By Brain Ralph
Brian Ralph’s Daybreak is described on the back cover as “an art-house take on the zombie genre”.
And you can read that in one of two ways….. a subtle, clever reworking of the genre, utilising stereotypical aspects and touchstones that we’ll all be familiar with to create something smaller in scale and more personal. Or you can take the view that it’s a zombie book without much of what makes the whole zombie thing work.
Depends where you sit on the idea of art-house really. Me, I liked it for what it was rather than what it wasn’t. But even although the style and beauty of Ralph’s artwork and story impressed, I was still left with a sense of yeah, but okay, and…?
Waking up in rubble, the first person a survivor sees is a harried, intense, eager to help, one armed man making preparations for nightfall.
If it wasn’t for that beaut of a cover and the blurb on the back, you’d be left guessing exactly what he’s preparing for and what is going on amongst the ruins of a civilisation until the first, fleeting glimpse of spindly arms flailing against a door some 10 pages in….
Everything is viewed through the survivor’s eyes, and yes, you do get the impression of first person shooter here, but don’t get the wrong impression, there’s a lot more here than some daft Doom scenario, or rather a lot less, and it’s the minimalism, the sense of what’s not shown that creates the feeling of tension and creeping paranoia all the way through.
This is a zombie tale through the eyes and actions of a survivor, and for the most part, a shell-shocked observer, never really involved in what’s going on, merely a way for us to see the wreckage of the world about him/her.
Although much to his credit in a book such as this Ralph does preface that zombie attack scene with a beautifully funny moment:
Is that hilarious? The look on his face, straight out to the audience, so wonderfully knowing. Okay, on with the serious zombie stuff….
This being a zombie book, you’re constantly on edge, continually expecting an attack, always trying to peer around the narrow, and paranoia inducing peripheral vision Ralph’s point of view artwork provides. Through these eyes you’ll follow your one-armed protector, through zombies, through the threat of other survivors, until you reach an end, just the two of you, holed up in yet another small room, waiting for the end.
So what you do get here is a mounting sense of dread, of a threat that’s forever coming but never quite materialises. The zombies are never central to the artwork, never directly in our field of view, forever just beyond our experience, and the horror of the world is somethin we build within our own heads. And in the end, with one subtle twist, we see the real human cost of something this horrific, as always through our viewer’s eyes.
Craft Ralph has got in spades, the layouts, he transitions, the way it just flows seamlessly without all that maany words…. that’s magnificent. And the actual art itself is similarly delightful, with a simple line in a fittingly dirty brown that follows a survivor of some apocalypse or other through the course of a couple of days of surviving the zombie threat.
But as interesting, involving and impressively illustrated as Daybreak is, there’s also something akin to a feeling of anti-climax about it. But that’s merely as Ralph questions our expectations of this most cliched of genre pieces, with a story that focuses on the small-scale everyday issue of basic survival, avoiding the obvious big zombie battle and instead ends with a whimper.
Part of me loved it, enjoyed the new twist on the old format, whilst simultaneously wishing there had been something a little meatier to the tale.