’80s indie title Deadworld, proved to be the template for mature zombie comic books, and its influence can be felt in Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead.
Before The Walking Dead, one indie zombie comic blazed a gory trail of spine-tingling terror that left readers wide-eyed and trembling, drawing up the blueprint for how to make a smash hit title in the process: Deadworld. Though the later series, Walking Dead, would go on to be considered the gold standard in zombie comics, the influence of Deadworld on Kirkman’s opus is clear.
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Deadworld – created by writers Stuart Kerr, Ralph Griffith, Gary Reed and artist Vince Locke – A black-and-white marvel of debauchery and violence that, aside from being a remarkable document of its era, still manages to capture a certain raw essence of ‘80s horror.
An oddity for its time, Deadworld made its mark by depicting a zombie-filled United States caught in the throes of complete annihilation.
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A World Full of Zombies, Void Of Hope
Deadworld’s greatest contribution to the genre is perhaps its unforgiving world. First published by indie label Arrow Comics in 1987, the series initially focused on seven young stock characters, as they set out from Louisiana via school bus, crossing the country in search of civilization. Eventually, this premise gave rise to a graphic tale of war between the few survivors left and the supernatural forces of an otherworldly demon lord, led by the wise-cracking King Zombie. Well before The Walking Dead’s 2003 premiere, Deadworld did more than just demonstrate a niche in the comics market for mature, intense zombie horror: it provided a template for building an atmosphere of zombie-driven impending doom.
Deadworld Pioneered Walking Dead’s Black-and-White Visual Style
Though the realm of zombie comics will forever be defined by its leading franchise, The Walking Dead, Deadworld actually originated several of the more famous zombie comic tropes, long before its more famous successor. The similarities are many, including a Governor-esque character named Moloch, who runs a militarized camp whose denizens enjoy gladiator fights as entertainment, and the use of zombie body parts to disguise survivors – in Deadworld’s case, the skin of zombies. Notably, the bombastic, sentient King Zombie shares many personality traits in common with Walking Dead villain Negan. Most notable, however, is Deadworld’s visual style.
Much has been made of The Walking Dead’s sparse, black-and-white artistic style. In this sense, Deadworld is a direct antecedent, having also been rendered in black-and-white. Ultimately, despite the many similarities, Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead would come to define itself and its style as distinct from Deadworld, taking a much more realism-oriented approach to the concept than the older series, evoking a more relatable air of tragedy amidst the oft nihilism-tinged villains its heroes contend with. Deadworld, while similarly bleak, makes greater use of the campy, fantastical elements of horror, including more outright humor, including the somewhat farcical King Zombie.
Whether the similarities between The Walking Dead and Deadworld are the result of certain engrained limitations of the zombie apocalypse concept, or are in some way deliberate homages by Kirkman to the earlier series, fans of the Kirkman comic – as well as its television adaptation, and subsequent spin-offs – should recognize the parallels between the two franchises. Deadworld has continued in some form or another in the decades since its 1987 debut, with the rights to the series currently being held by Image Comics, which also released The Walking Dead, meaning that while a crossover is unlikely, it is far from impossible.