I was prepared to hate this book. The world needs more zombie books like 'The Walking Dead' needed Andrea and it goes double for self-published zombie books. Regardless, they keep on coming, some sort of creative default that squats in geek brains, in the same part of grey matter that knockoff Punisher/Spawn comics come from. So another one with the gimmick of being set in a vaguely Jhonen Vasquez inspired candyland? I had an idea of what to expect. However, upon reading the first three issues of the planned six issue miniseries I can't immediately write it off. Don't get me wrong, most of my expectations were met, but this is far from the worst attempt at a first self-publication I've read. 'High Fructose Zombies' is set in a nightmare parody of the American food industry, specifically in an industrial town dominated by the Yumzy Corporation, a candy maker with a chokehold on the American diet. The story follows Clea Brown, a disillusioned gothy employee of Yumzy whose father was horribly killed in an accident at the company, leaving her with a seething hatred of her corporate overlords. As the title suggests, a shipment of promotional candy starts to turn people into goo oozing zombies and it's up to Clea and her friends to find out why Yumzy is poisoning their customers.
There are things I like and dislike about the scripts, and the artist and writer make improvements as the books go on. While Clea is the protagonist, the series is also concerned with her allies: her best friend Patti, George, a scientist who was a former teacher of hers, and his hacker assistant Linus. While I began the book strongly disliking Clea and feeling completely ambivalent to her co-stars there is actually an attempt to include real character development, with a number of insights to the cast that improve one's opinion of them. These contributions are questionably useful, as it doesn't have a lasting impact on any of the characters other than the scientist, but it was surprising to read and showed some real thought was given to their histories. This was possible partially because contrary to my expectations the zombies are actually a minor part of the overall book. There is no cliched 'Night of the Living Dead' barricading inside a building, rather the zombies are a part of a larger investigation of corporate misconduct and included in the title because it was catchy sounding.
The world is very broad, clearly parody and intended to mix scathing commentary in with the bloodletting. The average American in the world is a greasy obese slob concerned only with getting fatter, victims of slick suit wearing businessmen and their sniveling underlings. Our protagonist is a rebel in this world, dreaming of a day when a health food store opens in the nutritionally challenged burg, becoming visibly agitated when confronted with the promise of kale chips. It's as subtle as it sounds, sprinkled with regular references to GMOs and a poster for the trendy documentary 'Food Inc.' prominently displayed in Clea's bedroom. While the world allows for some creativity, particularly in the third issue when Yumzy's junk food themed amusement park opens, the rhetoric comes off tin eared, a kind of self-righteous finger wagging that will probably only appeal to the more activisty members of your local food co-op.
On the art side of things, it's crude. A lot of the staples of early self-published art is present; characters who have to be distinguished by clothing and hair shape, sporadically applied hatching, curved lines in objects with straight angles for no real reason. However, while it takes a bit of effort sometimes to sort out the visuals I have seen far worse art ('Biscotti Jones' comes immediately to mind) and not an unforgivable effort for a first time self-publisher. The book is in black and white, which didn't help readability, especially with things like blood not being filled in the inking stage, making it look identical to liquids like water and soda sharing the same panel. I wondered if color could help organize the visuals, and to my surprise issue three is the start of full color artwork for the series and artist Sarah Braly seems to have a good eye for it. The largely green and purple pallet was refreshing after two issues of the black and white artwork and the fine color job helped make everything from the dialogue scenes to the gore more appealing and engaging. Also of peculiar note, the graphic design is extremely polished, something I wouldn't have commented on if it wasn't for the brightly colored attractive fake ads for the in-universe candy products in the back of each book.
My score as listed below for this book is a “1”, but it's a “1” with reservations. A large part of the books we review are professionally released by established publishers, though the site puts great effort to write lots of reviews on self-publishers and indie startups. When measured in relation to professional output, 'High Fructose Zombies' is not up to snuff; I can't rationalize putting it in the same ranking as books like 'Mystery Society' which I gave a disappointing “2”. However, that “1” is a broad thing, and while perhaps not Image grade, 'High Fructose Zombies' is in certain respects a notch above many of their peers. I genuinely appreciated the character development and some of the writing and the art improvements from issue one to three were notable and heartening to see. One can't damn an initial effort if it shows people improving and really trying to exercise creativity. I wouldn't read 'High Fructose Zombies' for pleasure, but unlike plenty of things I could name I don't hope these creators stop creating and wish them success. The world may not need more zombie books, but it has plenty of room for motivated creators who clearly have the ability to improve artistically.
Writer: David Phillips Artist: Sarah Braly Publisher: Potent Press Price: $3.00 Each Website