first volume of ‘The Walking Dead’ entitled ‘Days
Gone Bye.’ It was not of the superhero genre and certainly was not set in a friendly society with cheerful looking people. Pricing made purchase unlikely, so I had to go to places elsewhere. Amazon! Even got the second volume too. First reading the series in 2014, I became not only gripped by the story but the artwork that coincided with it. Before long, I’d discover one of the artists from issue #7 to its conclusion would be from our very Shrewsbury. Charlie Adlard’s illustrations have given me great inspiration for my novel writing, as if I have long given up trying to be a cartoonist. Without his contribution, I doubt the comic series would remain as iconic.
Inspiration and creation
There are many things that ‘The Walking Dead’ comics have taught me: a) To kill a zombie, destroy the brain; b) trust few; and c) Not all superheroes wear capes. First introduced in October 2004, Rick Grimes, created by Robert Kirkman, served as the protagonist of the series as an American cop who wakes up from a coma to discover the
world ravaged by the undead. Reuniting with his wife and son, he becomes leader of a group of survivors who must face off between the dead and the living. For his questionable actions, I’d label him more of an anti-hero. He acts upon his own brutal moral codes to allow him and others to carry on walking.
Charlie Adlard’s first depictions of Rick presented him first in his police uniform, within a world no longer governed by any strict laws. As the series progresses we see Rick Grimes transform from a loving husband and father, to a savage, and back to a man. Rick makes appearances on most of the covers and much to my surprise, he was the main character after all.
Love for artwork
One of my favourite artwork for the Trade Paperbacks is on Vol 10. Adlard draws him as animalistic, covered in what could be easily be his and his aggressors’ blood. At this point in the story, he had been enjoying sanctuary until his safe space was overridden and they were back on the road. His teeth grinding. Eyes of rage. Rick appears to be adapting to the harsh environment becoming no different to the roamers. Following the timeskip, his
dark days are seemingly behind him and is now recognised as the wise and inspirational leader of a safe zone. Protecting his community against many frequent dangers, alongside new allies he has discovered on his journey from both near and far, they have been a constant victim of harsh endearment. He now uses a cane, and his hand has been replaced with a prosthetic. Question is, after all this time is he still a hard man or now the old man? Grimes no longer has the same grip on his gun, which served as his superpower. He was no longer on the front line. Nonetheless, there are times Rick harsh self is remanifested and is equally or if greatly intimidating than ever. Making a speech similar to one he made in Vol 4 which he bluntly stated, “WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD”, in Vol 32 he inserts the “NOT”. The artist’s touch as he recaptures the intense emotion of the original panel demonstrates that the survivors no longer have to wallow and have earned and developed opportunity to rebuild.
The Walking Dead comes to life on the page...
Every superhero has their supervillain. Rick had many. There are too many to mention but I’d like to highlight my big three.
First, we have The Governor. Charlie Adlard first drew him for Vol 5 where he gives the impression of a welcoming figure into his community which they discover on one of their supply runs. In a disturbing cliff-hanger we see the man show his true colours. Dark shading with the light casting on his malicious grin. As our protagonists escape, the Governor gets his comeuppance but survives the ordeal. Rediscovering Rick and Co, we see him look like a pirate in a tank with scruffy long hair and eyepatch, ordering his crew to “KILL THEM ALL!”. Rick’s encounter with evil types like this shifty bloke always stuck with him.
Next, Negan. A fan-favourite. Overuse of profanity made him simultaneously a menacing and humorous baddy. Adlard’s introductory artwork of the antagonist wielding his baseball bat “Lucille” in #100 was phenomenal.
Finally, Alpha. One of the few examples of a female villain in the series who ever committed a massive atrocity. A masked charade fooled zombies in their hoard. Smooth appearances had us underestimating their true abilities.
What’s next for the comic world?
Honourable mentions to supporting characters: Carl, Andrea, Michonne, Tyreese, Maggie and of course Glenn. Adlard made these characters more real than solely in Kirkman’s dialogue. ‘The Walking Dead Deluxe’ is now being released in comic book shops and online, allowing people the chance to appreciate the art all over again!
Written by Oran Stafford