Image At 25: How ‘The Walking Dead’ Lured Me Into The Comic Store
The biggest barrier for comics entry, specifically with the direct market, seems to be actually getting people into comic shops. The first comic I ever read was a black and white reprint of the first 20 or so Spider-Man comics, in the "Essentials" phonebook-sized comics Marvel used to print. It was good, in that it was my first taste of the medium, and the silly stories and characters and larger-than-life fights and situations were a lot of fun. But it didn't make me want to get up and go find a comic shop.
We're an odd bunch, us comic fans. There's not many other mediums where you're clamoring for weekly releases at a speciality retailer, so the idea of going into one of these shops is kind of scary, because they're full of people who know so much about this strange little niche --- who are there every week.
When I was 13, turning 14, it was downright terrifying. I remember I'd asked my dad to take me to the nearest comic shop, which was in Meadowhall, half way between Doncaster and Sheffield. Meadowhall was the epicentre of all my nightmares, a place where I had to follow my mum through every single clothes shop in the place (and it was massive), for the whole day. Usually I tried to stay at home with my far more sensible brother, who realised a day at home without our parents was what you were meant to live for.
So, I braved it. And when I reached the front door... I chickened out. There was a bunch of adults talking about something that I later realized were Green Lantern characters, and they were getting really into it. So I said, "It's okay" to my dad, and we went to stare at aftershave in Boots for an hour.
My brief flirtation with comics was over.
Until my friend, a year or so later, handed my another comic. The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. There were no superheroes, no big colourful pages, no-one flying around or using superpowers. But there were zombies --- oh lord, were there zombies.
Most importantly though, it made sense. I got to follow this guy, Rick, all the way from waking up in a hospital bed, not knowing anything, to finding out the world had been hit by a zombie apocalypse. I read it, and I could talk to my friend about it --- it was as easy as that.
We read everything there was to read (or so I thought). We mulled over that ending, with Rick and Shane, and we tried to figure out what that meant. We chatted about where the story would go, or if they would ever be able to outrun the zombies, if Rick would die, everything. It became our world.
It was different to Spider-Man, because I could keep up with it, and him. My friend had been reading comics for years; his dad had read comics; and he knew all about Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson; he even knew about Ben Reilly, all this stuff that I'd have needed to dedicate years to understand. Stuff I still don't understand now, 13 years later (and I like to think I've read a few comics).
But with The Walking Dead, I didn't need to know any of that; it was more like talking about a good book you'd read, or a good TV show you watched. It was all just there in those six issues, in that one book.
And it got me to convince my dad to take me back to that comic shop. This time I went in, chest puffed out, armed with all the knowledge of six issues of The Walking Dead, and I asked the man behind the counter, "Do you have the Walking Dead comic?" He responded by something that flipped my world upside down.
"Sure", he said, almost casually, "We've got all of them."
He showed me the rack, and sure enough, a handful of single issues of The Walking Dead. We bought issue #7 (which saw artist Charlie Adlard join the series); I found out Lori was pregnant, and every weekend I moaned at my dad to take me back to Meadowhall and the comics shop, The Last Picture Show, to buy more comics.
Comics need stories like this, which don't alienate readers right off the bat, or allude to larger, bigger, joined narratives. They need good, solid, isolated stories to lure in non-comics fans. The Walking Dead was my first experience of something that was so clearly itself, and it was the thing that drove me to the shop and allowed me to explore everything else the medium had to offer. And as we all know, once you're in... you're in.