Zombillenium: Gretchen

Image of Zombillenium: Gretchen (1)
Release Date: 
July 8, 2013
NBM Publishers
Reviewed by: 

An amusement park is a wonderful, magical place where childhood memories can be built. Grandmas can spoil their grandchildren and teenagers on a first date can find a quiet place in the Tunnel of Love to sneak a kiss.

is just such an amusement park. People from all over the world come to be frightened and thrilled by the wild rides, haunted houses, balloons, and every single thing you would find at a regular park such as Disneyland or Six Flags.

There is only one problem.

This fun-filled palace of fear and fun is staffed by very real vampires, witches, ghosts, werewolves, mummies, and zombies.

Of course patrons at this amazing theme park seem to think that every one of these horror-based creatures is either an actor or a robot. So to the customers who choose to stop by Zombillenium everything makes perfect sense.

Even when a demon accidently kills a little dog that a dear, elderly patron has sneaked into the park and a young witch, with a degree in witchcraft from a respected Witch University, brings that little pup right back to life!

Filled with ghoulish humor, slapstick bits that would make Buster Keaton smile, and a solid connection to the patron saint of all evil, Lucifer himself, Zombillenium is a wonderfully freakish ride.

This wonderful and highly imaginative graphic novel by artist and writer Arthur de Pins is an import from France. Just last year it won the prestigious Angoleme Comic Convention Award for Best Youth Comic in France.

An established artist in the world of advertising and several other successful series already available, Mr. de Pins may have come up with his best story yet.
Despite the ethereal and otherworldly premise, he gives us characters and situations rooted in the day-to-day existence in the real world. We understand exactly what the monsters and demons have to deal with. They may be werewolves or members of the undead or have a serious craving for blood, but they have the same problems as we.

They have to get to work on time. Management hates their Union. The corporation that owns the park may have to shut it down because it is the 18th best attended park in a market of “20” parks. As employees they can’t hurt visitors who upset them because of a clause in their “contract.”

Of course they fear being fired. Who doesn’t? These are just everyday problems for everyday monsters.

A vampire and a werewolf are seen arguing over who will convert the body of the Park’s newest employee. As they do each takes turns biting the fellow, eventually changing him into neither a werewolf nor a vampire, but a demon. A zombie Michael Jackson is admonished to stop improvising on the choreography for the park’s dance number and to show “Teamwork!”

Balancing these moments is a real, deep sense of something bigger going on inside what we are reading. While the premise and art may seem to be relatively child friendly, this is not a Pixar movie. As the ending of the tale will remind you, this is truly a horror tale.

As great a read as the story is, it is Mr. de Pins work with as an artist and colorist which brings the story to life. His repeated use of multiple shades of blue against a white background creates an important part of the book’s otherworldly feel. There is just the slightest sense of electricity in the way he plays with light.

As the young witch Gretchen creates a spell she sparkles with slight blue lighting and her spell goes unnoticed except for the result. She is part of the world but can’t really relate to it. The book carries an unspoken feel for the alienation we all feel in the hyper, self-absorbed world of today.

In one sequence a hooded teenager is seen walking along after an accident has cost him his hand. He truly feels powerless and alone. But framing him as he walks alone down the street are the complex power lines of an electric company. Defeated and stoop-shouldered, he is literally surrounded by energy.

In one sense he is completely unconnected from the world itself but at the same time around him is one of the most important, but impersonal connecting agencies in the world, the electric company. We can all be alone, even in a crowd.

A young witch named Gretchen anchors the story. Despite her age she seems to be the wisest and most knowing of all the folks we meet. Her understanding of human nature and the way people behave is a strong part of this story and one any reader can easily understand.

She develops a relationship with a new recruit who can’t seem to handle exactly what has happened to him. As he discovers that he is now among the un-living he becomes more concerned with the problems he had back in life, especially with his cheating wife.

In a great climactic scene on a roller Coaster between the cuckolded demon and the other man, Mr. de Pins takes on this convention in a wonderfully original way. Ultimately bringing home the idea that the living are often oblivious to the reality in front of them.

As a genre zombies are about two minutes away from oversaturation. Between The Walking Dead and World War Z they are everywhere.

But as long as creators such as Mr. de Pins can find original ways to tell us new tales with as much style as shown in Zombillenium, the non-life of zombies is going to be extended a while longer.