I’ve been a fan of the comic book series “The Walking Dead” for years now. It was recommended to me way back when and I started buying it with issue three. It’s on issue eighty now and I’ve pretty much liked all of them. It’s a comic that I’ve bought monthly (or whenever an issue came out) and it works well in that format. Since it just became a six episode TV show I’ve watched those too and enjoyed them. But what I’ve noticed is that I seemed to have had the same conversation over and over with people about the comic and now I have it about the TV show.

“The Walking Dead” is at first glance a zombie comic. There are a lot of fans of the zombie genre out there and I know a bunch of them but I don’t count myself among their number. I have no particular affection for zombie stories. But “The Walking Dead” isn’t your typical zombie story. It’s the story of what happens after the zombies take over the world.

The main character wakes up in a hospital after the zombie apocalypse, has no idea what has happened, and takes off to try and find his wife and son. When I first read “The Walking Dead” I thought it was going to be a typical quest book as he searches for his family and has to go through all sorts of trials before he finds them. After which the book is pointless. But the writer, Robert Kirkman, surprised me and had the main character find his family within a few issues. That’s when I knew this wasn’t going to be a typical comic.

That is also when I started having my repeated conversation with various people because “The Walking Dead” is in no way your typical zombie comic. First off there is no reason or explanation for the zombie apocalypse. It just happened and the world as we know it has ended. There is no scientist or other authority figure waiting in the wings to explain everything. After all, why would the apocalypse come with an explanation? And there is no one coming to save our cast of characters. There are not even enough people alive to maintain a continuity of civilization. It’s all over. Kaput. Not your normal story.

Secondly Kirkman isn’t interested in zombie lore or rules. They just are. If they bite you then the bite kills you and if you’re not eaten you come back as a zombie. That’s all we know because that’s all the characters have been able to figure out by living through it. But this isn’t enough for a lot of zombie fans I know. They want back story. They want explanations. They want to know how everything fell apart. They want to know what the zombie rules are. Otherwise they say they can’t enjoy the story as much. None of that stuff bothers me and I couldn’t care less so I didn’t quite understand their objections until I heard them over and over. Then it hit me. To a lot of horror fans the rules of any given monster are very important to them.

Most monsters come with rules. Vampires, werewolves, and zombies are the most common but most others do too. People need structure in order to believe in the monster. And to feel safe from it. The world is a crazy, out of control, unsafe place and people don’t want their entertainment to reflect that. People want order even in the world of things that go bump in the night. They want a monster to scare them. Though the unknown is scary in real life it’s not so scary in a movie. If the bogeyman doesn’t fit the definition of a bogeyman then he’s not as scary as the bogeyman. It’s a simple as that. How is a monster supposed to scare you if you don’t know that he’s a monster?

What are a monster’s strengths? What are his weaknesses? Sure I might not be able to defeat the monster but the hero should be able to. Or at least have a chance. What’s the point of a monster that can’t be stopped? It’s not very entertaining if the best the protagonists can hope for is to stay out of the monsters way. Rules. Structure. People want some sort of order in their supernatural worlds. It’s actually hard to scare someone with a movie without order and rules.

Here is one more thing about “The Walking Dead”. The zombies in it aren’t really zombies. They are, in that they’re the living dead but they aren’t, in that they’re not the villains of the book. They zombies are there to represent, and cause, instant death in this new world. It’s other humans and the end of the world in general who are the villains. That’s what zombie fans have a hard time accepting. At least at first. Their favorite villains aren’t the villains of the story when it sure looks like they’re supposed to be. And then rules that define their favorite villains aren’t really important to the story. The zombies get short shrift. I can understand why they find it disappointing.

I, on the other hand, like the lack of zombie back story. I’ve grown to dislike backstory on supernatural monsters because it changes for supposedly stock monsters, vampires, werewolves, and zombies, from franchise to franchise. Even from episode to episode within a series. And all these “Nice” vampires that have popped up in the last decade and a half drive me crazy. I want my monsters to be monsters!

I’ve also noticed that once zombie fans accept that the rules they expect to find in “The Walking Dead” are a little different from their expectations they can relax and enjoy the comic. And now the TV show. So give it a read. And a chance even if it’s not your usual zombie story.