RATINGS: A = must own B = buy it C= average D = yawn F = puke

Bruce Worden and Vanessa Mayesky - Woodstalk Issues 1-3
Black Market Books

Premise:     A
Writing:      B
Art:            C

Overall:       B-

Supernatural creatures go in and out of style in pop culture. In the wake of the cult sensation Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, Angel, vampires enjoyed a resurgence of popularity that lasted nearly a decade. It seemed like you couldn't turn around without seeing some new take on the vampire legend- sexy vampires, sad vampires, crazy vampires, teenage vampires, sparkly emo vegetarian vampires, and even occasionally a throwback to the old-school, scary and dangerous vampire.

Lately, though, vampires have been out and  zombies have been the undead pop-cultural phenomenon, turning up in novels, films, video games, and even parodies of English Lit class required reading (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, anyone?). As with vampires, there have been innumerable takes and twists on the zombie tradition, from Neil Gaiman’s “Bitter Grounds” using zombies as a metaphor for spiritual alienation to The Walking Dead’s zombie apocalypse as a metaphor for the breakdown of civilization.

Comics are a fertile spawning ground for zombie stories, since they offer unlimited opportunities for stories, limited only by the artist and writers’ creativity and skill. Comics also are an ideal medium for zombie stories, since the new incarnation of zombies are no longer the slowest, stupidest, most boring monsters of all time. Zombies now tend to be speedy and to possess an inhuman strength to match their hunger for human brains. This allows for lots of gory possibilities that can best be highlighted in the visual medium of comics-- an artist can deliver stunning visual effects without having to worry about production costs that would hamper spectacular effects in TV or film. When writing a zombie comic, then, three elements are key: a unique story, high-quality writing, and art that delivers high visual impact.

Bruce Worden’s Woodstalk series delivers a promising premise on the story front. His comic proposes ‘what if the UK group The Zombies had turned up at Woodstock in August of 1969, trying to promote Odyssey and Oracle? And what if once they got there, they discovered that the place was overrun with zombies and brainwashed hippies?’

Worden sets the scene with The Zombies, reunited after their recent break-up, and bickering among themselves as they lug their gear toward the festival setup, surrounded by teeming crowds of hippies eager to experience the three day long peace, love and music-fest. Colin Blunstone, drawn with an unruly mop of dark hair, constantly butts heads with Rod Argent who is drawn with a blond ‘Moe’ haircut. The two of them function as the group’s leaders while Hugh Grundy, Chris White and Paul Atkinson serve as comic relief.

The group has to face several obstacles on the road to getting on stage and playing some numbers from their new album: first of all, they aren't actually included on the festival set list. Then there’s all those hippies to contend with. And that’s before the flesh-eating zombies take the stage. Soon, it’s Zombies versus zombies and a maniacal Satchidananda Saraswati, with the third issue setting up a cliffhanger leaving the reader wondering how The Zombies would manage to get out of Woodstock with their brains-- never mind their royalties-- intact.

Worden also has some good comedic moments. Colin and Rod’s bickering and Rod’s hot temper provide some of the funniest moments in the story. Rod’s rant about hippies on page 12 of issue 3 was funny and well-written. The madcap, fast-paced story is funny and outrageous, not afraid to pull some punches, even at the risk of inadvertently offending hippies or yoga-enthusiasts.

Some readers may find Worden’s choice to portray Satchidananda Saraswati as a sinister mind-controlling antagonist offensive, but they probably are not the target audience for this comic. The comedy overall relies on slapstick, wacky hijinx, and absurd surrealism, sort of like Monty Python meets The Three Stooges. Plus zombies. Lots of zombies.

There are many cameos in the comic as well, and inside jokes. The Zombies encounter Richie Havens when they first manage to sneak backstage. While Havens plays the opening of the festival, they remark about all the Beatles songs he plays and how he is just killing time. Sweetwater makes an appearance in issue 2, and The Zombies remark that Nansi Nevens is ‘no Grace Slick’. Will Grace Slick make an appearance doing “White Rabbit” later in the series? One can only hope. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix possibly have a cameo in issue 3 as well. Whether the artists will play a part in the eventual climax of the story, or whether they are just one-off cameos, remains to be seen.

The art of Woodstalk is unfortunately the weakest element. The minimalist style is effective at times, but Worden’s style occasionally seems too simplistic at the cost of details. Many of the crowd scenes are hastily sketched in and cause visual confusion. The drawing quality also is uneven at times, especially in the action sequences. His character designs for The Zombies are strong and a good choice, using simple visual elements like the characters’ haircuts to be able to easily identify who is who at a glance. However, for an action comic that takes place in a large venue like Woodstock, carefully detailed action scenes that utilized long-shots and well-executed crowd scenes would add a lot of impact. The 'cute' drawing style also was slightly at odds with the gory premise, but could be done effectively with more attention to detail.

That said, I did finish Woodstalk interested to see how Worden would play out the rest of the story, and curious to see how The Zombies would get out of their predicament. I didn’t laugh out loud at any point in the series, but I did crack a few smiles.

By Ash Friend