In 1689, while seeking to regain the throne of England, ousted monarch James II lands in Northern Ireland to seeking to take over a stronghold in the walled city of (London)derry. But, a group of apprentice boys see James’ forces approaching and race to the city, closing the gates and barring him entrance, and for the next 105 days, the city withstands the siege and holds off the invaders, choosing starvation over surrender.
Over 400 years later, Derry is under siege again, this time by the living dead in Uproar Comics‘ uneven but intriguing ongoing series, Zombie Hi. But, as history shows, prejudice, hatred, and sectarian mistrust are also among the survivors holed up in this city fortress. And, in doing so, up-and-comers Uproar Comics have set an ambitious task for themselves, especially in the shadow of zombie juggernaut The Walking Dead, to which this will invariably draw comparisons.
Told in serial and standalone form, each issue examines the world created by Derry locals Kevin ‘Gio’ Logue (artist), John Campbell (inker/artist), and Daniel McLaughlin (writer) and also features work by other rising Derry artists.
The titular tale “Zombies Hi” (“Hi” being an Ulster colloquialism, and not a reference to high school) follows the tale of a group of survivors barricaded in the walled city, and deals with the conflicts represented by the external threat of the living dead and the internal threat posed by centuries of prejudices that also seems to never die. Opening on an announcement of a new strain of flu, within two pages, civilization has fallen, and the story hits the ground running, forcing a reader to learn on the way or be left behind.
Each issue also contains smaller pieces that expand on the world Uproar has created, including standalone illustrated text stories and one-shots, sometimes as short as a single page that add to the canon that writers taken on the zombie apocalypse genre. (A separate standalone piece in Issue #1 requiring a basic grounding in Celtic Mythology was smartly not continued in later issues.). In later issues, the additional materials are not so zombie-centric, but still satisfying.
With the variety of talent working on this series, you’re bound to have a range of quality, and the book does exhibit it. Earlier chapters and one-shots exhibit an almost schizophrenic sense of story and layout, that (while contributing to the sense of unreality in the subject matter) tends to confuse rather than frighten, and supporting material moves from banal to brilliant (see “What’s that Noise?” in Issue #7 for an example of the latter).
But, this is minor, as with each successive issue, you can see that the creators are gaining their footing and becoming more polished and professional storytellers, blending the graphics and story more easily. The artwork gains a more cohesive quality that was short in the earlier parts, feeling more comfortable focusing on character than event, and with the publication of Issue #6, the previously black-and-white tale starts to experiment with color and becomes richer for it.
For anyone looking to get a foothold in digital publishing, this is a good example to follow. The series is obviously a labor of love and a great showing of what burgeoning writers and artists can accomplish thought digital media. Thanks to the Internet, beginning comic creators are no longer confined to Los Angeles, New York, or Tokyo, and Uproar is using that fact to great advantage.
One last note: Having been to Derry and walked the walls, I was acquainted with the settings, but for anyone not familiar with the city, the Struggles, or Northern Ireland history in general, a great deal of the resonance of the story might be missed. Because of this, readers outside of the initial UK audience may struggle with some of the stories and language at first, but anyone sticking with it will find themselves rewarded for their efforts. Readers can learn more about Zombie Hi and Uproar Comics at the official website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter, @uproar_comics.