Thanks to Robert Kirkman and the shuffling hordes of undead wannabes, the zombie comic has become something of a cliche in recent years, with a real lack of originality and fresh ideas that rarely go beyond “more gore!”. However, Welsh indie comic Stiffs has managed to turn against the flow of more and more bloodshed to create a solid niche for itself in this over-crowded genre thanks to a shambolic charm and a dose of anarchic Welsh attitude.
Publisher: Smoking Simian Sequentials
Writer: Drew Davies, Joe Glass, PJ Montgomery
Artist: Gavin Mitchell
Price: £1.49/$1.99 from ComiXology
Just like their leading man, Stiffs is a shambolic but charming read that feels a bit like a Welsh Shaun of the Dead. Don is a call centre worker by day but a zombie hunter at night and when he comes across the house of a necromancer, full of talking zombies with strange insignias on their backs, his life takes a turn for the even weirder. Meanwhile his friends in the pub become curious about where he disappears to at night and find out more than they bargained for when they follow him out on patrol.
What makes Stiffs stand out from the million and one other zombie books out there every month is simple: it doesn’t take itself too seriously. For starters, the series is set in the Welsh valleys, not the most glamorous of locales, but one that gives the whole book a grounded world which lets the writers pack their script full of trademark Welsh humour.
Then of course, there’s Kenny – Don’s zombie hunting sidekick is a hard-drinking, pot-smoking, sweary monkey (who sometimes where’s a fez) and also works with Don in the call centre. Why, we hear you ask? Well, why not?! There’s no rhyme or reason why Kenny is in the book – no cosmic rays or strange experiment that has created him and the zombies – he just is, so go with it, because he makes the book damn funny!
Just as they don’t give you a complex reason why one of their characters is a smutty monkey, writers Drew Davies, Joe Glass and PJ Montgomery also don’t get bogged down in the hows and whys of the zombie invasion, which means the book doesn’t get swamped in exposition. There’s no waking up from a coma and the world has changed here, they just get on with telling their story and if in doubt, have their characters take the piss out of each other down at the pub. They could just as easily be your friends or people you know, rather than archetypes from a writer’s notebook and because they talk like normal people it makes the whole scenario work really well. Even when things get a bit more mystical in later issues and it starts turning into True Blood in the valleys, Stiffs keeps that sense of plausibility that means it works! (Even with Kenny the talking monkey!)
The artwork from Gavin Mitchell also helps this believability and sense of fun. Although, it may not be the most polished at times, it has a fantastic sense of energy to it that matches the attitude of the script. If it was too slick it just wouldn’t fit the characters or the attitude and that’s what makes Stiffs work.