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The Walking Dead has cemented its place in mass culture as a classic horror graphic novel. Its phenomenal success is hardly possible to explain, yet a closer look at some of its visual elements may help reveal its secret. The combination of its setting in a ravenous world and details adding to the suspense that soars in the novel due to the careful use of shadows and line work keeps readers on their toes, helping the creepy imagery to find its way into the minds of readers.
Welcome to the Nightmare Realm
When considering the elements that make the novel truly unique, one must mention the linework. At first sight, it might seem far too rough to convey any artistic meaning. However, after more thorough scrutiny, one realizes that the uneven lines serve a distinct purpose. From the very first page, the lines help keep the reader’s attention on the characters, leaving the elements in the background too sketchy to register on readers’ radars (Kirkman 2).
The panel layout also works to the advantage of the novel, furthering the story and building up tension. The first frame serves as the background for the story; it introduces Maggie’s character, whereas the second one helps readers to empathize with her. The third and fourth parts of the drawing, in turn, set the build-up for the introduction of another character in an ingenious way. Instead of depicting the person talking to Maggie, the artist shows his word bubble, thus indicating that the encounter was surprising to the lead character as well (Kirkman 2).
The rough, sketchy nature of the drawing also helps readers immerse themselves in the environment of the novel and experience its voracious, surreal realm (Picard 11). The artist intentionally leaves some details of the setting unfinished. For instance, most elements in the background, including the people in the first panel, are portrayed almost as stick figures, thereby helping draw attention to the lead character depicted in the foreground of the picture (D’Amelio 8).
Furthermore, even some of the foreground has been left unfinished, e.g., the grass in the lower-left corner of the panel. As a result, the drawing places the audience in an environment that is familiar, yet where reality is falling apart and where the slightest detail may throw people’s lives out of balance. The fact that the grass in the front of the panel does not have outlines but instead is drawn as a combination of black and grey spots also adds to the surreal impression of a crumbling reality and a world being barely held together.
Finally, the use of color and shade needs to be addressed as one of the key characteristics of the novel. Although the picture is entirely black and white, the artistic use of shading, light, and lines creates a very realistic impression, thus setting the tone and mood for the story (Crilley 27). For instance, the lead character remains mostly in the shadows in the first picture, yet her emotions are rendered flawlessly, conveying pain, and sorrow to the viewer.
Therefore, the style of the graphic novel defines how it is perceived by the readers to a considerable degree. By incorporating the stylistic choices such as a black-and-white color scheme, rough line work, the panel layout, etc., Kirkman manages to create a very unsettling and even creepy feeling amidst a comparatively calm and ordinary environment, thus immediately setting the tone for the story and defining the audience’s expectations.
Crilley, Mark. The Realism Challenge: Drawing and Painting Secrets from a Modern Master of Hyperrealism. Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony, 2015.
D’Amelio, Joseph. Perspective Drawing Handbook. Courier Corporation, 2013.
Kirkman, Robert, et al. The Walking Dead. Vol 19. Palgrave McMillan, 2005.
Picard, Alain. Portfolio: Beginning Drawing: A Multidimensional Approach to Learning the Art of Basic Drawing. Walter Foster Publishing, 2016.