zombillenium v1 cover detail by Arthur De Pins

Zombillenium v1: “Gretchen”

Writer: Arthur De Pins
Artist: Arthur De Pins
Published by: NBM (from Dupuis)
Number of Pages: 50
Originally Published: 2010

 

Timing Is Everything

zombillenium v1 cover by Arthur De Pins

“Zombillenium” comes up for review this week because they just released a movie based on the three volume BD series of the same name.

Of course.

It’s not the style of animation I prefer, to be honest. I like the good old fashion 2D pencil-and-ink stretch and squash stuff. I’ve grown to accept the high end CGI stuff, but the low end of that always looks painful.

The “Zombillenium” movie falls somewhere between. It looks like 2D images projected onto 3D models. And that fits in perfectly with the comic that inspires it. This book is drawn without a single black outline. Everything is colored in. It reminds me of some Flash animation from 10 or 15 years ago, but with better coloring. I wonder if creator Arthurt De Pins draws the book in Illustrator…

De Pins has great comedic timing, creating scenes that build up nicely. He can lock the camera down and let the characters act, but he can also follow the action through the park or down a street.   De Pins feels like a movie maker who just happens to be making comics, which is why it makes so much sense that he co-directed the movie, as well.

In the way, he reminds me a bit of the classic DeMatteis/Giffen-era Justice League series, with all of its little moments that add up to something bigger.  De Pins can take 3 or 6 panels to properly set up and pay off a single joke, but then seamlessly move back into pushing the story forward.

Let’s get to the comic now, though, and return to the movie at the end.

 

Theme Park Hijinks

Welcome to Zombillenium Park

Zombillenium (which is a pain in the butt word to type repeatedly) is a park with a scary monsters theme. It’s just not terribly exciting. It’s been there long enough that it’s become the joke of the area, with people going there to laugh at the things they’re supposed to be scared by.

The twist is that everyone working there really is a monster. They’re not people in makeup, which is what everyone assumes. The zombies doing the Thriller dance are actual zombies. The mummy scaring you during the ride is really a mummy, not a guy wrapped up in bandages. Etc. etc.  This is the jobs program for the monster set. It’s the one thing they can do in full view of the public without causing an incident.

When the human, Aurelian Zahner, is accidentally run over and killed by the vampire who manages the park, he’s brought back to life through a bite to the neck and then drafted to service. Cheap monstrous help is hard to find. The best part of that sequence is the follow-up, where the vampire and his werewolf boss take turns biting Aurelian — repeatedly — to win him to their side.  De Pins knows how to play with the tropes of horror for comedic effect.

 

Gretchen

Aurelian doesn’t quite fit in. The zombies don’t like him, in particular.  His only friend turns out to be the intern witch, Gretchen.

gretchen slaps aurelian

Love at first slap?

Gretchen is the unconventionally cute goth. You know Heather from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”?  Kind of like that.  She has the same dry wit and knowledge of everything that’s going on, even when the other characters don’t seem to want to admit it.  Her black wardrobe, bright red hair, and slightly aloof personality make hearth most interesting part of the book.  She might be a little too stereotypical, but then De Pins adds onto it by having her fly a skateboard on top of her witch’s broom.  I love that little bit.

Zombillenium's goth witch, Gretchen, rides a skateboard broom. Of course.

Gretchen is hiding a couple secrets that will be revealed to the readers in the first book.

 

Too Bad About the Lettering

NBM originally translated this series a few years back.  Translations of European comics have come a long way since then. In the early 2000s, it was OK to use Whizbang to re-letter comics, and too many people did.  Zombillenium isn’t using that font, but the one it did use on this book is not great.  They use the crossbar-I correctly.  I didn’t see any typos. It’s a decent enough font.

There’s just one thing that ruins it all for me: Letters that start sentences and people’s names are larger than the rest of the lettering, which is ALL-CAPS. Having capital letters in an all-caps font is just weird. It knocks everything out of alignment and scale.  It produces some odd spacing between lines, too.

Poor lettering spacing in Zombillenium example

Look what happens to the skeleton’s second line in his word balloon. The first two words are at an entirely different font than the rest. And the capital “I” at the beginning of that second sentence means lots of white space above it.  The next balloon is too small for all the words they need to cram in, and the bold-faced “THAT’S” just looks too big next to all the other words.  I think “different” gets squeezed together to fit.

Part of the problem in translating comics, in general, is just not every language will result in the same size length of sentence for every line of dialogue.  Sometimes, the translated edition of a line will be much longer or much shorter than the original language’s version.  The translator might compensate for that in some ways.  The letterer might try to cheat the lettering a bit to make the font slightly bigger or smaller.  Redrawing the word balloons is rarely an option.  I can forgive a certain amount of it.  There’s just a lot of it going on here, and I think the lettering isn’t helping it.

I’ve seen worse lettering in translated BD, but that doesn’t make this great.

 

An English Language Parallel

Boneyard by Richard Moore

NBM also once published a series called “Boneyard,” with beautiful art from Richard Moore. It featured a cast of monsters who lived in the cemetery, and the human man who befriends them and saves their land. It also features the beautiful vampire woman who is the obvious romantic connection for him.

Sound familiar?

No, I’m not saying anyone stole anything from anybody. This is all fairly formulaic. You want the setting, the monsters, the love interest, the outsider point of view character, etc. The two series are playing in the same sandbox, is all.

“Boneyard” is worth reading. It’s available in print from NBM Publishing, or digitally through Comixology.

 

Recommended?

Yes. If you can handle the style, there’s a lot to like in the book.  There are mysteries, hints of romance, rivalries amongst the monsters, and lots of monster humor.  I can see why this book would be popular, particularly amongst the younger readership.  It’s a good summer read, but in time for Halloween.

That makes sense, right?

I’m definitely going to read the next two volumes.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #81.)

 

Buy It Now

Bonus: Book trailer from NBM:

Buy this book on Amazon

(HC and Digital)

Buy this book on Comixology

 

 

The English Movie Trailer

zombillenium movie poster

The movie debuted at a festival back in May, but just released wide across France this weekend. There is an English language dub, but no word on any release here in America yet.

Just from this initial trailer, it’s obvious that the movie is taking a different direction from the book…

Of course they added a kid for the point of view character in a kids’ movie.

I still don’t see this playing well in America for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that people will have already had their monster fill with “Monsters Inc.” and the “Hotel Transylvania” movies…

Hollywood Reporter’s review of the movie confirms my pessimism for the movie’s future in the States:

That said, beyond the realms of co-producing nations Belgium and France and their near-neighbors, the script’s clanking plot skeleton, the lack of star names in the voice cast and the unfamiliarity of the property will still keep this on the distribution margins among Francophiles and graphic-novel fans.

If there’s one thing I loathe in modern animated movie making, it’s the need to cast “big names” to be characters’ voices.  It’s painful to hear some of those voices used because of marketing over an established and a proven voice actor who would do a better job.  They could always recast the English voices and have big name actors do a bunch of ADR to cover for it, but I doubt anyone would want to spend that kind of money on it.

But who knows?  It’s a cheaper movie. It doesn’t need a huge marketing push.  It can make a few bucks in theaters and sell better in homes or via streaming services.  Maybe?  (“Netflix Presents… Zombillenium,” maybe?)

I mean, that’s what worked out so well with “Valerian.” Or not.

sigh

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